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Gap year love in a world filled with peculiar romantic traditions

Written by The Leap on 02 / 02 / 2017

Gap Year Advice

Valentine’s day is upon us once more and love is in the air…

Some of you are probably in a frantic card and flower buying panic. Others may be slumped in front of the TV praying you can make it through the day without witnessing one public display of affection. Perhaps dreaming of finding some gap year love?

Well whether you’re the former or latter, these crazy courtship rituals and Valentine’s traditions from around the world could inspire you, or at least entertain you! Along with collecting an arm-full of hand-crafted bracelets, finding love abroad is up there in the top ‘gap year initiation’ experiences. Never fear, it’s easier than you might think!

Valentine's day around the world

The Japanese have got it right. For them, it’s all about the chocolate.

It’s up to the girls and the type really matters. Honmei-choko (true feeling chocolate) is given to loved ones, while friends will receive tomo-choko (friend chocolate). Most women also feel obliged to give giri-choko (obligation chocolate) to all their male co-workers. If they’re not such a popular one though, they’ll receive the ‘ultra-obligatory’ cho-giri (cheap chocolate)!

Don’t panic girls; the 14th March is for you. Exactly a month later, the pressure falls on the men. White day, named after the purity of love, is ‘reply day’. Men are expected to return gifts at least two/three times as valuable as those they received on Valentine’s Day.

Watch out for a matching box of chocs, as a reply of equal value means the relationship is over. A little harsh, but I suppose there are worse ways to be told than through chocolate?


For the ‘dia del amor y la amistad’ (day of love and friendship), it’s not so much the lavish gift competition that we are increasingly seeing in many cultures. The Mexicans, along with their Central American neighbours, prefer a less materialistic approach. Often it’ll just be about sharing fun acts of friendship and appreciation with the ones you love.

Finding a little romance isn’t out of the question either. An old tradition exists where teenage boys and girls will stroll around a park in opposite directions. If someone catches a boy’s eye, he’ll hand her a flower. Then it’s an agonising few minutes for the boy as he awaits her reply. If she still holds the flower when they next pass, he’s bagged himself a date!

South Africa

The usual extravagances are all the rage for South Africans, only it’s an entire week of love-related celebrations.

Perhaps their strangest courtship method is the ‘heart on your sleeve’ tradition (as I have just now dubbed it). Throughout this week, women pin the name of the man they admire to their sleeve. Then it’s as simple as hoping they’ll notice and return the sentiment.

Fun, I suppose, but think I’ll stick with a simple conversation thanks.

South Korea

South Korea is up-and-coming in the backpacker world. Its diverse landscapes, bustling city life and tremendous history explain why. My only advice is just to not be around South Korea on the 14th April, or this could be you.

The 14th of each month is a different love-themed holiday out there. Any other month could be the ideal time to find some gap year love. The 14th April however, is ‘Black day’. Having received no gifts in the previous months, you’d head out to a meal for one to dine on black noodles: a symbol of your sad single life.

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Other curious courtship customs to witness (or get involved with?) while travelling
Love letters wrapped in rice

Unique is certainly the word for the method used by China’s Miao tribe to communicate their feelings. If straight up speaking your mind isn’t your cuppa tea, then listen in.

First, the girls spend their Valentine’s day equivalent cooking up masses of sticky rice. Next, they’ll be serenaded by suitors eager to win their affection. The excitement comes when each of these suitors is presented with a handkerchief filled with rice…

Find two red chopsticks and he's in luck: she’s interested. Just one chopstick indicates a polite ‘thanks, but no thanks’. Garlic or chilli is bad news, meaning flat-out rejection, while a pine-needle could be a chance. Shower her with more gifts and she could be yours!

Thorn-covered leaf fighting

This one might make you glad that all your loved one expects is a sweet, endearing, mushy card. In Tenganan, Bali, the men take the ‘fight for your love’ saying very literally.

The month of May brings the Usaba Sambah Festival. Unmarried men are given the opportune chance to attract a mate at this coming-of-age ceremony. Armed with the thorny leaves of the Pandanus plant, men battle it out inside an arena. With just a bamboo shield for protection, stakes are high, pride is on the line and bloodshed is guaranteed.

Despite all this, the oddest part is still to come. Far from shying away from the carnage, the women are enthusiastic spectators. In fact, they’ll board a foot-powered Ferris wheel (I promise, it's true) that cannot be escaped until the action is over.

Beauty pageant for men

At long last, the dressing to impress falls upon the men.

The males of the African Wodaabe tribe spend hours upon hours preening themselves in order to be desirable to women. Beauty is very highly valued and the grooming reaches its climax during the ‘Gerewol’ courtship festival.

Having adorned themselves in brightly-coloured and eye-catching jewellery, paint, clothing and headgear, the dancing begins. Competitors line up to perform the ‘Yaake’ dance over countless hours in the sweltering sun. Judged on dance skills and overall good looks, the winner becomes the apple of every tribeswoman’s eye.

Why gap year love is attainable for all

Wouldn’t an exotic, cross-continent love affair be exciting I hear you say?

Well, some say love flourishes abroad, and I think it’s possible there’s meaning to their madness. Here are just 3 reasons to embark on your adventure allowing romance to be on the cards:

1. Clean slate

You can totally reinvent yourself. No friends and family to blab about your quirky traits or whip out that embarrassing story about ‘the time you forgot underwear at…’.

It’s just the two of you and what you say goes. There’s this wonderful aspect of escapism to it all. Your potential love interest has no ties to life back home and there’s no pressure for anything to come of it.

2. Foreigner appeal

Speaks a foreign language. Lives a wildly different cultural lifestyle. Has no prior judgements of your character. Remember that all these attractive qualities you see in people abroad, are exactly what they see in you!

Wherever you go when travelling, you’ll be the one with the accent. The one who everyone’s curious to get to know. The mysterious foreigner. Enjoy it!

3. Positive aura

Personally, I believe the ‘well, I am on holiday’ version of us all is the best. Let go of the stresses and strains of everyday life, and embrace the free-spirited, positive you.

Sounds corny I know, but gap year love and travel could be the secret to finding the real, happy you. Away from all the societal pressures, we can be our true selves or our new and improved 'I'm on vacation' selves!

Love is all around us

February has rolled in and this brings a lot more joy to some than others.

Hopefully, though, for both the taken and single among us, all can now approach the holiday a little more relaxed. Either content with the knowledge that celebrations at home are not the most costly, humiliating or distressing of all. Or simply grateful there are no black noodles, garlic filled rice balls or cho-giri coming your way.

Maybe you’ll even believe me now that a gap year could just be the ideal occasion to find that special someone. One way or another you'll fall in love when travelling; if it's not a someone, it's a something or a somewhere! Start packing and make your gap year a winner.

And just remember, if Valentine’s really isn’t your day, the 15th brings half price chocolate day.

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