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She flew from Australia to England for a first date


(CNN) — British college student Laura was scrolling through social media one day in 2014, when a Tweet caught her eye, and changed her life.

One of her favorite Twitter accounts, which posted updates about singer-songwriter Tori Amos, had just retweeted a post from someone called Sara.

Sara clearly shared Laura’s passion for Tori Amos’ lyrics.

“I was like, ‘Oh, she sounds interesting,'” recalls Laura, who was in her early 20s at the time.

Without thinking too much about it, Laura hit the follow button.

Sara, a then-24-year-old Australian studying for her master’s degree in Sydney, saw the notification and followed Laura back.

Over the next several months, the two women occasionally spotted one another’s updates in amongst Twitter’s melange of photos, news headlines, life updates and gifs.

“We just started noticing each other more,” Sara tells CNN Travel. “There was no real catalyst of anything that really stood out, except we both ended up getting a tattoo around the same time — completely separately, obviously, completely different countries, completely different things.”

Then one day, Laura saw Sara Tweeting that she thought no one would notice if she disappeared.

Laura reached out right away.

“Even though I don’t know, I’d really miss you,” she wrote.

A connection was formed.

Constant messaging

Laura and Sara, who have asked only to be referred to by their first names for personal reasons, started communicating more and more, bonding over their love of the Guillermo del Toro movie “Crimson Peak.”

Their Twitter direct messages (DMs) gradually progressed from occasional to regular to everyday.

“We just started talking, and we did not stop,” says Laura.

“We literally broke the Twitter DM limit,” recalls Sara.

They switched to messenger app Telegram. Sara, the more natural night owl of the two, began staying up late so she’d be online for as long as possible during Laura’s daytime.

Soon they were peppering their text chains with occasional voice notes. Then they were speaking on the phone whenever they could.

The obvious next step was to video call.

As they made plans to Skype for the first time, playing on Sara’s mind were the potential consequences of taking this connection to this next level.

She figured seeing Laura’s face fill her laptop screen would cement something she increasingly suspected — that she was falling hard for a girl who lived on the opposite side of the world.

“I think we both sort of knew that we liked each other, but didn’t really know how to navigate that,” says Sara.

“There was no way that we could have been speaking as much as we were without liking each other,” adds Laura. “But obviously, when you’re in that moment, you’re still terrified that the other person won’t feel the same way.”

But by the end of their first video conversation, both Laura and Sara had been honest about how they felt, and it was clear they were on the same page. They decided to try and make a cross-continental relationship work.

A leap of faith

Sara decided to travel to the UK for vacation. Her family’s from the UK and she has a British passport. If things didn’t work out, she wouldn’t be stranded in another country — she had English family she could visit.

“I’ve been to the UK quite a bit and it wasn’t that much of a leap in my mind,” Sara says now. “Moneywise was probably the thing that was the leap.”

Both Laura and Sara’s families have always supported their daughters’ right to love who they love.

But their parents hadn’t grown up with the internet, so they had to come round to the idea that meeting someone online wasn’t an immediate red flag.

When Laura mentioned Sara to her parents for the first time, it was to ask if Sara could stay at their family home during the trip.

“My dad is originally from New Zealand, so his biggest concern was she was Australian, because Australians and New Zealanders have a big rivalry,” says Laura, laughing.

Laura’s conversation with her mother was more emotional.

“When I first told my mum, I cried a lot, because me and my mum are very close. And I think I knew on some level that I would probably — if it worked out — end up moving to Australia. And I think that she knew that straight away as well.”

Each parent wanted to verify their daughter’s girlfriend was a real person, so they introduced everyone via Skype.

Sara then sat down with her mother and step mother to talk through her plans.

“I really like this girl. I need to go and visit her,” she said.

Her family agreed to help pay for the ticket to the UK.

“We were really, really lucky because both sets of our parents were really, really supportive,” says Sara now. “And without both of them being supportive in various ways, there’s no way that we would have been able to I think get me to the other side of the world.”

It was finalized and the flight was booked. Sara was going to fly from Australia to the UK for a first date.

Airport reunion

Laura Sara Heathrow

Laura, left, and Sara at Heathrow Airport the first time they met in person in December 2015.

Courtesy Laura & Sara

Sara boarded her flight from Sydney Airport to London Heathrow just after Christmas 2015.

At the layover in Singapore, she wandered the airport trying to calm her nerves — a jumpy mix of anxiety about flying, which she’d always hated, and uncertainty at what lay ahead.

At Singapore Changi’s Duty Free, Sara bought a couple of little gifts for Laura. It was only when she landed at Heathrow that she realized that, in her skittish state, she’d left them in the airplane seat pocket.

“I remember walking into Heathrow and being really, really nervous. I’d just stepped off a 24-hour-long plane journey. I was really tired,” says Sara.

She decamped to the bathroom, brushing her teeth and hair.

“I tried to make myself look as presentable as you can ever look after a long-haul flight.”

Meanwhile, Laura was pulling up at the airport after traveling from her home in Reading, west of London, on the bus. It was 5:30 a.m. but she was wide awake, a nervous ball of excitement.

Laura waited for Sara in arrivals, watching a rush of people coming through the gates, and not recognizing Sara among them.

It turned out Sara’s British passport was out of date, and she got held up as she’d had to enter via her Australian passport instead.

“It’s so strange when you meet someone at the airport for the first time, but who you know you love”

Laura

When Sara eventually got through, she spotted Laura right away.

“She was standing there. She had bright red hair. She had a lovely green dress on. And she was just smiling. She’s got this like, really big smile,” recalls Sara.

Sara found herself smiling back.

“Laura said, ‘Is it okay if I kiss you?'” recalls Sara. “And I said, ‘Yes.’ And so we kissed.”

“It’s so strange when you meet someone at the airport for the first time, but who you know you love,” says Laura now.

It was an airport meeting both surreal and magical, with Sara describing it as a “‘Love Actually’-esque moment.”

Laura led Sara to an airport coffee shop. Unsure what Sara wanted to eat, Laura panic-bought several different pastries and set them down on the table.

Sara couldn’t stomach a single bite.

“When I’m nervous, I don’t eat. When Laura is nervous, she does eat. So Laura ended up eating a lot of pastries,” says Sara, laughing.

It didn’t matter, they were just delighted to be finally together and in the same time zone at last. On the bus back to Reading, they chatted the whole time.

Laura Sara

Sara and Laura on vacation together in Iceland.

Courtesy Laura & Sara

Over the next several weeks, Laura and Sara explored the UK and Europe together.

They admired windswept views at Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher. On vacation in seaside Cornwall, England — in true rom-com style — Laura accidentally set fire to a menu via a misplaced candle on the table.

Sara quickly hit it off with Laura’s family too.

As Sara’s visit came to a close, the two arranged that after Laura finished up her university studies in a few months’ time, she’d travel to Australia and visit Sara there.

It was ostensibly just for the summer vacation. But the couple had started to have conversations about the long term, and they’d decided if one of them was going to permanently relocate, it’d be Laura.

“Sara had four cats and one dog, and I had no pets at that point. So you know, I didn’t want to make her leave her cats and dog,” says Laura.

On May 8, 2016, Laura took her last university exam. The following day, she boarded a plane to Sydney.

“I did book a return ticket,” she says. “I did not end up using that return ticket.”

Moving to Australia

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Sara and Laura on the day Laura arrived in Australia in 2016.

Courtesy Laura and Sara

Laura wasn’t certain when she boarded her flight to Sydney that she would be permanently relocating.

But she was certain that she wanted to give her relationship with Sara the best shot, and that couldn’t happen if they were on opposite sides of the globe.

In Sydney, Laura was enthusiastically welcomed by Sara’s family and friends. Sara was still working on her master’s thesis, but whenever they could, the couple explored Sydney and the New South Wales coastline together.

After a few months, it was obvious Laura wasn’t going back to the UK full time.

She broke the news to her parents from afar.

“That was a sad and difficult conversation,” says Laura. “But now they’re both really, really happy that I made the decision.”

Laura and Sara traveled back to the UK in the fall of 2016 for an extended vacation that allowed them to pack up some more of Laura’s things, and spend quality time with her family.

Back in Australia, Laura was excited to settle into life in Sydney, but she also struggled with homesickness.

“Moving to the other side of the world was quite difficult,” she says now.

The couple worked together to put mechanisms in place to make Laura’s relocation easier.

They established a weekly Skype call with Laura’s mother. They set up family group chats. They made sure future vacations and trips were always in the calendar.

And as Laura started working, she slowly found a support network.

“It’s really hard to make friends as an adult, so it’s really hard to put down roots in a new place,” she says. “And I guess because your partner shouldn’t be your whole life, you need to put down those roots somehow. But then I did. And it’s been good.”

About a year after Laura moved to Australia, the couple started having more serious conversations about the future.

They’d known for a while they were in for the long haul, and wanted to get married.

They picked out rings together, and Sara decided Spring 2017 was the perfect opportunity to propose.

Laura-and-Sara-getting-engaged

Laura and Sara got engaged on a trip to Port Stephens, a beachside town north of Sydney in Australia.

Courtesy Laura & Sara

Laura’s family were coming out to visit, and would be traveling with Sara’s mother and step mother to Port Stephens, a beachside town north of Sydney.

With its stunning sand dunes and crashing waves, Port Stephens seemed like the ideal engagement spot, but as plans developed, Sara realized the opportunity might not present itself in quite the way she’d hoped.

“I ended up proposing to Laura in our downstairs bedroom, because everyone had decided they wanted to go off and do their own thing. And I was like, ‘Okay, I have to do this really soon,'” says Sara.

Laura was thrilled, and their families were delighted. The group spent the rest of the day celebrating, culminating in fish and chips for dinner.

At the time, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in Australia. Laura and Sara knew they’d have to wait for this to change, or get married in the UK.

The law changed at the end of that year, and after a couple years enjoying their engagement, Laura and Sara set a wedding date for June 2020.

A pandemic wedding

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Laura and Sara on their wedding day in April 2021.

Mr.Wigley – pics + flicks + photo booth

When these initial nuptials were scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic, Laura and Sara rearranged the wedding for April 2021, hoping they’d be able to have all their loved ones present by then.

But as the April date got closer, the couple realized Laura’s family still wouldn’t be able to attend.

“We decided that we would go ahead regardless, because honestly, who knows how long this is going to drag on for, especially with Australia’s really strict border closures and travel. But we did everything we could to make my parents feel as included as possible,” says Laura.

The couple set up a wedding live stream. Laura’s dad organized life-size cardboard cutouts of Laura’s parents and sister — dressed in the outfits they’d planning to wear at the wedding — to be delivered the morning of the ceremony.

Sara_Laura_150421_HR-377

Laura and Sara at their wedding, with the life-size cardboard cutouts of Laura’s parents.

Mr.Wigley – pics + flicks + photo booth

“My dad was so pleased with himself. He thought it’s the best and funniest thing anyone had ever done,” says Laura. “It made them not being there almost funny, rather than just sad.”

At the reception, Sara arranged for Laura’s dad to connect via Skype to give the speech he would have given in person.

Meanwhile, Laura’s sister got all the international friends and family to record congratulatory video messages.

Laura and Sara are really looking forward to the eventual reunion with their British family.

But in the meantime, they’re grateful for the technology that keeps them all connected, and the couple have got through the difficulties of the past year as best they can.

Taking a chance

Laura-and-Sara-today

Sara and Laura on a recent trip to Govetts Leap lookout in Australia’s Blue Mountain National Park.

Courtesy Laura & Sara

Today, when Laura and Sara say they met on the internet, people usually assume they mean a dating app.

When the couple explain that they actually connected on Twitter, and that they lived on opposite sides of the world at the time, people are amazed.

And when they find out that Sara flew all the way across the world for a first date — and then Laura uprooted her life to be with Sara in Australia, they’re even more astonished.

“It’s funny, now we look back and we’re like, ‘Oh, wow, like we were so brave to do those things.’ But at the time, it didn’t feel like that at all. It was just what we had to do. So we did it,” says Laura.

“Obviously, this isn’t necessarily a common thing, but it’s so much more common in the queer community as well, because it’s so much harder to meet someone when you’re gay and there isn’t necessarily a whole load of out people around where you are.”

When Laura and Sara first connected on Twitter, neither of them were looking for anything. They were just excited to connect with a like-minded person.

“I think it’s really important to sort of let yourself have experiences and meet people,” says Sara. “It’s such an awesome thing.”

“The whole experience really showed me the importance of just giving something a go. Even if you don’t know how things are going to work out long term, it’s always better to give things a try because sometimes they’ll work out so much better than you could have ever imagined,” says Laura.

“I think our fear of failure makes it so easy to not take a chance, but I’m so glad that I did take one with Sara.”

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