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IT certainly sounds alluring: travel the world, stay in five-star resorts, dine in the finest restaurants – all absolutely free. And, as if that’s not enough, you get the chance to find the man of your dreams; a super-generous doctor, lawyer, banker or sportsman.
We’ve had speed-dating, wine-tasting dating, quiz-night dating and dinner-club dating.
Now, apparently, there’s a new way for single women to find Mr Right – jet-set dating.
A new website called Miss Travel claims to help women fly around the world in style, all funded by high-powered men who have everything in their lives except a committed relationship. They either pay for your flights or give you some of the gazillions of air miles they’ve racked up while making their fortunes.
There is, of course, a catch. In order to qualify you have to be what they consider “attractive”.
The self-styled “world’s No 1 travel dating site”, which launched in April, has already attracted a blaze of publicity in the US with TV features on CNN, Fox News, NBC and Good Morning America.
The Huffington Post online newspaper joked that it sounded like something dreamed up by the Daily Mail’s “I’m so beautiful” writer Samantha Brick and, as I discovered, it’s already a big hit with British lonely hearts.
But how could any self-respecting girl choose to find a date through a website that – despite all its protestations to the contrary and strict advice on personal safety – has more than a whiff of Pretty Woman about it?
And, anyway, would the men really live up to the site’s promise of “thousands of executives, entrepreneurs and professionals”?
There was only one way to investigate – take a deep breath and sign up. How about a first-class flight to Los Angeles? Oh, and while you’re at it, throw in a (single) room in the Chateau Marmont…
The Miss Travel home page looks harmless enough, with Fifties-style drawings of glamorous men and women evoking TV’s Mad Men. The website breaks members down into two groups: those who are “attractive” (women) and those who are “generous” (men). Tellingly, there is no option for attractive and successful women.
Women can use the site free of charge but men have to pay to talk to them – up to £20 (R257) for 30 days or £60 for 180 days.
I signed up using an alias but a real picture I hoped nobody I knew would see, and waited to find out if I would pass the first test: all accounts are subject to approval following photo evaluation.
Once accepted as “an attractive hopeful” – phew! – I had to write a short personal profile, including my age, hair and eye colour, interests, and what I wanted in a travel companion. Men and women are also asked to enter their income and net worth with the option to “rather not say”.
The first thing I noticed was there are lots of British women using Miss Travel, most of them in their 20s and 30s. And, as I quickly found out, there are even more British men, as well as others from pretty much every corner of the earth.
Most begin by sending you “a wink” and if you are interested you cyber-wink back, propose a trip or strike up a conversation.
What followed over the next few day was extraordinary – and disconcerting.
My first suitor was a 26-year-old software developer from Moscow who claimed to be seeking any sort of relationship right up to marriage. He dived straight in with an offer of a week-long trip to Madrid in mid-June, and I was so startled by his forwardness that I didn’t even have the courage to reply.
Next was a 31-year-old scientist from Oxfordshire with an income of £70 000, whom I’ll call Ben. He described himself as “very intelligent and quite down to earth”. He’s single, seriously looking for a relationship and has already met one woman from Hungary through Miss Travel, which he told me “didn’t go well”.
He’d also met “someone local”, although he thinks this is unlikely to progress beyond friendship. Ben gets regular messages from women in the US through the site but says: “I won’t be paying for them to come to the UK.”
And herein lies the problem. Although the whole point of Miss Travel is to whisk me off somewhere exotic for free, the best Ben could come up with was: “Can I persuade you Oxford is a new and exciting place?” And he didn’t even offer to pay for my train ticket. Next!
“Nomad” is a “well-groomed, well-travelled” marketing director from central London who claims his annual income is up to £800 000. Not surprisingly, he says he likes “the finer things in life” and his favourite drink is Krug champagne.
Sadly he’s single because “these days Terminal 3 at Heathrow seems to be my second home and my suitcase my best friend”.
There were lots more men – some in their 40s and 50s who were separated or divorced and fond of stressing about how they only stayed in the nicest hotels.
And a 42-year-old banker based in Frankfurt and London who messaged me to say he was in Oman, adding hopefully: “I know this is probably too short notice for you.”
But craziest of all was Brian, a 40-year-old bearded artist whose site profile announces that he lives in “a retreat centre and art space deep in the woods in Mexico”.
Brian frankly admits: “I am probably not right for romance,” but adds: “I like to mix it up with interesting minds. By my values I live like a king. Fresh veggies from the gardens and free range eggs.”
Indeed, when Brian e-mailed me he announced proudly he had been busy “waiting for a hen to hatch”.
When I asked about his art, he said “theoretically I am a painter but I haven’t been doing well with that – no muse”. Instead he makes a living designing ecologically-friendly garden systems. Again, Brian isn’t paying for any free flights, although he does say I can stay at his retreat “for a bit for free”.
If I want to stay for longer, then “we would figure out what you can do to help out”.
Hmm. Tempting, but I’ll think I’ll pass on the opportunity to stay with a complete stranger in the woods kilometres from anywhere.
Maybe I’m not open-minded – or reckless – enough, as by this stage it’s pretty clear that Miss Travel is the last place any sane woman should be looking for love.
Although the site does advise women always to meet men in their own home city before travelling anywhere, it also admits it does absolutely nothing to vet their backgrounds.
Then I discover something that makes me even more concerned for women who, unlike me, are using the site for real.
Research reveals that the man behind Miss Travel is one Brandon Wade, a highly controversial internet entrepreneur who’s built a multimillion-pound global empire with a string of so-called Sugar Daddy websites which aim to connect rich men with beautiful young women.
Suddenly the sound of alarm bells is deafening. How, you wonder, would Wade, 41, a graduate of the prestigious MIT business school, feel if – as could so easily happen – one of his “attractive travellers” is attacked, or worse, by a “generous traveller”?
My advice to women hoping to find Mr Right through Miss Travel is simple. Go on holiday with a girlfriend instead. You’ll have a much better chance of meeting a decent man – and you’ll be infinitely safer. – Daily Mail