A stranger photobombed her vacation video. They’ve been together for almost a decade
Francesca Street, CNN
(CNN) — Anna Faustino was careering down the sand dunes of Mui Ne, Vietnam, on a sand sled when she first saw Tom Rogers. Out of nowhere, she spotted him in the corner of her eye, rolling down the sand dune next to her, head first.
Anna turned to look at Tom, wide-eyed. She had a GoPro strapped to her – she’d been filming herself sand sledding – and now her camera captured Tom as he tumbled down, inelegantly, before crashing into the sand at the bottom.
“When I get to the bottom, I kind of stand up, dizzy, brush off the sand. And then I walk over to her and I’m like, ‘Hey, how you doing?’” Tom, who is from Wales in the UK, tells CNN Travel.
Anna was baffled but charmed. She laughed at the sand-covered Tom’s faux-casual demeanor and right away, she thought he seemed fun and “game for anything.”
While other travelers at Mui Ne were sitting back and watching, Tom wanted a turn on Anna’s sand sled. The two walked back up the dunes together and then Anna cheered on Tom as he headed back down, this time sledding rather than hurtling head first.
It was 2014. Anna was 26 and at the tail end of a year-long travel sabbatical. She’d spent years working as a teacher in her home country of the Philippines to fund her adventures.
“All I wanted to do was travel,” Anna tells CNN Travel. “I had given up my job and packed everything, and everything I owned was in a backpack. So when I met Tom, I was just in a place in my life where I was just having fun. I wasn’t looking for anything serious.”
As for Tom, he was a bit younger – “I was 22 back then, so I was a little silly,” is how he puts it. He’d just finished university in the UK. When he reached Vietnam, he was midway through his own year of traveling.
Tom had spotted Anna earlier that day at Mui Ne. Her enthusiasm for the sand sledding was infectious and she stood out amid a group of mostly hungover backpackers.
“She was the only one that was going down on the sand sled, and she kept going up and down, up and down,” recalls Tom.
Tom wanted to join the fun, but he didn’t have a sled to hand.
“So I ran, and front flipped, and then as I hit the dune, I started rolling down this hill.”
That’s how he ended up immortalized – “looking stupid” as he puts it – on Anna’s GoPro video.
Anna and Tom hung out for the next hour or so at Mui Ne. There was an instant easy, natural camaraderie between the two of them. And they were both intrigued by each other.
“He was just so fun, so interesting,” says Anna.
“I remember thinking she was really cool and different,” says Tom. “She’s always talking about travel, food, travel, food – and she was never really taking Insta selfies, or on a phone all the time, she was more present in the moment.”
After the Mui Ne excursion, Anna and Tom went their separate ways – they were technically part of two different group tours. But they figured they’d likely see one another again.
And sure enough, they did – at a local hostel bar that evening.
At the bar, they talked some more. Anna told Tom about her teaching job back in the Philippines. Tom said he’d just graduated from college in the UK with a degree in aerospace engineering. They sketched out more details of each other’s lives and then, says Tom, “we had a dance, but nothing happened.”
That evening, Anna and Tom left things as, “maybe we’ll bump into each other again, maybe we won’t.” They were heading the same way – Tom via a motorbike, Anna via buses and vans – and that felt like a lucky coincidence.
“You meet so many cool people when you’re traveling, you meet tons of new faces, friends, travel romances – you meet loads of people, but everyone’s going in different directions,” says Tom.
“It’s so fleeting all the time,” adds Anna.
“It’s very rare for someone to be going in the same direction, to the same countries, over the next same period of time,” says Tom.
“So when we first met – on the first day, I thought, ‘Well, this is fun, and she seems nice and it might be a bit of a travel romance.’ And then our story evolved.”
Sure enough, within two days Anna and Tom found themselves in the same hostel, this time in the city of Dalat. They were thrilled to see one another and gravitated together again.
“That was when our travel romance began,” says Tom.
In the daytime, Anna and Tom explored together. In the evening, they chatted about their lives so far and their future travel plans. As they prepared to move onto the next stop on their shared itinerary, Tom voiced a spontaneous, wild idea.
“Hey, why don’t you put your bag on the bus, and then just join me on the bike, so you can travel on the back of the bike instead? It’ll be more fun,” he said.
Anna considered this. Why not? She was enjoying spending time with Tom. And the motorbike would be an experience in itself.
“So I just threw my backpack, everything I own, onto a bus,” recalls Anna, laughing.
For the next three weeks, Anna and Tom traveled through Vietnam together. The bike was an adventure and they had an amazing time. They realized their travel styles meshed well – Anna researched things to do and discoered must-visit foodie spots off the beaten track. Then she presented the day’s itinerary to Tom, who made her ideas a reality.
“She’s a planner. And I’m just like, ‘Let’s just go and let’s just do it. And I’ll drive us everywhere,’” says Tom. “So I loved that because then we were actually finding these ‘hole in the wall’ places and going on these mini adventures inside our big adventure.”
After the motorbike road trip, the two went their separate ways again. Then Anna and Tom reunited a few weeks later in Thailand, which was set to be the final stop on Anna’s trip before she headed home to the Philippines.
In Vietnam, their relationship had been fun and spontaneous. In Thailand, it was still exciting, but the feelings deepened.
The stakes suddenly felt higher. Anna was about to finish her travels. She and Tom didn’t know whether they’d see each other again. And they were growing closer and closer.
Tom was supposed to be heading to Australia next. But a plan started brewing, maybe he could come to the Philippines for a bit instead?
Anna was excited by this prospect, but wasn’t convinced it would actually happen.
“I’ve traveled long enough to know that it doesn’t always work out, plans change all the time,” she says.
But within weeks, Anna was showing Tom around her home country.
“It was very interesting, especially because I’d just spent a year being away from home,” recalls Anna. “And so I got there and it was a readjustment period, because I hadn’t seen all my friends in a while. And then all of a sudden, I’m just like, ‘Oh, yeah, and here’s this guy I met while traveling, meet all my friends.’”
For Anna, Tom being in Manila was a little surreal for the first few days. But he slipped into her life in Manila very easily.
“One of the things that made me fall in love with Tom was that he was just up for anything,” says Anna. “I would unconsciously put him in random situations – I remember bringing him to this crazy street market in the Philippines. And it’s just very crowded, imagine rammed streets, tons of crowds.”
It occurred to Anna that Tom might be a bit overwhelmed, but when she looked over at him, he was smiling ear to ear, fully embracing the moment.
“It was really nice, because I was able to take him around the Philippines and show him the Philippines, but show him a different side to it that other travelers aren’t able to experience. Because I was local, I was able to speak to the locals. And we had these awesome experiences,” says Anna.
Anna and Tom recall one early trip to an isolated sandy stretch of the island of Palawan.
“When we got there, we were walking down the beach. There’s nothing there. Absolutely gorgeous beach, but no hotel, nowhere to stay, and it was almost nighttime,” says Anna.
Anna started speaking to the one other person in sight, a fisherman, who ended up inviting them to stay at his home.
“He literally brought us to this tiny hut in front of this gorgeous beach. It was incredible,” recalls Anna. “So we had so many amazing experiences in the Philippines. And I’m so happy that I was able to share that part of my culture with Tom early on.”
“I loved it,” says Tom. “Seeing the Filipino culture, I loved it straight away.”
Anna returned to her teaching job, but Tom showed no signs of leaving Manila. He stayed with Anna in her apartment, and every weekend they headed out on adventures. The couple settled into a routine, almost without realizing.
Anna’s parents were dubious about the situation at first, confused by the seemingly fast pace of Anna and Tom’s relationship. The two had only just met, and now they were living together?
As for Tom and Anna, they felt like they’d known each other for years – they’d spent so much time together on the road and had so many bonding experiences that living together felt totally normal.
But Tom understood Anna’s parents’ hesitation and decided to take them out for dinner – he wanted to get to know them properly and make clear how much he cared for Anna.
“As I explained it to them, and we started spending more time with them together as a couple, they saw our relationship and saw how close we were, and they’ve been supportive ever since,” says Tom. “They very quickly welcomed me.”
Meanwhile, Anna was introduced to Tom’s family in the UK via video calls and they liked her instantaneously.
“Everyone was just so happy that I’d found you,” Tom tells Anna today. “They were like, ‘Anna’s so good for you, never let that go.’”
Tom also enjoyed hanging out with Anna’s group of friends. One evening, he was telling the group about his engineering background when one of Anna’s friends, who’d just launched a startup, offered Tom a job on the spot.
Tom accepted the role, and he and Anna spent the next half a year working in the Philippines. They loved living together, but as the months rolled on, they started talking about what would happen next.
Tom was keen to resume his year of traveling, but Anna’s funds were drained. She told Tom that while she’d love to join him on the next leg of his adventure, she didn’t think she could afford it.
Tom didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t stay in the Philippines indefinitely – but Anna was part of his life now. Traveling without her didn’t feel like an option.
“We had fallen in love over the six months of being in the Philippines, and I didn’t want to leave without her,” says Tom. “So we had to find something to keep it going.”
The couple spent evenings researching ways they could fund their travels. Then, by chance, Anna stumbled across an online article about a traveler who’d made $5,000 from blogging.
“That blew my mind,” she recalls. “I was just like, ‘We should do that.’”
“And I was like, ‘What the hell is a blog?’ says Tom, laughing.
After a bit more research, Anna and Tom launched their travel blog, Adventure in You, in 2015. Then, after a couple of months blogging from their base in Manila, the couple packed up their backpacks and left the Philippines to travel full time.
It was an exciting step, but also anxiety-inducing. The blog didn’t take off right away, and Anna and Tom were still figuring out how to run it effectively. On top of that, they were still getting to know one another too.
“You’re still figuring out roles,” says Anna. “Both in the business and the relationship. All while trying to have new experiences, trying to find the next place we’re going to move to.”
But the couple were committed – both to each other and their new business.
“We were both entrepreneurs at heart and had this hustle spirit, we both wanted to work,” says Tom.
For the first couple of years, Adventure in You was rocky, and money was tight. Sometimes, Anna and Tom felt they were drifting away from one another amid the stress.
But within a couple of years, the blog “was really profitable,” says Tom. “And then in another two years, it was past six figures. And during all of this, we just got a big respect for each other because we saw each other’s work ethic as well. And that just strengthened our relationship.”
Today, Tom and Anna are still on the road, and they’ve traveled to 50 countries together and counting. They’ve enjoyed experiences ranging from hiking Machu Picchu to hitting Everest base camp to driving a campervan through the snowy roads of Iceland.
Adventure in You is still going strong, but Anna and Tom say they’re no longer the faces of the blog. The couple decided somewhere along the way that they didn’t want to be social media influencers.
They still pop up on the site regularly and Anna chronicles their trips on her Instagram, but there’s no pressure on them to share.
“We switched and built an affiliate site and started bringing in a team that allowed it to grow without us,” says Tom. “And then we were able to have our relationship as just our relationship.”
Anna and Tom have lived out of suitcases and backpacks for the past nine years, but more recently they’ve been considering putting down roots somewhere and maybe staying put for a little longer.
They got engaged in 2021, in a hot air balloon floating over Cappadocia, Turkey. Tom got down on one knee and surprised Anna. When she said yes, she got down on her knees too, to give him a hug. The couple are getting married in Greece this September, in a small ceremony that Anna says will be a “celebration of their experiences.”
But even if they settle in one spot, Anna and Tom reckon they’ll always be planning future travels together. They love experiencing adventures side-by-side.
“Sometimes we’re in the middle of nowhere, and I’m climbing Machu Picchu in Peru, and I’m on this five day hike. And I’m just like, ‘How is this my life?’ I’m just so grateful – really, really grateful that I have someone to share it with,” says Anna. “We always have this collective experience of doing things together. And that, for us, is a cornerstone of our relationship.”
Anna and Tom like that they encourage one another to embrace their adventurous side, to be fearless and intrepid. If they hadn’t met, Anna thinks their lives would be “completely different.”
“I would have probably kept working as a teacher and moved to different places and worked as a teacher there,” she says. “But I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing this life.”
“I didn’t even know it was possible,” agrees Tom. “My plan was to travel for around a year to 18 months, and then head home and get a job in engineering. I’m so happy and grateful that we met and I think I was very lucky to have met Anna.”
That day on the Mui Ne sand dunes changed the path of their lives.
“For a random stranger and I to just sync up so well was really, really cool,” says Anna.
“I’m quite a logical person, and very scientific, and wouldn’t necessarily say I believed in fate. But I have to believe in fate because what happened with us is just absolutely nuts,” says Tom.
But Tom also reckons he and Anna made “their own luck,” to some degree. Their decisions paved the way for their meeting.
“We weren’t afraid to go traveling and explore and meet people and Anna worked to be able to save up to travel. And if we both hadn’t traveled, we wouldn’t have met each other,” he says.
“So my takeaway would be to create your own luck and just keep opening doors because you don’t know who’s on the other side.”