The flight seemed too good to be true. When Martina Jones got the text with the details, she scrutinised them for several minutes.
It was a $279 round-trip flight departing from either Washington D.C. or New York City, flying to Nairobi, Kenya.
“Of course, this was a great deal, I wanted to take advantage of it,” Martina tells CNN Travel today.
“But it was also very weird, I thought it might be a scam.”
It was November 2014, the day after Martina’s 29th birthday. The flight was scheduled for the following March. After weighing up the options and doing some research, Martina decided to bite the bullet and buy the ticket. Then she sent the deal round her various group chats, encouraging more of her friends to sign up.
Martina fell in love with travel during her stint studying abroad in London. After graduating college, she taught English in South Korea and then backpacked around Southeast Asia.
“I’m a traveler, through and through,” says Martina. “It gives me life.”
In 2014, several years into her New Jersey-based sales job, Martina was feeling a little disillusioned and bored by work. But she kept herself motivated by counting down the days until her next trip.
Across the Hudson River in New York City, Leslie Johnson, 33, also received a text from a friend with the Nairobi flight details.
Like Martina, Leslie was skeptical – the price seemed too good to be true. And to get the deal, you had to follow a series of random links – it really did seem like a potential con.
But the friend who’d forwarded the deal to Leslie was a seasoned flyer. They’d found the details via a travel group for Black travelers. Leslie – who “traveled a bit here and there, but not too crazy, just enough to get one or two passport stamps a year” – trusted their judgment, so decided to go for it.
His confirmation email didn’t arrive for a couple days. Leslie spent that waiting period still slightly convinced he’d been scammed.
Finally, the details came through.
“Then I knew it was good,” Leslie recalls.
March rolled around. The first leg of the flight, from the US to Amsterdam, was uneventful. In Amsterdam, Martina attempted to amend her booking so she could sit with her friends – she was traveling with five others and they were all at the back of the plane, while she was sitting on her own at the front.
The gate agent advised Martina to ask her fellow passengers if they’d mind moving. But when Martina asked, no one would budge, so she settled down to her textbooks instead – Martina was studying for the GMAT, a business school admissions test, and figured she could use the long flight time to get in some study.
By chance, Leslie was also separated from his friend on this leg of the flight. And by coincidence, he was seated directly in front of Martina.
He was immediately struck by Martina and intrigued by her. He’d also studied for the GMAT in the past, so once the airplane had taken off from Schiphol Airport, Leslie plucked up the courage to speak to Martina, using the test and the textbook as an entryway.
From there, the conversation never let up.
“We talked the entire flight,” says Martina. “We had a really good conversation.”
We talked the entire flight. We had a really good conversation.
Throughout the hours-long chat, Martina remained sat in her seat while Leslie knelt backwards on his, looking back at her. There was a seat next to Martina, but Leslie didn’t want to overstep any boundaries by inviting himself to sit there.
As the aircraft made its way south, Leslie and Martina spoke about jobs, travel, their interests and their lives, and realised they lived a seven-minute drive from each other, on opposite sides of the Hudson River.
Almost every key topic was covered, but the two danced around the topic of their respective relationship statuses.
“In the back of my head, I’m thinking,’If he’s single, we’re going to date.’ But I didn’t know if he was single,” recalls Martina.
Before they landed in Nairobi, Martina asked Leslie for his phone number – but in the context of networking. Leslie had been talking about a friend who worked in TV production and Martina was interested in getting into that world.
“And then we went our separate ways,” she says.
While nothing obviously romantic had happened, Martina disembarked the plane with that same feeling of certainty: “We’re going to be together.”
There was something in the way they spoke to each other. Something about the way they looked at each other. But most of all, it was the ease Martina felt in his company.
A couple of her friends spotted the connection too.
“Oh, he’s cute. I saw you,” said one of them, nudging Martina as they disembarked the plane.
A restaurant reunion
Over the next week, Martina and Leslie enjoyed their respective adventures in and around Nairobi. They both thought about one another from time to time, but mostly focused on enjoying their travels.
“Then, on the very last day – or his last day, I was staying a day longer – we ended up at the same restaurant,” says Martina.
It was a seafood restaurant – Martina’s favorite, but far from Leslie’s first choice. He hates seafood and when his friend suggested it, he’d considered vetoing the idea, but then decided he didn’t want to “be that person.”
So he ended up, against the odds, at a restaurant where he couldn’t eat almost anything on the menu. And then he spotted Martina and he forgot all about the food.
She saw him too. They didn’t meet each other’s gaze. Instead, they both stole glances when they thought the other wasn’t looking.
“I was excited to see him,” says Martina. “But I was also playing it very cool.”
Leslie got up several times and walked by Martina’s table, hoping she might spot him and speak to him.
“I went to the restroom. Didn’t think she caught my attention. So I end up going back like two or three more times and still didn’t make any kind of eye contact with her,” he says.
But, then, coincidentally, Leslie and Martina both ended up leaving the restaurant at the same time.
The restaurant was in a hotel, so the two ended up standing in the lobby together, both with their friends in tow, chatting for a bit. It was, says Martina, “a little awkward.”
But she still left with that same thought: “If he’s single, we’re going to have a moment.”
“It’s weird, because it was just a matter-of-fact feeling,” says Martina today. “It wasn’t necessarily like, ‘Oh, I just met this guy – I’m so excited!’ It was just a very calm, matter-of-fact: ‘We just had a great conversation. He seems like a great person. And if he’s single, that’s it. We’re going to date.’”
Leslie was single. Just before he flew to Nairobi, he’d deleted the dating apps he’d been using off and on for the past couple of years.
“I live in New York City,” he thought. “There’s no way I can’t meet someone in person.”
On past travels, he’d daydreamed about meeting someone at the airplane gate, or boarding the airplane and catching someone’s eye. But he’d never thought it would actually happen.
And when it did actually happen, it just felt natural.
“Everything just kind of seemed like it was meant to be, or just was happening for a reason,” says Leslie.
Everything just kind of seemed like it was meant to be, or just was happening for a reason.
A few days later, once Martina and Leslie were both home in the US, Martina sent him a text.
“How’s jet lag treating you?” she wrote.
From there, they messaged back and forth for a day or two, comparing what they’d each got up to in Nairobi. Then Leslie invited Martina to dinner.
He picked out a South African restaurant in Midtown.
Martina lived right on the edge of New Jersey and could usually get into New York City within 10 minutes. But that day, the traffic was terrible.
In stationary traffic, Martina sat behind the wheel, fretting Leslie would think she’d stood him up and just leave. She called him to explain and apologise.
Leslie told her not to worry. He wasn’t going anywhere. An hour and a half later, Martina arrived.
“When she walked up, I remember thinking she was even cuter than I remembered,” says Leslie. “When we first met I believe her hair was straight. And at that time it was really curly and I was like, ‘Oh this is really cute.’”
Martina and Leslie settled quickly back into the easy conversation they’d enjoyed on the plane.
And then, at the end of the night, they realised they were both flying out of Newark Airport the next day. The Easter weekend was approaching, and they were both traveling to visit their families – Martina was heading back to Ohio and Leslie to Michigan.
“So the very next day, we met up at the airport before our flight,” says Martina. “I always say our second date was at the airport.”
Over the next few days, Martina and Leslie texted non-stop. Three dates turned into four and then five and then they quickly lost count.
“We were constantly in touch,” says Leslie.
“It was very easy,” says Martina. “There were no gray areas. We liked each other, and we hung out, we spent time together.”
A month or so later, Leslie went to San Francisco for a work trip and Martina joined him for part of the time. It was their first trip together, and was shortly followed by their second – a weekend away with Martina’s friends at a beach house in Delaware.
Martina was also busy planning her next big adventure – a trip to Costa Rica in November to coincide with her 30th birthday. She’d invited her closest friends to join her. Only weeks after meeting Leslie, she invited him too.
The trip was still months away, and the relationship was still new. It was a little intimidating, but Leslie tried not to worry about this. He knew he wanted things to work out, and wanted to be there.
“I’m an overthinker,” he says. “And the more I overthink, the more I stop making moves. I told myself not to overthink this.”
There were a couple of bumps in the road – by the summer, Martina was getting frustrated at Leslie’s hesitation to label the relationship. This conversation came to a head in July, three months or so after they’d got together.
But after this — their first proper argument – Martina and Leslie confirmed that, yes, they were in a relationship. And yes, they both wanted to see where it went next. And yes, they couldn’t wait.
Travel quickly became a cornerstone of Leslie and Martina’s relationship.
“We really enjoyed each other and we traveled a lot,” says Leslie. “So that was cool for both of us to have someone to travel with.”
Martina was the more adventurous of the two, so she encouraged Leslie to get outside of his comfort zone.
The couple realised they traveled well together, with good “synergy,” as they put it.
“In a lot of different ways, it just all seemed to work, just seemed like the perfect situation. perfect match for us,” says Leslie.
Around a year and a half after their airplane meeting, in December 2016, Leslie and Martina traveled to London. together. It was a city that meant a lot to both of them – Martina studied there, while Leslie has family in the UK.
Leslie figured London was the perfect location for a proposal. Leslie and Martina had spoken about marriage and both saw it as the next step, so the proposal wouldn’t be a surprise, but Leslie wanted to surprise Martina in the moment.
He enlisted the help of his London-based cousins, asking if they could also get a bunch of their friends on board.
Leslie arranged that he and Martina would walk by Tower Bridge, a famous London landmark, just as night fell. Once there, they’d be approached by a series of seemingly random strangers, who were actually friends of his cousins on a mission.
Each stranger handed Martina a rose and a piece of paper with a letter printed on it. The first two interactions just seemed random and Martina assumed the strangers were trying to get her to buy the roses.
Then, people started coming thick and fast and soon the letters spelled out a question: “Will you marry me?”
“And once the last person came, I got on my knee and asked her,” says Leslie.
Martina was both overwhelmed and delighted.
“I was so, so happy. It was an incredible feeling. It was just amazing,” she says. “And what made it even more special to me is that it was in London.
“London is where I got my first passport stamp and really opened up my mind and my heart, and is where I truly fell in love with travel.
“So then to go back to the very first place where it started – and now I’m getting proposed to by the man that I met on a plane – it was really special.”
Martina and Leslie say their wedding day in Columbus, Ohio was “really beautiful.” The theme was “love at first flight,” with this slogan emblazoned on the invites and the menus, and the couple gave guests luggage tags as party favors. Martina Jones became Martina Jones Johnson.
Cut to today and travel remains a big part of Martina and Leslie’s lives. They chronicle their adventures on their Instagram account That Couple Who Travels, aiming to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
“I’m so appreciative of the community that we’ve built and the opportunities that we’re able to have from it,” says Martina.
Martina and Leslie’s account includes destination guides, flight reviews and recommendations of Black-owned businesses, as well as photographs of the couple on their incredible adventures across the globe.
“I do love being a representation of a healthy Black relationship,” says Martina. “I think more people need to see that.”
This is important to Martina and Leslie not only in the context of Instagram.
Martina recalls a recent group trip where she and Leslie found themselves entirely in the company of older White couples.
“These people aren’t around young Black couples. But we just loved each other, we just had such a good time with each other, sharing our different experiences and bonding over travel,” she says.
“And that’s what it’s all about. I think that’s how the world gets better. Love is what kills hate and it’s what makes fears go away when you have those relationships with people.”
I love to travel. I traveled and I met the love of my life. So, find that thing that you love and you don’t know what breadcrumbs that will lead you to.
Martina Jones Johnson
Looking back on the not-actually-a-scam flight, and their fortuitous meeting, leads Leslie to conclude “you just never know what’s out there.
“I met someone who lived not too far away from me, but I met them on a plane – thousands or whatever miles away from home,” he says.
As for Martina, she finds herself reflecting on something her best friend said to her long before Leslie came into her life:
“Do what you love, and it will lead you to everything else.”
For Martina, this turned out to be true.
“I love to travel. I traveled and I met the love of my life. So, find that thing that you love and you don’t know what breadcrumbs that will lead you to. It might lead you to the love of your life. It might lead you to your purpose – you just don’t know, but we all have unique desires and things that we are passionate about,” says Martina. “Don’t ignore it. Don’t wait for someone else to go with you. Just do what you love and see what happens.”
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