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They fell in love backpacking through Europe then they lost each other, now they've been married for 24 years

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Posted at 7:36 PM, Jun 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-16 19:36:32-04

(CNN) — Tom Latkovic woke up in disbelief. He’d found the woman of his dreams and somehow, less than 12 hours later, lost her – maybe forever.

It was the summer of 1998 and Tom, a 22-year-old recent graduate of the University of Michigan, was on a six week European backpacking adventure.

He’d crossed paths with Kim Morgan, who’d just finished up grad school at the University of Memphis, in a Munich hostel the night before. The spark was instantaneous. Tom and Kim spent all evening together, first hanging out as a group with Tom’s travel buddy John and Kim’s friend Amanda, and later, wandering the city alone.

The two young travelers ended up lying side-by-side on the grass in Munich’s English Garden, stargazing, talking about their lives, swept up in the romance of the moment.

But now it was the next day and Kim was nowhere to be seen. And not only that, Tom didn’t know her last name, didn’t have her contact details and had no idea where she might be.

Meeting Kim in the first place had felt like fate. But Tom decided he wasn’t going to rely on fate to strike twice.

“I’m more of a ‘providence favors the prepared’ kind of guy,” he tells CNN Travel today.

So Tom and his friend John checked out of the hostel and wandered around Munich for a couple of hours. As they walked, Tom formulated a plan.

He scribbled down his contact details – his full name, his email address, his parents’ address back home in Ohio – on a piece of paper, so that “if I ever just saw Kim walking somewhere, across the street, I could throw it to her or something.”

But still, this seemed like a long shot. Tom decided he needed a more thorough strategy.

“And that strategy was – find the biggest public place and find some way to be noticed,” he recalls.

Tom and John made their way to Munich’s Marienplatz, a central plaza in the middle of the city. That day in late May 1998, Marienplatz was crammed with travelers with backpacks, taking photos, admiring the neo-gothic architecture. It seemed likely Kim might be among them, but it was impossible to spot her amid the throngs of people.

Still, step one of Tom’s plan was complete – “find the biggest public place.”

In the center of the plaza a street performer was balancing atop a tall unicycle. Onlookers were circling him, cheering and applauding.

When the street performer produced two large swords and announced he was in need of a volunteer, Tom realized this was the perfect way to fulfill part two of his plan:

“Find some way to be noticed.”

“I don’t volunteer for stuff like that, I would never have usually done that, but it was a big crowd…” he recalls.

So Tom enthusiastically stepped forward, dragging a slightly-less-keen John in his wake. Before long, the two men were standing in the center of the circle, passing the swords to the performer to juggle atop his unicycle. The crowd of onlookers whooped and applauded.

Then the performance was over and the street performer was circulating his hat, tourists digging out coins from their pockets. Tom glanced around hopefully, but Kim remained nowhere to be seen.

He was beginning to think it was a lost cause, when someone tapped on his shoulder.

Tom turned around. It was Kim. He saw the disbelief, relief and happiness he was feeling reflected back at him on her face.

“I didn’t think I’d see you again,” Kim said, smiling.

“I thought you’d left,” said Tom.

Against the odds, Tom and Kim had found each other again. But this was just the beginning of their story.

A Munich meeting

Like Tom, Kim had spent that day in disbelief that she’d found someone who seemed so perfect, and lost him just as quickly.

But whereas Tom tried to take fate into his own hands, Kim had a different approach to the situation. She decided destiny had brought Tom to her once already. That suggested that, if it was meant to be, she’d cross paths with Tom again.

But as she spent the day sightseeing around Munich, Kim started to regret that decision. And she kept replaying the moment she first met Tom.

It all started at the 4You Munchen Youth Hostel, a backpackers hub located near the city’s main train station.

While she was waiting for the elevator with Amanda, Kim spotted Tom walking down the hallway with John. Right away, Kim thought Tom was “really cute.”

Meanwhile Tom, who’d been planning on taking the stairs, quickly changed course when saw “this striking woman in a dress.”

But once they were all inside the elevator, Tom found himself suddenly shy and unsure how to strike up a conversation with Kim.

“I remember thinking, ‘Well, somebody’s got to say something,’” recalls Kim.

So, she asked Tom and John where they were from. From there, Tom, Kim, Amanda and John chatted about their respective colleges and travels.

The elevator reached the hostel lobby and the travelers headed out into the warm evening together. By coincidence, they were all heading in the same direction – to the Hofbrauhaus Munchen – a beer garden, restaurant and Munich institution. Tom, Kim, Amanda and John walked there en masse, still talking.

When they reached the Hofbrauhaus, the foursome lingered awkwardly for a minute, but then, rather than heading to separate tables, decided to sit together on an outdoor patio.

“Tom was sitting across from me, at this long picnic table, and it was almost like we were interviewing each other,” recalls Kim.

“We were flirting within nine seconds,” says Tom.

Questions they asked one another included:

“Do you want children? Do you want to get married? How do you see your life going? What do you want in your future?”

“I think John and Amanda were like, ‘What is going on here?’” says Kim, laughing.

“We drank a lot of beer too,” adds Tom.

This had been going on a little while when Kim wove into the conversation a key detail – she had a boyfriend back home in the US.

At this news, Tom raised an eyebrow. Already, it felt obvious there was a connection between him and Kim. Somehow, anything else seemed irrelevant.

“It was clear to us,” he says. “It was clear to John and Amanda.”

Later that night, when Tom and Kim were lying side by side in Munich’s English Garden, their conversation, which had been almost constant all night, came to a standstill.

In the sudden quiet, Kim turned to Tom and asked him what he was thinking.

“I was just thinking about how pretty the sky is,” he said.

“What else are you thinking?” pressed Kim.

Tom paused, and then said:

“I was just thinking how I’d really like to kiss you.”

“And I said, ‘What are you waiting for?’ recalls Kim today. “And he kissed me.”

Excerpt from John's travel journal
Excerpt from John's travel journal

Losing one another

When Tom and Kim eventually got back to the hostel it was nearly 5 a.m. They went their separate ways to their respective dorm rooms, promising to hang out at breakfast.

But in the morning Kim couldn’t see Tom or John anywhere.

Amanda suggested Kim knock on Tom’s dorm room door, in case he was still asleep. But Kim couldn’t bring herself to do that, it felt too forward.

“So I stubbornly stayed put even though Amanda kept encouraging me,” she recalls.

Instead, she sat downstairs, waiting. Time passed and there was still no sign of Tom.

“After hopelessly waiting an hour or two in the lobby, I gave up,” says Kim.

As Kim walked away from the hostel, she realized that while she knew almost everything about Tom’s life goals, his ambitions, his dreams – she didn’t know his full name and had no way of contacting him.

Little did Kim know that Tom was actually in his dorm room the whole time, accidentally sleeping the day away.

But somehow, against the odds, Tom and Kim reunited that evening at Marienplatz.

Kim will never forget the moment she spotted Tom assisting the street volunteer with his sword trick. She even snapped some photos with her camera.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says Kim. “I thought I would never see him again.”

After they’d reunited, Tom, Kim, Amanda and John stood together on the plaza, talking for several hours. Their reunion was short lived – Tom and John were heading to Prague that evening.

“But then, before they had to leave to catch their night train to Prague, Tommy pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket with his name, address, phone number, and email on it,” recalls Kim.

This was the paper he’d prepared earlier. Kim was a bit bemused by the idea he’d carried it around all day. But she was relieved that, although they had to part ways again, they’d do so at least knowing each other’s full names.

And before they said their goodbyes, Kim mentioned that she and Amanda would be heading to Balmer’s Youth Hostel in mountainous Interlaken, Switzerland in about a week.

For Kim, there was a message implicit in this piece of information. It was her way of saying:

“That’s where I’ll be in a week, if you want to see me, show up.’”

Reunited in Switzerland

A week later, Kim was lying in a hammock, admiring the peaceful surrounds of Interlaken and its stretch of mountains, sky and lakes.

Then she looked up and saw a new group of backpackers, fresh off the train, heading into the hostel to check in. She scanned the faces hopefully, and sure enough – there was Tom.

“He showed up,” Kim remembers thinking.

Over the next couple of days, Tom, Kim, Amanda and John explored Interlaken together. Tom and Kim both secretly hoped Amanda and John would hit off romantically as well – they didn’t, but they did get on well and became good friends too.

The foursome decided to travel onto their next destination together, catching a train to Venice, Italy.

A few days later, Tom and Kim found themselves alone, walking hand-in-hand along the Venetian canals.

“We were on one of those bridges over the river,” recalls Kim. “I remember the moon was out, it was a beautiful night and we’re standing there talking.”

“Okay, this guy – something’s here. This is unique,’” she remembers thinking.

Then Tom paused for a moment, looking serious suddenly.

“When I look at you,” he said. “I can see you, old and gray. And I can see all our kids and grandkids around us.”

Normally Kim would have been alarmed by such a statement. But it felt like exactly the right thing for Tom to say at that moment.

“Me too,” she said.

Later, Tom called home. He told his mother about Kim, explaining what they had was “pretty special.”

“To this day, it means a lot to her that I told her – she was the first person other than John to know that I had met Kim,” says Tom.

Tom’s mother was really excited for him. But when Kim called home, her parents’ reaction was slightly different. They were worried. What about Kim’s college boyfriend? What if she was just swept up in the romance of a European vacation?

But later that summer – once Kim was back home in the US and had ended things with her boyfriend and introduced Tom to her parents – they had a different reaction. As soon as Kim’s parents met Tom, and saw Tom and Kim’s natural ease together, they were wholeheartedly supportive.

Over the next couple of months, Kim and Tom spent every moment they could together. They were unsure what would happen next: Kim had a job lined up in Atlanta, Georgia while Tom was set to start working in Cleveland, Ohio. This upcoming long distance, along with the firm foundation they’d laid in Europe, accelerated their relationship.

“We took a year of dating and stuck into a couple of months,” is how Tom puts it.

On Christmas Eve 1998, Tom proposed to Kim. The following year, they got married in Memphis, Tennessee. Kim took Tom’s name, becoming Kim Latkovic.

At their rehearsal dinner, Tom’s traveling buddy John gave Tom and Kim a gift. It was a framed page torn from his travel journal, dated May 27, 1998 – the night Tom and Kim first met.

“I now must ponder the idea of fate,” read the journal entry. “On our way to dinner, Tom and I met these two girls, Kim and Amanda, in the elevator at our hostel. We ended up going to dinner, staying at the Hofbrauhaus all night, and having a blast.

“It was really interesting to watch Tom watch Kim, and vice versa. I couldn’t get past the idea that this was supposed to happen, that these two were supposed to meet, Ten bucks says Tom marries her.”

25 years later

Twenty five years later, Tom and Kim are still happily married and live together in Memphis. The couple have three kids, two currently in college and one in high school. They remain friends with Amanda and John. The framed page from John’s journal is in pride of place in their home, next to a photograph from their wedding day.

Tom and Kim still enjoy exploring new destinations together and in their house they’ve got a map filled with pins tracking all the countries they’ve visited so far.

But while the couple love visiting new places, one of their most memorable trips was a return visit to Munich in 2015, when they took their kids to see where their love story began.

Naturally, this trip included a pilgrimage to the 4You hostel, to pose for a photo outside the elevator.

“I was so happy to know it’s still there and is still a youth hostel for backpackers,” says Kim.

Tom and Kim’s children played along, but were a little bemused by the whole thing.

“I think the physical elevator was not necessarily as important to them,” says Tom, laughing.

Afterwards, the family wandered through Marienplatz. This time round, Tom didn’t volunteer for any street performances, but Tom and Kim found themselves reflecting on the way Tom took fate into his own hands following their initial serendipitous meeting.

For Tom and Kim, Tom’s decisions that day taught them an important lesson about romance – and life more generally – which they’ve carried with them ever since.

“Be bold, take risks, be vulnerable,” is how Tom sums it up.

“If each of those things hadn’t been done, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be together and gosh, that would be – what a waste. That’d be horrible,” he says.

“I love her. And she’s made my life so much better. And we’ve got awesome kids. So, to me the implication, it’s quite profound.”