I was having an interesting conversation recently with an acquaintance of mine, a guy about my age who has been with his wife for about four years, and asked me “how do you still get along while you travel? I’ve always thought traveling as a couple was really difficult.” The question struck me strangely, perhaps because I really don’t often consider the status of “getting along” or “not getting along” in terms of our relationship – we’re together. Always will be. Win, lose or draw, good day or bad, it’s us. There’s only one state of “permanence”, I suppose, and we stay present in that when we travel. And, as the quote says, “the couple that travels together stays together”.
I had to think about the question for a moment because Tracy and I don’t really consider our relationship in those exact terms, so I had to ask him to expound. “Well, just being around each other for weeks at a time. Doing everything together. Never being out of eyesight or earshot… how do you do it?”
There was a realization that some couples may struggle to get along more when they travel, but it’s our experience together over ten years and many trips that have helped us to learn how to do so. I gave my friend a moderately well though-out explanation of what I thought before moving on, but the question hasn’t left me for a few days. I thought “maybe this is a real problem for every couple… maybe we had the same problem once and just figured it out?”
It seemed like something worth writing about.
We do have ten years together, and while I don’t think we have it all “figured out”, our disagreements are normally pretty short in nature, pretty silly, and we move past them without too much time wasted. I thought of the first few times we traveled together, however, and I suppose the reality did strike me that we did, in fact, have to learn to travel together. The learning curve is very real that when you’re traveling as a couple, you perhaps learn more about each other than you do even living together.
Travel is fun and travel is expansive, but sometimes it can be challenging and force you out of your comfort zone in ways that compel you to admit that you have the capability of improving. Especially when you travel with the one you love. Additionally, you see sides of each other that you don’t see every day – ranging from how you deal with uncommon stress, to how you respond to wait staff, and so forth. Travel can be as real as anything when it comes to learning about your significant other.
So, after twelve years and thirty countries together, we were able to come up with a list of a few things we remember that help us survive (and even thrive) as a traveling couple!
The Couple That Travels Together, Stays Together
This may seem obvious, and it is. Really obvious.
Pick the right person to be with.
Does this mean you’ll never fight? Yeah, right. Does this mean you’ll never disagree? Not a chance. However, there should be a basic respect and interest in one another, as well as commonality that will enable you to travel with each other. If you don’t have this, forget traveling, you probably shouldn’t even be together. Harsh truth? Maybe. Truth, none-the-less? We believe so. We’ve all been in relationships where we didn’t have anything in common with the other person, and we actually place the “love of travel” right along the questions of religion and children when being in a relationship.
If one person loves travel and the other could care less? One will either have a sense of unrequited wanderlust or the other will feel dragged through life paying for trips they don’t want to go on.
Find someone that loves to travel as much as you do.
Assume Positive Intent
So, you picked the right one? Here’s a secret – you’re still going to have disagreements. Travel doesn’t change that – it can, in fact, enhance it. The biggest travel tip for any couple is to “assume positive intent.”
After a twelve-hour flight, expect each other to be less energetic, less understanding and less patient than normal. This is absolutely human nature, and something you should both expect from one another.
You’re going to be tired sometimes. Jet lag is a nightmare to your state of mind, so allow for some adjustment. You’re going to be curt with each other at some point on your trip if you get a little lost or something doesn’t go according to plan. Don’t make it the end of the world, don’t make it more negative than it is, and don’t expect the worst in the other person because they’re a human with human feelings and prone to the same bouts of unsolicited grumpiness that you also exhibit.
Instead, assume that the other person loves you and means well. Assume that, if something offensive was done or said, that it wasn’t done maliciously. Don’t look for reasons to stoke the fire. Assume positive intent and ask the same in return.
It goes without saying that every relationship requires compromise to work, but it’s especially important when traveling together. After all, travel opens up possibilities and gives you myriad things you can do together. Isn’t it wise to make sure that each of you gets to do the things that matter most?
Tracy and I feel like this is something we’ve learned well over the years, and an area where we needed improvement – and luckily have! Much of our planning prior to trips comes with the idea in mind of picking “me-things” and “you-things” to make sure we each give and take in our experiences, but what you find is that even the “you-things” are enjoyable and help you out of your comfort zone!
For example, we wouldn’t even travel today if Tracy didn’t help me get over my fear of flying. Early in our relationship, we established a give-and-take that included me working on my fear so we could enjoy traveling together. Once out of my comfort zone, I was able to experience the deep love I also had for travel, but could never express!
Over time, it’s amazing how many of your interests will begin to meld if you remember to meet in the middle when it comes to picking excursions and even picking places to visit.
If you have a modicum of observance, you know when someone isn’t into something you’re into. We’ve all been telling a story, and saw a glazed look come over the other person, or some other sign that it was time to “wrap it up.” The same is true in traveling as a couple.
Pay attention to how your partner likes to travel. Note what they enjoy, and anticipate that if you’re excited about doing something they might not share the same enthusiasm. Always be aware, and take care not to be overly selfish with the time spent on any one particular activity or excursion – especially if it’s something you know your partner doesn’t care for. Overindulging in one thing, especially to the level of disregard in relation to your partner, is a good way to screw up a vacation for any couple.
Focus on Things “Outside the Hotel Room”
It’s awesome to relax, but if you’re spending too much time in the hotel room you aren’t exploring. Odds are that your partner probably wants to do more than this, and you need to press on and do something fun. Get out. Venture.
One thing that makes compromise impossible is a lack of communication. After all, how can you compromise with each other when you don’t know what the other person wants? It’s important to ask and be an active participant in listening to what your partner wants to do. Furthermore, understand why.
For Tracy, I couldn’t properly appreciate her love of the United Kingdom without understanding her fascination with her family heritage, and she could say the same about me and Scandinavia (Skol!). Understanding the “why” behind the “what” is an old sales tactic, but it’s really best used in a relationship – especially for traveling couples!
You should set expectations while being flexible. For example, if one of you really has a bucket-list item that isn’t shared by the other person, it’s pertinent to make sure that happens – for each of you. Decide what those important things to each other are, and show understanding by making sure they happen when you travel.
While the point of traveling together is to be together, there should be times where you do your own thing – if even just for a few minutes at a time. I’ll give a few different examples.
In Lima, I found myself more jet-lagged than usual after a five hour flight. Really wanting to do nothing but rest, Tracy decided to venture out for a few hours (it was still daylight in a safe area close to the hotel, nothing crazy), shop, and get familiar with the area around the hotel. By the time she got back, I was rested and ready for dinner, and from that point on we were synced. Had I pushed and gone out, my exhaustion probably would’ve only gotten worse, crankiness may have ensued and we could’ve had a disagreement because of it.
On a smaller scale, don’t stay attached to the hip in markets and walking around in general. For example, while in the flower markets in Amsterdam, Tracy would walk off while I did the same, and generally say “let’s meet back here in 20.” You can do everything generally the same without doing everything exactly the same and allow each other a little breathing space.
Overcommunicate on money, especially when you’re planning for the trip. Set a budget you can both agree to, with both partners buying into the plan, and stick to it! Nothing adds unwanted stress for couples who travel like monetary issues.
Embrace Doing Nothing
Couples can feel a lot of pressure to do more than what is necessary when they travel. Sometimes what’s really nice is just to do absolutely nothing together – especially while you’re adjusting from jet-lag.
What’s funny is that, many years after having gone on certain trips, Tracy and I still talk about the times we did nothing. Right alongside our conversations of the Rialto Bridge and Machu Picchu is the time we arrived in Vienna with overcast, chilly weather, took a four-hour nap, woke up and went to get a beer. Don’t let each other feel the pressure to overextend – enjoy the relaxation.
Accept The Disagreements That Do Happen
Following all of this advice for couples who travel, you’re still going to have disagreements from time to time. This occurs in relationships, no matter if you’re traveling or not.
It’s easy to get frustrated when this happens, and the frustration can lead to a lack of listening, lack of understanding and ultimately a longer argument. Just accept that disagreements exist and realize them for what they are – normal.
Instead of concentrating on being right or “winning” a disagreement (no one ever does, by the way) concentrate on understanding, listening, communicating and understanding why you traveled together in the first place – for the love of travel.
Do Something Different
Be willing to explore the unknown just for the sake of it. We’ve taken chances on excursions and cities that we really didn’t know a lot about, but instead thought that the challenge of doing something different would be worth it. In most cases, we’ve been glad we did so!
Do One Thing You Don’t Like
Make sure you do one thing you absolutely don’t care for, but you know your partner loves. If your partner is a daredevil, and you aren’t, be willing to expand your comfort zone – if only a little. Be willing to make an effort. If you don’t like the opera? Buy the tickets ahead of time if your partner does, and surprise them.
The few hours you’ll spend will make the rest of the trip way better for both of you.
Have One White-Cloth Meal
Have a date night – even on vacation. Tracy and I spend a lot of time splitting small meals and eating on the run when we travel, but we try to always remember to have one or two nights where we do something romantic and special.
Make sure you ask your partner what he/she really wants to do, and where they want to go. Most importantly, invest yourself in caring about the answer, and come to mutual decisions about the itinerary.
Handle Difficulties with Grace
This is something I had to learn, being someone who likes to take care of the itinerary, the planning, and really can’t stand it if plans go awry. In the past, I’ve let stress get to me while we’ve been on trips, and allowed it to make me frustrated – effectively wasting precious moments. After all, isn’t a minor set-back on vacation better than not traveling? Of course it is!
It took a long time to learn, but both partners need to roll with the punches, and that’s something Tracy taught me. If something is out of your control, do what you can about it, but don’t get depressed or upset about delays, bad weather, or anything else that might normally frustrate you.
If you stick with these basic tips, traveling as a couple will continue to be as enjoyable and expansive as you both dream it can be!