When we first started traveling, we had no idea that it would one day be something we felt we had to survive as a couple.
Long before I met Eric, I had dreamed of traveling the world. Whenever I imagined my future, I saw myself eternally globetrotting, volunteering, and soaking up every experience I could. But I always saw myself alone. Not because I wanted to be single for the rest of my life, but because I didn’t think there was a man out there whose wanderlust could match mine. My only other serious relationship was with a guy who couldn’t go snorkeling on a family vacation in Australia, because the water made his skin itch. He also balked at the idea, when I told him I wanted to go to India for the summer to volunteer. I had come to terms with the fact, that if I wanted this life filled with travel, it might just have to be alone.
Then one cold January night in DC, in a cozy bar, I met Eric. We instantly bonded over our mutual love for and desire to travel. He had just gone to Cuba, and I had just returned from Guatemala. When we started dating, many of our conversations turned into intense talks of travel, the places we wanted to go, and when we would be able to find the time and the money to go.
Traveling as a Couple
We would take short, magical trips early on in our relationship. Road trips to Montreal, Memphis, or Prince Edward Island. On each of these trips, our relationship always felt stronger and better than ever. I think at the time, I believed that when we traded in our DC lives for a life on the road, it would be rainbows and butterflies most of the time.
The reality is, traveling can be a major stressor on any relationship. Not only are there challenges that come up, but it brings out the best and the worst of both you and your partner. Things in your relationship can feel magnified. Those issues that have been hiding out in your relationship become magnified.
The Challenges of Traveling with a Significant Other
The first time we felt that traveling was something we had to survive, versus simply enjoy, was the summer of 2012. Our 17,000 mile/37 state/3 month road trip lost its magic somewhere between Montana and Oregon. By the time we reached Death Valley that summer, our relationship felt painfully tedious. I remember sitting in the passenger seat, holding back tears, after a fight about who knows what, thinking to myself, “how did we get here? How did we become this couple who can’t stop fighting over everything, even though we are doing what we carefully planned to do?”
We had made each other miserable.
When we reflect back on those days, we both agree that summer on the road almost tore us apart. There were several times where I asked Eric to pull over and leave me on the side of the road. In the middle of literally no where. But he didn’t. And we survived. Somewhere on the road between New Mexico and Louisiana, Eric even decided he wanted to ask me to marry him.
It would have been so easy for either of us to just walk away, seemingly even if it meant walking into the night in the middle of no where! The only reason we didn’t breakup that summer was, because we made the choice to stick it through and work it out. We knew deep down, that we loved each other.
Here’s what we figured out while on that epic journey about how to survive traveling as a couple, especially on really long trips:
1.) You have to communicate! Of course this applies to every day life, but it applies even more so on the road. When you are stuck in the car with someone on a long road trip or around them a lot more than normally, you have less space to walk away from the situation. When you are upset with one another, it’s best to find a way to calmly talk about it and share how you are feeling. If things start to escalate, take a few moments from the conversation. If you are in the car together, take a few minutes to just be silent, and then go back to the issue.
2.) Talk about each of your expectations for the trip. Many of our arguments revolved around a lack of understanding of what the other expected out of the trip. When those expectations didn’t feel like they were being met, KABOOM. The best way to manage expectations is to communicate those expectations before the trip. Going to Mexico for two weeks? Talk about what each of you wants out of the trip. Do you want to have rigorous adventures every day, or do you want to primarily relax, lay on the beach, and read a book? If each of your expectations are different, come to an understanding that both of you feel comfortable with.
3.) Be open to changes and challenges. Unexpected things come up while you travel. There are potential road hazards and/or new opportunities at every corner that can change the trip. All of these things, even the challenges, are part of the adventure. Allow yourself to just go with it.
4.) Build in a little bit of solo time. It’s not possible to spend every minute of the day with someone and not get sick of them! Decide when/where you two will go off on your own for a few hours here and there.
5.) Laugh it off. There have been so many times, when we were in the middle of a heated argument, both of us completely pissed at each other, and one of us instantly makes the other laugh. Then we take a step back and realize we aren’t really fighting about anything real, and we are probably both just a bit annoyed from sitting in a car/bus/train/boat/plane for 10 hours.
6.) Let it go. Some of the fights we’ve had could have just been avoided, if we had just let some stuff go. You will annoy each other. Before starting an argument, ask yourself if it’s something that actually needs to be addressed, or if you need to laugh it off and/or claim a bit of personal space.
7.) Sometimes it’s nice to book a room with two beds. Every once in while, when we are on the road, we welcome a hotel room where we have two beds, and we can get a little bit of nighttime space from each other. We always miss each more the next morning.
8.) Have fun. Stop focusing on the things that aren’t going as planned. No trip is ever perfect, and if you can let go and handle change well, the best trips are usually the ones that end up veering off the original “well thought out” plan. Enjoy the time you have together, because it is the building blocks for beautiful memories for years. And in the end, even if you had a few frustrated walks into the middle of nowhere, you’ll always remember the experience.
Have you ever found it challenging to travel with someone else? Tell us about it in the comments below.