The equation of couple travel can really go one of two ways:
couple + travel = happiness OR couple + travel = stress and disaster.
From Tom Sawyer to Alexander Supertramp and throughout the narratives of adventure, there has long been a glorification of the solo trek. Adventure awaits the individual, and the pinnacle of culture is for those who you can overcome the struggles of the road by themselves. Traveling independently is awesome, but overlooked in the classic adventure tales is the magic and sacrifice of those who can travel successfully with someone else. Specifically, those who’ve managed to survive the intensity of travel with their significant other.
You may have a stable relationship back home, live comfortably among one another, spend leisure time in each other’s company, but as soon as you’re a week in on the road, everything becomes shakier and more difficult. You’re not crazy in thinking that if good relationships thrive in tough scenarios, but traveling adds an unpredictable element to the sustainability of a relationship. We’re not saying it’s impossible to travel with your significant other—we’ve done it for three years now— we’re emphasizing that it takes extra work to find balance and sanity while living out of a backpack on the road. The certainty that you’ve probably nailed down at home is dependent on knowing what’s comfortable, having your own space to retreat to, and being able to acquire some alone time throughout the day. You don’t have that luxury when backpacking. The only certainty is one another. With travel, most everything is subject to change. This means that at the end of the day there’s a lot more dependency on what’s constant—your willingness to go with the flow and who's at your side.
We've had to overcome the anxiety of travel as a couple. It’s been a difficult aspect of our friendship and companionship to throw in life on the road. We’ve clashed in some peculiar ways. You never know what small an insignificant detail is going to trigger a dispute. For example, I, Rose, am notorious for losing my belongings—especially the significant ones like my phone and wallet. This had long been an established part of our relationship before traveling, but ironically I lost my phone the first day of a thirty-day stint abroad. I didn't dwell on the fact that I lost my phone and neither had Tom, but when pushed beyond comfort because of lack of sleep and hunger, this phone incidence became a trigger for a ridiculous argument in Budapest a few weeks later. We might nit-pick at one another for something that at home wouldn’t even cause a second thought. The key is figuring out a plan when things do get tense.
Yes, we are suggesting that you get a little nerdy and make a de-escalation plan. We're most vulnerable to frustration on days of movement (airports, train stations, etc.) but in knowing this, we work together to avoid those "nothing arguments." We make sure that we’re communicating and that we have a rough plan for getting to and from locations. We also ensure that we've both been feed. We're also aware of how to appropriately compromise. While traveling alone allows for an air of freedom, traveling as a couple requires that both parties have an input. It’s a give and take, but don’t always assume you have to do everything together.
Most importantly, especially in long spans abroad, we make sure that we each have time to ourselves. Tom and I usually balance a few hours during the day where he spends some quality time with his camera out in the area, while I cozy up in a coffee shop to read or write. This has been a massive part of our success—being individual people and not a unidentifiable blob.
A big factor in our success as a couple and our compatibility on the road has been our opportunities to travel extensively on our own. We each have a better understanding of the nature of travel and what it takes to survive the inconsistencies of international life. We’ve each had a taste for the pinnacle travel moments and our share of disaster. We’ve each haggled with scenarios where everything went wrong and come to find happiness in letting things go. But one thing that we don’t miss is that inability to share in the magic of travel with one another.
When you’ve had the chance to travel abroad, it’s impossible to talk about your adventures with friends and family back home without causing them to wince in annoyance after the seven-hundredth time of telling them about your study abroad experience. Sharing that experience with someone else creates an effortless bond in which you can timelessly reminisce about sake in Japan or bungee jumping in Colombia.
Change can be the breaking point for some people. In our experience of five years together and 19 months of consecutive travel, the outcome is worth the struggle. Who knows, taking a chance to travel with your significant other might be destructive. You may discover that you hate how impatient they are, or that they snore. But you just might find your soulmate, and he just might say yes to a Greek wedding and years of continuing to travel.
Things We've Discovered Traveling as a Couple:
A lot of the items on our solo list are rewards for travel in general and we've added a few other benefits below.
-Sharing the excitements
-Having a best friend on the road
-Exclusive inside moments that you don’t have to explain
-Working off one another’s strengths (Rose—great with maps and navigation, Tom—organized, responsible, and able to barter)
-Sharing the responsibilities: planning, researching, mapping, and preparing appropriate travel documents
-Being able to share the burden of expenses. We split a lot of meals, cook in the hostels, and split the cost of accommodations (which doesn’t really matter if it’s single bed dorm rooms, but it’s nice when you want to splurge and get a private room)
-You’re never lonely
-Homesickness seems to be less extreme when you’ve brought a piece of home with you
-Deciding on destinations, activities, and food are dependent on both of your tastes and opinions
-Stronger feeling of security if things were to go wrong
Things We've Encountered Traveling Solo:
-Freedom to come and go as you please
-Sense of accomplishment when you’re able to break a language barrier and connect with someone who walks a very different path than your own
-Open to follow the road
-No real compromise
-No worry of pleasing someone else’s agenda
-It can be lonely
-You have to be more cautious
-You have to be more open to the kindness of strangers
-You have to rely entirely on your own strengths and be aware of your own weaknesses
-It feels like a huge triumph when you're able to navigate a new city by yourself
-Being able to comfortably blend in like a native in a new place
-The excitement of being able to use a map... a real one, not a google one
-You discover new strengths and learn to trust in yourself
-You learn to let the little things slide