For better or worse, long-term traveling with your SO will almost certainly have a lasting impact on your relationship. Days without separation, life-changing decision-making, extreme highs and lows: it’s a unique experience that can bring you closer together, as you bond over incredible adventures; or, the stress can tear you apart. Being a great couple at home doesn’t always mean that you’ll cope well on the road together. Here are some tips for helping your long-term relationship survive long-term travel.
Know What Fuels your Wanderlust
I was thrilled to find that my SO, Brent, shared my passion for exploring the world. Yet, after a few months on the road, I began to realize that our respective ideas of traveling were completely different.
I had been bursting with an unrequited desire to travel since I was in high school, so when we hit the road, I wanted to see it all and do it all. I had a mental list a mile long of places I wanted to visit. Brent’s motivation for traveling was escaping the city and its 9-5 routine. His preference was to scrap the itinerary, and go with the flow, seeing whatever we stumbled across. I was always pushing to cram more sight-seeing into each day, while Brent was trying to slow us down and chill us out. We worked out the kinks and learned how to compromise, but we could have saved ourselves a lot of tension and frustration by discussing our travel visions during the planning phase.
Talk with your SO about why you want to travel, and what you each expect to gain from the experience. The origins of your wanderlust don’t need to be the same, but at least make sure you’re on the same page before you take the big leap.
Avoid “H-anger” Conflicts
I frequently find myself in a travel scenario a little like this one: We’re stuck on a long train ride, its noon, we haven’t had breakfast, and I’m gripped by a sudden rage when Brent takes the window seat without asking me. It’s a classic case of h-anger (rhymes with anger). Traveling has a tendency to throw our eating patterns into disarray, and sometimes we end up skipping a meal or two without even realizing it. Instead of recognizing that we need to stop and eat, we just end up feeling painfully cranky. Recognizing h-anger is the key to preventing h-anger-related blowouts. Relax and realize that now is not the time to pick a fight. Know when you need to have it out with your SO versus when you just need to have a snack.
Keep the Social Circle Open
When you’re separated from your usual social circle at home for weeks or even months at a time, it’s easy to fall into the habit of depending on your SO for all your social interaction needs. The demand of being someone else’s sole source of emotional support and entertainment 24/7 is a heavy burden to bear. Spending a day or even a few hours chatting or trekking with other travelers or locals is a fantastic way to introduce a little variety and break out of the social rut you may be falling into with your SO. Plus, connecting with the people you meet as you’re traveling is half the fun of the experience. Meeting other travelers often reminds me why I wanted to travel in the first place. I see my passion reflected in them as we swap recommendations and stories. Of course, your SO will always be your go-to person, but just remember not to strand yourself on a two-person social island; keep yourselves open to the rest of the world.
Honesty, Honesty, Honesty
Everyone knows that honesty is the key to a healthy relationship. This wisdom is truer than even when you’re traveling together. There’s a kind of nakedness about traveling with someone. It strips away any remaining pretenses in your relationship. You see each other in all forms of dirty, sweaty, smelly, exhausted, and sick. You literally see the best and worst of each other. It’s the ideal time to be completely open with one another, sharing every fear and every doubt. Honesty will pull your relationship through the challenges. As you face constant change and uncertainty together, it really helps if you feel comfortable saying anything and everything to one another.
Lastly, never forget that there’s more to your relationship than being a well-functioning travel team. It’s easy to get distracted by the planning and the places, and forget to make time to connect with each other. If you can remember to smile, to laugh, and to appreciate each other, then I can guarantee that your bond with your SO will only strengthen and blossom with every new adventure you face together.
Jessica Dawdy has been working/volunteering her way through Europe and Asia with her partner, Brent, since September 2011. The projects are varied: from gardening at a retreat center in Germany to teaching ESL in Thailand. You can follow their adventures at Ways of Wanderers.