How Travel Makes Your Relationship Stronger (If You Survive)

Travel: whether is be a week long vacation or a year long trip is a major test of any kind of relationship: romantic, familial, friendly. There is nothing quite like spending 24 hours a day with another person while you battle hardships, unexpected curveballs, weird bugs and well, each other, day after day.

This is particularly true in romantic relationships, which are all about learning how to live and work with each other in the first place.

If anyone is an expert on the subject of subjecting your relationship to the travel test, it’s me. Mike and I met about two months before he was supposed to fly to China to teach English for a year. A month after that I was scheduled to fly to Japan and begin my own major trip. Our first year together was half long-distance and half co-backpacking through China, Thailand, Vietnam and more. Our entire relationship has played out on the road. Looking back I’m absolutely amazed that we made it through that first year and still came out on the other end speaking.

I wouldn’t suggest subjecting a fledgling relationship to that much pressure, but I can’t deny it has worked out pretty well for us. I think that traveling tests your relationship and communication skills in some amazing ways, and can make a relationship much stronger- a trial by fire for sure.

Here’s how travel will strengthen your relationship:

The Problem Solving

Crazy mishaps happen often on the road, and you will have to solve those problems together. You’ll miss a bus, or get lost in a scary part of town, or drop a camera. One of you will lose your ATM card (Twice. Ahem). Someone will hurt themselves and wind up in the ER in a country where you can’t speak the language. It’s annoying at the time but you can’t create a better team-building exercise.

The Compromise

I’ve heard that relationships are all about compromise, but I never really understood it until I started traveling with another person. Travel forces you to evaluate and make agreements on the most mundane and absurd parts of your daily life.

Left to my own devices, I would probably just eat a piece of toast and get on with my day. Mike is not like that, he needs 3 square meals a day or his entire body chemistry is thrown off. So we make sure to eat breakfast.

Left to HIS own devices Mike would hang out at the party hostels and stay up dancing until dawn. I’m not like that: I’m a cranky old lady whose hobbies include reading and sleeping. So Mike makes his compromises too.

I won’t lie, it’s pretty annoying sometimes, not to just do what you feel like and see the things you want. I’ve experienced this while traveling with just about anyone besides my solo self (my other travel partner Liz can probably tell you a few stories about my annoying habits as well). It’s a good lesson though, in learning to live with another person and I think that our acceptance of each other’s habits will help us out long after we come home to roost.

The Fighting

Oh yeah, you will fight. It’s impossible not too, when you’re pressed up that close with someone else. You will be tired and hungry and irritated and all of a sudden you will find yourself yelling about the stupidest things.

You will calm down though, and you will talk I through and hopefully find better strategies for dealing with your frustrations. I’m always suspicious of the couple that never fights because how sometimes that’s the only way to clear the air and become stronger.

Do people who travel fight more? I don’t know, but I think that life on the road has a way of bringing issues to the surface faster than stationary life does.

Carving Out Space

When you spend every waking hour with one other person you develop a weird co-dependence that even the most clingiest couples at home can’t pull off. It’s fun at first but soon you find yourself clawing at the walls for just five minutes of independence. And that’ where the challenge comes in: of finding your independent space whiel slammed together on the road.

Sometimes it just means not talking for a couple hours, or going for a long walk on your own. Sometimes it means taking an actual break and traveling alone for a few days or weeks.Travel forces you to negotiate that flexibility which is important both on and off the road.

The Amazingness

Despite what I’ve said above, traveling with a partner is not all about fighting and being miserable together. There is a lot of awesome stuff too.

Logistically, travel is way easier with two people to shoulder the burnings of planning, troubleshooting and the day to day stuff. Having someone to watch your bags when you go to the bathroom or to argue wit the hotel clerk because you personally are terrified of confrontation. It’s two brains staring at a map instead of one (actually that might be a recipe for disaster too).

Even more than the practical stuff is the intangibles. Like sharing life changing events and experiences, stunning vistas and really funny stories. It’s about getting to do amazing things and getting to do them with one of your best friends AND have someone to curl up with at night (Plus! You save money on private rooms).

Those things aren’t necessary to have a good time traveling, or a good relationship, but they sure are nice.


27 thoughts on “How Travel Makes Your Relationship Stronger (If You Survive)”

  1. I totally agree with everything you said, its tough but its worth it. I also agree with the reading and sleeping part – that is me too! I found going for a walk alone, having a coffee break, taking in a museum or a day of sight seeing by yourself helps the frustrations. Best of luck to you both x

  2. I’ve never traveled with a boyfriend, but I definitely know that traveling together can make or break a relationship–I’ve realized that with some of my best friends! I have SO much respect for couples who travel together (you and Mike are an extreme case of that–so congratulations!)–just thinking about being with someone ALL the time gives me the heebie-jeebies but there are plenty of times when I wish I had someone to watch my bags while I was in the bathroom, or to laugh with, or just to complain with when something goes wrong. One day, perhaps!

  3. I agree with it all! My boyfriend and I have traveled extensively together (and have also moved to an entirely new city where neither of us knew anyone) and I think that kind of experience brings out the most fun and most intimate parts of a relationship as well as the least fun and grossest parts (like having to smell each other after neither of you have showered for a week. Romantic!)

  4. My travels have definitely been enriched since I met my boyfriend. I’m into food and he’s into sports, but our ‘compromises’ means he’s now tried (and enjoys!) foods he never would have touched before, and I’ve tried all sorts of outdoor adventure sports. Plus traveling together as a new couple is a great way to tell if you’re compatible or not — my bf (who’s also named Mike) and I met as flatmates, so between that and traveling together for a year around Asia, if we weren’t going to work we would’ve known right away! It’s a great litmus test 🙂

  5. What a realistic and honest post about traveling with someone else. I’ve traveled with a boyfriend and I’ve traveled with others and even on a weekend, there can be confrontation and arguments. But you’re right: when your’e on the road, things come to the surface much more quickly than at home and you’re stronger for it (if you do survive it). And looking at maps with another person? Oh man, don’t get me started on that! I’ve had a few debacles with others while on the road (or getting lost on the road). Reminds me of an episode of The Amazing Race!

  6. Amazing post! I’ve said this to so many people myself but there are those that believe solo travel is the best and being a couple holds you back in some way. It’s just frustrating that sometimes you can’t explain the awesome things that come with traveling together. I’m glad that you guys ‘get it’ 🙂

  7. I agree. It also depends on how long you’re traveling for. For some reason, the first week is great, the 2nd and 3rd weeks are BRUTAL, and strangely, after the 3rd week the stress usually subsides and you just go with the flow…at least in my experience with traveling with significant others.

    1. Ahh! I hope you´re right about the time frame! My first week of travel with my boyfriend was blissful.. the following three weeks were overall good but, filled with bickering here and there about, yes, the STUPIDEST things. It is now our 4th week of travel together; yesterday he mentioned if the next month is like the past 3 weeks (bickering..), he rather go separate ways/ call all quits. I mentioned this is what happens when your ENTIRE world becomes one person… I´m scared for the upcoming weeks…. Natalie, I hope you´re right— hopefully, the bickering fades!! Comments and advice are GREATLY appreciated, folks!!! Thank you everybody for sharing!!!!

      1. It’s definitely really hard to spend 24 hours a day together for that long. When Mike and I are at each other’s throat I find it helps to take a day off from each other and do our own separate thing- you might try that?

  8. I agree that sometimes traveling with a partner can be difficult, but there are times when it is so nice that I can’t imagine traveling by myself! When my husband and I were in the Caribbean I got dengue fever, and I was a worthless human being for a few days. I can’t imagine facing that alone! It was so nice to have someone who would run to the pharmacy, arrange me a doctor appointment, and make sure I didn’t pass out somewhere.

    This is our first year of marriage and we have spent the whole time out of the country, away from our friends and family, and it has been fantastic–I think it’s made our relationship rock solid! Thanks so much for this post, it was great!

  9. True! Can not agree with you more Steph 🙂
    I do believe if we want to know someone completely..go travel together! By travelling together we will see that someone 24 hours daily, can not hide nor run during the problem solving 🙂

  10. I definitely agree with you that traveling can bring problems to the surface faster than more sedentary relationships. When I travel with my boyfriend, we have to deal with issues that I’m not sure would be brought up with if we were at home. It helps strengthen the relationship, and you really just have to dig in and figure out how to work it out-or it’ll be a very awkward rest of the trip!

  11. I know exactly how you feel lady. Ric and I met on the road and have been traveling our entire relationship. Because we were traveling when we met the relationship had to move very fast if we wanted to stay together at all. It’s a lot of pressure, but you’re right in that, if you can travel with a partner, it says a lot about the relationship. There will be fights but there will be love. Are you interested in how the relationship would be if you met at home, lived there and never traveled together until say your honeymoon? I always wonder…

  12. Totally agree. I’ve been traveling with my husband for the better part of our 5 year relationship, and yes, we do bicker from time to time, and yes, I have to cave in to certain things sometimes. But in the end, it’s all worth it, and I am convinced that our relationship is much stronger now, and it would ever have been if we’d stayed home.

  13. Great post! I’m setting off on a long term trip with my soon to be husband in 6 weeks and I’ve been really worried about spending 24 hours a day with him.

    We’ve decided that if either one of us needs personal space for a a couple of hours or a couple of days if necessary then the other person has to agree no questions asked. We’ll see how it goes…

    Thanks for the great tips on surviving intact 🙂

  14. I love this post; tons of great advice! I met my last boyfriend on the road and we went through so many of these same things, but he was one of the best travel partners I’ve ever had. It’s awesome that you and Mike travel so well together!

  15. I met my boyfriend while we were both living abroad. It was a good warm up for traveling together. Since then we’ve taken 5 big trips together and #5 was the first time we managed to do it without anything that I would deem a “fight” … It felt amazing! I’m hoping we’ve reached a point where we know how to manage each other. We have a year long backpacking trip coming up so I’ll guess we’ll find out…

  16. Thanks for this post. I’m in the same position. I am an introvert and my bf is an extrovert. I think what has helped us the most is just acknowledging that we are different and that neither one of us is wrong… just different. If I say I can’t stand going to a party two nights in a row, he knows to actually listen to me rather than just rolling his eyes and shaming me into going. 🙂 And I know not to beat myself up so much about not feeling like the “life of the party.”

  17. This is a fantastic post! In 3 weeks I will be backpacking Central America with my boyfriend and I am so excited and nervous at the same time. This post has helped ease my nerves!

  18. I very much wish I had read this before I went on my trip to England/Ireland with my boyfriend last week. Having studied abroad in London for a semester I felt like I had to play tour guide for most of our trip which put unnecessary pressure not only on me, but our entire trip. Great advice! Wish I would have gotten earlier, but now I know for next time!
    Thanks for share this post.

  19. I agree so much! I actually met my partner while traveling and this is our relationship in nutshell. But of course I wouldn’t trade the compromising, fighting, and amazingness for the world.

  20. Great article. It is nice to get away and rekindle the fire. I think that is so hard for a lot of people because we have so little vaca time. But, it is needed.We need to make the post of what we have though! Gary

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