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.
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.
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.
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.