“It’ll either make or break your relationship.”
This was what I heard my Mum say about a thousand times before my boyfriend and I stepped on a plane to travel around Europe for four months. As usual, and as much as we all hate to admit it, Mum was right. I now understand that long term travel with your other half is one of the most challenging and yet overwhelmingly rewarding things you can do in a relationship.
It’s what I like to call “the pocket theory.” Couple travel means you quite literally live in each other’s pockets. There’s none of the usual time apart because of work, family, or friends, or even those few hours when one goes to the gym and the other stays home to cook or read a book. You’re together the best part of 24/7 for months. Realistically, you’ll never spend as much time together as you do when you travel. It’s definitely a test, but it’s a test worth taking and here’s why:
One thing about travel that everyone will tell you is that it’s the ultimate recipe for growth. The lessons, experiences, and enjoyment of traveling all stimulate an unmistakably profound level of self-discovery and appreciation for your surroundings. The beautiful thing about couple travel is that you get to experience such things together. You get to undertake your own self-discovery, alongside witnessing someone else’s, and together you catalyse the growth of your relationship – for better or for worse.
2. You will get sick of each other.
The blatantly obvious threat to any relationship whilst traveling long term is getting sick of each other. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure it’s inevitable that, at one point or another, you’re going to want to kill the other. It;s how you deal with this, however, that makes the difference.
Whether you acknowledge it or not, in everyday life, you get a lot of “me time.” Whether it’s simply the drive to work or your 60 minutes of yoga, the point is you get time away from people. Often when traveling, you disregard the importance of this time and end up exploding all over the other person when it’s least convenient. It’s important to be able to distinguish between an actual argument and just being overwhelmed by the pocket life.
Sometimes, all you need is to both step back and take an hour or two to yourselves. One go off for a walk and the other watch their favourite show online or sit in a coffee shop and read a book. You’d be amazed at how refreshed you both are once you reunite. Try to make a habit of each having ‘me time’ regularly, whether its every few days or once a week, it will really help maintain the chill in an otherwise flammable environment. This ‘me time’ also allows you a chance to discover your own hobbies and interests away from not just your other half, but away from your friends and family, which is an important step in your own personal growth.
3. The first timers bond.
Naturally, my boyfriend and I chose to travel together for the same reason as most couples: we both wanted to see the world so why not do it together? While solo travel posed a challenge, and travel with friends enticed a memorable bender or shopping spree, there’s nothing quite like experiencing something or somewhere for the first time with your special someone. Admittedly, we have been to a lot of places and both said, “Man, this would be a great spot for a boys trip,” or “Wow, I’d love to come with the girls and shop until we pass out,” but nothing will replace the bond of first time experiences with your other half.
There’s something special about getting to share that experience and memory knowing that no one can take that away from you both. Whether it’s remembering the irreplaceable awe of the Eiffel Tower the first time you saw it light up at sun down or remembering (or not remembering) the first time you were giddy by the strength of European cocktails; you’ll always get to share that memory.
4. You’re it!
Couple travel also means you become the other person’s it. You’re it! Girls suddenly don’t have their mum or their friends they can go to when they’re having a meltdown. And boys don’t have their mates and their gym to blow off steam. If someone’s having a bad day or a tough time understanding the other, the only person they’ve physically got for support is the other. If you’re not careful, it’s very easy to become each other’s punching bag.
Basically, if you’re having a bad day, you can choose to either make the other person cop it, or you can learn to use each other to confide in and support one another. Traveling long term forces you to see and deal with each other at your worst which ultimately kindles how prosperous the relationship is at its best.
5. You’re each other’s best friend.
One of the best things about the pocket theory for me was you become proper best friends. Whether you’ve got best friends that are like sisters at home, they’re a long way away now and probably asleep when you’re awake. So guess what? You’re each other’s best friend now, too.
You learn SO much about each other, even when you thought you knew almost everything. Traveling means you have infinite time to just hang out. Whether it’s sitting at airports, or on a nine-hour train ride, you’re never short of time for a good conversation and and even better giggle. You bring new life to games like eye-spy and who-am-I and delve into intelligent conversations about politics that only one person properly understands (not me).
Perhaps one of my favorite discussions from our travels was “Who would win in a fight: Stuart Little or Ratatouille?” When I think about some of the discussions we’ve had waiting for midnight train rides or over McDonalds in airports, it’s a wonder we haven’t run out of things to talk about. But that’s the thing; real best friends don’t. I suppose that’s one thing travel really tests in a relationship, if there’s an expiration date.
6. Home becomes a person not a place.
This one’s on a more personal note but for me, traveling with your other half means home suddenly becomes a person, not a place. Suddenly, it didn’t matter where in the world we were or what language we were fumbling through, home was just wherever we were together. Home is defined as “A place where one lives” and is associated with feelings of safety, familiarity, and structure. So it only makes sense that those emotions which usually were associated with a permanent residency we found in each other. It’s one of the things I found the most moving about traveling and most rewarding in a relationship.
7. You learn to compromise.
One of the most important things that couple travel kindles within a relationship is compromise. You’re two different people, so naturally you’ll have some different interests and preferences about what you want to see and do while on the road. One person might really enjoy museums and hiking, while the other loves lying on the beach and art galleries.
It’s important you learn to take both into account when planning your days. Compromise also is a big deal when it comes to food, especially in a heterosexual relationship, because we all know boys and girls more often than not have different dietary preferences when traveling long term. For example, I love a cute café where I can get some avocado on toast or a nice quinoa salad, but my boyfriend would way rather a burger bar where he can get a meal that will actually fill him. It’s important to take turns prioritizing what you each want or more importantly making an effort to find somewhere that suits you both, even if it does take a little longer.
8. You’re a team.
Traveling comes with lots of challenges and the undeniable advantage of having your other half with you is that you have a team to solve them. Tackling the language barrier, juggling foreign currency, and trying to navigate your way from one place to another can be an extremely exhausting, difficult task. Traveling together means you become a unit. You’re a package deal, two people but one unit. You only need one place to sleep, you have one accommodation bill, and one destination.
So really it’s one lot of challenges to be accomplished by two people. You can delegate or you can work together, whatever works best for your relationship. One person can be in charge of packing while the other one works out how to get from A to B, or you can pack in half the time together and then both work on the navigation.
For me, I wouldn’t change my adventure for the world. Despite our ups and downs, from the many challenges long term traveling posed I can honestly say it was the most rewarding thing we have done together and cannot wait to do so much more. Travel opens your eyes to so many beautiful aspects of life on Earth, so why wouldn’t you want to share that with your special someone?