Around the end of last year, my girlfriend and I started planning a 5,638 km (3,503 mile) road trip from Vancouver, BC to Whitehorse, Yukon and back. When I told my friends about the trip, the most common reaction was an enthusiastic “That’s great!”, followed by a polite “…Why?”
More specifically, people were curious as to why a perfectly happy couple would put themselves together in a car (a Hyundai Sonata, no less) for a 60-hour road trip. Many of my friends warned that this trip would be the ultimate test of our relationship.
I am no stranger to traveling with girlfriends, but this ominous reminder was compounded by the fact that we were traveling to an inhospitable part of northern Canada… in the winter. The weather forecast didn’t look great. The road conditions were less than stellar. I wasn’t digesting properly. All of these uncertainties began to congeal into an anxious mush, and given that even the lowest-stress vacations send a lot of relationships home in a body bag, I was worried that we’d barely make it out of the driveway. The odds seemed stacked against us having a good time.
But we had a great time, both as individuals and as a couple. I’d certainly like to chalk it up to our effortless and enduring love, but hindsight reveals that we actually did a few simple things right.
Plan As Much As You Can, and Plan Together
Months before the trip, we did our absolute best to plan out all the details. Now, this didn’t mean planning out the activities of each individual day, but rather ensuring that we had a decent place to stay every night, and that we’d have a meal available to us in some of the more remote cities along the way.
We also absorbed guide books, talked to friends who had done the trip, and pored over forums discussing best driving practices on the treacherous Alaska Highway (drag racing with truckers is not only frowned upon, but illegal). All of this knowledge culminated in an important feeling: that we’d planned together, and that we planned as best we could. Neither of us felt left out, or that they weren’t getting the trip they wanted.
Know That Your Perfect Plan Will Be Made Imperfect
After all, travel is travel. Winter in northern Canada is winter in northern Canada. The best laid schemes of mice and men with Hyundai Sonatas, and so on.
On our way back, we found ourselves trapped in Fort St. John, BC for an entire day. Being marooned in this backwater town (which, astonishingly, billed itself as ‘The Energetic City’) messed up a lot of our planning, and made us both cranky and moody. But before long, we realized that we might as well enjoy ourselves, because what had happened was 100% beyond our control. We approached it like a cancelled flight: a disruption to the plan that couldn’t be blamed on either of us. Drowning one another in petty crankiness would only heighten the potential for relationship acrimony.
We sucked it up, went outside, blinked in the face of reality, and proceeded to get day-drunk at a nearby bar. And it was fun.
Make Every Day Its Own Success
If you can’t guarantee yourself a perfect trip, then you have to treat the days that do go perfectly like the feel-good stories of the year.
As a rule, you should never arrive at your destination and immediately begin to complain. After an 8-hour day of flying or driving, you’ll both be tired and hungry – so what’s the use of complaining? Focus on the positives. You’re in a new city, maybe one that you’ve never been to before. Your car didn’t break down. Your partner drove heroically through a snowstorm. You held in farts all day without severely damaging your intestines.
These are all things worth accentuating and celebrating with a quick hug and a kind word. Pointing out the successes make all the fatigue and hunger worthwhile, and will make for many more happy memories when the trip’s all done.
Give Some Space, Even If They Don’t Ask For It
One aspect of our planning involved coming to the understanding that we couldn’t expect to keep one another engaged for a 60-hour road trip. This was not an affront to our enjoyment of one another’s company: in fact, it was an open admission that 60 hours was just a flat-out long time, and that maybe having to entertain one another for that long would put undue (i.e. catastrophic) strain on our relationship. Quite frankly, a four-hour flight is pushing it.
To fill the void, we stocked up on podcasts that we both enjoyed, and almost never stopped playing them. Call it our version of 99 Bottles of Beer (which, for the record, is what I drank during that one lost day in The Energetic City).
When we weren’t on the road, we were sure to take personal time as needed. She took long baths, and I spent time reading and writing. I taught myself little things, like how to put tire chains on a car. Essentially, we were a team, but also independent people attempting to have personally nourishing vacations. Breaking up the trip with a little time apart meant better time together.
The reality of traveling is that you’re always going to wish that you’d done things differently: that you’d made that day trip, gone to that restaurant, or taken those extra photographs. Now, do you really want to add “I wish we’d had a better time together” to your list? Follow my lead, and I think you’ll be alright.