Traveling as a couple can be wonderful, romantic, fun, sexy, intimate—all the good things. Traveling as a couple can also be irritating, tense, rage-inducing, and potentially relationship-killing. It’s intense on all sides, and certainly not for the faint of heart. Traveling with a romantic partner has the ability to be exciting and stressful at the same time because traveling itself—regardless of the company you keep—tends to inevitably involve experiencing a lot of both of excitement and stress. Being in a new place, experiencing new customs and a culture different from your own, can be a life-altering thing, and to go through that with someone else can create a powerful, intimate bond. But the very experiences that make travel so transformative also make it difficult, particularly for relationships. Confusion, language barriers, and disorientation put even the most patient of us on edge, and traveling gives us these challenges in spades. That basic stress, coupled with the fact that you and your partner are probably in close quarters throughout the trip, is a perfect recipe for bickering, melt-downs, and full-blown fights.
Take heart! It doesn’t always have to be this way. Much of the stress of traveling as a couple can be relieved through some simple preparation. As with most relationship issues, the key here is communication: Talk a lot in advance, be honest, and show each other some compassion. Happy traveling!
1. Start out with a short trip
You never really know what it's going to be like to travel with someone until you do it, so start out with a short trip (a week or less) and see how it goes. The last thing you want to do is commit to a 3-month backpacking trip with someone, only to discover two days in that traveling with this person drives you crazy.
2. Eat regularly
This might seem like an obvious tip, but it’s surprisingly easy when traveling to disrupt your usual eating schedule. You’re running around in a new place, you’re lost, you’re busy, you don’t get lunch, and you’re suddenly, violently HANGRY. To avoid moments when one (or both) of you turns into a hangry rage monster, be sure to schedule meals and snacks regularly. It also helps to keep a few granola bars with you for emergencies.
3. Plan it out in advance
Before you embark, sit down with your partner and discuss your expectations for the trip. What if you want to hang out at the beach the whole time, and your S.O. wants to spend the whole vacation hiking? What if you love museums, and your S.O. loathes them with a fiery hatred? By identifying some of these issues out in advance, you can prepare for them and prevent unnecessary conflicts. For instance, plan to have beach time on days 1 and 3, with hiking on 2 and 4. Or take yourself to the museum while your partner hangs out at a café.
4. Talk about money beforehand
Money has the potential to be a difficult topic in any situation, and the last thing you want during your vacation is to have awkward or tense conversations about who’s paying for what. Take a few minutes before you leave town to discuss the financial aspects of the trip: Who is paying for the hotel/rental car/scuba lessons/whatever? What are your expectations for the trip? What are your financial limitations? If your S.O. is envisioning 300 dollar snorkeling tours, and you're scraping the bottom of the barrel just to pay for the plane tickets, that’s a conversation you need to have early. Furthermore, if you simply can’t afford the trip, speak up! You don’t want to spend your whole vacation worrying about how your going to pay rent. If you and your partner discuss finances beforehand, you can work out how to plan a trip that's doable for both of you.
5. Spend some time apart
A vacation is a wonderful opportunity to hang out with your S.O. without the distractions of work and home life. That said, spending every single minute together is a sure fire way for a couple to get on each other’s nerves. We all need time to ourselves, so let your partner do his or her own thing once in a while. The break will give you both time to recharge, and you can use it as an opportunity to go see that museum you’re dying to visit, but that your S.O. has no interest in whatsoever.
6. If it’s a long trip, schedule time to relax
If you’re traveling with your partner for more than a few days, take the time to schedule in a day to relax here and there. I know that when you’re in a new place—especially a place with a million things to see like Paris or New York—it can be tempting to be “go go go go” all the time and try to cram in as much as humanly possible. That kind of schedule is exhausting for anyone, but, as a couple, it can lead to total burnout, fighting, and general resentment. Every few days, give yourself a morning or afternoon to loaf around a bit: chill out in a park, hit the spa, sleep in. You might not get to see every single thing you wanted, but the things you do get to see won’t be marred by memories of stress.
7. Compromise and prioritize
It’s unlikely that both you and your partner will get to do everything you’d hoped, so take some time before the trip to compromise and decide what your top priorities are. Each of you can make a list of the three things you want to do most; discuss them, and try to figure out how to accommodate each other.
8. Cut each other some slack
Even with all this preparation, it’s inevitable that you and your partner will grate on each other from time to time. Try to make a conscious effort to be forgiving and flexible. If you’re able to roll through the hiccups and move on, you can keep the fun going. In other words, don’t let a bit of bickering here and there ruin your whole trip!
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