People have always told me that the hardest obstacles a couple will face in their relationship will be: living together, financial worries and having children. I can’t comment on the latter, but for us, the greatest testing times in our relationship, comes when we travel together. For the most part we get on, but living out of each other’s pockets 24/7, having with foreign languages to contend with, different cultures, and often long journeys to the next destination, travelling can bring out the worst and best in people. With dehydration, hunger, humidity and exhaustion thrown into the bag, it can cause havoc with your relationship status and can make or break couples.
For us, living in a different country is the easy part, but as soon as the stresses of long-term, constant country-hopping travelling become part of the weekly norm, things can get tetchy. If you can’t find a way to manage and work through cramped living space, get over their annoying habits, learn how to tackle situations when things go wrong or when you both want to do different things, the challenges will be far too much for you to bear, and could lead to the end of your relationship. Here are my top 10 tips to help make, not break each other, by creating a foundation of respect, understanding, co-operation, teamwork and incredible memories to fall back on when the times are tough.
1) START ON THE RIGHT FOOT.
It’s important to have a healthy, solid relationship with your partner before setting off. If you already have a lot of problems, argue a lot or can’t be honest with each other then it would be a good idea to work on those issues before you start travelling. If you really can’t get through these problems, then consider whether travelling is a good idea for you to to do together and always have a back-up plan if things don’t pan out eg a contingency fund. Never budget on you both travelling together to cut costs. It will ruin your trip of a life-time if unfortunately travelling together isn’t working, but you’re made to stay together for financial reasons, rather than wanting.
Long term travel is more likely to be successful if you have been together for a decent length of time, as often it means you are out of the ‘honeymoon’ period of the relationship and you know each other a lot better, and more importantly know how to deal with problems together and what each other likes and dislikes. However, for any couple, any issues or resentments currently affecting the relationship will only be magnified once you’re on the road, so it’s crucial that these are addressed.
Compatibility is key. Gwyn and I both want to see the same places, do the same things most of the time and we view places, people and culture in a very similar way. If someone wants to traveller longer and live on a budget, but his or her partner would prefer a shorter luxurious trip then it’s not going to work. We’ve seen many couples that work amazingly at home with their comforts around them, but they have very different idea about trips and have broken up because of it. Talk things through before you go away to reduce the risk of this and if possible, go on a test run (eg a trip longer than 3 weeks) before hand to give you an idea of how you get on, on the road. The key is to travel in a similar manner to how you plan on traveling long term. Don’t stay in 5 star hotels if your plan is to backpack through Asia. Of course, fights might happen, but it’s more big issues that you need to be aware of and whether you can over-come them together.
Also, make sure you are both on the same page, rather it being one person’s dream to travel and the other being dragged along in fear that their partner will go off with or without them. This is never a good way to approach long term travel as a couple. If so, you will most likely be destined for failure.
It’s completely healthy and normal to have doubts about travelling together. Gwyn and I have had this a few times actually, but we also know we wouldn’t want anyone else to be there when things go wrong or to have anyone else to experience the highs with.
2) THE GREAT EXPECTATIONS.
One of the biggest problems faced by travellers is the disappointment and arguments that spring up from unmet expectations. More often than not, places, activities, people, the culture, is so much better than we imagined, but not everywhere is going to look like the over-photoshopped pictures your see on the ‘100 things to do see you before you die’ sites. Don’t expect perfection all the time.
Take the time before your trip to do creative dreaming together — imagining all the places you’d love to go, and how you might react to the everyday issues that might crop up on the road. By starting your trip with similar expectations of a place, you’ll both react better to the good and the bad.
Also, people expect much more from their partners before they embark on these life-changing trips. Everyone has their up and down days. I’ve been unappreciative of things before and Gwyn has definitely shown his moody side. Just accept that you are going to have bad days traveling as a couple. Or when things don’t pan out, just make a joke out of it and put it down to experience.
3) BEWARE OF HAND GRENADES.
Whenever Gwyn and I start snapping at each other it’s often because we’re both hungry and our blood sugar levels are low. I swear burgers have saved our relationship and stopped one or both of us screaming our final goodbyes, packing our backpacks and jumping on the next flight to somewhere else. We have gone many days of rushing around all day to see everything and we’ve been ratty, because all we can think of is food. It sounds basic common sense, but make time to have scheduled stops to eat, or at least get some snacks/make a packed lunch if you know it’s going to be a busy day.
Also, being de-hydrated is probably one of our biggest argument instigators. You'd think it'd be as easy as going to a shop to stock up, but there have been times when we forgot to plan ahead, are in the middle of nowhere and run out of water. It's little basic things that trigger nothing into something. Plus, on a health perspective it makes sense.
Tiredness and frustration are the hand grenades that could possibly rip your beautiful relationship apart and plays a big part in bringing out the bitchy side in someone. There's always someone in a dorm room who wrestles with a plastic bag in the early hours, or someone who likes to see how many times they can unzip/zip their rucksack in an hour, or that annoying person who just loves hearing their snooze button go off every 15 minutes, which all result in a restless sleep. In a camper van it's often the heat/cold, or idiots outside who like to play 'knock, run' on the windows at 3am.
Firstly, in relation to those dorm room risk factors, the one benefit travelling as a couple can mean that a private double room is often a similar price to getting 2 single beds in a 15 sleeper dorm room, so they'll less chance of outsiders keeping you awake. Also research your hostel. We've had our fair share of all-nighters, but very few can maintain that lifestyle, so if you see the phrase 'party hostel' appear in the guide book, knowing you have a big day ahead of you at 6am, we usually avoid these.
Secondly, we've found that first class trains and buses are often much quieter and spacious than the second or third carriages and outside of western countries there's usually not much difference in price between classes. $5usd extra can be money well spent.
Chances are, you'll have been used to your partner's bedroom habits before you embark on the big trip, so there should be no surprises, but in the close proximity of a camper van, annoyances such as their hot foot touching yours or external noises, can drive people (particularly me) round the bend. Most people don't have the budget to get air-conditioning throughout the night in their camper, so invest in decent fans. Also, avoid slants, and try not to park at the side of highways where the action finishes at 2am and starts at 5am.
The above ‘problems’ are really quite simple to sort out and I promise things will be so much better after you’ve had a hearty meal, an ice-cold beer and had a decent nights sleep.
4) DON’T OVER PLAN.
We plan more than anyone we know (we actually do full-on day by day excel spreadsheets with a billion details) and we always maintain that a smart traveller reads up before they go. However, with that being said, just because you have a plan it is not necessary to remove spontaneity from a trip. Sometimes you don’t know the best things about a place until you get there.
Also, nothing kills a trip like the stress of trying to do too much. This definitely happened to us on our Central America trip. A long flight, weather, bad food, mechanical problems with a car can quickly change your plans. If you haven’t left enough flexi time, things are going to get stressful. Travel is also about living in the moment and focusing on each other.
Allow time and talk to locals and see if there are special things happening in the area. Many of our favourite memories have been on local recommendations and believe me, those guide books only cover the basics. Branch out and if you think you need two days for a visit, plan to stay three or four.
5) SHARE DECISIONS.
There is usually someone in the relationship that likes to make all the decisions. That's usually me. But given I am often the one who works longer hours when we are not on the road, Gwyn tends to do most of the pre-planning stuff before we go on our jaunts. When something doesn't go according to plan, we tend to blame each other (or rather I blame him). So, we've learnt that making decisions together eliminates an eruption of a shouting match.
Be sure to make compromises on where you go, stay and the activities you do. Gwyn and I enjoy a lot of things together, but I know he isn't the biggest horse-riding fan and I certainly wouldn't be picking bike-riding adventures in a line-up of activities. Don't dismiss what you want to do, for the sake of the other, but work on how you both get to do what you both want. Work as a team and remember that this is both your adventure.
Alternatively, take a chance and do it together. It has opened us up to new opportunities that we never would have taken if we travelled solo or refused to try something new. If you are stubborn and not willing to give your partner’s ideas a chance, you’ll not only be missing out but your relationship will suffer as you start to resent one another. Seeing your partner happy should make you happy enough to do it.
We’d recommend participating in activities that involves teamwork, support and encouragement, such as white water rafting, tandem cycling, or scuba diving together. Not only do these type of activities give you a fun memory to share but it helps you to join as a couple more. You will learn to rely on each other’s strengths and how to lift each other to push through personal barriers too.
6) PUT THINGS INTO PERSPECTIVE.
We have been guilty a few times of coming away from a place and only really appreciating it when we are looking through our photos. Always keep in mind that this is a once in a lifetime experience and you might never get to go back. Cherish every moment, as sooner or later, you’ll be back in the rat race like everybody else.
Sometimes, when we have an off-day we just have to man-up, realise how lucky we are and get over any issues. For the most part, when things go wrong, it really isn’t that bad. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remain calm. If your travel partner misplaced something, it doesn’t help either of you to get mad or impatient. Everyone makes mistakes. Just take a minute to think about it - is it really worth worrying about or even fighting over? We try to see the funny side of situations and laugh at the crazy things that happen. Always be supportive and understanding. On the bright side, mishaps make great travel stories (as we all know too well).
7) DIVIDE AND CONQUER.
If you are going to survive as a couple, then teamwork is essential. We routinely employ the 'divide and conquer' approach to our travels, were we split up duties. Gwyn’s ‘jobs’ are often associated with the van, cooking and taking pictures. My tasks are usually cleaning, writing, negotiating and planning logistics/itinerary of the next country. Whilst Gwyn cooks up, I will clean the van (trust us, it needs doing everyday). The system works and no one feels they are putting all the graft in whilst the other sits back and enjoys the ride.
Leverage each other’s strengths - learn what each person is good at and define your roles. By knowing our roles we limit arguments and misunderstandings (most of the time).
Despite what people think at home, travelling can be hard sometimes. If you stick together and back each other up, you can get through the tough times. We sometimes forget that when it comes down to it, we only have each other and there have been many times when we’ve both got each other out of sticky situations. We don’t know what we would’ve done without the other being there, so appreciate this.
8) TAKE A BREAK.
This comes in two meanings.
The first is taking a break every so often, from each other. It can get pretty monotonous and annoying seeing the same face and hearing the same voice day in and day out. Getting ‘me’ time is not only healthy, but a necessity. It could be as little as having a 30 minutes out, were one plays about on the laptop (Gwyn) and whilst the other reads a book (that’ll be me), or we’ll listen to music, go do some exercise or even take a whole day excursion on by ourselves. Some people need ‘me’ time more than others (like me), so make sure you recognise this in your partner and give him/her space. By the end of the day, you’ll both have realised how much you’ve missed each other.
The second is, take breaks in the trip if/when needed. If you’re like us, you’ll want to do and see as much of a place as possible. We’ve learnt that planning is a good thing, but rather than stick to some rigid itinerary, have down days and just chill eg one day a week. It’ll not do anyone any good to keep going all the time - moving from one place to the next every day. It is funny how a little luxury will bring a smile back to your face and closer together. It’s been one of our biggest regrets in longer trips, so learn from us: take your time; take a break.
9) TALK IT OUT.
We do find salvation in meeting other people, mostly glad to be having a break from each other and looking at a different face for once. There's nothing better meeting new friends, who you have shared similar experiences with, can joke about the hassles of local life and swap travel stories. Despite all those travellers on their iPhones and laptops chatting to 'friends' on Facebook in the hostels, I believe that majority of travellers actually prefer it old school and enjoy meeting people face-to-face, so get involved. I've met a lot of my best friends on the road. It’s good to talk it out with other people, besides your partner.
When you’re constantly having amazing moments and seeing beautiful things, we found that many other couples, including ourselves, often forget to have ‘couple’ time and keep the romance alight in their relationship.
Try to schedule in quality time with your partner, where you do nothing except relax and enjoy each other’s company. Or forget being on a budget for once and splurge once in awhile on maybe a spa day, a candle-lit dinner on a beach, cocktails in a fancy bar, comfortable lodgings for the evening, or a cinema date night. It completely revives us and does us the world of good, not only for our relationship but for ourselves.
Even a small gesture goes a long way and can mean a lot to someone. It could be as simple as getting your partner a sweet treat from the supermarket.