There’s no better way to test the limits of a relationship than traveling together. That’s pretty ironic when you think about it; vacationing together is supposed to be really romantic, as witnessed by the whole “honeymoon” thing.
Still, it’s probably a good idea to take your relationship on a test run overseas before popping the question. How will you know if your significant other is the proverbial “one” unless you’ve experienced the horror of a lost passport and a language barrier and come out the other side still dating?
Those who love to jet off on a backpacking adventure around the world will find that adding a partner into the mix can be quite difficult—but don’t let that scare you. Experiencing new places with the person you love is incredibly fulfilling. Believe it or not, it is totally possible to experience the stress and joys of traveling with another person without breaking up halfway through. It just takes a little expert advice.
We asked experienced travel writers how to navigate a couple’s vacation without placing strain on the relationship. Here’s what we learned:
1. Discuss intentions before you leave.
Before you even think about booking a flight, figure out what you and your SO want out of the trip. That is, what are your travel intentions? This might seem silly, but it’s important for you and your partner is discuss why you want to travel. Are you looking to kickback and relax? Do you plan to fill each day with as many activities as possible? Most importantly, do your goals match up with those of your partner?
“When deciding where to travel to or when you’re planning your trip, it’s important that both of you will be gaining something positive out of the experience,” says travel blogger and writer of The SoFull Traveler Jennifer Kanikula. Kanikula has a lot of on-the-road experience with her partner. She definitely knows the importance being open about expectations from the first spark of a vacation idea.
The price of skipping this crucial step is serious, Kanikula says.
“One of you will end up sacrificing your needs and the experience overall won’t be as enjoyable,” she warns.
To keep this from happening to you, start the expectation conversation early in the planning stage.
“Find some common ground on what you would like to experience so that the adventure is wholesome for both parties,” Kanikula says. That’ll keep the demon of resentment from sneaking into your luggage.
It’s also a good idea to start small and work your way up to longer, more extreme trips, Kanikula says.
“Traveling challenges individuals and couples in ways typical day-to-day life doesn’t, so having a test run would be a wise course of action,” says Kanikula.
You don’t want to jump right into a six-week European backpacking tour with Stacy from Tinder a month after your first date. Start with a weekend trip and build from there. Otherwise, you may end up in the nightmare scenario in which a fun thing turns out to be no fun at all. Sorry, Stacy.
2. Recognize your travel styles—and see where they overlap.
Just like in our first point, correctly matching your travel preferences can make or break your couples’ vacation. You need to know the difference between your individual travel style and your partner’s. More importantly, you need to identify the similarities—imagine the area of overlap between the two circles of a Venn diagram made up you and your partner’s interests.
To start out with, then, you’ve got to do get a little Socratic with it and “know thyself,” at least on this point. Once you realize your own travel style, it’s easier to see if your partner matches or takes a different approach.
“If one partner wants to stand in line at every monument and museum, while the other wants to be out adventuring (biking through Spain, trying extreme sports in Switzerland, et cetera), it can cause lots of tension,” says luxury travel consultant Alexandra Stockton.
That’s something Stockton has worried about in her own experience. When she first started dating her husband, she worried he wouldn’t share the same approach to vacationing as her. Luckily, they have similar travel styles.
“I quickly realized we had very similar travel taste,” Stockton says. “We like to take it easy and have authentic experiences.”
If you’re in more of an “opposites attract” situation, though, don’t worry. Having different travel styles doesn’t spell certain doom for your relationship. There are plenty of ways to plan and travel while keeping these differences in mind. The main thing is to talk through everything while planning the trip (yep, see our first point again). Make sure your partner knows about the things you want to see or experience and listen to their viewpoint, too. Sometimes, smooth sailing is all about the compromise.
3. Keep those communication lines open the whole time.
Guess what? When you plan a major trip with a partner, you have to talk to them about it. A lot. And not just during the planning stage, either. Discussing expectations and learning your partner’s travel style are great places to start, but when it comes to in-the-moment decision making, communication is even more important. That’s especially true when you’re far from home.
traveling with my boyfriend has to be my favorite thing ever
— andrea (@andr3amarino) March 8, 2018
To avoid resentment, be sure each person has an equal say in everything you do on the trip. Make lists of all the places and events you want to see, and discuss what would be possible and fun for each of you (get ready to flex those compromising muscles).
Of course, you don’t always have to agree. One good option is to take turns making decisions.
“My husband and I both have long lists of places we want to travel, but they don’t always match up,” Stockton tells FashionBeans. “We take turns picking the destination, and I can honestly say: We both have a blast once we are there.” (See? Compromising isn’t that bad.)
The main thing is to keep talking throughout your travels. Jet lag, hunger, and exhaustion can make it really difficult to keep a cheery demeanor—especially when you’re in a strange land.
“You don’t have to sit down and have a long conversation about everything that bothers you about the other person, but if there is something that you’ve noticed has bothered you more than once, just say something,” Kanikula tells FashionBeans.
Being open about your feelings can avoid the worst-case scenario of an anger eruption.
“It’s so easy to just push things aside to avoid rocking the boat,” says Kanikula. “But if you choose to ignore it, it’s going to get bottled up and you’ll explode about something completely irrational.”
4. Know your spending habits—and your partner’s.
The old adage “mo’ money, mo’ problems” doesn’t really apply when it comes to traveling. Planning a major trip is expensive, and a lot of couples end up in conflict about travel costs. While it’s totally normal to fret over money, don’t let those feelings ruin the experience.
Start with identifying your spending expectations. (You may be picking up a pattern, here.) Are you more of a five-star hotel type of person, or are you okay with booking a room in a hostel? Do you prefer specific flight times and will absolutely be packing your largest suitcase? Or can you handle the cheapest red-eye flight with nothing but a carry-on? These differences are important.
The key to tackling different spending habits is to—you guessed it—talk to each other.
“Communicate ahead of time what’s important for you,” says Kanikula. “For example, I don’t mind spending an extra $8 on a [drink] while I’m out to dinner. My husband? Not so much. He’d rather eat bananas all day to save a few bucks.”
When you know how your partner prefers to spend their money, it won’t be such a shock (or an annoyance factor) when you’re dealing with it on the road.
5. Sunshine and roses? Not always.
No matter how much you plan, budget, and communicate your feelings, you’re still going to run into problems on the road. That’s fine! You may well find yourself in an argument with your significant other—but it doesn’t have to end catastrophically.
“Try to not get even more upset or jump to the horrible conclusion that you’re not meant to be and that it’s never going to work out,” Kanikula tells FashionBeans.
Sure, in that moment you might be upset, but being dramatic isn’t going to help anything.
Most of the time these relationship bumps are caused by some kind of stressful situation. One thing to try is to embrace these difficult moments. All you’ve got are each other, so why not defuse a terrible time with kindness or humor? At the very least, just remember that when one person is upset, they probably just need a little time and space to calm down. Which brings us to the next point…
6. When in doubt, take a break from each other.
You do not—nay, should not—plan to do everything, every single day, with your partner. Give yourself some breathing room! This allows you to enjoy an activity the other person might not be interested in, guilt-free. Don’t spring this on your partner without discussing it first, of course—build it into the planning of your trip.
“It might be tempting to join your partner in their activity of choice, but by continually doing so, you’re ignoring your own desires,” says Kanikula.
Go to lunch on your own, or enjoy a cup of coffee solo. It might seem weird at first, but eventually, you’ll be happy to have your own moments.
“Every once in a while, my husband and I will spend a morning on our own while traveling,” says Stockton. “It’s nice to be able to spend time being quiet and doing exactly what you want to do. It makes you even more excited to see them that afternoon.”
7. When It Doesn’t Work
Sometimes, despite the best efforts from both parties, things simply don’t work out on vacation.
“Even though a couple may be great together, it doesn’t always mean they’re the best travel companions,” says Kanikula. “You can always travel solo or with friends and family.”
Occasionally, trips can even be the catalyst for a breakup. One writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared her experience with ending a long-term relationship—while on vacation with that partner.
“I kind of knew the relationship was on its way out, but we had already planned this big trip and booked our flights and hotels,” she said. “It seemed like a waste to break up before going.”
It’s not fun to abandon plane tickets, but trust us, it’s better than flaring out far from home. Breaking up with someone while on vacation is never good.
“We were two days into a five-day vacation in San Francisco,” our source says. “That day we spent the entire morning silently and passive-aggressively walking along the wharf, and when we finally stopped for dinner, I just let loose and dumped the guy. Things were bad for a while, and his attitude was so terrible that I couldn’t stand being in such an awesome city with such a wet blanket of a person. Needless to say, the next few days and the flight home were rough.”
Remember, though: That story is literally a worst-case scenario. With a little communication and flexibility, you can enjoy a lifetime of exploring exciting new spaces with the one you love right by your side.