I have a secret to share. Despite all my writings on travel and my frankly slightly bizarre obsession with hearing about other people’s holidays, I haven’t really travelled for long alone. Apart from a few weeks hanging out in Bali at the tender age of 20, I have spent most of my time travelling as a couple.
Rob and I met 11 years ago in a divey little rock bar we both worked at when I was studying in Leicester (RIP The Charlotte). Although at first we were in the friend zone, we finally got together just before a 2 month trip around Indonesia nearly 6 years ago. We’d booked the trip as friends so it was amazing to head off into the sunset together as a proper couple at long last – plus, it was Rob’s first ever travelling experience which made it pretty special.
Fast forward to the present and we have shared some pretty diverse experiences.
The bad… like thinking we were goners when our boat engine failed on the way to Gili Trawangan at dusk, getting robbed in Honduras and staying in a sweltering bug infested room on Gili Air.
And the ugly… such as getting ill on travels, getting attacked by monster mosquitoes and losing my luggage in the Philippines.
We’ve travelled Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Honduras together and I know we’re not done yet. It wasn’t always plain sailing but these days I can confidently say we travel pretty well together. We’ve had enough practice! So, here are a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way…
10 things I’ve learned travelling as a couple
1. The C word rules
Not that C word – I mean COMMUNICATION of course! It’s an oldie but a goodie – the only way to travel happily with anyone is to talk about how you are feeling and listen to the other. Silent treatment and sulking is just a massive waste of time. Though if you feel like being quiet, that’s fine too – just explain how you’re feeling and then the other knows you’re not quietly stewing about something.
Simple in theory, not so much in practice when you’ve spent a sleepless night on a local bus from Bali to Java and feel like death warmed up… Sometimes I just need to have a little moan when feeling stressed or uncomfortable and its nothing personal, nor does it need any ‘fixing’. I just need to let it all out and then I feel better – but I learned I need to remember to tell him that!
2. Team work makes the dream work
I am a little bit obsessed with Googling. It’s part of my job as a content writer and has just become a major part of my daily life. So, it figures that I love to research new destinations and find quirky places and interesting things to do on arrival. Rob freely admits that I am quite good at it so mostly leaves it to me.
However, I have a TERRIBLE sense of direction. I seriously couldn’t even find my way out of a paper bag. My sister has lived in the same house in Bristol for months and months and every time I go to visit I have to ask her which number she is.
So, I might have looked up that cool place to go when we’re travelling, but Rob takes responsibility for actually getting us there. And actually, I’ve found that splitting up some of the responsibilities and knowing each others’ limitations makes us travel better together – if we play to each other’s strengths, shit is more likely to get done and it makes us feel like more of a team.
Strike a pose
3. Travel breaks down your barriers
Heading off on a long trip together will take your relationship to the next level in a number of ways. One of those ways is just how quickly you start chatting about EVERYTHING – even, oh, let’s call them ‘toilet issues’. What with all the dodgy ‘what will they be like’ toilets you might encounter in Asia and adjusting to new types of food, you soon realise there’s no point in not being open and honest. And suddenly, just like that you’re wishing each other good luck as you head off to the bathroom. If that isn’t closeness, I don’t know what is.
4. I love to share my travels
I am a fairly independent person and for many years I couldn’t even comprehend the idea of living permanently with a partner – it made me feel quite anxious that I would become co-dependent or that if something wasn’t working you’d end up staying together ‘for the sake of the house’.
Things have changed a bit now – particularly as we’re about to make one of the biggest purchases of our lives and buy our first home together – and travel was a big part of that adjustment.
I learned that I love to share my travels with someone even if it means just chilling in silence, reading a good book in a hammock or watching a beautiful sunset. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t in each other’s pockets the entire time and I definitely need my own space too but I like that we’ve created so many amazing memories to look back on together.
5. If you wanna be my lover you gotta be my best friend
I can’t imagine being in a relationship with someone that wasn’t my best friend, particularly after being out on the road together. Having a similar idea of what makes a good time (like we’d both rather hear some live music than hit up the clubs and love to be by the sea) is great, of course, but it’s the knowledge that even if I don’t look my best, am feeling hormonal and emotional, or just having a down day, I can be myself and be fully accepted for that. Not every relationship I have had has been that way. But now I wouldn’t settle for anything less.
6. I need to travel without him too
As much as I love to travel as a couple, I have definitely learned that I value my time travelling without him too. Everyone has different boundaries within their relationships but I wouldn’t really know what to do with myself if Rob insisted we had to do EVERYTHING as a couple. I wouldn’t have had that awesome girl squad trip to Barcelona or a lost weekend in Lisbon with my sister. True, I might think twice about going on an extended trip if it meant being apart for too long – but really never say never, it all just depends on the circumstances… and he understands that. Which is pretty cool.
7. Travel keeps the romance alive
I would be surprised if anyone in a long-term relationship could say they have never found themselves in a bit of a rut. Maybe that means things have got a bit too routinised, you’ve stopped making time for each other, or you realise you aren’t making a proper effort when you are together. Travelling can snap you out of this in a heartbeat. Even if it is literally just hopping on a train to the countryside and spending a night in an inn or heading off to an air bnb in the next city, it’s like you snap into romance mode. And on a longer trip – well, every day’s got an element of spontaneous surprise and every night can be date night.
It’s not all hearts and beaches
8. Try to practice patience
Patience may be a virtue, but it isn’t one of mine. Yet it’s so important when spending so much time with another person. Nobody is exactly like you so you can’t expect people to react in the same way to things.
We were quite used to travelling Asia together so when we hit up Honduras a few years ago – the Central American country that doesn’t have the best reputation in the world – we realised we were quite irritable with each other for the first few days. After having a chat about what was going on, we realised we were both feeling a bit like fish out of water and getting annoyed with each other’s natural reactions to unfamiliar things.
I learned that just having a little patience (even if it is accompanied by deep, calming breaths while you hang on to your very last nerve) actually goes a long way and I feel calmer and stronger too as a result. I guess it has also helped me be a little more aware of my faults and (try to) work on them.
At the end of our trip, when we returned to the little Honduran coastal town, Tela, where we had started our journey, it was like a completely different experience… and we realised it wasn’t the place at all, it had just been our reaction to it and to each other.
9. Sometimes you just have to get over it
You’re bound to have cross words if you go long-haul travelling with your partner. Most of the time it’s over something silly like getting lost or just because you have had a little too much to drink. I’m all for clearing the air and then moving on because there’s no point letting a disagreement fester and ruin your trip… But equally sometimes too much talking can be counter-productive too and you just have to get over it.
Make sure you both get a chance to say your piece and try your hardest to see where the other person is coming from. Then do like Elsa says and let it go! And definitely don’t go to bed on a row – even if you both need some calming down time first.
Not mad at all.
10. Live in the now
Something we both learned when travelling as a couple is to be present more. It’s all too easy to keep living in the future, thinking about the million things you have to do or that you will be happy when ‘THIS happens’ or ‘when we get HERE’. Whether it’s losing a certain amount of weight or reaching the next destination, it’s actually kind of liberating to forget about the future for just a little while and focus entirely on what is happening right now. If you’re too busy worrying about what might be or wondering what might have been, you won’t be able to enjoy what is happening right in that moment.
Argue? Us? Never!
Travelling as a couple has been a pretty amazing experience for us. But that’s not to say it’s for everybody! There will be ups and downs – you’ll see the world through each others’ eyes, learn more about your partner and yourself, and (hopefully) discover more things you love about them. But you will also occasionally have the urge to whack them over the head with your backpack or drown them in the swimming pool. I guess that’s why they call it that crazy little thing called love.
Pics by Alex