How to get away from it all -- without wanting to get away from your traveling companion too.
Going on a long vacation? Excellent idea. Booking that trip well in advance to save money? Even better. But doing those things with someone you've only known for a few months? Romantic, yes... tempting fates definitely. When you're both out of your comfort zone and spending 24 hours a day together, you'll find out quickly how compatible (or not) you really are, says Adam Seper, a BootsnAll.com travel writer
, who took a yearlong, round-the-world adventure with his wife. Certain personality traits or habits you or your boyfriend may have been able to keep under wraps at home can be revealed under stress. The length of your trip should be proportional to the length of your relationship. So if you've only been together a few months, test the waters with a weekend escape. Save the monthlong trek through Walla Walla until you've dated a year or more, and always, no matter how short or long your relationship, buy the travel insurance. Although it can be tempting to put that extra money toward your trip, it will save you headaches (and money), if anything unexpected -- say, a breakup -- interferes with your plans.
Your hotel is 10 miles and a very unreliable shuttle bus ride from the beach. There's a zip line reservation with your name on it, but your sneakers are 7,000 miles away in your closet. This is enraging. This is entirely his fault. So true. And yet, so easy to avoid -- if you research your trip together. Before you make any nonrefundable decisions, ensure that you've both signed off on the following four key areas:
This is less about the geography and more about the atmosphere. You've been dreaming of a quiet, romantic getaway, but you land at a family-friendly resort overrun with screaming children. This will not make either of you happy -- and unhappy people are more prone to bickering. If one of you likes to sit by the pool, but the other needs more action to have a good time, find a place that offers options for both of you in close proximity so that you don't waste time and energy figuring out how you can each do what you want, says Geraldine Rojales, director of guest services at the Kahala Hotel & Resort
in Honolulu, Hawaii.
You know this. You are quite certain that your passport is up-to-date and you always stay on top of your seat assignment. Except... when you forget. Showing up at the ticket counter without the necessary paperwork means someone is guaranteed to lose her temper. Or lose her mind (as happened to someone we know who spent her 40th birthday at the Boston Passport Agency with her husband instead of in sunny Barbados with two other couples). Double-check that both of your passports are up-to-date at least two months out. (The U.S. Passport Agency advises that it takes four to six weeks to renew by mail.) And determine whether you need a visa before you leave; Brazil, India and Russia are three places that require them for U.S. citizens. Although you can purchase a visa upon arrival in some countries, many require you pay in cash (like the Dominican Republic). Be sure to make a stop at the ATM before you get on the plane -- or risk trying to find one at the border.
Money is one of the biggest issues couples fight about in the privacy of their homes; the stress of traveling, not to mention fluctuating exchange rates, unfamiliar tipping policies and other vacation surprises, can expose fault lines in even the most in-sync couples. Before you go, decide on the total you can afford to spend and figure out where you'll splurge (hotel or private tours) and where you'll cut back (living on cheese and bread for a week). If you're on a tight budget and looking to do more with less, Seper suggests traveling to developing countries like India or Thailand (he and his wife averaged $25 a day on their round-the-world trip) where it's easier to keep costs down.
Off-season booking will probably save you cash, but it could mean spending your entire trip cooped up with your partner in a hotel room... with only one television channel in English. Check multiple weather sources (not just what your hotel's website says) and find a graph that shows the average rainfall and temperature for the location and month you're planning to travel. Also, research what time of day is the hottest and coolest so that you can plan activities accordingly -- and don't end up doing that nature hike when it's 105 degrees outside.
Rojales, who's seen her fair share of couple meltdowns in Honolulu, says a common mistake couples make is being overly ambitious, which leaves them tired and cranky. Many of the guests who come to her with every second of their stay planned, end up flopping at the pool after a jam-packed day or two and missing the major attractions that brought them to Hawaii in the first place. She suggests narrowing down your wish list to three must-see, must-do things. If you're a museum buff, but your partner gets easily burned out from walking long, silent corridors, take time apart -- even if it's just an afternoon. On Seper's round-the-world trip, he planned a five-day hike in the mountains of northern India while his wife did yoga at an ashram.
If you're vacationing with family and your significant other, set up an escape plan in advance (try renting a kayak for two or booking a couples massage) that guarantees you'll get some alone time without hurting anyone's feelings. (Coming up with a code word or secret phrase before leaving that signals "Get me outta here!" is also never a bad idea.)
Following your partner as he waltzes up the metro stairs with a light knapsack while you lug a 75-pound suitcase will put a strain on your back and your relationship. Determine what size bag you'll both need and make sure they're close in size and weight. Don't buy luggage blindly online, says Seper; test it out first. If you need something with wheels, take a rolling suitcase for a few spins around the store to see how it handles corners and whether you can lift it easily. Many stores have weights that they can put in a knapsack so you can see what that feels like on. Also, investing in a portable scale helps eliminate overweight baggage surprises at the airport.
"The first day of vacation is always the hardest," says Rojales. "Save a romantic evening for the third night when you've had a chance to wind down and get your bearings." She suggests signing up for a physical activity on day two (like tennis or a surf lesson) to get rid of any leftover work stress. An added bonus: You can't take an iPhone or BlackBerry on the court or in the ocean. Rojales has seen guests hide their spouses' phone chargers to force them to disconnect, but if one of you has to stay in touch with the office, pick a time for checking email and returning urgent calls so it doesn't feel as if you or your partner's boss is tagging along for your entire stay.
Playing to your strengths can help you both have a better time, says Seper. In his relationship, he's the planner and does the digging for local hot spots and interesting restaurants but takes a backseat when it comes to bartering with the locals for transportation and souvenirs: "I used to try to take the reins," he says, "but my wife is an attorney and bargains for a living -- she's better at it." And Seper's strategy will not only save you time and stress on vacation -- but also works just as well when you get home and the bags are unpacked.