Traveling abroad with your partner is one of those very rare opportunities to give more of yourself -- and receive more of your partner -- while getting to know each other in an entirely different setting. That said, it can present a number of challenges to even the most committed of couples.
In the summer of 2008, I embarked on what would turn out to be a rather life-affirming trip, with who would turn out to be a rather life-affirming girl. My partner of the time was intelligent and adventurous, with a kindness of spirit that would make her, or so I thought, an ideal traveling companion. At this point, she had been my live-in girlfriend of nearly two years. She had also previously visited our destination, which would later turn out to be equal parts advantageous and unfortunate, a point I will clarify later in some depth (see tip #3).
Below you'll find four tips I offer to traveling couples. Please note that these pearls of wisdom are primarily aimed at younger, backpacking pairs. However, I trust that the jet-set can take something away as well.
1.) Travel separately: No, I am not suggesting you abandon your plans to travel with your loved one, but set aside some time to travel apart, especially if you are on an extended trip. One often loses or forgets aspects of oneself when in a committed relationship, and the same is true (if not more so) when traveling in one. So tear yourself away from your lover's embrace, even if for only a few days, and experience the exhilaration of a solo jaunt. You'll meet some fascinating new people (some perhaps overly so -- see tip #4) and you'll return to your partner with a great deal more positive energy to offer the relationship.
2.) Date for Pete's sake! This rule applies whether you've been married since the Second World War, or met only last week. While backpacking, you're often not at your most appealing physically, owing to too many hours spent on buses and trains, and too many late nights spent in dingy hostels and dank pubs. Traveling together can also often take a toll on the emotional dynamics of the relationship itself, as the mutual role of romantic partner can be substituted for that of merely a "travel buddy." So buy a clean shirt, and give your Birkenstocks the night off -- you're going on a date! Remember the attraction that drew you to each other in the first place, and plan some time together that isn't about sight-seeing, but is genuinely about spending time with each other. You'll be astounded at what a difference the "date factor" makes in the relationship.
3.) Go where neither of you have ever been: This point may appear rather self-evident. However if you or your partner has had the travel bug long enough, chances are good that one of you may be revisiting places for the second (or even third) time. This is, as mentioned earlier, both advantageous and unfortunate. Advantageous as one of you will have the benefit of experience to color your itinerary with "must-see" places, and alternatively, overhyped and/or overpriced sights/restaurants/areas that are best avoided. However, experiencing some resplendent new place with someone who has done so before is, more often that not, somewhat anti-climactic for the both of you. While it's brand new for you, it may be somewhat old-hat for your partner, and their disinterest (however slight) will show. Go somewhere neither of you have been to extract the most from this shared experience.
4.) Don't sweat the small stuff: You'll forgive the cliché, dear reader, but it's true: as a traveler, you meet fellow travelers, and the vast majority of travelers share a common goal -- to have a cracking good time. That being said, meeting new people while traveling is different than meeting people at home because the allure of the decadent, forbidden, and sensual is far more pervasive than under normal circumstances. You're on vacation (!), with all of the romance that implies. One or both of you will be attracted to someone else at some point on your trip, and someone else will be attracted to you. So what's the big deal? You're attractive, your partner is attractive, and others recognize that. Attractive people are all around us, so leave your jealousy behind at the point of departure (or, even better, leave it behind altogether). As long as you are committed to one another and are clear on mutual expectations of fidelity (or not), don't fret if one or both of you is drawn to someone else at some point. If you've come this far as a couple, I would wager that your partner is still Helen of Troy -- or alternatively, Brad Pitt in Troy -- in your eyes.
A family member told me before we departed that our trip would "make or break" my girlfriend and I as a couple. In the end it did neither, but instead offered something far more gratifying: a venue in which to explore parts of the world, ourselves and each other we had never before witnessed. For that, this traveler will be forever grateful.
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