About 10 years ago, I decided to start making travel a priority in my life. I knew that it could change me for the better. I expected that each experience would teach me about new cultures, expose me to different perspectives, force me to learn patience and challenge me to adapt. I expected that it would help me grow, that it would inspire and amaze me.
What I didn’t expect was how much traveling solo would affect my romantic relationship.
I have been with my partner for almost seven years, and throughout our relationship, we’ve had a lot of adventures together. We have gone snorkeling six feet above sharks in the middle of the Caribbean, jumped from the top of a hidden waterfall in the Costa Rican rain forest, and camped in the snow-covered forest of Yellowstone. Through the fun and the stress, the road trips and the flight delays, the resorts and the roadside naps, we’ve grown as a couple. The challenges presented by our traveling experiences — as well as the trips themselves — have helped us to communicate more effectively and to develop better problem solving skills in our relationship. We’ve also learned more about each other.
Traveling with your significant other can be incredibly beneficial. But recently, I’ve also learned that traveling alone can really improve your relationship, too.
I am a freelance writer, which means that as long as I have a laptop and a good wifi connection, I also have the unbelievable job perk of working from anywhere. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is a farmer, which means he is quite literally tied to the land we live on.
I have always suffered from serious wanderlust, and when our career choices made it obvious that traveling the world together just wouldn’t be feasible, we made a decision: I would live out my dreams of geographical adventures — but I would have to do it alone.
I love traveling, domestically or internationally, and I am away from my homestead for approximately four months out of the year. That means, for a quarter of the year, I am also away from my partner. I appreciate how lucky I am to have the opportunities and the finances that allow me to travel — but even more than that, I appreciate how it helps me grow as a person, and grow as a partner.
It’s not always easy when I’m traveling solo — there are obvious challenges that come along with being in a part-time long-distance relationship. Being apart for long stretches of time can be stressful, especially when it’s difficult to communicate. There’s that twinge of jealousy you feel when you know your partner is having fun without you, the waves of loneliness that come after weeks without having sex. But, despite these struggles, solo travel offers just as many chances to become a better partner.
Sometimes, living together feels more distant than living apart.
My partner and I live together, but despite sharing a bed and an address, our schedules make it difficult to truly connect. Between our two demanding schedules, social obligations, house chores, and four dogs, our days are jam-packed with so much stuff that we have to do. By the time we have a spare moment to spend together, we’re too exhausted to do more than collapse on the couch, eat dinner and watch Netflix. It can feel like we’re two distant moons orbiting one another, not two partners with interconnected lives.
Traveling gives us a chance to reconnect on a deeper level.
Traveling gives us a chance to reconnect on a deeper level.
Even though we’re physically separated when I am traveling alone, my partner and I always seem to grow closer together when we are apart. The geographical distance means we can’t take those times we see each other on a daily basis for granted. There’s no guaranteed check-in over morning coffee or in bed at the end of the night. That’s why we have a deeper appreciation for those moments when we do get to connect while I’m traveling, regardless of whether it’s just over the phone or on the computer.
Instead of mindlessly sitting on the couch together or automatically asking about each other’s days without actually listening to the answer, we carve time out of our schedules to actually communicate.
It becomes even more important to articulate exactly what we mean and how we feel. We don’t just rattle off the annoying things that happened at work or the chores that still need to be done. We talk about what was exciting that day, what was challenging. And, since we aren’t sharing the same physical space, we can’t use body language to express our love for one another or our frustrations. We have to actively work to communicate with each other, intentionally choose our words, and consciously listen to what the other person has to say.
This restriction has helped both of us learn to use our words wisely, whether we are at home together or apart traveling.
Going on these trips is like hitting a refresh button.
When you’re in a long-term relationship, it’s easy to let the little things bother you. From dirty socks on the floor to the length of time before someone answers a text, plenty of pet peeves start to pile up, eroding even the strongest relationships. It’s easy to get bogged down by tiny grievances and stupid fights when you don’t get a break from them.
It’s true what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also makes the heart grow stronger.
Traveling alone provides me with the break I need to let those small things go.
It is by no means a way of solving larger problems or avoiding important discussions, but it is a fun and relaxing way to get over small annoyances and meaningless arguments until they stop clouding this healthy, happy relationship. After a week of missing my partner, those stupid things just don’t seem to matter anymore. I even get a new perspective on any bigger problems. When I’m traveling alone, I have the time I need to reflect on my relationship, forgive my partner if I need to, and forgive myself for the guilt I carry because of petty fights. I come back feeling renewed.
Sometimes, you just need a fresh start, and I’ve found mine in the pages of my passport. It’s true what they say: absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it also makes the heart grow stronger.
This post was originally published on HelloGiggles.