Should I travel with my partner?

A big question you ask yourself when you decide to go travelling, is who you should go with? Should you go it alone, classic backpacker style? With a buddy? Or.. Gulp!.. With a partner? It’s a big commitment, 24/7 life on the road, and one you have to be sure about before you take it on.

From our 10 months of travelling together as a couple (after just 1.5 years of dating) we’ve gleaned the following perspective…

When things are going swimmingly, it’s easy to travel with anyone. Moods are high, you’re seeing amazing stuff, you can tolerate all kinds of backpackers and locals, and minor fuck-ups that fall in your way, because hey! You’re travelling the world!

But when things are tough, things have the potential to get ugly pretty fast. Travelling together is like an extreme, magnified version of living together, and quite an unusually intense thing to do. You could be with someone for years without ever having spent more than a week or two together full-time, but with travel there is no escape. NO ESCAPE. No days at work, no nights out with your mates. They’re now acting as everyone from your previous life.

You can see how it could all easily fall apart if you’re travelling with the wrong person. If you’ve ever been on holiday for the first time with a partner, you’ll know what I mean. Suddenly there are little snaps and tantrums that weren’t there before. Everything’s a bit full-on; there are lots of decisions to make; it’s hot; you’re hungry; you need to sort out somewhere to sleep and find out when the bus leaves. Big and small things can and do go wrong. So you need a good team mate, a buddy, a best friend, to muddle through it with and come out happy on the other side. Preferably whilst having a good laugh at the same time!

To be good travel partners you need to be buoyed on by each others’ enthusiasm and natural joy to be together in new places, to start each day with affection and positivity. Even if you’re in a tent and it’s rained on the inside during the night. Or you’ve had 2 hours sleep in an upright seat on a night bus whilst a child has been kicking your seat the whole time.

You need to want to do the same things, travel at the same pace, go to the same kind of places.. And these are REALLY big things to get right. With so much to see, it helps if you’re similar people with similar likes in the first place. We’ve only come unstuck on this on a couple of occasions, when one of us is over museums or cities, or feeling in a rut (or hungover!) But in the main, we want the same balance of places: cities vs cute colonial towns, coasts vs mountain trekking vs jungle, action vs culture vs chilling.

The harmonious times are what make travelling as a couple so spectacular: you have all the time in the world to enjoy together, get to know each other inside out, create endlessly memories, reference points and in-jokes

It’s a microcosm of your wider life as a couple, and the future that faces you when you hang up your backpack. You learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses, how to deal with each others’ moods. You also have time to discuss what you want and hatch a big plan: kids, jobs, money; it all becomes more real and exciting. 

I’ve seen Sam do some amazingly brave things I might not have otherwise, like chasing down a scam artist that tried to rob us on the streets of Colombia; nice things like putting me first like a true gent so I’m comfy and happy; helping me lift things and not be such a klutz the whole time; he’ll handle the stuff that terrifies me (passports, money, electronics); he’ll carry the heavier load; and we work as a team at most stuff like cooking and camping and packing. We have our well-practiced phrases and know who will ask each thing – from leaving bags at hostels post-checkout to ordering food or bartering for a cheaper room (we have a well-heeled good cop/bad cop routine).

I’ve learned that I compulsively have to plan and write to give me things to do, and we’re both happiest for me to take this lead. I’m happy to just cook up a big meal sometimes because it’s therapeutic. We’re the same on things like how much to spend (we both get a kick out of being frugal/buying local), where and what we want to eat, and how tidy to keep our room (-read, an absolute landslide tip). These all sound like little things but it’s the daily ease that makes everything run smoothly and more enjoyably. And after nearly 300 days in each other’s company, smoothness and enjoyability counts for a LOT.

Also, Sam is hilarious and this makes every conceivable situation better (but I think this should be a pre-requisite for any relationship)

That’s not to say it’s all sunshine and rainbows. We’ve had a lot of silly fights, as you’d expect. But crucially we’ve learned to call a spade a spade, and know our fighting triggers. Too much booze, not enough sleep, not enough affection (when we’ve slept in dorms or are travelling with others); occasionally wanting to do different things, or our individual travel triggers (for me it’s being ripped off, for Sam it’s the stress of logistics and safety) – and when we snap at each other or have an exchange of stroppy words that seems like it’s going to escalate, we’ve learned to take space and let the mood die down. Which was a pretty big learning for confrontational me! I’ve also learnt that you don’t need to analyse everything and sometimes there aren’t any dark deep-lying reasons behind crossed words; sometimes it’s just raw emotion.

In the sober light of day we’ve pretty much nailed this now, but it’s much easier said than done when (blind) drunk. Luckily we’re not big boozers on the road so this one only rears its ugly head on occasion! Usually just a release of tension manifesting itself in weird argument topics, from fights about where to eat dinner to heated arguments about whether people should marry for love or money (?!) That was definitely the weirdest one so far. And given I’m more of a ‘confront’ kind of arguer and Sam prefers his space, it’s easy to see how it gets out of hand. But now we just bury it and move on, call it what it is – an inevitable product of 24/7 life on the road and having a manically happy energy most of the time. The crash after the high. The toddler tantrum at the birthday party. The bad drunks.

And when we’re faced with tougher external challenges (like terrifying spine-breaking bumpy boat rides, impossible hikes or being stranded without transport or lodging) it shows us up in our true light. It shows our tolerance, our loving, our faith in each other and our ability to work together to solve it and laugh it off afterwards. We’ll allow a fiery initial reaction or freak-out (usually me!) then we pull it together. One of us will always be the calmer one with the plan. Whether we have to cross a river on a pulley because we’ve got lost on a hike, or we fall into a Class 3 rapid because our kayak capsizes and we lose a shoe (again, me) – we will get through it. The tougher things are, the more they test us and the stronger and better we become.

The cringe things get worse – we speak in our own language of in-jokes and references, we’re more affectionate than we’ve ever been (we’ve been asked a few times if we’re on our honeymoon as a result!) and we’ve definitely got more cutesy behind closed doors (YUK).

But equally, we sometimes just act like best friends, and will meet new buddies, have a great time, and go out on the town like the lairy bunch of lads that we are.

There are times when we start to feel like we’re perfect (like our current 5 week stretch without a fight!) but we know we’ll bump into an issue down the line; and knowing that we will still have to learn and adapt is the most important, reassuring thing. There will always be new challenges, but they’re no longer scary. We have each others’ backs.

And most importantly, we now know that living together is going to be an absolute breeze. With daily distractions of work and play, we’ll fall back into the bittersweet familiarity of missing each other. We’ll still have adventures but we’ll also have a (temporary) nest to call our home. 

And although it won’t be travel, and although I’m sure we will be thoroughly outraged by how expensive life in London has become, I have to admit, I’m really looking forward to it.