The act of traveling and exploring new places can be an incredible bonding experience for a couple. The memories made during a trip can fuel happiness and satisfaction in your relationship for a lifetime.
But there’s a flip side. The old adage is true: If you want to test the strength of your relationship and compatibility, take a trip together. If you’re still together and enjoy each other’s company when you get back, you might have a chance.
From long flights, transportation delays and logistical hiccups to not understanding the culture and language spoken around you, travel can be exhausting. You’re on edge, tired and thrilled at the same time — and you’re by your partner’s side constantly. It’s a situation ripe for an argument. Learning to navigate this scenario successfully is critical, and how you handle those moments when meltdown is imminent can teach you a lot about your relationship overall.
My significant other and I share a passion for seeing the world, so we’ve traveled together quite a bit. From Colombia to the Middle East to Spain (twice), Italy, Croatia and Brazil, we try to spend at least a few weeks each year exploring and living out of a carry-on. We’ve certainly had tense moments abroad and our normal share of arguments, but we still love to travel together. Here’s what I’ve learned about keeping the peace in a relationship while on the road:
Pack snacks in your luggage.
Seriously. How many arguments have you had at home because you were hangry (so hungry you’re angry)? Now think about this situation in another country or culture where everything is unfamiliar. You might have to spend more time between meals than you’d like, and depending where you are, it might be tough to get food in the interim. Stuffing individual size packets of nuts and protein bars in your luggage is like an insurance policy against hunger-induced insanity. And a convenient side bonus to this tactic is you’ll have more room in your luggage for souvenirs as you consume the snacks.
Be extra kind. Going out of your way to be especially thoughtful and kind to your partner gives your relationship some cushion, making the unpleasant parts of travel a little easier — and less likely to transform into the kind of negative thoughts that lead to arguments. This means being quicker to forgive, too. An attitude of selflessness and generosity is a good idea for happy relationships back home, too, but it becomes quite powerful when you’re stressed out from travel.
When I told him to go jump off a cliff, I didn’t think he’d really do it.
Pay special attention to body language.
The longer you’re with someone, the more aware you become of your partner’s nonverbal cues and mannerisms. Being able to read your significant other’s mood via body language — and then letting that inform your response — will help you a lot. Pay more attention to this while traveling than you might normally do at home, and you may be able to head off arguments before they even begin.
Take some time apart.
If you’re feeling irritated with your partner, it might be nothing more than a little overexposure. When you travel with someone, you’re almost always together. Make sure you take time to do your own thing on occasion to allow for some necessary breathing room.
Know when to ditch the itinerary.
Forget what you’re “supposed” to do in your destination for a day or evening and just relax and spend time together. Following an itinerary by the letter leaves no breathing room for spontaneity and reflection. If you’ve just spent every evening exploring authentic restaurants and nightlife together and you’re feeling bored or exhausted, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break from that and having a more normal evening like you’d have back at home. Even though we often feel like we should go out and keep exploring, making the most of our vacation, sometimes it’s better for our sanity to simply grab take-out and a bottle of wine and hang out together in the hotel room for a night instead.
Finally, remember to take a step back and realize where you are. Adding some perspective in the heat of an argument can make spats seem downright trivial. Thinking, “Hey, I’m in Europe right now with the one I love. Is this really what I want to be doing here?” can help you get back to the best parts of your relationship and your trip.
All photos by Megan Van Groll (and the random tourists who helped along the way).