The Couples’ Guide to Surviving Travel

“We’ll have to spend a few days apart. Sometimes we’ll do entirely different itineraries. I might spend time in Australia alone. Two months of spending every single day together? I think we’ll kill each other.”

Alessio agreed. 

“If we survive two months together in Asia, we can survive anything.”

Be the person who tells him off for getting smoke in people’s face


We had only been together a year and a half when we decided to book our trip, and the months before we flew out were difficult. We had argued a lot, had several near-break ups, personal crises and many other issues which meant the fate of our trip hung in the balance. We were also equally familiar with the pitfalls and shortcomings of our personalities as we were the things that made us great. For those reasons and many more, travelling as a couple was sure to be challenging.

Be prepared to always see each other wearing the same clothes

As the two months come to an end, I can’t deny there were challenges. We have both stropped, snapped and bickered. Overwhelmingly, however, this trip has felt like the most enlightening and enriching step we could take as two people wanting to grow and build a future together. We took the time to learn about each other, listen to each other and understand each other. It enabled us to bring out each others best elements and support each other when travelling got tough.

I can’t pretend that it’s always easy, but that’s true of when you travel with any other person. The point is that it’s not very hard if you’re considerate. I have also travelled with close friends and my mother and for every moment of laughter, there’s been a moment where you could strangle them. I have even travelled with enemies – and the trick to surviving always comes down to both people’s mindset.

Before I left, I read a good post on surviving couple’s travels. It helped me, and now hopefully this post will help someone else.

1. Discuss your expectations of the trip from the start. (Compromise)

I’m a planner, whereas Alessio is very laid-back. Researching and planning the itinerary planning fell to me, and I had to ensure the trip was balanced between things I like, and things he likes. When it came to budget, we had to be open on what we were prepared to spend. Sacrifices had to be made but being ready to compromise meant we both got to do more things we enjoyed. 

Benefit: It also meant we both enjoyed things we wouldn’t have expected!

THE SAME CLOTHES



2. Be emotionally open (honesty)

There’s a tendency for people to keep their fears and anxieties inside. Rather than discussing issues together, we keep it inside and it breeds resentment and distance. On the first day, something had upset me. I was tired and adjusting to a new pattern of life that I would be living for the next two months. Immediately, Alessio clocked that my quietness signified something was on my mind, and by talking we could work through my anxieties and find a solution. Equally, Alessio had the same problem in Luang Prabang and later Angkor Wat. I noticed he was quiet and distant all day, and asked him to share what was on his mind. After some reluctance, he shared what was troubling him and together we found a solution. Without sharing our fears, they may have morphed out of control and the resentment we kept inside would manifest outwardly as anger. Openness meant we found solutions.

Benefits: Being honest enabled us to listen to each other more, understand each other more and prevent problems before they started.

3. Think before you speak (patience)

Our biggest argument was in Inle Lake, and we both snapped and spoke to each other badly. Like most of our arguments, we had resolved it in an hour because neither of us is good at sulking. After a while, we need to chat to each other too much! Still, the time we had fallen out felt awful and the animosity meant we began thinking badly of each other. It’s not a foolproof method, especially not when tired, but when you feel rage or impatience building up, wait at least a minute before you make any comment. Whatever slips out your tongue in rage will almost certainly be regrettable, and may still sting way after the argument. If, like me, you’re too impulsive to say nothing at all, satisfy the urge to speak back by saying something neutral like “okay”.

Benefits: Thinking before you speak can avert arguments. It gives you the chance to see things from the other person’s perspective and also gives them the chance to see things from yours.


4. Figure out money and planning from the start (co-operation)

In London, we split the rent bills. Buying groceries, planning and organising and admin usually falls to me, and Alessio “keeps house” and pays for meals out and shared events. I could see how, in Asia this model wouldn’t work, and so I decided the best way was to be strictly equal about payments. This approach caused issues too. It didn’t feel right to say “you owe me this much, I owe you that much” – especially when our budgets were different. Very quickly we realised the best approach was vague equality. I’d cover one meal, Alessio would cover another. Sometimes he covered the room costs and other times I did. Near the end, when we became reluctant to pay lots of ATM withdrawal fees, we took in turn to withdraw money for both of us for the week. That way, we were both spending roughly equal amounts.

Equally, make sure the share of planning and organising is equally divided. If one person is doing a lot of researching, make sure the other is doing the leg work in putting plans into practice.

Benefits: Finance and planning can be the downfall of relationships. It’s important to get it right. Paying for things entirely separately is sometimes tricky, chasing each other for a few hundred baht leads to animosity and one person paying for everything is too costly! A balanced system where things are vaguely equal worked best for us and our budgets. We even ended up coming under budget this way!


5. Give Each Other Space (Independence)

I didn’t spend a whole week, or even a whole day, alone. In fact I didn’t spend a lot of time physically alone. For the most part, where I was, Alessio was too. I didn’t think I could spend two whole months in the company of someone else, but not only was it painless, it was enjoyable. 

This doesn’t mean we didn’t need our own space sometimes, but we found ways to do it. In the mornings I had my time, and at the end of the day I’d spend some time unwinding in silence. Ale needs less alone time than me, but his moments came when he went outside to smoke and when I was unwinding. 

Certain activities are also great for alone time. Beaches in particular – Ale likes to swim and play in waves, and I like to take in the sun and read on a hammock. The best activity for us was hanging out with a group of new people. We got to engage with other people, listen to their stories and have a break from hearing each other talk!

Benefits: Giving each other space allowed us to digest thoughts, chat with friends and family back home and not grow tired of each other. In London it’s impossible to spend 24 hours a day together – and we would never want to as we’re individuals, we’d never have anything new to tell each other if we were always together doing the same thing. The same policy applies to maintaining a healthy relationship abroad!

Remember to compromise on activies



6. Spend time together (Date!)

At the same time, it’s really important when you’re spending so much time together to spend quality time together! The things you do as quality time back home, eating out, seeing new things are what you do every day here, so quality time is a different change of pace here. As sacrilege as it sounds, a night in with a movie felt like a cute date. We could cuddle up in bed, all clean from a fresh shower and take it easy after a busy day. Sometimes we’d go to a nice bar, or go out to dance. On Valentines Day we paid more than we ever usually would for a dinner. Anything that feels like a bit of a “treat” counts.

Benefits: When you’re on a budget, treats are usually ruled out but it doesn’t always have to cost – take a picnic from a cheap mini mart and slow life down in a local park. The point is to change the pace and spend time to chat and be a couple. Travelling is stressful, but relaxing together and doing fun, silly and cute things brings you closer.


7. Get a double room once in a while. (Sleep together. Literally!)

The idea of £1 dorm beds every night is so appealing to a bank balance, but getting a double room once in a while is appealing for more reasons than being able to have a shower and toilet to yourself, and not dealing with six other people snoring.
You need time to have sex. I shouldn’t have to say that. Timing sex around when your dorm mates are out is not fun, especially when it’s on a lower bunk bed. We stayed in more double rooms than dorms because of… our personalities.
Being tired after a busy day can often be a big barrier to sex, which is why point 6 is important!

Another great reason to get a double room is to talk to just each other. We’re both formidable gossips and it gave us a perfect chance to do this out of earshot of others!

Benefits: I don’t need to explain the benefits


8. Have a sense of humour (friendship)

One of the first things I told my friends when I met him was that he’s “actually funnier than me!” Anyone who can make me laugh is instantly in my clique. 
This trip has been full of laughter, and the funny moments, the moments of absolute craziness and many more have sometimes been the most memorable part. Any trip is made better when you have stories you keep retelling and injokes that only you two can find funny. We seem to always give the people we see a lot nicknames, all of which makes the trip a bit more personal! The most important time to have a sense of humour is when things go wrong. Laugh at the silly bickering you do, the times you got stressed for nothing and most importantly, laugh at yourself

Benefits: Travelling is hard – being able to take it lightly makes it that much easier! And remember, it all makes a good story when you get home.


9. Learn About Each Other (Understanding)

Spending so much time with someone means you learn a lot more about each other than you usually would. You find traits that irritate you that you hadn’t noticed, and traits you really love about each other. I noticed that Alessio always went above and beyond to look out for me when I’m clumsy and distracted. Without him, I would have lost my wallet every time I took it out, and had my phone stolen from an open bag. Equally, he told me he noticed that when he was worried, I always seemed to have the solution there so easily.

We learned about each others pasts, things we had never shared with other people or with each other, and the important thing was to listen and understand.

 
Benefits: Learning about each other meant we could support and understand each other – critical for the trip and our whole relationship.


10. Forget that argument. (Forgive!)

We had some very petty arguments. It was either that I was too sensitive and he wasn’t sensitive enough, he was tired and snappy or I was tired and snappy or a combination of all of the above. We even bickered about whether to stay longer on the trip! 

If you asked me what was said exactly, I couldn’t really tell you, and if I remember anything, the anger and upset is no longer there. It’s not worth carrying it around. If you’re two independent adults, you’ll disagree and if you’re adults with the ability to get tired and irritable in the heat and after long days, you’ll probably snap at each other. Disagreeing is normal. It’s preventable, and in the times where you end up falling out, it’s usually solvable. Within the hour, you should be friends again. For us this was always the case.

If you do find that the arguments are lasting longer and you can’t see eye to eye, it may be time to spend a little time apart. Take time to see if the arrangement is working. Sometimes it doesn’t go, and you have to part ways when the trip is more negativity than positivity. To avoid this, it’s always best to iron out any creases in the relationship before you go. Make sure your relationship is healthy before taking that flight!

Benefits: Forgiving, forgetting and avoiding rows means you don’t have the dead weight of grudges and resentment causing a bad air. If you’re spending all this money, you want to maximise the amount of time you spend having fun together!

Embrace different cultures


All of this culminates in one thing – support and respect. Relationships are hard and so is travelling together. 

Support each other through difficult emotions. Respect each other and treat each other in the way you know they deserve. Communicate and spend time together. All these things you know at home can be easily forgotten when abroad. By being as good to each other as you can, your relationship will be healthy and so will your adventures. You need to also be good to yourself, and that’s something you can help each other do.

I finished my trip knowing this guy, this funny, silly, hairy Italian who cries at kids’ movies, plays in the waves, buries himself in the sand on beaches and gets carried away when he’s talking was my perfect travel companion. It wasn’t even that our diverse skills made the trip go without a hitch (his numerical genius balanced my inability to tell the difference between 10,000 and 100,000 and my planning and researching skills meant we didn’t have to spend all day in a Bangkok hostel watching movies like if Ale had planned the trip). It was that he brought out the best in me, and I did my best to bring out the best in him. We laughed like children at nothing at all, and took in the sheer beauty of the world together. We both understood the importance of the trip to each other, and helped each other to grow and have the best trip possible.
Oh… and maybe one last thing. You have to already be at the “comfortable stage” in your relationship. You can’t be afraid to be smelly, messy or dirty around each other. You will see the best and worst of each other – especially if food poisoning is involved. Be ready, and armed with a sense of humour.

If it all goes well, travelling will create some of your best memories and maybe even change your lives forever!

Top Tips for Angkor Wat

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One, Three or Seven Day Pass?

When I was itinerary planning, I was repeatedly reminded not to spend any less than three days in Angkor Wat. Being short on time and eager to see other places in Cambodia, I opted for one day in Angkor Wat. I am so glad I did this, as by the time we arrived the price for a one day pass had risen out of our budget, to $37! In one day, we happily saw a selection of sites – and if you start earlier than we did, you can see even more and go at your own pace. Seven days would be far too much to squeeze into most itineraries – especially as by 2pm we heard some people complaining they were “temple’d out”. Unless you really really love architecture, one or three days is enough. Three days is ideal to see a one or more sunsets, take it easy and see more sites at a leisurely pace. Also remember that if you buy the ticket before 5pm, that evening you can visit the site and it doesn’t count as one of your days!

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Tour, Tuk Tuk or Bicycle?

For us, a tour wasn’t an option we looked into. Since we could do it ourselves, we did but there were some nice tour options advertised in the hotel which can take the stress out of planning.

Bicycle and even walking was an option as we were already pushing our budget by going. I am not a confident cyclist however, and the heat of the day and the distances between sites, as well as getting there made us glad we hadn’t cycled. Even for us, with our “even if it’s far to walk, we’ll get there eventually” attitude, this would have been too much.

We opted for a tuk tuk over an air conditioned taxi, just because they’re easier to find.

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Which tuk tuk and where?

You hear a lot of horror stories about the tuk tuk drivers. “They’ll take you to buy the ticket, then charge you six times the original quoted price!” “You’ll come out of the temple and find he’s found other customers who’ll pay more!”

Naturally, we were nervous. We had heard it was better to book through the guesthouse than chance it on the street but we took the risk. We avoided persistent ones and found a driver who was chilling in his tuk tuk. He quoted us $18 which is a fair price to get the tickets and go around the whole day. He had a map of the two circuits, small and grand circuit, and usually for a few dollars more you can throw in more distant ones. Have a look at pictures of the sites to see what you want to see, and what’s realistic to see on the day.

As he was so good to us we threw him a few extra dollars in tip, but by finding drivers in the street you run more of a risk.

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How Can You Avoid Crowds?

Timing. The sunrises will be busy, and the coach trips start around 8/9AM. We accidentally avoided most of the crowds by arriving at our first site, Angkor Wat, for 11AM. We caught up with them by the time we were in Ta Phrom, which was very busy. By sunset, the crowds pick up again

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What Should I Bring?

It is exceedingly hot and sticky so prepare accordingly. Water is essential, but charged at inflated prices – most things are double price. Bring at least one 1.5 litre bottle per person, two if you’re doing a full day. For a shorter day, you may not need snacks, but there are plenty of supermarkets in Siem Reap

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What Should I Wear?

Remember that it’s a sacred site. Cover your shoulders and knees as you would a temple. It’s very hot though, so choose light clothes and a hat to protect you from the strong sun. I wore flip flops and struggled no more than I usually would, but comfortable, sturdy shoes that have both a grip and breathability would be better.

Thailand/Cambodia Border Visas: I’ll Getcha Good

Or, how I managed to pay $30 and nothing more at the Thailand Aranyaprathet/Cambodia Poipet land border in 2017.
My initial plan was to fly down to Siem Reap from Luang Prabang, but the cost of flying rerouted my itinerary and I ended up crossing the border by land. Only by chance did I discover how tricky and scamtastic this border was, otherwise I would have found myself also paying 900 baht in addition to the visa fees to express process my visa.

At around 6PM before the day of travel, I turned up at Mo Chit/Northeastern Bus Station in Bangkok near the Chatuchak market. Motorcycle taxis in this are a bit pushy, but you can ignore them/pretend you don’t speak English. Once you enter the large bus station past the local bus carpark, you can either ask for the counter for buses to Cambodia or walk around until you find the one which says Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Tickets are 750 baht a person for a direct bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, and they leave at 8AM or 9AM but you most often don’t get a choice – we didn’t. Your ticket will tell you the bay your coach departs from and your seat number. This bus is the government licensed through bus, no bus changes needed at the border.

The direct bus I took was not new or flashy like a Myanmar bus, but clean and air conditioned with big comfortable seats and plenty leg room. It leaves well on time and hands out the arrival cards when you leave. This, if you do your research, may be when the anxiety begins.

I did a lot of research. I heard everyone and their mother tries to rip off travellers to Cambodia from Thailand. I heard the bus will try to make you pay 900 baht extra for a VIP service, or $5 extra for a batch processing service, touts and hawkers will pickpocket as soon as you leave the bus and the journey will be one long game of dodge the bullet. Not only is my budget strict, but I also am loath to be ripped off. I was just scared I wouldn’t be gutsy enough to argue. So when my arrival card arrived, I was scared this necessary form would spiral into me sinking my savings into a scam.

The arrival card is essential and what you fill out on landing by plane. Whether you pay $30 or $300, it must be completed. It’s easier if you get the bus license plate before boarding so you can complete that section straight away. Keep the arrival card in your passport and ensure you also have ready and completed your departure card that was issued when you enter Thailand. The bus will also ask for passport information on a long form of everyone on the bus. Also complete this.

Two hours in, the bus conductor asks if you have a visa and arrives ready with forms. The girls in front queried this, and they asked for money to “process and photocopy” their passport, which they paid. I sleepily and politely told them I would do it at the border, and they accepted this and walked on. You are handed a lanyard with the number of the bus and some information. This helps you be identified as a member of the bus party.

At midday, you get a small box of warm, filling shrimp fried rice. There’s no water, so be sure to bring a drink. Within half an hour, you’re at Aranyaprathet. The conductor gives you firm instructions to stamp out of Thailand, follow only the official directions, say no to anyone who approaches you in the street, collect your visa, get stamped into Cambodia, then return to the bus.

In Aranyaprathet, it is easy to stick with those on your bus, especially the more clued up and ballsy ones. People will approach you with directions as soon as you leave, ignore them and don’t look at them. There is a sign and a queue. Join it and you will eventually be stamped out of Thailand. This process is simple if you have your departure card filled out completely and ready. Otherwise you will be sent to the back of the long queue to complete it.

Enter the double doors, descend the steps and again ignore people telling you “passport visa this way!” or any other bullshit. There are signs, and fences directing you where to walk and the touts in no way look official. By this time you may have lost sight of anyone else who is on your bus and be walking alone.

If you haven’t already sorted your visa you will need to head to the visa on arrival. For those who have a visa, it’s straight on ahead following the signs and fences. For those without, it’s a vague left turn into a no mans land of taxis and touts. No one approached me, and you see the official office building quite clearly.

Enter, take a form and bring your $30 and passport picture ready. There was no queue (Sunday 5th February) when I got there. A man will tell you it’s $30 plus 100 baht. There is an official sign, saying only $30 plus a scruffy hand written note on the desk saying +100 baht. This 100 baht is a bribe which goes to the pockets of the border control staff. If you don’t want to pay it, don’t. I did not want to pay it.

The dialogue went something like this. He points to a sign

Me: I’m sorry I don’t understand?

Man: 100 baht! And thirty dollar!

Me: Sir, I have $30 for the visa and no bahts

Man: Then you will pay $33 dollars

Me: No, my embassy said I do not pay 100 baht. It’s $30

Man: and 100 baht!

Me: No, my embassy said-

Man: Go over there

I nodded and happily walked back, loudly explaining (to no one in particular) there is no fee, only pay $30. A couple of people on my bus said there’s always a fee for something, 100 baht is not a lot. I told them it’s their choice.

Time to double team with a fellow determined soul, if you can. This came in the form of Alessio. The man asked for the bribe, and he simply said no and was told to wait with me. Another couple was moaning about having to pay, and told us we must pay something. At this point I nearly conceded, but I stayed firm for a minute longer. Then I calmly asked.

“Can I have a receipt for the 100 baht, for my embassy? Do you have a receipt? I will pay the extra if you give me a receipt.”

At this point, a man took Alessio and I aside, unhappy snatched our passports and $30 dollars only. They then left with the passports, took a few minutes and we got our visas without paying the bribe. We were in there for no more than ten minutes and kept waiting for no more than five.

Once you leave, you will see a sign saying arrivals in front of you. This is where you must queue again and get your arrivals card and passport stamped. Here, there are men waiting in the doorways to tell you something is wrong with your documents and you will not be let in if you don’t listen. Ignore them. We passed the bus on the way. After being stamped in, we peed for free in the nearby casino and boarded our bus.

A guy on the bus who did pay the bribe was further cheated out of $10. He required change, and they gave him the $10 in obviously fake notes and refused to acknowledge the note was fake. Which it clearly was. Lucky for us, we had exact change and a few spare dollars if they contested our notes. By the time they took our visa, I think they just wanted to get rid of us.

This, for me, is why you shouldn’t pay. 100 baht is not a lot in the scheme of things, but bribery, dishonesty and scheming is not okay. Even people who comply with the bribe are cheated any way they can. It gives Cambodia and Cambodians a bad reputation when the first view you get of the country is being ripped off. One bus of bribe paying tourists could pocket them 3,000 baht which IS a lot of money going to dishonest people, paid honestly by tourists who didn’t know better. That isn’t even including the money they refuse to give back in change. I don’t want to further fund con artists just because I can afford to. There are tourists who can afford to easily pay £1,000 scams, should they also be okay with this?

In the end, it’s your choice whether not paying the extra fees is worth it but it’s at least worth trying your luck. In doing so, I only waited five minutes and endured not a lot of hassle, and didn’t give extra money to people who conned nice guys out of $10. If you wish to avoid the border scams, my advice is this.

– Have everything ready. $30, documents, one passport photo all in one place. Keep any extra money separate, including 100 baht and $5 extra incase your resolve cracks.

– Find someone who is similarly minded so you have strength in numbers.

– Stick with your group as much as you can, take down your bus registration number and don’t speak to anyone else outside of the official buildings.

– When asked for the bribe, refer to your official embassy at home and ask for receipts for the bahts. When they send you away, don’t move far and badger them for a receipt. Talk loudly enough for them to worry about others overhearing, but never be rude. Remain polite and calm, but firm and loud. They will process you grumpily but within minutes on a quiet day.

– Have the exact money in dollars ONLY, crisp new notes and have a few notes for which you can exchange it. If you have to give more than $30, don’t expect change back.

– Finally, bring water. The food is filling, but they don’t provide water.