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