It’s not easy being with your partner 24 hours, seven days a week. Trust us, we know. We’ve been doing it for 245 days so far. Why would we subject ourselves to this kind of torture? Well, for a trip around the world we’d do almost anything. Now, eight months into this whirlwind world tour, we’ve learned a thing or two about surviving traveling together, all while keeping our sanity—and our marriage—intact!
Traveling as a couple has its advantages, such as never having to go at it alone. Whether that’s finding food, getting lost, or experiencing culture shock, having a partner makes everything easier and a little less frightening.
However, while it has its perks, it’s never easy to be with anyone for an extended period of time, as annoyances and disagreements will inevitably occur, especially under the added stresses that come while traveling. Through our ups and downs, here are nine things that have helped us along the way:
1. Experience small trips together beforehand to see how well you get along.
Start with things you both might enjoy away from home like day hikes, long drives, or weekend camping. Then progressively go bigger until you’re taking multi-day backpacking trips or road tripping around your state/province/country.
Extended vacations overseas would be the next best step. Remember, though, that pampering yourself in a comfortable lodge and spa won’t help you to better understand your compatibility for long-term budget travel.
We learned each other’s travel habits by starting out small and then going big. We went from taking day hikes to overnight backpacking trips to multi-day trips in more remote areas together. The added exertion and stress of trekking helped us figure out the length of each other’s fuses pretty quickly.
If you decide to take that extended vacation together, you’re less likely to be surprised by each other’s habits since you’ll already know those quirks and understand each other’s needs. You may even find that weekend adventures are perfect for you and that anything longer wouldn’t bring the same level of enjoyment.
2. Understand that lack of food, lack of sleep, or bad weather are to blame—not your partner.
Tempers flare and arguments will happen while traveling together for an extended period of time, maybe even more so than they already do at home. As with most people, our mood swings usually occur when one or both of us are hungry, tired, or hot after wandering a big city on foot all day.
We learned quickly that we needed to listen to our bodies and stop to take a break when necessary. If that means missing an item on the day’s itinerary, so be it. Tired? It’s okay to go back to your hotel for the day. Hungry? Sit down and have a snack. Too hot? Find shade or an air-conditioned building to cool down in. For Mark, a Snickers bar does the trick, whereas I usually just need a nap.
3. Apologize in advance before tackling a task that could go wrong.
Agreeing to work together beforehand and acknowledging the difficulty that lies ahead can help the two of you accomplish your goal more smoothly. This works for us when we navigate our way through new cities; one such case was in Moscow.
After weeks on the Trans-Siberian Railway, we arrived expecting a driver to pick us up at the station as arranged by a travel agency. They ended up being a no-show and we were not surprised when the Russian taxis presented outrageous prices to a pair of Western tourists. It was July and blistering hot, but we decided to hoist our heavy packs and make our way through the streets on foot.
We both agreed this could get ugly when we examined our map that showed a complex 40-minute walking route to get to our hotel. We knew we’d probably get lost and overheat under the weight of our packs on the baking sidewalks.
Understanding this and literally apologizing in advance for any upcoming bad tempers turned out to work wonders. We got a little lost and had to backtrack often, all while sweating under the summer sun, but surprisingly we kept our cool and worked well with each other throughout the entire ordeal.
4. Mix things up with both private and dorm rooms.
When you are with your partner 24/7 for months, it’s great to mix it up by socializing with others. Throughout our journey, we’ve stayed in a mix of private and dorm rooms at hostels and hotels. This has given us a good balance of social interaction and privacy.
Staying in a dorm room might sound a little strange for a married couple, but we’ve met so many great friends this way. It usually leads to a fun night out or good company on an upcoming side trip. On the flip side, it can be just as rewarding to settle down into the peace and quiet of your own private room.
5. Have realistic expectations—everything won’t always go according to plan.
Understand that things can and will go wrong and try to roll with the punches. When we were in Scotland, we rented a car that has since become the bane of our trip.
A flat tire in the middle of nowhere ended up spoiling our plans for the next few days in some of the most beautiful landscapes of Scotland. We had to pay out-of-pocket for a new tire and then, months later, were charged more than $500 for towing expenses!
It was frustrating to say the least, but it was important for us not to let it spoil the rest of our travels. As in life, it’s best to realize we are only in control of so much; however, what we can control is how it affects us.
6. Schedule breaks apart.
It came as a surprise to some of our friends back home when I ended up in Belgium while Mark visited Germany. They expressed some concern, but everything was fine and going according to plan. Before we left on our trip, we had scheduled a 10-day break from each other in advance.
By that time, we were both appreciative of some time apart as the last two months of traveling by train through China, Mongolia, and Russia had taken its toll. But the time apart did us good and we were happy to reunite later in England.
It’s nearly impossible to be with the same person day in and day out and not have it strain a relationship. Even separating for just a few hours to do different things in the same city can help tremendously. Don’t feel like you have to do everything together.
7. Be willing to compromise.
Both parties need the satisfaction of realizing their own vision of what the journey will provide them. One might like cities while the other likes the wilderness. One might want to be more active while the other would prefer a relaxing day on the beach. Be willing to trade off on your priorities throughout the journey. On an extended trip, there’s plenty of time to satisfy both your desires.
8. Pick each other up when one is down.
Don’t desert your partner when the going gets tough—be there for each other! There will be plenty of times when one is having a better day than the other, or one has more energy while the other could use a boost. There were long days trekking when I struggled to continue and Mark would carry both our packs to help meet our goal that day. And there were many meals when Mark just couldn’t get enough food and I willingly shared my portions to fuel him up.
But it’s not always as obvious as a partner struggling on a hike or not getting enough to eat. Learn the less-obvious signs of an unhappy/tired/sad/struggling partner and give them some positive energy when they need it!
9. Remember all of the memories you’ve created together.
“Remember when . . .” will become an oft-used phrase when you travel with your partner. It’s a major perk to have someone to share the same memories with, and you’re less likely to sicken each other when recounting them again and again and again. As we look back on the last eight months, all the stories—good and bad—make for fun conversations and get us excited for the four months still to come.