Whether you’re heading to the Caribbean for your honeymoon, planning a European tour to celebrate your 25th anniversary or simply pitching a tent for the weekend with your new partner, you need to remember that travel can bring out the best—and the worst— in people. In addition to the usual hazards (flight delays, unexpected thunderstorms, lost luggage and so on) there’s the added pressure of simply being together.
This is, of course, the entire point of embarking upon a trip with your significant other but let’s face it: travel can be stressful. And if you’re spending every waking moment at your partner’s side, that stress can mean trouble for your relationship.
Nevertheless, travel can also give you the opportunity to explore and overcome new challenges together, to grow both individually and as a couple. With a little luck, you’ll return home even closer than you were before, already planning for your next trip. We’ve put together a list of tips to help see you through.
First and foremost, keep your expectations realistic. If this is your first trip together, don’t count on perfection every minute of every day. And if you’re still in the early phases of your relationship, don’t assume your partner is going to pop the question. You’ll spend your entire vacation waiting if you do and there’s a good chance you’ll miss out on the best parts of your trip because you’re so preoccupied with the thought of their proposal. Just plan to enjoy yourself—no matter what; you’ll both be better off for it.
Before you embark, it’s important to discuss your itinerary. This is especially true if one of you has done most of the research. Going over your plans will ensure that you both have the opportunity to take ownership of your vacation and the chance to voice your opinion about potential changes, additions or detours.
When I was growing up, my mom was always the planner and she’d spend months researching a trip beforehand. My dad, on the other hand, would wait until we were en route to start questioning her itinerary and she’d end up resenting him for not voicing his opinion sooner. They argued all the way through Paris as a result. Don’t let this happen to you.
If you’re not yet living together and sharing a checking account, you’ll also want to discuss the finances. Who is paying for what? Are you going to pool your resources, split everything 50/50 or simply ask for separate checks everywhere you go? When my boyfriend and I took a cruise to Bermuda earlier this year, we linked separate credit cards to our onboard expense accounts so we could shop, drink and pay our gratuities as we pleased. When we were off the ship, however, we took turns treating one another. Perhaps a similar model would work well for you and your partner. Either way, you should try to initiate a discussion about finances before you go; this way neither of you ends up feeling slighted during your trip.
Take some time to discuss what you’re packing as well, especially if you’re backpacking, flying or cruising and will have limited storage space. This will give you a chance to eliminate duplicate items (do you really need two cameras, two laptops and two tubes of toothpaste?) and make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
In addition, talking about your wardrobe before can help reduce the risk of unpleasant surprises. When I was seventeen, for example, my high school sweetheart and I went to Vienna together. Being a teenage girl at the time, I had very specific ideas about dining out in Europe, and I’d packed a fancy dress and heels to match. My travel partner, however, being a teenage boy, hadn’t bothered to pack anything more than t-shirts and shorts. I was sorely disappointed; a simple conversation prior to our departure could have alleviated the situation.
Once you’re en route, take turns being in charge. If you’re particularly keen on seeing a specific museum or exhibit, then lead the way. But don’t forget to let your partner call the shots once in a while too. You can swap leadership responsibilities every day or you can divide and conquer: one of you packs the snacks while the other heads to the tourist information center.
Over the course of your vacation, you may find that you’re better at following a map or navigating the subway while your partner excels at asking questions and negotiating prices. If so: go with it! The entire point of traveling together is to get to know one another better and discovering each other’s strengths is part of the process.
Communication is key, especially when it comes to travel. Be clear about when you’re leaving for the day and if you need to be somewhere at a specific time, be sure to let your partner know. There are times to take the scenic route and there are times when taking the scenic route is going to cost you, especially if you’re trying to make it to Buckingham Palace in time to see the Changing of the Guard or catch the final bus of the evening back to the cruise ship terminal.
If you’re used to traveling solo, be sure to plan for some time apart from your partner. Don’t wait until your partner’s less endearing quirks have sent you over the edge. Take fifteen or thirty minutes for yourself each day and you’ll find that you’ll value your time together even more. By scheduling your “alone time” in advance, you’ll be able to avoid offending an overly sensitive partner while also giving him or her the chance to visit that historic site or wildlife preserve that you really don’t care to see. You can even decide to spend an entire day apart, but we recommend that you meet up again for dinner to swap stories over a bottle of wine.
Happily Ever After
One final word of warning: travel has a tendency to accelerate your romantic relationships. You’re spending more time together than you ever have before, and most likely you’re less tuned in to your friends, your Facebook account and whatever else you have to distract you during the average workday. You’re being put into unfamiliar, potentially challenging situations, and you’re both overcoming these situations together. Take a deep breath, keep the lines of communication open and enjoy. And if you survive your first trip together, consider it good practice for your honeymoon.