Ah, travelling as a couple. Such love. Much romance.
Actually, I was talking about travel. Not your annual two-week holiday.
You know, weighted backpacks that cramp your shoulders. 30+ hour sweltering bus rides. Lack of private rooms. Rising anger when you've been lost for hours and are in a tummy-grumbling state of despair.
They say marriage will really test your love for someone. As an opinionated person who has both a) gotten married and b) travelled long-term with that someone, I'm going to spew back a big heck no to that first testament.
You see, marriage offers a fairly regulated environment where there's definitely stressors, but each person has a lot more space and normality to deal with them. The conditions which intensify tension like being around each other 24/7 and facing daily challenges to eat, sleep, and get by are just a way of life for couples living on the road.
Travel is not always romantic. It's often not sexy, with 4AM wake-ups sans make-up to catch red eye flights. There's that, and the countless overconsumption of greasy, carb-rich street-eats that either go straight through your ass or straight to it if you big-bottomed backpackers know what I mean.
Being with someone for literally every hour of the day save for when you're using the toilet (which, in some places could be every hour of the day should you be graced by traveller's diarrhea) – well… let's just be real here. Some days, it makes for a near-permanent state of short fuses. In travel's ugliest moments, and believe me it will get ugly, bickering can become default form of communication. At times you may feel more like an angsty brother/sister duo than two lovers chasing their romantic dreams to see the world.
I assure you, despite what photos portray, travelling as a couple is not always what the Instagram-worthy photos make it seem.
Like this one:
I love this photo. It reminds me of one of our favourite journeys ever as we road-tripped our way through France. It was indescribably stunning, every scene looked like the aerial shots in a James Bond film.
But the story behind this picture was one of angst and frustration as I tried to figure out how to drive a manual car having never done it before. That ended with me repeatedly stalling in the rental parking lot, returning the car immediately, with some tears shed and quiet tension as we left and hopped on the next train out of town.
You're kidding yourself if you think travelling together will always feel like a honeymoon, and that every smiling photo is an accurate representation of flawless day-to-day life on the road with your partner. It's not.
The aspects of travel that have pushed me the most to become a better person and partner are undoubtedly the fugly ones. Fights, bickering, tears, protests of silence, moments of let's-end-this-trip-NOW-please. Believe me, there is no better way to improve patience and communication with your partner than to travel together. You will learn to defuse quicker, argue less, and communicate more effectively in a wild array of situations.
One thing I've done when things get fugly – and I have no idea why – is take photos of Ted. Like, multiple consecutive snapshots when we're amidst a disagreement. I'm probably a terrible person for doing that but it somehow always erupts into laughter and shifts the mood. Eventually, you will learn ways to bounce tension and get better at letting go of little disagreements.
*I wanted to post some of those pics by the way, because they really make me laugh. But alas, Ted has pleaded not to, so I'll respect his wishes and put in a fugly shot of myself. Basically just imagine a montage of a red angry faces which progress to laughter and you'll get the point. Attempt at your own risk.
Despite all this crushing of fairytale dreams (especially by those who view our travels with spiteful envy of its “perfection”), I can say with the utmost honesty, that I would never ever trade the tribulations of travelling with my partner for anything. Here's why.
1. Co-accomplishments. Every. Single. Day.
Travel brings with it a series of daily challenges, not terribly different from the Amazing Race. Today's tasks could be figuring out a new city's transit system. Dodging thieves that are following you around the city. Begging the Brazilian visa office to get your passport back because you're leaving the country tomorrow. These small hurdles are endless and often involve unanticipated twists.
Every single day will involve challenges, and you and your partner will be forced to work in a synchronised rhythm to tackle each one. This will significantly strengthen your ability to communicate, problem-solve, and support each other. All that without even a single visit to couple's therapy. How's that for thrifty?!
2. Sharing your most memorable life moments with someone else.
The reality is, no matter how succinct our words or how crisp our photos, we can never fully capture life's experiences. Whatever I've been through, I just can't convey it to you in the same way than had you been right beside me living it. Exploring the world with your partner is one of the most intimate things you can do. Every single moment is shared – every fiery sunset, every unexpected rainbow, every bumpy bus ride, every quirky character you meet… you do it all together. To me, there is nothing more special than sharing all my memorable moments with my life partner.
3. Becoming vulnerable and learning self-acceptance.
Marriage is a bubbled environment where precision can still be exercised in how you dress, groom, and present yourself each day. This controlled setting supplies you with simple but modern conveniences like great lighting, electrical outlets, mirrors, hair dryers… you know, all the things we use to enhance ourselves each day to the best degree we can.
Travel on the other hand, will fatigue you. It will shrink your closet size by about 90%. You'll find yourself using car mirrors to catch a glimpse of yourself (which may cause you to gasp aloud in terror). You'll be greasy. Your clothes will get washed a heck of a lot less because screw it, you'd rather stretch a buck and not kill the afternoon doing laundry. And unless you're one of those stupid calorie-counting or severely impoverished backpackers, you will gain weight because you recognise that food is one of the best global experiences that exists.
So what's my point here?
Travel will put you at a fork in the road where you will either choose to wallow in self-pity at your deteriorating state, or learn to love yourself without the pillars we usually lean on for self-esteem. You and your partner will become key players in helping each other sustain self-confidence because let's be real, travel can do a number on your self-worth some days.
4. Not knowing the feeling of loneliness.
Often in our travels we would happily have solo travellers tag along with us for days, even weeks, at a time. I have a lot of respect for these people. As a sociable person, even I have trouble trying to talk to new people in an unfamiliar setting on my own. I can't imagine the bravery of these individuals who leave their home country and explore a new one, completely independently.
When you're with a partner, you will never know that state of loneliness and desperation to seek out a friendly face. For in every new city, new transit system, new language immersion, you always will have someone to be a second brain and support.
Knowing I would have my life partner to accompany me on this scary venture fizzled any genuine fears I had about leaving my old life in the dust. No matter how far from home and no matter how bad things got, at least I knew he would always be right there with me.
To this day, I firmly believe that Ted is the only reason I had the courage to say, “yes, if you're with me, I can leave everything I know behind and pursue my dream to see this big, beautiful world”. What a cheesy but wonderful thing!
In a nutshell, travelling as a couple is a commitment that cannot be fully understood until you do it. Is it a risk? Yes. Will it be easy? Heck no. We met many couples in our travels who broke up while on the road, and don't think for a second that they didn't try to make it work.
Exploring the world and spending every waking moment with your partner is life-changing, but lightyears from being perfect. What I can assure you is that it will be the greatest, most fulfilling adventure of your life. I know that both of us wouldn't change it for the world.
What's your best lesson learnt from travelling with a partner? Would you do it again, or opt for solo travel? Share below!