Travel is the key indicator and the truest test for relationships.
Whether couples are backpacking on a mountain top or hanging at an eco-lodge in Nicaragua, traveling outside the realm of familiarity and cultural norms has the power to both strengthen and strain the fabric of any relationship.
(And we’re talking about traveling here, not vacationing. You can read about the difference here.)
When you’ve finally planned your trip, packed your bags and boarded the plane, call on these tips. They’ll help you make the most of your journey with your significant other:
1. Communicate upfront.
You may feel like you know each other’s pet-peeves and random quirks (like an irrational fear of butterflies), but we’re all different when we travel. We're more vulnerable, with different reactionary mindsets.
Tell each other your tales of past travels: the horrors and the triumphs. Be honest about the time you were eaten alive by mosquitoes and cancelled everything to take an ice bath in DC.
It shouldn't be too hard to see what makes your partner tick, and whether or not missing a train will put him or her over the edge.
2. Afraid to talk about your experience in the bathroom? Get over it.
Everybody poops. And if you’re headed to South Asia, be prepared to take a break from defecation while your body figures out what the f*ck is happening in your stomach.
Don’t suffer in silence if you’re not feeling well. It’s best to talk about what’s wrong. If you don’t, you’ll alienate yourself and get anxiety about what’s wrong.
So be open, laugh at yourself (and your partner) and you’ll keep your stress level low.
3. Share the daily planning, and surprise each other!
You may have already planned the basics: hotel, transportation, rentals, tours, etc. But there will no doubt be days where you have some unstructured time, and it’s important to plan as you go.
Share the daily planning. Plan a few small activities catering to your partner's likes. Try to surprise him or her with something random you spotted on the drive there.
Keep your plans flexible, and make sure you don’t pack the day from sunrise to sunset. Build momentum throughout your day.
4. Let go of your high expectations.
There’s no such thing as the golden trip. Plan for both little slip-ups and big slip-ups. The train system in Italy is always late and the traffic in Los Angeles is maddening. Throw out your expectations before they are shattered.
Also keep in mind that you have three priorities: health, safety and laughs. If those are fulfilled, you’re good.
And if things don’t go as planned? Embrace it, and enjoy the small discoveries as a result.
Often, the best stories come from the major travel fails.
5. Give yourselves some downtime (as well as time for sex).
Meandering a foreign space can be hectic and stressful, especially when you’re always eager for what’s next.
Block out some downtime anywhere you can find it, and take a moment to relax even when you don’t think you need it. In the scope of your entire trip, you’ll be happy you took some deep breaths throughout the day.
And something else that’s good for the two of you is sex. Good thing your partner is within an arm's reach!
When you’re touring castles or hiking through a rainforest, sex is not usually on your mind. But remember, being sexually alive is the key to keeping the spark ablaze. So do it.
6. Don’t use each other as a reason not to immerse yourself in the culture.
When we’re traveling and slightly uneasy about our surroundings, we tend to attach ourselves to whoever we’re with. It’s only natural, but don’t do it with you significant other.
If you use each other as a safety net, then you’re foregoing the experience. Challenge each other to embrace the locale. Use the few Arabic words you picked up from the guidebook to order couscous and meat in Marrakech.
Be present in the cultural differences and embrace them. Collectively dive into the destination and keep your eyes open.
7. Food is synonymous with your happiness, so eat a lot of it.
There’s no activity that makes you more prone to malicious hangry-ness than traveling. And it will ruin your day.
You don’t want to end up at dinner with your partner about to flip the table because you’re starving/frustrated/all-around-pissed-off due to lack of sustenance.
Pack snacks each day to stave up spurts of hunger. And pack individually! Sharing munchies all day results in zero snacks by 10 am. Also buy a ton of local snacks throughout the day.
Don’t know what that odd, fuzzy-looking snack is? Great, try it!
8. Block out a day, rent a vehicle and go.
At home and abroad, spontaneity is a good thing for a relationship.
Remember, however, this is only for one day. I don’t recommend building the whole trip around this model, but pick your day and your mode of transportation.
Hop on your Vespas or jump in your car, and chase the horizon. Embrace the world without a clock.
Maybe ask the friendly woman or man at the store where your next stop should be and hop to it.
9. Try putting the camera down once or twice. Write it down instead.
Very few people keep a journal, and even fewer journal while traveling. Couples sometimes think it’s not needed because there’s someone there to help them remember.
But writing has the power to keep the trip with you long after you leave, with far more detail than photos.
Instead of snapping an Instagram-worthy shot of the Opera House or the Gate of India and moving on, put the camera in your bag and get out a piece of paper and pen.
Write down or draw the moment together. What do you see, smell and hear?
Create something today, together. It’ll likely be your greatest treasure once you’re back.
10. Put it down and leave it in your room...seriously.
This one’s easy: Leave your phone.
It’s okay to keep one with you for navigating and in case of emergency, but turn it off and keep it at the bottom of your bag.
Don’t be the couple sitting at the Sky Bar in Singapore mesmerized by the pixels on their phones.
Ask yourself, "What is social media, really? And how much time do I spend on it at home?" Then, embrace the moment around you, kick-start a conversation and be a couple, immersed in a different world.
11. Reserve the twilight hours for laughs and funky drinks.
Finally, let it out and laugh with your significant other.
Don’t jam-pack your days with anything and everything the city has to offer. Leave time to relax and make sure you have plenty of energy for the twilight hours. (Remember that point about sex?)
There’s no better feeling than sitting down at a bar, beach or cliff-side with plenty of jokes from the day and a drink you’re mildly afraid to try.
Have a pure "you had to be there" moment with your partner that the two of you certainly won’t forget. And most importantly, have fun.