After travelling together to more than forty countries over the last six years, I have ten tips for travelling as a couple. Lessons learnt, ways to avoid those silly little fights, keep sane and enjoy the places that you have spent your hard earned cash to visit.
1. Stop with the selfies. Start by being in the moment
No really. Unless you are taking a daily selfie to mash to music at the end of your trip, then stop. On this leg of our trip through South America, I thought it would be great to document each day. I was wrong. It got annoying. I would take numerous pics because I didn’t like our smiles. What happened was we became irritated with each other. We wasted precious time and we didn’t have a chance to enjoy the moment of where we were – like missing a massive carving off the Perito Merino Glacier. That sucks! By all means its good to have pictures of you both together, people want to see you, but calm the farm and put the phone down.
2. Get onto a tour
Let someone else do the organising for you. Plus (and a big plus) you get to meet wonderful, like-minded people that you stay in contact with long after the tour is over.
Sure it may cost a little bit more, but when you have limited time to see a place, it can help prevent many unnecessary arguments on the road. A lot of the decision making is out of your hands. Let me paint you a picture. You have just arrived in Oslo. You’re groggy from too many drinks the night before and you need to find your hostel. It should be a 10 min walk away, but 30 mins later you are yelling at each other because turning ‘left’ was meant to be ‘right’ and I can’t read a map.
3. Play to your strengths
Which brings me nicely to tip number three. You know each other fairly well (I hope). You know what you are good at and what could take some work. You work well as a couple, because you do complement each other. Use it. I suck at reading maps (see above), even with the GPS dot telling me which way to go…I fail. I know this and am working on it, but in the meantime. I download the offline map and hand it promptly over to Rich.
4. Divide and conquer
Not all travelling is sunset moments with a cocktail in hand. This was certainly true when we travelled through Europe. 23 countries, 56 cities/towns in 90 days. I felt like Hanna Barbera’s Road Runner. What worked was that we had our unwritten roles. Rich would make sure all the photographic gear was charged, photos uploaded, documents backed up and I would book our next few days accommodation. We have established that Rich is better at navigating, so he would organise the transport. We would set ourselves time limits for these needed chores and then enjoy the day or evening together.
5. Learn to talk about expectations for the upcoming days
You have arrived into a new country. On the plane/bus/train trip you thought you might catch up on sleep or play a game on the ipad. Do that yes, but spend 15 – 30 minutes being clear with each other what are the top three things you want to do or see. Maybe it’s to research where the best lobster meal is in town, hike up a volcano, spend some time shopping for souvenirs, find that ice cream parlour or catch up with family and friends on social media. Whatever it may be, be honest about what you really want to do. Forget the tourist checklist of things to see, and be true to your interests or needs.
6. Have ‘you’ time
By acting on point five, you soon work out when there will be moments to do stuff together or have a little ‘you’ time. Rich hates shopping. If there was the option of going to a souvenir market or dental work, he would opt for the dental work. But he loves a good massage. Being a tall man and many beds ending where his shins are, means a good adjustment is often need. I will join him on most occasions, but sometimes I like to wander the shops and look for that perfect souvenir and he can have his hour of bliss.
7. Keep a daily budget
Things like souvenirs and massages are extra expenses. It is therefore wise to keep track of your daily spending to avoid missing out on things you want to do in the future and result in a silly fight. As we are now not earning any money, we have become quite frugal, but there were times when we would be travelling and thought “f*@k it let’s have fun” and overspend. That’s all fine, but know that you will have to try and make that money up if you still want to do all the things you hoped for in the future or find a compromise. There are some great free apps for budget tracking. We used Daily Spender.
8. Learn what to do with ‘down time’
Travelling can often mean many hours on transport or waiting around, and I have a tendency to behave like a puppy. I have two modes – I either eat or be disruptive. I choose my moments just right (not!) like when Rich is trying to get his head around a complex coding problem or understand a philosophical argument made in one of his latest books on ethics. See, I got tired of reading about the history of our next destination and I’m not a gamer. What do I do? Well I love comedy and learning, so I started an online course via Coursera and found some funny podcasts to listen to. I would be having so much fun that Rich would come out of his focus coma and want to know what I was doing…ah so the student becomes the master!
Also, sometimes it’s good to sleep.
9. Start meditating
We have been on the road for 10 months. The rhythm has changed as we now moved into ‘slow travelling’ and working on our own projects. This means staying put in an area for a couple of months at a time. This changes things up as you don’t have all the experiences of the day’s adventures to distract you and the little things you see all day, every day may get on your nerves. What we found helpful is to kick-off the day with a 20-minute guided meditation. It sets your mind up for the day and releases the crap from yesterday. You find yourself better able to deal with the irritations of the day or Mr Day in this case ♥.
10. Challenge each other
What I love most about Rich is his ability to give almost anything a go. I’m not quite like that and often it’s my physical limitations that hold me back. When we started planning our South America trip, we knew there was some hiking to be done. I was nervous and Rich in all his pragmatism was like “join the gym and start working out”. Even though it meant extra money out the door, he was happier to see me challenge myself than worry about the dent in the budget.
That’s it. We would love to hear your tips on travelling as a couple, or with kids or pets – then you would have a real puppy distraction!