Just before Patrick and I left for our six-week trip around Asia in the summer of 2012, I started to get cold feet. We had, after all, somewhat rushed the planning process a bit—quitting our jobs and then booking our flights just a month before, hastily pulling together an itinerary and hotel reservations. But I wasn’t nervous about the short timeline; I was nervous about the fact that we were about to spend six weeks together, traveling through countries where neither of us knew the language, far from the comforts of our every day lives….just the two of us. We had traveled together before, but it had always been with other people. This was our first test of traveling as a couple, and I was nervous.
It turns out, I had nothing to be worried about. In fact, I think the six weeks that we spent traveling together, often in quite close quarters (thank you, tiny hotel room in Tokyo), was a turning point in our relationship. We realized that we loved spending time together, and that the tiny quirks that we each carried (my obsessive cleanliness, Patrick’s incessant need to wander, even in a tiny airport terminal) didn’t drive us apart, but rather brought us closer together. I am pretty sure any flaw or mistake that we had been hiding from each other in the first three years of our relationship came out in full force on that trip. Upon our return, people asked us over and over again how we managed to survive such a trip without killing each other. And, to be honest, we had to learn quickly, from day one, how to do so. Two years and 16 countries later, we still find ourselves utilizing a lot of the techniques that we began to utilize on our first trip together each time we travel. Here are just a few of them.
Be willing to compromise: I could spend hours and hours in museums. Patrick is done after 20 minutes (he can literally see the entire museum in under 20 minutes). But when you’re in a city like Madrid, it’s not right to bypass all of the museums just because. So we learned to pick the ones that we truly wanted to see, and to break up the visits into manageable chunks, so that we weren’t spending three straight days staring at paintings. We also tried to seek out some non-traditional venues, like the Real Madrid stadium tour or the bullfighting museum…one can only see so many modern art sculptures before you need a little variety.
Don’t always always take the picture: There is at least one moment every day when you’re traveling when you see something that takes your breath away. Sometimes memories are kept closest to the heart when you’re focused on taking in every aspect of that experience, and not on finding the best light and angle with which to take a photo. That moment will be ever more special because it’s something the two of you witness together—not shared with the rest of the world over various social media channels. We like to refer to this as the Walter Mitty experience.
It won’t be perfect; don’t stress: It’s easy for me to get caught up in the rush to keep us on track in the itinerary, or to stress about how something has not gone according to plan—I am, after all, your classic Type-A personality. While Patrick usually knows the random airline routing rules, secrets for redeeming miles and points, and much more required to get us to the actual place, I’m the one that takes over the logistics once we’re on the ground. For our honeymoon in New Zealand, I had put a lot of work into our itinerary–planning out how long it would take to drive between cities, in what order we should stop at each city, and how long we should spend there. We drove to Mount Cook on Christmas Eve, anticipating that we would spend a relaxing night at a chalet at the base of the mountain, and then wake up early for the short, 15-mile drive to Franz Josef Glacier. Except, when Patrick Google-mapped the next day’s route as we sipped egg nog in our little cabin on Christmas Eve, it turned out that we were 250 DRIVING miles away from Franz Josef Glacier.
Despite the fact that it was just 15 miles away on the other side of the mountain, we would have to drive all the way around the mountain to get there as there were no actual roads between the two mountains. To be honest, there were a few minutes of angst and anger that emerged from me—what the heck had I been thinking when I planned this?! But after I got over that, we were able to laugh about it, and then focus on loading up the iPad with Christmas songs in preparation for the long drive the following day. If one of us spends too much time harping on a mistake or stressing over how something didn’t go according to plan, it ruins the whole experience for both. Better instead to focus on who has produced the best Christmas album (Boyz II Men, duh).
Talk to other people: Just because you’re traveling together doesn’t mean that you can’t talk to anyone else. Whether it is catching a taxi ride back to the main part of town with another group of travelers, starting up a conversation with the table next to you at dinner, or talking to the random man in the Hawaiian shirt sitting in the hotel lobby, it’s worth it. Our first day in Hawaii as we sat in the lobby planning out the day, a stranger in a Hawaiian shirt who had been eavesdropping on our conversation started to pipe in with suggestions. It turns out he lived in Hawaii, and came to the hotel lobby for the free newspaper each day. We not only heard his entire life story, but we also ended up seeing parts of the island that we wouldn’t have known to seek out, had it not been for his suggestions.
Don’t plan every minute of every day: Some of our more memorable experiences came from unplanned stops along our travels. Patrick’s unquenchable need to wander usually has him itching to break free from our itinerary within hours, and the travel gods usually deposit us in the midst of a hilarious/breathtaking/shocking/beautiful/overwhelming experience. When we first arrived in Bali, we immediately dropped our bags and headed to the beach, hoping to watch the sunset and grab a quick dinner. However, we found ourselves in the midst of the release of hundreds of sea turtle hatchlings back into the wild. We stood there for an hour as the sun set, while hundreds of baby turtles scrambled across the sand and into the water. You can’t plan that…well, we could have, but if you plan every moment, you miss out on some really great unplanned experiences.
It isn’t like every day that we travel together as a couple is sunshine and unicorns and rainbows. But that was part of what brought us closer together. It wasn’t a coincidence that we got engaged just a few months after returning from this trip. It was on this trip that we learned how to rely on each other and how to challenge each other. But we also learned when we each needed some time apart. We learned to argue with each other, and then to quickly forgive each other. We realized that each of us brings something to our travels together, and that without our different approaches to travel and to life, things would be a heck of a lot more boring.
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