Our first trip was planned while we laid in bed reading. We were dating for only about 9 months, but I was itching to get on a plane.
“Do you want to go to Norway?” I said to him, eager for a yes.
Wanderlust is my ultimate relationship requirement. Not marriage, not kids, but travel. If we can survive for two to three weeks abroad without killing each other, I believe we can survive almost anything.
My partner, Alex, and I, now in our late 20s, aren’t planning to get married any time soon, much to the dismay of my very Catholic, Hispanic family. And while I’m supporting my friends, clapping and crying at their nuptials, I don’t want to follow the same path.
For me, waking up and saying yes to another day with the person next to me — even better if it’s in a new place — means more than an overpriced white dress, a ceremony and a big party.
We don’t take our commitment to each other lightly. We’ve formed a family with our two dogs and a mostly angry cat. And ever since that first trip together to Norway in 2012, we’ve made “travel vows,” pledging to travel abroad at least once a year.
We’ve been together for five years now and have been to 10 countries together. Throughout our travels, we’ve become closer as a couple and stronger as individuals. We’ve held our noses amid the overwhelming fish smells at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market; we’ve cherished each other during better meals and through worse food poisoning; we’ve bargained for Moroccan rugs in Fez and gotten swindled on cab rides in Marrakesh; we’ve navigated pharmacies in Oslo and been stranded at a train station in Kyoto.
It hasn’t all been excitement and adventure: Travel has a way of putting relationships to the test. The first time we got in an airplane together, we were giddy about landing in London. But once we arrived, our bags were nowhere to be found and our jackets — much needed on a cold fall afternoon — were in them. Alex, a smoker at the time, was restless after spending eight hours without a cigarette. (His nicotine patches were in our lost luggage.) Hunkered down at baggage claim, we traded off between yelling at each other and at airline workers.
But when you’re in an unfamiliar place and the only person you know is your travel companion, you lean on each other in unexpected ways. As we walked down the streets of London, holding hands, cold and without anything but each other to shelter us from the rain, part of me was glad that we were thrown headfirst into a challenge on our first stop. It forced honest and problemsolving together, rather than just walking away.
During the next two weeks in Oslo — where our bags magically reappeared — the arguing and fighting was replaced by a little more patience each day. Toward the end of our trip, Alex developed a serious sinus infection. I was scared and angry that this was happening on what was supposed to be a trip of a lifetime. But as Alex struggled to breathe and I made urgent hand gestures to the pharmacist, the phrase “in sickness and in health” popped into my mind.
Shortly after we returned from that trip, Alex quit smoking.
Traveling has also made us talk frankly about money, perhaps sooner than other couples might. Every December, for the past four years, we’ve sat down and gone over our financial goals and discussed where we want to travel next. This forces us to be transparent about our salaries, debt and joint saving plans to make sure that we stay in the black. Checking in with each other as we save throughout the year helps us stay upfront about finances, which leads to fewer fights about money.
We both hold full-time jobs with decent salaries and rent a house in Downtown Atlanta. Although Alex earns more than I do, we are both on equal financial footing when it comes to our everyday budget and traveling. We break it down into four parts: airline tickets, lodging, activities and everything else. We try to keep our everyday costs low when we’re at home so we can put a significant amount toward our travel goal. Depending on the destination, our trip fund can take up to 30 percent our monthly budget.
If we do decide to get married later on, we’ll have a lot of practice setting a budget and sticking to it.
Traveling give us time to slow down and examine our lives from a distance. While abroad, we’re free of the pressure of emails, work schedules and social commitments, so we can spend our time challenging ourselves and asking what we want out of life.
For example, while on a six-hour train ride to Hiroshima, Japan, Alex started rethinking his career path, weighing a move from computer systems into computer programming. By the time we were back in Tokyo nearly two weeks later, we decided to sacrifice a few luxuries such as eating out and drinking with friends (we’ve even occasionally turned the heat off in the winter) so that Alex could save for programming school. Nearly two years later, he is in a career he enjoys.
Friends and family often ask why we put travel above other, more “adult” goals, such as saving for a big wedding or a down payment on a home. But each time we buy a plane ticket, we are renewing our vows to each other: To be patient if someone books the train at the wrong time; to hold the other’s hair if one of us gets sick from questionable street food; to reevaluate where we are in life during quieter times on the road; and to make each other laugh, no matter how tired, lost or irritable we are.
For now, it works. And we’re having an amazing time.