For many of us, travel is a romantic luxury that helps us escape the doldrums of our daily lives. Sometimes, we’re lucky to experience travel with a partner. We envision the future trips with rose-colored glasses. What could go wrong?
So, so many things. While travel is one of life’s treasures, it’s also incredibly stressful. You’re thrown into a new place with new challenges. Decision fatigue hits hard when every minute of the day is filled with new choices. There’s jet lag, getting lost, losing luggage. Add another person into the mix, and now you’re trying to balance both of your vacations.
To prepare yourself for the best time possible, we spoke with relationship experts about how to travel with a significant other — whether you’ve been dating for six months or 60 years.
This one is for the new couples. You know you want to travel together, and you’re just starting to brainstorm your options. Experts say you might want to test out your travel compatibility with a small trip first.
“Traveling and being with a person 24/7 is very different than dating and having dinner together two or three nights a week,” says Robert Reiner, a psychologist and executive director at Behavioral Associates. “Go stay in a B&B for a night. See what it’s like in the morning when you’re not going to run out the door.”
Before deciding to take on a more ambitious vacation — such as backpacking through Europe or a remote getaway — try a low-stakes trip, like a staycation or an overnight trip to a city nearby.
Be transparent about your budget beforehand
One of the most common issues couples fight over is money. Get on the same page about your travel budget before you even book.
“Budget can be a really big concern. The last thing you want is to not discuss it,” says Paulette Sherman, a psychologist and author of the book “Dating From the Inside Out.”
Sherman says that couples should discuss how much money they’d like to spend, what kind of accommodations each party is comfortable paying for, and who will be paying for what.
Couples can get creative when it comes to managing vacation finances. Some opt for detailed spreadsheets to keep track of who’s paid for what, while others rely on the payment app Venmo to share costs.
Come up with a game plan for your travel and financial styles, and make sure it’s agreed upon before you leave.
Make a wish list together
As you plan, sit down and figure out what you each want from the experience. That can be done explicitly — a written list of things you’d like to do, see and eat while you’re on the road. Or you can get creative with how you brainstorm.
Pam Costa, a therapist and Somatica certified sex and relationship coach, suggests asking how you’d both like to feel on vacation, vs. what you would like to do.
If a person says, “I really want to feel relaxed,” try to include relaxing experiences, or pick a beach destination to visit. If a person says they want to feel spontaneous, a more adventurous itinerary could be in order.
Make sure to leave room for the unknown. A surefire way to make your trip more stressful is to pack your agenda from morning to night. It’s not just tension-tempting for couples, it’s also rough for any traveler. Keep your plans flexible to stay ready for unexpected hitches.
Discuss your preferred travel styles
Is this your first trip together? Don’t forget to discuss basic topics, like your fears and preferred travel style. If you’re afraid of flying, speak up before your partner starts booking a flight across the world. Figure out if one of you prefers to check a bag, while the other swears by the carry-on. Do you get to the airport three hours early, or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Do you want some privacy at your lodging, or are you comfortable with any hotel room bathroom layout?
Conversations like these give couples a point of reference to rely on throughout their relationship. You want to talk about your values, wants, pet peeves and dislikes as much as possible so there aren’t surprises later. Reiner recommends anticipating as many different topics and situations as you can before your trip. Then talk them out.
“The most successful relationships have the most reference points,” Reiner says. “Be proactive with this stuff.”
If you’re uncomfortable being explicit with your wants, Reiner advises couples to have the conversation anyway, even if you’re shy.
“People have to get over the notion that life is going to be comfortable all the time,” he says. “Life is not a pleasure cruise all the time, even if it is vacation.”
Manage expectations, and embrace compromise
Once you’ve made your travel wish lists, plan a trip that’s going to work for the both of you. If you both have different expectations of a good time, you’ll need to compromise to keep each other happy.
“The first thing you have to accept: You can’t always get what you want,” Reiner says. “Very often, someone will have these expectations that everything should go their way. That’s ridiculous.”
Reiner once worked with a married couple who had a nightmare vacation to France. One partner was exclusively interested in food and wine, while the other wanted to be golfing the entire trip. Neither party compromised.
“This was their last vacation together,” he says. “It actually ended their relationship.”
Of course, it’s not the vacation’s fault that Reiner’s patients broke up. Being open and communicative about your needs is important on the days you’re not vacationing. But to avoid hurt feelings and frustrations while you’re traveling, be particularly open about your desires, while making sure that both partners gets their needs met.
Managing your own expectations is key. There’s a lot of hype leading up to your vacation. You’re better off thinking that you’re going on a trip — not the be-all, end-all trip of your life.
“People have these magical, irrational notions that the minute they step off the plane, they’re going to be ecstatic, and that’s plain wrong,” Reiner says.
Remind yourself that you’ll still have your own baggage to deal with, as well as the stressful travel obstacles to face. Even the best trips come with headaches.
Take some alone time
Traveling together can be wholly different than being at home together, where you may both have your own separate work, responsibilities to take care of throughout the day. Suddenly you’re bound to each other all day and all night. Even if you’re very in love, that can be a lot for a couple. Costa says this can be challenging for couples old and new.
“One of the things I encourage couples to do is to think: do I have some time for myself within this trip?” she says. “Is there a place where you get to just go and tend to yourself so that you can then show up in the relationship?”
Costa says it can be healthy to plan activities alone, like a spa day or taking a walk. The space will give you the opportunity to get excited about reuniting and share the new things you saw while you were apart.
Factor in jet lag, exhaustion and stress if arguments arise
On vacation, not only will you see new sights and cities, you also may see new sides of your partner. Maybe someone can keep it together at home, but now they’re jet-lagged and exhausted — and going to lose it getting elbowed at the Mona Lisa.
Everything is more intense when you’re traveling, Sherman says, whether that’s intense joy or intense stress. Couples should try to be extra-sensitive and extra-understanding to each other.
“People get very tired and hungry and sometimes irritable or angry, because they’re not in their normal element,” she says. “I tell couples, even when they’re not traveling … take a break until you’re in a better place."
Costa goes so far as to say that fights should be seen as gift: an opportunity to learn more about each other.
“They show us something that’s important to us, and we’re human,” she says. “Be really kind to yourself for having those feelings.”
Her recommendation, like Sherman’s, is to give your argument more structure than just duking it out. Instead of launching into a screaming match, choose who will be understood first, and who will be listened to second. Continue switching roles as you work your way through the conflict.
Most of your planning and preparation will take place before you leave, but, Costa says, it can be valuable to regroup after the party’s over to deepen your relationship.
“What you do after the vacation can be really, really rich,” she says. “The pre-work can make the vacation better than it would otherwise have been, and the work after can bring some of the vacation into your life.”
Think about what made you both happy when you were traveling together, what made you upset and what you’d like to repeat again.
Make the conversation intentional, or it might not happen. It can even lead to planning your next vacation together.