How Long-Term Travel Strengthens Relationships

Betsy Talbot of Married with Luggage ponders how long-term travel can strengthen a relationship as she is about to embark on her journey with her husband, Warren.

Can you imagine being with your partner 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a whole year or more? (You, in the back, do you need a paper bag? Breathe in, breathe out.)

Travelers who embark on long-term trips dream of the excitement of new places, recapturing the romance in their relationships, and discovering new things about each other. Still others worry that minor personality conflicts will turn into big fights with too much time together. You know what? Both sides are right.

Warren and I have spent the last two years planning and saving for our upcoming trip around the world. We’ve learned to live with a pretty tight budget, let go of material possessions, and become fairly Zen about the whole quitting-your-job-without-a-backup-plan thing.

But how are we – two type-A people with different opinions on a lot of things – going to fare on the road? We asked some seasoned travelers for their tips.

Lee and Sachi LeFeverLee is a pretty brave guy when it comes to relationships. Not only did he and his wife Sachi travel for a year together, they also work together every day at Common Craft and they recently did an extensive remodel on their home. This is a couple with some experience to share:

“Relationships sometimes live or die based on a couple’s ability to make decisions. It’s hard enough in normal life to deal with coming to consensus on something as simple as dinner plans. Travel puts these decision points into overdrive. You wake up in a new city and have to decide your way through. From the moment you wake up to the moment you sleep, your day is filled with finding food, activities and rest with little to go on but a guidebook and advice from friends. It can be really stressful. Add some heat, hunger and a little attitude and it can be explosive.

“Through a year on the road, I think we learned how to make decisions and deal with the consequences, all day every day – without biting each other’s heads off.

“We recently renovated our house and there were hundreds of decisions that had to be made. I think our experiences in travel prepared us for the onslaught and helped us get results that we didn’t think were possible.”

[singlepic=280,270,,,right]He’s the yin; you’re the yang – or something like that. If your relationship is a case of opposites attracting, you are in luck, according to Michaela Potter of Briefcase to Backpack.

“Even before our career break travels in 2007, Michael and I brought different things to our relationship. He’s corporate – I’m creative. He’s the briefcase – I’m the backpack. So even though on paper we look like opposites, we actually balance each other out nicely.

“When Michael was ready to leave his corporate job after 14 years, he didn’t hesitate when I suggested we travel before seeking new jobs. Even in the planning, we balanced our roles. I took on the travel preparation while he managed our budgets. While on the road we even shared packing responsibilities – he was an expert at packing up our countless cords and electronics while I could squeeze any piece of clothing down to the smallest size.

“And beyond the big momentous events we experienced – like kayaking Abel Tasman, diving the Barrier Reef, living with a local Muslim family in Thailand – it was those little moments and ‘tedious’ tasks that solidified us as a team.

“Perhaps the simplest answer to this is at the end of our career break travels we got engaged! Michael also returned from that journey amazed that we didn’t encounter any other Americans, and he wanted to change that. That in turn inspired Briefcase to Backpack in its latest form (that was originally the name of our personal travel blog). So it wasn’t necessarily anything that happened on the trip itself but the overall experience of the trip – from the contemplating, preparation, life on the road, and re-entry – that impacted our relationship the most. And it still impacts it today!”

[singlepic=475,270,,,right]Of course we trust each other, you might say. And for the big stuff you probably do. But what about the little things?

Michael Bontempi, who has traveled extensively with his wife Michaela, learned this lesson in Thailand:

“What I think the travel experience provided is an understanding of the level of trust you can have in your relationship. I am always up for a new experience but everyone at one point or another gets outside their comfort zone. And if your partner says, ‘trust me,’ you need to go along with it.

“The one example I would give was in Thailand. We bought tickets for a van to take us from one city to another. As we waited on the side of the road, we became friendly with other travelers who were going to the same city. When the van arrived the driver said we could get on but the other people would have to wait. This was peculiar as there was plenty of room in the van. The van then took us to another town (not our destination) where we were told to wait on the side of the road for another van. At this point I was becoming suspicious. When Michaela said ‘trust me, this is how it works,’ I relaxed. A van showed up 90 minutes later and we made it to our destination [Khao Lak]. No issues, no problems.”

The lessons above are just as good for everyday life at home as they are on the road. Who wouldn’t see positive changes in their relationships by following this sage advice?

1. Learn to make decisions together. We all know people who can’t or won’t make decisions. You may actually be one of those people. But it is unfair to leave that burden on your partner. Making decisions together involves compromise and also lets you share the joy when something works out well and support each other when things don’t turn out as planned.

2. Balance your strengths. Separating your tasks by strength means making the trip easier all around. It pays for each of you to learn the basics of trip planning, packing, money conversion, etc., but if one of you is a great packer and the other can navigate by the stars, it pays to split up those duties.

3. Trust each other. There are going to be times when it is hard to follow your partner, even when he or she is more experienced or has done more research on an area or custom. When everything is new to you, it can be disconcerting and cause you to question everything. Learning to trust your mate will ease your mind and allow you to enjoy your trip more.

Meet, Plan, Go!You can learn more about traveling together from these couples on September 14, 2010, at Meet, Plan, Go!, an evening of information, inspiration, and collaboration among people who believe career breaks for travel enrich lives and enhance careers. The event is hosted simultaneously in 13 North American cities and includes grand prizes from GAP Adventures, GeoVisions, and a host of other sponsors. Register today at Meet, Plan, Go!

About the author: Betsy Talbot is one-half of the Married with Luggage team. She writes about goal setting, living well, and being true to yourself every week on the blog. On October 1 she and her husband Warren will be leaving on their round-the-world adventure, but before then you can meet them (and Lee and Sachi) at the Meet, Plan, Go! Seattle.

Other comments

8 Comments on "How Long-Term Travel Strengthens Relationships"

  1. Tweets that mention How Long-Term Travel Strengthens Relationships | Briefcase to Backpack - Travel Advice for Career Breaks or Sabbaticals -- on Mon, 19th Jul 2010 12:06 pm 

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alexis Grant, Sherry Ott. Sherry Ott said: RT @alexisgrant: Can long-term #travel strengthen a relationship? From @CareerBreakHQs: […]

  2. Sherry Ott on Mon, 19th Jul 2010 1:40 pm 

    Great post Betsy! I’ve always been a solo traveler – but I must admit I’m fascinated with you couple travelers…I wonder if I could do it!
    Strangely one of my favorite things to see on the show Amazing Race is how the couples who are married or been together for a while cope with the stresses of travel!

  3. soultravelers3 on Mon, 19th Jul 2010 2:55 pm 

    Thanks for telling the world Betsy! If a relationship is solid, long term travel can be a truly magical experience together. You will love it!

    We’re about to celebrate our 20th anniversary and we have been traveling the world together non-stop for the last 4 years! Add a kid to the mix and it’s even better. 😉

    I have read about couples that split over long term travel, but we have found it to be fantastic for our marriage as well as for the whole family bonding in very deep ways.

    We find we thrive on the 24/7 time together and meeting the many challenges of living life on the edge.

  4. Betsy Talbot on Mon, 19th Jul 2010 8:52 pm 

    We get along very well, but we are also both Type-A, strong-willed personalities, so there is a fear that 24/7 togetherness might make the universe implode. So we are taking these tips to heart, especially #1, and we are working on it now before we head out. Thanks to the smart couples who so generously shared the lessons they learned the hard way!

  5. Sonia on Tue, 20th Jul 2010 9:40 am 

    Great post! I think another key thing is to not be afraid to “go your own way” from time to time. Whether that means taking a day off to do separate activities or taking a week off to travel alone (or maybe with other companions), it’s OK! You’re not joined at the hip! 🙂 I find that coming back together with different stories to share can invigorate things and make you appreciate each other a bit more.

  6. Ben H. on Thu, 22nd Jul 2010 12:52 pm 

    I am studying abroad with my girlfriend next semester, and its encouraging to hear of other couples traveling successfully. Thanks and keep posting!

  7. Asia Market Girl on Wed, 4th Aug 2010 5:04 pm 

    My husband and I are legally Americans, but we grew up in Asia, we decided to travel to the US together, and decided to spend a couple of months if not years here, and yes, it did strengthen our relationship.

  8. Sherry Ott on Fri, 6th Aug 2010 4:58 am 

    Wow – I bet your time in America is interesting for you since you hadn’t spent much time here previously and grew up in Asia! What’s the must stunning thing you’ve discovered about America?

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