Preparing for Long-Term Travel with Your Partner
Adam Seper and his wife Megan have embraced travel throughout their decade long relationship. And after getting married, they decided that instead of pursuing the “American Dream” of buying a house and starting a family, they wanted to travel the world instead. So in October of 2008 they set off on a 358-day adventure, visiting 4 continents, 11 countries, and nearly 90 cities. Since they’ve returned, Megan is back being an attorney and Adam has switched careers – from a high school English teacher prior to the trip to editor of BootsnAll.
For other couples preparing for an adventure of their own, here are some important insights and tips they learned.
If you’ve never taken an extended trip before, you’re bound to have tons of questions. How do we begin planning for something like this? Do we just up and quit our jobs? Is a sabbatical possible? How do we choose where to go? What do we pack? What about visas? Certainly all important questions. But what some fail to think about is what it will actually be like out on the road, especially in regards to traveling with your partner.
THE JUDGEMENT AND QUESTIONS
“Are you sure you know what you’re getting yourselves into?”
“Aren’t you afraid you’re going to hate one another after an entire year together?”
“Oh my God! We could never do that! We’d literally kill each other!”
We heard all the above statements when telling people our plan to take a year-long trip around the world together. We initially dismissed those questions as ludicrous, having confidence in our relationship and previous travels that this whole venture would be a walk in the park.
Our trip did indeed include many walks in many parks, but it was hardly the same as the metaphorical meaning of that statement. Something so many people fail to realize about extended travel is that it is really hard work at times. It’s not all puppies, rainbows, and unicorns.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A TRIP AND A VACATION
We all love vacations. They’re great. Whether it’s lounging on the beach, taking a road trip, or renting a cabin in the woods, vacations give us a chance to get away from the daily grind of life, to forget about our worries for a while, and just relax and unwind. When on vacation, we feel as though we could stay forever.
Let’s set the record straight before we delve any further. A career break, RTW (round the world) trip, or taking off on an open-ended adventure is NOT the same as a vacation. We learned quickly that there is a HUGE discrepancy between a vacation and a trip. There are so many things to know, learn, and consider, particularly if you are traveling with your significant other.
PERCEPTION VS. REALITY
I envisioned sitting on beaches all day, sipping cocktails and eating great food. I saw ourselves hiking to famous sites we had always read about but now got to see in person. I pictured a year of not working, not having any stress, and simply not worrying about much of anything.
While our trip did include all of those fantastic and memorable experiences, there’s another side of long-term travel that doesn’t get talked about enough. Our trip was actually much more difficult than I ever thought it was going to be. I’m not trying to scare you here. Don’t worry – a trip around the world is everything it’s cracked up to be, and more. It’s a dream come true, a life-changing experience that will absolutely change you and your significant other forever. It will help your relationship grow and get to a place you never imagined, but to get the most out of your experience, there are so many things to consider.
ANALYZE YOURSELF AND YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Take a good, long, hard, honest look at yourself. What are you good at? What are your significant others strengths? What about your weaknesses? Think about both in regards to situations you’ll be in while traveling.
Do you enjoy haggling over everything you purchase, from a scarf to a taxi ride to a massage to a room in a hostel? Do you think the idea of having to spend an afternoon in an internet café researching flights and hostels and buses and trains doesn’t sound like a big deal? Do you yearn for that next famous piece of artwork in that next famous museum?
All seem like easy-to-answer questions about yourself and your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or best friend. But really think about it. Remember, this is not the same as a vacation. You’ll be doing these things every single day for however long your trip is, whether it’s 6 months, 9 months, a year, or more.
Sure, while on a week trip you may be able to compromise on an afternoon visit to the museum. But what about five museums? Ten? A new one in each new city? Of course you don’t mind haggling over the cost of some souvenirs to bring home, right? What about having to agree on a price for nearly every dollar you spend (hello, India!)? Have you really thought about sitting in an internet café for three hours (that you have to pay for, remember?) with a painfully slow connection researching the best way to get from point A to point B, while the guy next to you smells like he’s trying to re-create the smell at Woodstock?
FOCUS ON WHAT DRIVES YOU CRAZY ABOUT YOUR PARTNER
It’s absolutely crucial to be honest with ourselves about our relationship. We all have pet peeves. No matter how well you get along and how perfect your relationship is, there is at the very least one thing that drives you absolutely bonkers. While at home these pet peeves annoy you, but you learn to deal with them. Besides, between work and other obligations, you may only see each other for a few hours a day during the week.
24/7. Every hour. Every day. Take a minute to ponder that. If you decide to take an extended break and travel with your significant other, you will be spending nearly every minute together. Sure, taking breaks here and there to do your own thing happens, but you’ll be together the vast majority of the time. That means every pet peeve you have is amplified. It may be cute at home, and you may be able to let it roll off your back easier when you only have to deal with it every so often. But when you’re coming face to face with something that annoys you on a near-daily basis, it gets to you a whole lot easier.
My wife is terrible about picking up after herself. Seriously, it’s like having a teenager around (sorry, honey, you know it’s true). It annoys me at home. But we have a house with many rooms, so it’s easy to overlook some clutter here and there. But when we’re staying at a hostel and have a room the size of a closet, something like clutter isn’t easily overlooked. It would drive me insane sometimes to see her haphazardly take stuff out of her pack and toss it around the room.
On the flip side, I know I’m not without my faults. I tend to complain, sometimes a lot. For her, it’s much easier to accept my little personality flaw when she only has to hear 50% of the complaints. When I’m at a bar back home with my buddies waxing poetic about some wrongdoing, she’s not there. But guess what? She is there while on the road. For all of it. Every annoyance I express my displeasure about, she hears it.
HOW TO HANDLE IT
So how do you deal with these little irritations while together all day, every day? As simplistic as it sounds, you communicate. Now I’m no Dr. Phil, but even I can advise that communication is key to any relationship. So before you ever hop on that first flight, talk about each other’s pet peeves. Sure, it may be difficult to hear, but if you can find methods and strategies for dealing with these situations before they pop up during a stressful situation, it will much be easier to deal with when they do.
Having a plan in place will limit so many arguments and unpleasant situations. Will it eliminate every fight? Of course not. But addressing possible situations before they pop up will drastically reduce those petty disagreements about each other’s quirks.
HOW OUR TRIP CHANGED OUR RELATIONSHIP (FOR THE BETTER)
While traveling around the world and spending nearly every waking moment with my wife was challenging at times, overall, it was the best thing that ever happened to us and our relationship. We were forced to deal with every obstacle we came across together. We were truly a team, and while we met some great people along the way, most of the time we only had each other to lean on.
It taught us patience (especially me – another one of my character “flaws”). We could feed off one another, help one another, and have each other’s backs. Sometimes one person just has to step into a situation and take charge. Sometimes one person has to take a step back. After a while, it just becomes instinct. You get to the point where you anticipate the other’s moves, the other’s thoughts, what the other will say and do next.
When in a completely foreign place, with unusual and unique customs, dealing with people who don’t speak the same language, it can be intimidating and challenging. That is when the strength of your relationship truly shines through. During those tough times is when I truly realized how lucky I was to be taking this life-changing journey with the only person I could, my best friend and partner for life.
You gain an appreciation for the others talents. The flaws and pet-peeves discussed earlier start to seem insignificant after a while. You get into a flow. You don’t always have to make every decision together, and you realize that you can put 100% of your trust in your travel companion to make the best decision for both of you – whether it’s bargaining the price of a cab ride or researching and purchasing a bus ticket to your next destination.
Honestly, I don’t think I reflected on the true strength of our relationship and changes in it until after we came home. After being together all day, every day for an entire year, it was very weird to come home and be apart. During the work day, I missed her. And it was never the big things I missed. Sure, I missed walking through the Sun Gate with her and seeing Machu Picchu in person for the first time. Of course I missed getting up with her and seeing the sun rise at Angkor Wat.
More than those amazing experiences, I simply missed spending so much time with her. I realized that I like to share everything with my wife. When she’s not with me, I miss her. When I experience something without her, I wonder what it would be like to have her there.
Many questions and concerns pop up over the course of planning a trip of this magnitude. If traveling with your significant other, it’s crucial to analyze the true state of your relationship, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You don’t have to be two peas in a pod to work. The fact that we have so many differences was a good thing. One person’s weakness is another’s strength.
The pictures, blog posts, and memories of all the amazing places we went, people we met, and experiences we had are all fantastic. All are things I remember every day and will reminisce about forever. But more than anything, I am grateful that I created all these memories with the woman I love most in this world.
To read more about traveling as a couple and planning a career break trip, check out the following articles and resources:
- How Traveling as a Couple Can Enrich Your Trip (and Your Relationship)
- How Two Totally Different Travel Styles Come Together
- Learn the practicalities of planning a RTW trip by signing up for BootsnAll’s free program – Plan Your RTW Trip in 30 Days
Poi on Mon, 10th Jan 2011 8:42 am
Great post, tips and things to think about Adam!
It’s amazing how you learn what to expect from each other, I can usually guess what Kirstys tinking about most of the time and how often we have the same idea’s is scary and thats after only 5 months… who knows what we’ll be like after another 5. Mind reading??
Adam on Mon, 10th Jan 2011 11:16 am
Thanks for allowing me to guest post here, Michaela and Sherry! I really appreciate the opportunity to be a part of your fantastic site and ideas! And Poi, it is scary sometimes, isn’t it? But that’s when you know you’re with the right person!
Christy on Mon, 10th Jan 2011 2:11 pm
Fantastic article! You really do end up spending 24/7 with the person you’re traveling with… which has both its ups and downs. 🙂 I completely agree with you that some of the biggest issues are communication and patience. And it seems like such a no-brainer, but it also helps to legitimately enjoy each other’s company – I’m always shocked when I meet traveling couples that don’t seem like they’re having fun together! IMO the beauty of traveling with your partner is that you get to see the world with your best friend. Ok, that sounds kinda cheesy, but I think it’s true. 😛
Andrea on Mon, 10th Jan 2011 8:09 pm
These are great tips – you said everything so well I can’t think of anything to add! I love travelling with John…
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Amy on Tue, 11th Jan 2011 12:57 am
Great post! I think long term travel is a great test of a relationship and you’re so right – it’s important to understand the difference between long term travel and a vacation. They are two very different experiences!
Adam on Tue, 11th Jan 2011 9:18 am
@Christy, I totally agree with everything you said, and it’s not cheesy at all if it’s true. 😉 I am constantly amazed at the responses I got from some of my married friends before we went on our trip. They were amazed that we’d even want to spend that much time together. Uh, hello? Isn’t that why you marry someone, because you WANT to spend the rest of your life with them? I guess it’s not shocking that the divorce rate is so high.
@Amy, so, so, so true. For people who have never taken a long term trip, many simply don’t understand. Even after doing all the research we did and reading all the stories about long term travel, until you do it, it’s hard to really understand how it’s going to be.
Thanks for the comments everyone!
Sheryll on Tue, 11th Jan 2011 8:45 pm
I loved this post. I’m traveling with my boyfriend to Thailand in August, and this post just made me even more excited to be experiencing such an awesome trip with the one I love. Thanks!
travelpology on Wed, 12th Jan 2011 4:48 pm
This is an amazing post! You answered a ton of questions and brought up really important points. I don’t know why people think it’s so crazy to travel with a significant other. You proved that it’s possible not to kill each other. 😉
Michaela Potter on Wed, 12th Jan 2011 5:22 pm
I’m a big fan of this post as well as it was traveling with my partner that inspired Briefcase to Backpack!
Adam on Mon, 17th Jan 2011 4:42 pm
Thanks so much for all the kind comments!
@Sheryll-That’s great to hear! Have so much fun. Sharing a trip like that with the one you love is just incredible.
@travelpology-I’m so glad this post helped answer some questions. I don’t know why people think it’s crazy either. If you truly love the one you’re with, why would you not want to share something as great as traveling with them?
Larry Jacobson on Wed, 19th Jan 2011 4:16 pm
My partner and I spent six years sailing around the world…we calculated each year as a dog year so that’s 42 right there. And we’re still together. We found that the difficulty of what we were doing together brought us together beautifully!
The book is just out!
The Boy Behind the Gate
How his dream of sailing around the world became a six-year odyssey of adventure, fear, discovery, and love.
Now available for pre-order! at http://larryjacobson.com or amazon.com
Sage Russell on Mon, 24th Jan 2011 4:18 pm
Great post. The opening line about the “American Dream” is so crucial.
Sites and posts like this allow more people to get the opportunity to question where it is they came up with their notion of the “normal” path.
I love the critical mass that is building and questioning these assumptions!
Published Works | on Mon, 14th Feb 2011 3:36 pm
[…] to Backpack – Preparing for Long Term Travel with your Partner – One of the top career break/sabbatical sites on the interwebs, Michaela (who is also a big […]
Sarah on Wed, 2nd Mar 2011 1:59 pm
I really enjoyed this article. I said before Alan and I set out on our travels that it would either be the making or the breaking of us (I think you have to take it that seriously) and thankfully it was the former. I also found it very odd to come home and not get to spend so much time together and I can’t wait for our next trip away. Hopefully we’ll be able to get back into the swing of being together all the time. I wrote an article a while back with my ‘8 simple rules for travelling as a couple’. I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!