Travel: The Ultimate Relationship Litmus Test
By Kyle Wagner
February 21, 2017
Two days into the trip, we knew we’d made a terrible mistake.
We’d been dating for about three months, and it seemed as though we were ready for the big relationship test – a week away in the romantic Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. There would be skiing and hot chocolate and après-ski cocktails. There would be delicious restaurant meals. And there would be that sweetest of getaway perks: hotel sex.
Except that it didn’t go quite as planned. First of all, he had skied only a few times, and it was a typical Eastern Pennsylvania winter. In other words, single-digit temps and ice everywhere. After a nasty fall the first day, he was done with the slopes – and with being sober. And he thought I should feel the same way. But I wanted to ski, and so I got up the next morning to snag first tracks, and by the time I got back mid-day, he was eyeballs-deep in Bloody Marys.
Needless to say, things went downhill quickly, but the blizzardy weather between us and home back in Pittsburgh meant we were stuck. We wound up spending the rest of our “vacation” slowly and painfully – and often loudly – breaking up.
Travel is one of the best relationships tests out there. Whether you’ve been dating for just a few weeks, or it’s you and your spouse of 40 years, leaving home base and your comfort zone for a world of airline delays, funky foods and sketchy map-reading can throw off even the most solid of couples.
The challenges and rewards of traveling with other people isn’t exclusive to romantic relationships, of course – anytime we take a trip with someone else is an opportunity to practice patience, tolerance and communication skills, as well as a way to learn more about ourselves in the process.
As someone who travels for a living, I probably have more than my fair share of tales about travel – and particularly travel with others – gone horribly awry. Here are three things I’ve learned along the way that can help you avoid the same experiences:
Adjust your expectations before you leave
We all know that taking a trip can be stressful, that things can and do go wrong, and that much of it won’t live up to the hype or our own romantic notions. There’s something about going away with someone we’re into, though, that seems to erase everything we know about trips to be true, and our brains latch on to only the dreamy stuff – which sets us up for disappointment and usually leads to conflict.
If you can get yourself into the headspace that you’ll just take it as it comes, with no preconceived notions of how it’s “supposed” to be, you and your significant other will have a much better time, no matter what happens.
It also helps to talk about what you think the getaway will involve. For instance, I once went on a new boyfriend’s business trip to Las Vegas, and I foolishly assumed that at some point, he would be doing business-y things, which would allow me to explore hiking outside of town. It turned out that he expected me to be waiting, drink ready, every time he had a break. Needless to say, that didn’t go well.
It’s a good idea to build in break time
It might feel strange to book being apart in a place where you know only each other or in an unfamiliar foreign country, but being together 24/7 is exactly one of the pressures your relationship doesn’t need.
We’re not talking about separating for a whole day – taking just an hour or two away from each other can breathe life back into the adventure. Especially if things have been rough (like your hotel reservation seems to have been lost in cyberspace and the whole town is booked, or a two-hour bus ride over rocky terrain turns into 10 hours).
Explore a little on your own, or take a book and a cup of coffee out onto the hotel balcony while your trip buddy takes an afternoon nap. You’ll both get some needed down time, and it’s likely that you’ll come back together refreshed and ready for fun.
Talk through things, as patiently as possible
This is a great time to practice our communication skills. If you hate it that your girlfriend is always late, or your new man likes to wander around instead of following your carefully planned itinerary, but you never mention it, it’s possible that you’ll begin to build up resentment. Then, when something difficult or unexpected happens – and remember, this is travel, so that’s pretty likely – all of your annoyance and exasperation will fuel a far more vehement response than usual, causing its own set of problems.
Head out the door with the understanding that when the going gets tough, you’ll both get going on sharing your ideas and needs – and that you’ll be open to hearing his or hers. That way, everyone is on the same page. Although that certainly doesn’t guarantee agreement or compliance, you and your travel companion will be in a strong position to negotiate compromise with mutual respect, and you’ll feel confident that you can get through this and still like each other when you return home.