Travelling as a couple can highlight cracks in any relationship, but it can also help you understand each other on a whole new level. Three couples share their stories.
In June, my partner Jack and I went overseas for the first time. We drove around Ireland and visited friends in England, and we learnt a lot.
There’s nowhere to hide your flaws
Before we left Australia I didn’t understand when people would say travelling would be a test of our relationship.
Jack and I had been living together for roughly eight months and been on short trips together for a few days or a week.
Living together means you see your partner at their most vulnerable and at their worst. But you can always go do something else and for the most part your time together is punctuated by work, chores, friend dates and conversations about who needs to do the dishes.
When you’re travelling together there’s really no escape. You don’t have work or friends outside your relationship as a distraction.
We shared small spaces, got ready together. Stuff that wasn’t a problem in a house when you have personal space becomes irritating when your life is squeezed into two suitcases and a double room inside someone else’s house.
By the end of our trip we were also exhausted from constantly trying to see everything we wanted to.
We found ourselves snapping at each other over things which usually wouldn’t raise a fuss (like where to eat for dinner).
But you’ll also see the best in each other
On the flip side, all that time together highlighted just why we fell in love with each other.
Whether it’s bonding over a shared fascination with 15th Century castles or your love of taking the perfect Instagram tourist shot, travelling with your partner should be all about enjoying your time together and, by default, will hopefully leave you more loved up than ever.
I was immensely grateful for Jack’s constant patience with my desire to a) take photos, b) visit all the indie book shops and c) pose for all the touristy photos.
He’s probably happy that I was cool with most of our budget being spent on food (and, like, who wouldn’t be?!) and that I took him to Hyde Park in London to see squirrels.
There’s no time to hold onto anger
Remember those little niggles I mentioned earlier?
If you do have a bit of a spat, there’s no time to hold onto anger. (Which is really an attitude I’d recommend not consigning just to holiday times.)
It was hard for us to stay annoyed with each other for long when we were driving through some of the world’s most beautiful countryside or would turn a corner and see some amazing sight.
Tamsien and Dim’s story: 6 months in Europe
When Tamsien and Dim left Australia in 2016, they had been together for ten years and living together for four.
In that time, they’d been on several overseas trips for a few weeks to Japan and New Zealand but this was very different: six months in Europe with just two large bags and two backpacks between them.
The trip spanned 18 different countries from summer in Greece to a Scottish winter over 134 days.
“I was expecting to find the pace of a long trip challenging, to keep my energy and enthusiasm up when some of the trip was bound to be physically exhausting, and I was expecting the flip side, to be blown away with discoveries and the joy of learning new things,” Tamsien said.
“On a personal level I found not working the most deeply challenging part of the trip. It took months before I could shake off the terror that I should be ‘doing’ something.
“It really forced me to examine my relationship with paid work, and how much I had let my job define my self-worth.”
Travelling for that long came with other challenges too. Tamsien explained the admin involved with managing the budget was exhausting at times.
“We were trying to make sure we could last six months, while navigating different currencies and every kind of transport option under the sun, booking accommodation as we went, and balancing making the most of a possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance to travel to these places, with the realities of finite resources,” she said.
“There were a couple of experiences (and whole countries) we missed, but I honestly wouldn’t change the places we ended up visiting.”
Navigating challenging dietary requirements and various languages was also one of the most difficult elements of the trip.
Ultimately, the joy of experiencing those new places and sharing memories with a significant other more than made up for any challenging days.
“We both have different interests, which pushed us both to try things we might not have alone,” Tamsien said.
“Dim phrased this more eloquently when I asked him; ‘Being able to share my experiences with you, and knowing that they’ll be just as special to you as they were to me’.”
Tamsien said the two years at home since the trip have been the most difficult the couple have experienced together in their 12 years.
“Having been on a trip that pushed us, and also brought us so much shared joy has been a source of strength and hope, and has certainly made a difference in our resilience to endure,” she said.
“It was an important experience, which required a certain level of endurance, compromise, and generosity.”
Sofia and Callum: Road tripping to Melbourne
Sofia and Callum had been together three years when they set off on their first road trip to Melbourne together.
Terrified of getting lost or being late to events, Sofia said she planned everything to the minute.
“I expected three things: he’d be late, he’d forget something, but we’d have a good time,” she said.
Time did prove to be the biggest thing the couple clashed on, with Sofia describing herself as “a stickler for time” while Callum is more relaxed.
“When we would organise to meet up with people, I would give them the real time while giving him a fake time so everything would roll smoothly.
“I learned to be more patient and chill out more while he learned how to be a little tighter with time and plan ahead and these carried over when we got home.”
On their trip, Sofia found the companionable silences were the best part of travelling as a couple.
“We would listen to music while driving or sit and chill without needing to say anything. We also both want to do the same things when we travel: sightseeing, eat good food, and relax.
“We grew a lot on our first trip together. We got to know each other’s habits while travelling and how compatible we are.
Couples travel tip #1: Research, but stay flexible
Before we left Australia, Jack and I booked all our accommodation and planned a rough route for our road trip.
We did a bit of research about what we wanted to see in some places, but for the most part we just made up our minds on the day.
For all but one place in Ireland we stayed in people’s homes through Airbnb and we’d usually message ahead and ask for their recommendations on the best places to stop along the journey.
This lead to some wonderful experiences we wouldn’t have otherwise had, especially in Northern Ireland where we drove along most of the Causeway Coastal Route at the suggestion of our hosts and saw a few Game of Thrones locations by chance along the way.
For longer trips, like Tamsien and Dim’s, keeping an actual budget is key. This was probably the biggest downfall for Jack and I, partly because we kept ‘treating ourselves’ knowing it was just a four week holiday.
Couples travel tip #2: Take the road less travelled
Go beyond the main tourist attractions of and ask locals for their suggestions.
This is where Airbnb is fabulous: we found so many lovely places to eat, stunning views, and fun activities thanks to our hosts.
But you can do the same with creative searches online. Get really specific with your interests and you’ll find something wonderful, especially from other bloggers (I found some fab locations in Dublin thanks to Sanne at Books and Quills).
According to Tamsien, it’s also important not to rule out buses or trains for travel because they can sometimes be really fun experiences.
Take the scenic route, venture down the little laneway or stop at that cute little antique store.
Couples travel tip #3: Be kind to yourselves
This advice comes from Tamsien’s wisdom, but it touches on the type of guilt I’ve felt travelling both by myself and as a couple.
I’m not sure if it was the distance from home, the cost of travel, or the feeling of infinite possibilities in Europe, but I felt like I had to do all the things overseas.
Tamsien’s sage advice is to make sure ‘should’ does not invade your trip.
“Things you ‘should’ be doing/experiencing/feeling can be left behind,” she said.
“Your trip is your own, make the most of it, even if that sometimes means reading a book in a bubble bath in Croatia instead of going to the famous Christmas markets you ‘should’ see.”
Be kind to each other as well, as Tamsien said “take stock, step back, and remember why you’re doing this in the first place”.
“We often did activities separately, or had days where one of us went out and the other stayed in,” she said.
Couples travel tip #4: Don’t sweat the small stuff
Sometimes Jack and I would get a little snarky at each other, but it really didn’t last long.
Ultimately you’re on holidays together to have an amazing shared experience. You’ve worked hard to get here, so enjoy it and don’t worry about the little things.
As Sofia said: “Nothing kills the buzz of your trip more than a silly fight”
Couples travel tip #5: Take photos together and reflect on your trip
So, one of my biggest regrets is that Jack and I got next to no photos together in Ireland.
We took heaps of each other and some selfies, but it wasn’t until we got to England and were staying with friends that we got lots of couple shots.
Once you’re home, take time to talk about your trip and remember those favourite/funny/ridiculous experiences you had.
Even six months on, I’ll just sometimes say “hey remember when…” and we’ll have ten minutes joking about our favourite bits of our holiday.