Couples Travel: 5 Lessons Learned

by Brooke Schoenman on July 9, 2012 · 12 comments

Brooke and Pat on the Russian train.

Brooke and Pat on the Russian train

At nearly 3 months into my big trip with my boyfriend, I must say I’ve gained a few insights into the world of couples travel. Sure, we may have met traveling, and we may have gone on a few week-long trips here and there, but 3 months is travel and closeness on a different level.

Above all, the most obvious and important lesson – one which can always be reiterated – is to communicate with your partner. On a trip where you are relying on each other, every day, you need to be extra sure the other knows what you feel and what you want.

Don’t go thinking the other is a mindreader!

Besides that important lesson, here are my top five that perhaps other soon-to-be traveling couples will find helpful.

1. Keep Your Date Nights

I love travel because it’s full of everything new. New restaurants, new environments, and new sights. Only, after a while, it gets tiring running around from place to place and trying to take it all in.

I recommend keeping a date night where you go out like normal, doing something familiar without the need to “see” or “do” in a travel sense. Get dressed up for a splurge dinner, or hit up the movies (hopefully in English).

The night that my boyfriend and I decided to head out to the American-style steakhouse in Russia for a splurge dinner on our own felt like the ultimate treat. We didn’t take any food photos or worry about budgets; there was no menu decoding necessary either. Just relaxation and comfort.

2. Share the Burden

Since my other half works long hours in his normal Sydney life, I found myself taking care of most of the pre-trip prep.

When that involves 3.5 months, 7 countries, multiple visa applications, and a 3 week train trip through Russia coordinated with other travelers, it can get to the point where you’re sitting at the computer balling your eyes out because of the stress.

While he wasn’t able to help much in the pre-travel days, on the road delegation has saved us. With my continued writing responsibilities and multiple stops over 3.5 months, we’ve each researched hostels, transport, and tours in a manner that made it so one person isn’t getting burned out more than the other.

I also recommend sharing translation/language duties if at all possible.

The amount of time and effort that went in to me playing Russian translator in Kyrgyzstan was exhausting, and that meant that I was more than happy to hand over the duties of Mandarin in China to my boyfriend who was willing to go the extra step to learn.

couples camel riding

Riding camels with friends in Mongolia

3. Don’t Keep to Yourselves

The joy of traveling with a loved one is the fact you get to have so much quality time together, especially since you don’t have to worry about leaving to go to work every day.

And, even though it’s great to take advantage of every minute together, don’t forget to reach out and make friends with others along the way.

Some of our best moments have been befriending other travelers when out and about, and those connections help us to put not only our travels into perspective, but also our time together.

4. Keep the Plans Relaxed

When it comes to travel, you just never know how things are going to pan out until you get somewhere. If you’re the type of person that wants to cram an itinerary full, keeping it busy from the time the plane lands and leaves, then chances are there is just more chance of things going wrong.

I personally think it is one thing to have plans foiled when you’re alone, but to be with a partner and to deal with unmet expectations can cause stress, and stress often leads to bickering.

Another consideration is the fact that people get tired, or sick, or just prefer to take part in different activities that might pop up while on a trip.

When I got fairly ill back at the end of April, which I’m sure was the result of too much hectic travel up until that point, I couldn’t do anything for a good week.

We were lucky to have a flexible schedule for the following few weeks that allowed us to kick back while I recovered without too much drama or a feeling like one partner was missing out on something amazing because of the inconvenience.

5. Keep a Little Distance So Your Heart Stays Fond

You don’t have to travel to different cities for a few nights. The distance can be as simple as one person staying at the hostel while the other goes clothes shopping.

Our distance of choice on our trip has been my boyfriend heading off to the shops to pick up travel supplies and beer; it’s always an adventure for him, and he always comes back with some great stories to share that are just his.

Other ideas involve popping headphones on and zoning out, getting lost in books, and just going for a walk or morning exercise alone. We all need breaks from time to time.

What would you recommend for couples heading out on an extended trip?

About the Author:

is the author of 40 posts on Go Backpacking.

Brooke lives a thrifty lifestyle so that she can travel the world at every possible opportunity. She shares her travel tales, including everything from sleeping in a yurt in Kyrgyzstan to becoming an expat in Australia, on her personal travel blog, Brooke vs. the World. Female travelers might enjoy the stories and tips of her monthly Female Travel Underground newsletter. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter and Google+.

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12 Comments

Mike July 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Great insight, thanks !
I’m preparing a 12-month RTW trip in 2013. Initially, I was going solo as I like to things my way.

But I’ve met this great girl 6 months ago and she had always wanted to make such a trip. and needless to say, my solitary project is now a matter of two. I still have doubts though…

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Dave July 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Wow, that’s exciting. If you two are getting along so far, I’d go for it. Solo travel is great, but after so many years of it, I’d much rather have someone to share everything with.

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Mike July 9, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Hi Dave,

you must be right, but you said that you have ALREADY made several solo trips, enjoyed TOTAL freedom. Whereas this will be my FIRST RTW trip…I admit that I really prefer solo, but then again, in 2013 my GF and I would have been 15 months together…I can’t just say “honey I’ll be away for 12 months…” can I ?

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Dave July 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Yea, the RTW trip wasn’t my first solo experience, but it was by far my longest. And the total freedom was awesome. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

I have had a hard time being away from some of the girls I’ve dated recently due to my travel schedule, and that’s only been for 2-3 months at a time. I can’t imagine 12 months.

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Nick July 9, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Great article Brooke. Very insightful and useful info.

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Lisbeth July 10, 2012 at 8:18 am

Nice article with good advice for future traveling couples. My husband and I travel as much as we can, including a six week trip through Russia and Mongolia before we even got engaged. We started planning for the trip six months before, and there was never any doubt that we wanted to do the trip together. Today we share so many memories and it is great to remind each other of funny, scary, dangerous, or happy experiences.

If you have any doubts as if you want to be with the other person 24/7 for many months, you probably need to sit down and have a serious chat about it. Don’t just presume that it will be okay and end up breaking up a few months into the trip because your girlfriend didn’t realise that you need time alone or prefer activities that are incompatible to her wishes. I find it a big compliment to you that your girlfriend is willing to come along and wants to spend a year of her life with you 24/7. However, if you are okay about leaving a girlfriend behind for 12 months, she probably isn’t the right one for you anyway :-)

Have a great trip and remember that planning is half of the journey.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures July 10, 2012 at 9:44 am

Fabulous tips! I think traveling is the best thing a couple can do for the relationship!!!

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Cole @ Four Jandals July 17, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Don’t keep to yourself is a really good rule. We often will forget it though as it can be easy just to keep each other company when you are tired from travelling all day.

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Our Dear Lady Expatriate August 1, 2012 at 10:48 pm

There really is nothing like traveling as a couple to figure out if you really ‘work’ with a person, is there?! My partner and I have been working abroad and traveling about for 4 years now, and between the triumphs and – oh yeah – the trials, I reckon we’ve got a pretty good sense of who the other one really is!

Really do agree with your tips! The one I always need to keep in mind is the ‘not keep to ourselves’ one. Thanks for the reminder!!

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Dave August 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Not insulating yourself is a tip that applies to every situation, I believe.

Certainly when you’re out with friends, but even with technology now, I find I insulate myself with a computer and work instead of socializing with new people as much as I’ve done in the past.

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Emma August 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Lisbeth your one lucky lady! I would love to meet a guy who loves travelling as much as me. Not to mention one you travel successfully with!! Being able to remind each other of those cherished moments, instead of watching your folks and friends faces glaze over! I travelled with an ex for a month in Italy several years ago and although it was good I would never in a million years change the RTW trip I did independently last year!! It completely rocked and I have those memories all to myself – without the stain or tinge of an ex lover!!! Excellent :)

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AnnaI August 21, 2012 at 8:30 am

My perspective is somewhat different, and most likely, yours will change too after more than a decade with your partner. Gone will be the naivete of “keep a little distance” and “don’t keep to yourselves”. Between work and home and other daily responsibilities, chances are the only time you will get to spend with your partner will be on a trip (especially if you have kids at home). It will be your time to detox mentally and refresh your brain and you won’t feel like “reaching out and making friends with others along the way.” Sure, if it happens, fine. But otherwise? Most likely “ugh people, leave me alone and let me enjoy the scenery” will become your new motto.

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