I dated Boy A for over a year. We met every day in Mumbai, shared most of our meals, had a few ﬁghts, made up, laughed, and were generally compatible and happy. Then we decided to travel together. We explored a new country, saw the sights, and spent a few days on an intensive hike. During the trip, issues like being uninvolved in the planning, or differing food preferences, began to feel like the biggest ﬂaws a human could ever have. We soon broke up.
I blamed it on the fact that one year was obviously too soon to travel together. Then came Boy B. I had known him for over a decade and we had dated on and off through the years. There was nothing we couldn’t talk about, and, as a bonus, we both enjoyed life on the road. When we ﬁnally decided to be together for the long run, we planned a trip to celebrate the decision. But long silences ﬁlled our journey. Suddenly our interests didn’t seem to match and we just didn’t get along. Our long run turned short very quickly, and I could not ﬁnd anything to blame it on.
Travel and love can be a disastrous combination, as it was for me. Yet, every time I tell someone my story, they insist that I had made the best decision. “Travelling together is the true test of love,” I have been told repeatedly. But this neither made sense to me, nor relieved my heartache.
Travelling is an intense experience for any person. Add a second person with their opinions and moods, mix in some insecurity and high expectations, and the potential for disaster increases exponentially. Two people, who usually try to be on their best behaviour around each other, are thrown into situations that can involve jetlag, long hours, unfamiliar food, lots of decisions, rude hotel staff, and confusing subway signs. An argument over choosing a restaurant can quickly escalate to one about how he doesn’t care about your dog enough. Every emotion, happy or sad, is magniﬁed on the road.
But I have met couples that have been travelling together for months at a stretch and noticed, with envy, how they’ve worked out a system, mastering the ﬁne arts of space, compromise, and romance. Christiano and Maria, who I met at a farmers’ market in Austin, Texas, told me their secret was to live together for six months before making the commitment to travel. They had their share of differences and ﬁghts, but had practiced problem-solving in the comfort of their home, not while stressed out about being late or missing an expensive ﬂight.
Another practical idea is to make sure you don’t dive headﬁrst into a lengthy holiday together. Start with “holidates” over weekends and slowly move on to the longer sojourns.
Luckily for me, I ﬁnally met Boy C and by the time we travelled together, I was prepared. We drafted a game plan to deal with tough situations and followed our own advice with complete sincerity. We took in the new experiences together, but also gave each other enough space to breathe with long reading breaks. We shared the responsibility of planning and each of us made some compromises. I swapped long hikes for shorter ones, and he swapped familiar food for some local delicacies. Our three weeks on the road had a few bumps, but each time we got back on smoother ground, we held on tighter. We just enjoyed each other’s company and did not make the trip a test of love.
There are no set prerequisites to begin travelling together, just the will to make it work. If a couple makes it through a hectic trip together, they will probably make it through a lot of life’s battles together. But if they can’t make it through the holiday, I don’t think it means that they can’t make it through regular life together. It just means that they need more practice. As Maria told me, don’t use travel as a test of your relationship. Let it be the reward.
Appeared in the June 2015 issue as “Love On The Road”.