While visiting with a group of world travelers recently, I was struck by the number of people wanting to discuss the difficulties of relationships while on the road. I’m not sure why I was surprised. Relationships tend to be the most popular topics of discussion in almost any setting, so why wouldn’t they be for families on the road? While I’ve been a single parent for most of my son’s life, I’ve traveled with partners before (how’s this for intimate travel: two-up on an F650 from Santa Fe to Venezuela!), and I’ve also dated while traveling. The details of being single on the road aren’t the topic of this post, but moreso the state of mind while traveling with others, be they children, lovers, friends or spouses. For those aspiring travelers who are in partnerships, this post is for you:
Because, of coursethere are difficulties with relationships on the road. In fact, so many of the families I’ve met note that any problem you might have at home only intensifies once you’re on the road. For example, if you imagined that hitting the road for that round-the-world adventure was the way to save your marriage, then you’re most likely going to be faced with some deep disappointment. Because according to far too many who’ve done it already, any squabble or tension – such as all those weeks without taking out the garbage, that flirtatious look your partner gave someone else that still eats at you, that disrespectful comment at the office party last year – it will all still be there. Only magnified. Imagine being enclosed in a car or shut up in a shabby hotel room with said partner, while it’s pouring buckets outside. Now throw in a few anxious kids who are still a bit unsure about this “We’re going to leave everything you’ve found stable up to now in your lives and show you new adventures you’ll really appreciate when you’re older”; maybe toss in a dog – or three cats (for real. I saw this) – for special effect, and this stuff can get really, really stressful and difficult. There are illnesses, language barriers, flat tires, days of boredom and crappy food, bad weather, whiney kids and fatigue – and those are the good days! Bette Davis once famously said, “Getting old ain’t for sissies,” and I’d say traveling isn’t for sissies either. It’s an endurance sport and you’d better be ready.
But this picture isn’t all grim. In fact, it can be amazing. What many veteran travelers suggest is to truly clean house before heading out on the road, and this doesn’t mean the physical aspect of your residence. Whether your destination is close to home or thousands of miles away, it means locating the WHY of your adventure and making sure you’re doing it for the right reason, which should NOT be an attempt to salvage any struggling relationship. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page, and have established yourselves as being fully capable of handling stress, disappointment and inevitable conflict in the most comfortable of circumstances, so you can then handle these situations in less ideal locations as well. This of course assumes that you and your partner have had small adventures throughout your relationship and have proven to be great travel partners. If you haven’t even traveled before, then stop now and plan a little weekend away. Then a week away, etc. I always feel like traveling together is key to seeing how you’ll work through other problems throughout the duration of your time together.
Here are some tips from couples and friends on the road:
Take time together to connect at the end of the day or every few days, to review and reassess your strategies. If your kids are old enough, or you’ve been in a place long enough to have found reliable babysitting resources, then make a date night, and carve out time to remember what brought you together.
As important as it is for each couple to find together time, it’s also essential that each individual also find time to be alone and quiet. Being on the road can be a non-stop demand fest, particularly if your kids are hoping you’ll be the substitute playmates they left behind. Add hours of driving in a cramped car and the feelings of strain can be all the more potent.
Most couples I’ve interviewed leave their homes, families, jobs and all belongings, so they can have more family time, to “get off the hamster wheel” or “leave the rat race”, but it doesn’t mean everyone should be attached at the hip. And it won’t necessarily be perfect once you’ve finally left that stressful job, even if that’s the hope. The truth is you’ll get sick of each other, you’ll question your decision possibly every day for months, maybe even the first year. You’ll realize how little you can actually accomplish in a single day (particularly for high-energy achievers like myself!), and you might even miss the familiar consistency of what you left behind, even if it was a job you disliked. This is common.
But you’re on the right path. Find simple things to bring you joy: that ice cream cone that actually tastes like real cream, or a movie – in English! – that you and your travel partner had been wanting to see for years, and which just arrived in that Latin American city you’re visiting. Some days make a decision to skip any cultural event you had planned in exchange for that green, leafy-treed park with a set of swings for the kids.
At the end of the day spend time remembering the fun or funny events, even if they didn’t seem so fun at the time. Because traveling – like relationships – demands a sense of humor. If you can’t find a way to laugh at some of the crazy situations you will inevitably be faced with while on the road then you might want to reconsider your decision to travel in the first place. Laughter, patience, and forgiveness, will be critical tools for your road trip. And for your life.
I’d love to hear from others about their relationship hacks for the road. What secrets do you have to share?
*Stay tuned for the scintillating excitement of single life on the road.