Traveling as a couple can be an incredible opportunity. It is in those moments when you are lost together in a foreign country that you truly learn the most about each other. The good, the bad, and the ugly sides of your significant other’s personality will inevitably come out. You see someone’s true colors when they are stressed, jet-lagged, totally out of their comfort zone, and surrounded by everything unfamiliar. And if you are self-aware enough, you will see your true colors, too. The truth is, traveling as a couple isn’t always pretty.
While traveling as a couple can be a rewarding experience, it comes with its own unique set of challenges.
This guide to traveling as a couple includes tips for traveling with your partner for the first time, reasons to travel together, plus the 5 things you can almost always count on happening when you travel with your partner.
Our personal experience traveling as a couple
We have been traveling as a couple for more than a decade. Before marriage, as newlyweds, and as parents. We’ve taken road trips across parts of the United States, explored romantic islands, and visited more than 25 countries together. Through many years of traveling together and several trips that didn’t go as planned, we’ve learned a few lessons along the way.
One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned is that the expectations you have and the reality of traveling as a couple are often quite different.
The reality of traveling as a couple
Traveling can bring couples closer together, but it can also challenge relationships in ways you never expected. We’ve realized the reality of traveling as a couple isn’t always glamorous. In fact, here are a few things that you can almost always plan for on an extended trip or long term travel.
Traveling Together Reality #1: You will fight
This may not happen on a short weekend trip, but chances are if you are spending a couple of weeks or more traveling together, you will piss each other off at some point. Keeping it real here. No relationship is perfect and there is not a couple on this planet who doesn’t argue.
When you’re traveling as a couple, you spend a lot of time sitting together in planes, trains, subways, and restaurants. Naturally, you are going to talk to each other a lot more than usual. One of you will inevitably do or say something the other thinks is rude or inconsiderate. You’re going to get on each other’s nerves. Throw a bit of crankiness from the jet lag and a week of poor hotel sleep into the mix and you’ve got an argument on your hands.
Don’t worry, and don’t think too much of this fight because it won’t last.
Traveling as a Couple Reality #2: You will make up
You may walk the beach alone for an hour or go to sleep mad at each other one night, but eventually you’ll make up. In fact, you’ll probably make up sooner than you would at home because you’ve got places to go and things to see! Traveling as a couple forces you to reconcile because you don’t want to spend your entire trip not talking to each other.
You will both want to see the sites and experience a new place. And let’s face it, doing so together is better than doing so apart. Usually, in our experience, the argument will be forgotten or at least dropped the next day.
Traveling Together Reality #3: You will bond over new experiences
Whether it’s getting ridiculously lost in Venice, trying to set up a campsite in pouring rain, or crossing the border into a new country, you will share experiences that you’ve never shared with anyone else. Those experiences will lead to a unique bond that is tighter than the lid on a jar of jam. (Side note: Why do they make those jars so dang hard to open?!)
When I first laid eyes on the Roman Colosseum – one of the most incredible Roman ruins sites in the world – I was overwhelmed with amazement. But something even more special happened when I glanced to my right. I saw the same look of wonderment in my husband’s eyes. We looked at each other, both with huge smiles, and without any words, we shared a moment.
Traveling as a Couple Reality #4: You will appreciate each other more
While my spouse and I have a lot in common, we are also different people in many ways. Traveling as a couple has made me appreciate my partner more. I appreciate his patience and how he keeps his cool in stressful situations. A characteristic that my Type A personality seriously lacks.
Trying to navigate the public transportation system in a city where everything is written in another language while you have a toddler trying to squirm out of your arms is beyond stressful. Yet, my husband handles it with poise. I also appreciate his love of adventure. He is always willing to go with the flow even when I plan crazy trips to places without electricity or WiFi. He is my rock in so many ways. And when we travel that is most apparent.
When you travel as a couple, you will appreciate your partner’s presence. You will appreciate having someone familiar next to you in those awkward moments when you have no foreign currency and credit cards aren’t accepted. You will appreciate all of those small qualities about your partner that you take for granted on a typical day.
Traveling Together Reality #5: You will have stories to tell
Every couple has those mundane conversations where you recount your work day or talk about what you ate for lunch. When you become parents, all those conversations get replaced with conversations about your child’s poop. No really, parents talk about poop a lot, at least in those early years. Our daughter’s bowel movements dominated our conversations for the first 2 1/2 years of our child’s life. But luckily, when we aren’t talking about poop, we have some incredible conversations about where we’ve been and where we want to go next.
When you travel as a couple, you have really great stories to tell about adventures all over this phenomenal planet. That time we climbed the Great Wall of China in the freezing rain or the moment I almost broke my leg following my husband down a ski run are now funny tales that we recount to our friends. And because we are constantly planning our next adventure, we also have these amazing conversations about life goals, bucket lists, and what we want to experience before we depart this beautiful world.
Tips for traveling as a couple
So with all that said, how do you ensure traveling as a couple becomes a positive experience rather than ending in the two of you going separate ways. If you’re planning your first trip together as a couple, there are a few travel tips that will make the trip easier and more enjoyable for you both.
Compromise and find balance
First and foremost, compromise. You are separate people with separate interests. It is important to find balance when you travel together. Perhaps one of you loves to constantly be on the go when traveling while the other might appreciate more down-time. You may love urban areas, exploring beautiful European cathedrals, visiting art museums and gazing upon famous statues and paintings, but those things may not necessarily be your partner’s idea of a fun trip. When planning a trip together, make sure you compromise and include activities that fulfill both of your interests.
For example, my husband loves to ski. I enjoy skiing but not as much as my husband, we compromise. We might spend one trip on the slopes, and the next trip will be to a cultural destination that I really want to visit. Compromise.
Review plans together
In order to balance out your trip, you’ll need to review your travel plans together. Chances are one of you will likely do most of the travel planning, but it is important for the person planning the trip to review the plans with their partner. You can often avoid problems arising on the trip by discussing the itinerary beforehand and making sure you are both on the same page.
Lean on each other
When you travel the world together it’s best to lean on each other’s strengths. Perhaps your partner is really great at negotiating – that will come in handy in a place where you need to haggle for a better price. Or maybe you have a naturally great sense of direction or you’ve learned a new language for travel, each person’s unique skills and talents will benefit you both during couples travel.
Make new friends
When you travel as a couple, you are going to spend a lot of time together. Even if you are somewhat introverted, it is a good idea to try to make friends during your travels together. Whether you strike up a conversation with your waiter or meet another couple while relaxing at the pool, making friends while you travel breaks up some of the conversational monotony that naturally occurs when you only have one other person with whom to talk.
To this day, my social media feed and my husband’s social media feed is filled with posts and photos from people we have met on our travels. Will we ever see any of those people again? Probably not. But, every time we see one of their posts it reminds us of the trip where we first met them. Instantly, we get those travel vibes all over again – even when we’re at home.
Take time for yourself
This one can be a challenge when you are traveling, but particularly in long-term travel scenarios, it’s important to take time for yourself. Perhaps it is as brief as running to the corner store to pick up groceries or necessities while your partner stays back at the apartment or hotel. Or maybe your partner walks along the beach while you take a nap. Traveling together does not mean you have to spend every single waking minute together. Give yourself and your partner the freedom to spend time alone. Sometimes a little time to yourself to recharge is all it takes to avoid frustration creeping in.
Sometimes, if you are a digital nomad or work remotely, you need that time alone – not to recharge but to get work done.
Plan logistics ahead of time
Sometimes, the easiest way to avoid a communication breakdown when traveling as a couple is to simply pre-plan the big stuff. Making sure the logistical things are planned in advance takes some of the stress out of a big trip together with your loved one. If you aren’t worried about how you will get somewhere or where you will stay once you are there, you will avoid some of the anxiety that often leads to a disagreement.
Additionally, you should plan accordingly to make sure everything is safe and secure at home while you are on vacation, so neither of you are worrying about things back home when you are on the other side of the world.
Go with the flow
As parents this has become somewhat of a travel motto for us, but even if you don’t have kids yet, it’s important to embrace the chaos that often comes with traveling. Getting lost, fighting crowds in tourist destinations, facing flight delays, or dealing with language barriers can all be a bit chaotic. Some people naturally cope with chaos better than others, but even if you aren’t one of those people, it is important to accept that travel comes with a unique territory.
Try to go with the flow, accept circumstances that are out of your control, and appreciate each moment for what it is – even if it is significantly out of your comfort zone.
Learn each other’s travel style
Every person has a unique travel style. Some people love to relax on vacation where others are constantly looking for adventure. You may be an over-packer while your partner prefers a backpack. Or you might like the finer things in life while your partner is totally fine eating street food and staying in a hostel – even after having kids.
Even though these seem like opposing travel styles, you can still enjoy a trip together as a couple if you learn and embrace the other person’s way of traveling. Traveling as a couple – as with all things in relationships – is all about acceptance and compromise.
Reasons to travel together
I always recommend for couples to travel together before committing to more permanent ties, like marriage, kids, or even combining finances. But I don’t mean a quick weekend trip to the lake. Those are great, too, but I recommend every couple should take an out-of-their-comfort-zone, multi-week international trip together before they plan to spend forever together. Here are our top 6 reasons that couples should travel together.
You will learn quickly if you are compatible
This is perhaps the most important reason to travel as a couple. If you are incompatible – it will become glaringly obvious when you’re traveling. If you can handle cramped hotel rooms, sweaty rides on a public bus, or, dare I mention it, traveler’s diarrhea – then chances are you and your partner can make it through anything.
Traveling strengthens your relationship
Shared experiences strengthen bonds. When you travel together you are making core memories with another person. For the rest of your life, those core memories will include that other person. That creates a strong bond that can carry your relationship through even the hardest of times.
Big moments feel bigger with someone beside you
Some people love traveling solo. And it is true, you learn a lot about yourself when you travel alone. But there is great joy in experiencing the euphoria of a special moment with someone else. Sitting under the Eiffel Tower in Paris at night feels entirely different when you have someone by your side.
And even after the tough moments, like touring a concentration camp in Poland, you have someone else to process the heaviness with.
Traveling together feels safer
I don’t necessarily view traveling as particularly dangerous. But there is always strength in numbers. Additionally – and unfortunately – there are places in the world where traveling alone as a woman is not the wisest or safest idea. Traveling as a couple provides an extra layer of safety and security. You won’t be alone if you get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. You are also less likely to become a target of a mugging, robbery, or physical attack if you have someone else with you.
While dangerous situations can happen regardless of where you are or who you are with, traveling as a couple definitely gives you at least the perception of added safety.
You’ll save money
If you haven’t combined finances, the cost savings of traveling as a couple is a great reason to book that trip together! Splitting the cost of a hotel or a rental car can be a significant value if you are trying to travel on a budget.
Whether it you take turns driving on a road trip so one person can sleep or you take turns carrying your child after parenthood, when you travel together as a couple, you share responsibilities. When you travel alone, all the responsibility falls on you. But when you have a partner along for the ride, your significant other can help carry some of the burden. Additionally, you get much better photos when you have someone to take them!
Traveling with your spouse: When it goes wrong
I’m not a marital counselor or a therapist, so please take what I’m about to say for what it is… unsolicited advice from someone totally unqualified to give it. I realize that not everyone has the same experience when traveling as a couple. Sometimes the fight doesn’t end. Sometimes you don’t make up and move on. Sometimes the bond is broken, not strengthened. And sometimes your traveling story is not a fairy tale… it’s a nightmare. Traveling with your partner or significant other will reveal their dark side… and yours. You will see each other in moments of weakness. And you will learn whether those weaknesses are things you can truly live with and accept.
If you have already said “I Do” before realizing your spouse is not a compatible travel partner, it’s also OK to say “I Don’t” to traveling together. We have several friends in happy, healthy relationships that travel separately. Over time, they have realized what works for them. And you too will realize what works for you.
Have a question or comment about traveling as a couple? What have you learned traveling with your partner? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts or advice on traveling together.
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This guide to traveling together was first written in October 2017 but was updated in April 2022 to add more information and tips on traveling as a couple.