Why Travel Can Make or Break Your Relationship

Benefits of couples traveling together

Me, “Do you want to sit at an outdoor cafe and people watch for a little while?”
Him, “Do you want to go get a root canal for fun?”

For real, this was a snippet of a conversation I had with my husband on our most recent travels to Amsterdam. I posed the question to Joe with a tiny little hope in my mind that he would say yes. There was hope because once in a while he is open to doing something he knows I’d enjoy, even if he would not.

I said I had only a tiny bit of hope. Since I know how hard it is for him to sit still, I knew that more likely his answer would be no. He made me laugh out loud with this particular response. Yet during most other meals and stops for coffee or cocktails, he actually did linger at least a few minutes longer than he would have liked, in spite of his ever-constant foot tapping and vibrating leg.

Travel really can make or break a relationship. We can either share extraordinary experiences, or we can drive each other mad. Are you and your partner compatible travelers? Before you say “I do” — whether to a long-term commitment or agreeing to going on vacation with your partner — consider how traveling together can strengthen (and test) your relationship.

Common Ground — Or Not

Do you like to get to the airport 2 hours ahead of boarding time or are you quite comfortable arriving just barely before the minimum check-in time? At the beginning of a relationship, we may be very flexible in order to meet the needs of our partners. On our best behavior, so to speak. Once we have have been together for a significant amount of time though, we are likely to fall back to our innate tendency, whether that is to be early or to arrive in the nick of time.

While traveling is an opportunity to get out of our own comfort zones, starting off an adventure by missing a plane due to unexpected traffic or long security lines because we did not leave enough travel time will add unwelcome stress to a vacation adventure…not to mention the stress it adds to a relationship. How we handle that stress and anxiety is a good example of how we would handle any other unplanned event together. Note that what is perfectly normal to one person may cause major displeasure for another.

Tip: With respect to starting off our vacation right, Joe and I find common ground on this well ahead of time. The day before, we agree to our time of departure from the house or hotel to avoid creating high anxiety. There is a lot of wiggle room between having three hours to kill before our flight and arriving moments before the gates close.

The Amazing Race

Opportunities always come up while we are traveling together for joint decision-making and working collaboratively. Here is another airport scenario. Our flight is delayed and our short connection time just became next to nonexistent. Are carry-ons light enough so that we can make a sprint to the gate to catch our connection? This was just recently a reality when our flight from Cincinnati to Detroit arrived over an hour late and we had to run from gate A10 to gate A59 to catch our flight to Amsterdam, with about 10 minutes left before the gate doors would close.

We started off in a full speed run, and after about 10 gates, Joe offered to take my bag. That allowed me to speed ahead in close to a full sprint, and I arrived at the gate with a few minutes to spare. Well, actually more because the flight hadn’t started boarding yet due to it being overheated. (Oh the irony.) Once boarded, all of the travelers around us enjoyed a half hour of coughing from us (the kind of coughing you get when you haven’t sprinted in a while and your chest feels like it hasn’t caught up on the oxygen it needs). Then all was good and we were on our way.

On a regular basis whenever at the airport, my husband challenges me to pretend we are in the reality TV show Amazing Race and that we need to get to the gate to be first in line. (He does this even when we are not running late at all.) While I do not share this need of his to be first in line, I do recognize that this compulsion is deeply ingrained into him. Sometimes I don’t mind the speed walking with him; other times I tell him to go ahead and leave me alone. Either way, it is almost always a funny scenario.

The reality of relationships, and relationships and travel, is that it is not always about agreeing on everything. At times you can still be simpatico while working within the differences. Testing the stress points that arise and coming out OK usually gives you something good to laugh about later on.

Clearly the airport can be a hot spot all in itself. (Who knew the vacation adventures would start before you even made it on the plane?)


What about once we arrive on the other side, at the vacation destination. At what point will we stop and ask for directions once realizing we are lost? Do we speak the language of the country we are in? Do the people there speak our language? Is asking for directions even viable?

I don’t know about you, but when out of the country, I don’t usually pay for an international data plan. Using my phone GPS is generally not an option. The question is, who will loose their mind first?: someone who hates to waste time walking in the wrong direction, someone getting blisters on their feet and a sore shoulder from heavy bags, or someone who sees being lost as an adventure yet whose tolerance for all of the partner’s negative comments is quickly waning?

Or is there some solution to be had? Maybe pay the $10 dollars just for the day to get the international data plan. Or try out your communication skills — verbal, written and hand signals — and ask a local so you can at least get pointed in the right direction. Problem solve together.

For the record, and having experienced it first hand with Joe, we would both agree that the guy who hates to waste time walking in the wrong direction is the one to loose his mind first. On another bump in the road on the Amsterdam trip, we landed at the airport, bought train tickets and hopped on a train to Amsterdam Central Station. From there a taxi driver refused to take us to our hotel, informing us that it was a quick walk, too short for a taxi. He pointed in one direction and told us to walk a few blocks, look up, and we would find our hotel. With these dubious instructions (that unbeknownst to us, pointed in the wrong direction all together), it is no wonder we got lost. With no good map of the city in hand and no luck with people being able to help, we paid for the one day of international data usage and finally made it to our hotel; but not without a hefty mix of cursing and pondering how we could possibly be travel partners.

Always a good reminder: this is a vacation, an adventure. What better life and relationship lesson is there than to bring some perspective to the situation, helping you both keep your sanity? Sometimes we have to give it a day before the larger picture perspective does its magic and makes you laugh at yourself. The couple that laughs together when they are lost in a foreign country, stays together! Perhaps on the next adventure, the laughter will be more readily accessed as memories of this lost day are recalled.

Outdoor Cafe or Root Canal?

Even though Joe and I did not stop at that outdoor cafe and people watch on the particular day I referenced at the beginning of this article, we did enjoy lots of other moments on that trip — the still, people watching moments as we sipped wine or coffee and the more action packed ones as we walked miles through the city and the countryside, including climbing into and up a windmill. In our relatively short five years of marriage, we have packed in a lot of travel adventures and each one takes on a life of its own.

This past one had perhaps a tinsy bit more friction than others — which in itself is ironic since Amsterdam is one of the easiest international destinations we have explored together. Now that we are well beyond the pure newness of our relationship, we can still enjoy the raw adventure of a new journey together. We have a good understanding of what we both enjoy individually and collectively. Plus, we both remain open, most of the time, to try things that are outside of our comfort zone.

Relationship Buster

Ideally, you travel in a similar style as your partner or are truly open minded about your preferences. There are all different levels of simpatico. Whether you are luxury all the way kinda folks, Air BnB do it yourselfers, or your preference is culturally immersive home-stays, camping under the stars, or some diverse combination of all of the above, chances are you are not going to agree on everything. However, if you are on the same page about some of the basics, then traveling as a couple can strengthen your relationship immeasurably.

Ultimately, if you are a free-spirited, spontaneous person and your partner is a consummate planner and type “A” personality who needs to know exactly what is going to happen when, then you just may drive each other insane. Or if you are disciplined even while on vacation, waking up each early morning to get in a workout while your partner wants to use vacation time as a break from any routine at all, then you just may not be able to have a great vacation together.

Or will you?

The bottom line is, if you both love to travel, if you both have wanderlust in your heart and geographic and cultural curiosity is in your nature, then your relationship can really grow by journeying together. Compromises will have to be made and you may both need to be willing to play at the edge of your comfort zone; but that is what partnership plus adventure is all about. When you both have this mixture of wanderlust, a curious nature and a creative willingness to compromise here and there, then travel can build strong fibers in your relationship and add a vibrancy that makes your connection passionate, strong and long-lasting.

Sandy Kingsley is the founder/owner of Inspired Exploration Travel — India Travel to Delight the Heart and the Senses. She is an experiential traveler, trip and retreat designer, as well as a yoga instructor and grant writer for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati. She leaves for India and Nepal this September — check out the itinerary here: Illuminate Your Soul. More trips like this upcoming in 2018!