Is Travel the Death of a Relationship?
I’m a woman who is both in a long-term relationship and also frequently travels alone. And I’m often met with a head tilt followed by a barrage of questions when people learn this.
“Aren’t you scared he’ll cheat?”
“Don’t you miss each other?”
“Don’t you think it’d be better if he came along, too?”
People are often surprised that it’s possible to be both a traveler and a partner.
Though my answers are usually more complex than “yes” or “no,” the most important thing I’ve found in my experience is the necessity of abandoning the mindset that a relationship automatically means death to traveling. Both a travel lifestyle and serious partner can exist in harmony.
As much as I’d love to paint a picture of rom-com perfection, the truth is that traveling while in a relationship is often harder than either traveling as a couple or staying home together might be.
Yes, it’s amazing to have the best of both worlds — unfettered freedom to explore and also a constant source of love — but it’s not always perfect. One person is off in a new land, wanting to make the most of every moment, while the other is likely in the everyday routine that comes with staying at home. Between having to schedule times to connect and missing each other’s company, emotions can run high.
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The first trip I took as a traveler (with my boyfriend at home) was by far the most challenging.
Since we hadn’t yet established a long history together to solidify trust, I often spent long Skype sessions with him on the other line, taking time away from coveted sightseeing opportunities. I’d flop between feeling grateful for our video chats — the only familiarity in a foreign land — and guilty for wanting to explore a city instead of sit in a café connecting to shoddy WiFi.
Text messages were misinterpreted, leading to tears and arguments over things that usually weren’t a problem. Homesickness reared its unwelcome wrath. Video calls had to accommodate both schedules, meaning one of us would likely be sleep deprived. Being apart created complications that I could never have predicted when I purchased that international flight.
I suffered from the oppressive internal worry that I’d be forgotten, and I think he did too.
Three years later, our relationship is stronger than ever and has survived multiple bouts of being separated thanks to travel. I spend over three months traveling a year, on average – with him traveling often as well (because of our jobs, we can rarely travel together).
If anything, I think our time apart while being in a relationship has actually made our partnership stronger than if we’d spent every single day together. My travel days are now mostly filled with memory-making and adventures, without (almost) any of the issues that accompanied my first trip. Our relationship has matured. Now, after the goodbye kiss at the airport, we both feel confident that the time apart will go smoothly.
Don’t let traveling deter you from getting into a relationship, and don’t let your relationship deter you from traveling. It takes time, experimentation, and trust to get into a good rhythm but it can be done.
Here are a few of the challenges I faced, and how my relationship has overcome them.
How Often and When Should We Talk?
The biggest source of my relationship’s initial travel issues had to do with when to talk and how often.
We’ve all seen relationships where the couple in question can’t seem to spend one second apart, physically or via screen. Talk too often, and you might become resentful of your partner, wishing they’d take up less of your travel time. Talk too little, and you might wonder what the point is of being in a relationship at all. The only way to sort this out is through trial and error.
In my relationship, we commit to a few Skype calls per week at times that suit us both. We schedule them like an official plan. Talking over video is so much better than relying on text, because you can gauge meaning behind the words that are being said, tell stories more quickly, see your partner’s face, and share emotions together. If we need to, we recalibrate every few weeks to a new schedule to see what suits our relationship best.
At the end of every day, we also text an update about what’s happening using WhatsApp, so that the other feels included. The messages tend to be long. It’s a thoughtful gesture that shows that no matter how busy you get, you can still make time to communicate.
All of this being said, if you find your partner is too demanding, doesn’t trust you, or that you dread talking to them, you might not be in the right relationship.
Can I Trust Them? Can I Trust Myself?
“Aren’t you scared he’ll cheat?”
Whether it’s phrased in this way or in between the lines of a less-confronting statement, this is by far the most common question I’m asked.
Likewise, the person at home may also be faced with this concern once their partner goes traveling (“Just think of all of those fit, Costa Rican men!”).
If someone is going to cheat on you, they will do it whether you’re living under one roof or oceans apart. Being physically close is not an adequate substitution for trust. A healthy relationship doesn’t include smothering, or holding one person back from traveling for fear that they’ll find someone else. After all, did being married stop people from creating Ashley Madison accounts
My boyfriend and I trust that we have each other’s best interests at heart — something that’s been established with time, our actions, and honesty. When you believe that your partner’s actions are out of your control and that they are innocent until proven guilty, the worry vanishes.
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New sights and experiences might come with temptations you’ve never faced before. In the midst of hostels filled with young, hormone-charged backpackers with hook-up culture in full swing (cue the dorm room primal grunts), being the only one committed to someone at home can be isolating.
Before doing something you might regret, ask yourself if this one fling is worth the relationship you’ve built. It shouldn’t be. If it is, why are you still together? Even if your partner wouldn’t find out, in your heart you’ll know this one act will be forever fixed to your relationship.
Maybe the right decision for your relationship will be maintaining an open-relationship while you’re apart — but you’ll both need to agree on what this means. Will your relationship allow just physical openness? Or are you able to attach to someone else emotionally as well? Will you share new partnerships, or is it okay to keep it a secret? Open or not, all relationships will need to have clear communication to stay successful.
Since our relationship is monogamous, my boyfriend and I have made it clear that should one of us ever feel the need to stray, we’ll give the other the courtesy of breaking up before it gets to that point.
A Mistake Was Made! Should We Break Up?
Long rides on a stinky bus, sleep deprivation, belly aches, missing home – these are all factors that can up the ante on my crankiness level. I’m not immune to saying something rude or sarcastic and taking my negative emotions out on the person I feel most comfortable with. Likewise, though my boyfriend may look like an angel, being tired or hungry means that he sure as hell won’t be acting like one.
No relationship is perfect. When traveling, small mistakes can often feel more significant than if they happened in person. You have a lot of alone time to dwell on something that’s been done or said, with only your own mind as an echo chamber.
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If you’ve made a small mistake, apologize quickly and clearly. No games. If they made the mistake, tell them what you’re feeling and work on fixing it. Without communication, a relationship with distance in between is sure to suffer.
If the mistake was a deal breaker for you, cut loose, stay busy, and try your best to enjoy the trip.
Many relationships end on the road because it isn’t exactly the same as how you left it.
From personal experience, I can say with confidence that anyone trying to make it work needs to be patient, lower expectations, and give it time to adjust to the new norm. If you both put in the effort, you can definitely have a partnership that is supportive of your dream of seeing the world, with someone cheering you on at home.
Travel doesn’t have to be the death of your relationship!
What other tips do you suggest for making a relationship work while one partner is traveling? Share in the comments!
Images of the author courtesy of Chantae Reden.