Don’t get hangry and 10 other tips on how to travel as a couple
Even among the happiest couples, conflicts can arise on long trips. (Who gets to decide where to eat? Why isn’t the hotel room nicer?) We asked 11 well-traveled pairs how they’ve managed to explore the world together and stay together. From 14-hour bus rides to missing plane tickets to getting caught without shelter in a hail and lightning storm, here’s how to navigate the occasional bumps in the road.
1. Give hugs on demand and don’t get hangry
Catherine Price, author of the parody travel guide “101 Places Not To See Before You Die” and the upcoming book, “Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection,” spent seven months traveling around the world with her husband. “We learned to recognize what made each other irritable or stressed out. Like, for example, Peter is very susceptible to getting ‘hangry’ (angry/cranky because he's hungry) without recognizing that all he needs to do to improve his mood is eat. I avoided a lot of unpleasant moments by insisting that we get a snack. On the flip side, Peter got really good at identifying when I was freaking out/needed a hug."
2. Know what’s valuable to you—a marionette or a fancy meal
Jeremy Saum, executive editor of the travel magazine AFAR, and his wife traveled for a year and a half through South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific, and Alaska. “Before you embark on a trip, you should know what you want to spend your money on," he says. "When my wife and I were backpacking, we knew we had to be choosy about our souvenirs (for both space and budget reasons). But we also knew that we would both get more long-term enjoyment from carefully selected items than we would from, say, a fancy meal. For other people, the opposite might be true. When we were in Bali, we bargained and bargained to get two marionettes for 80 bucks—almost two days’ budget!—and didn’t mind at all eating at the little restaurant where we sat on the floor and got a meal for two dollars, or staying in a guesthouse that didn’t have hot showers. Years later, those marionettes are standing in our living room, reminding us of our adventure every day.”
3. Build in time to wander and nap
Kristin Luna, the voice behind the popular travel blog Camels & Chocolate, met her husband a decade ago while traveling in Europe. “We saw each other at our highest highs (like landing my first guidebook deal in Spain) and our lowest lows (uh, drinking bad water in Portugal … you can guess what happened from there),” says Luna. Since then, they’ve visited more than 30 countries as partners and have rarely had a spat.
“We both have adopted the travel mentality of not having much of a game plan and know that building in free time to wander and take pictures (for me) and downtime for naps (for him) is essential for our own sanity,” says Luna. “Sure, we sketch out things we'd like to do in each city before we arrive—mostly restaurants and bars we hope to visit—but more importantly, once there, we let things unfold as they will. After traveling extensively with friends (who weren't friends by the trip’s end), I've learned the stricter you are with an agenda, the easier it is for a feud to develop.”
4. When someone steals your car tires, laugh
When he’s not shooting fashion or advertising campaigns, photographer Jeff Luker hits the road with his girlfriend Julia in search of secret swimming holes and epic sunsets. The two have crossed mountain tops and remote wildernesses together, making his Instagram (@jeff_luker) and Tumblr (jeffluker.tumblr.com) accounts well worth a follow.
“The truth about travel is that along with all the amazing, beautiful moments, there are also a lot of times when things don't go as planned—or go completely wrong,” says Luker. “Sometimes tension created by horrible weather, getting lost in the middle of nowhere, or campfires that won't start can lead to some epic stress and inevitable arguments. But we have figured out that in times of chaos (like the tires being stolen off our rental car or being caught without shelter in a severe hail and lightning storm), it's important to laugh at the absurdity the situation and realize it is all part of the journey.
“Oh, and take photos when these things happen. It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing in that moment, but believe me, when you are able look back at those crazy times months later in a warm safe place, you will laugh even harder.”
Jeff Luker's girlfriend Julia hiking in Sedona, Arizona.
5. Carve out alone time
In 2009, Dalene and Pete Heck sold it all to travel the world and write about it at HeckticTravels.com. Recently named National Geographic Travelers of the Year, the Canadian couple has kayaked near the southern tip of Argentina, driven a dog sled team north of the Arctic Circle in Finland, and explored many countries in between.
“When we first began our travels, we went from seeing each other only a few hours a day to being together 24/7. It was a major adjustment, and in our first few months in South America, we struggled. Old roles were tossed out the window and not only did we have to learn to adjust to a new culture and new lifestyle, but a new marriage. We bickered, we snapped, and we wondered if this was truly going to make us or break us,” says Dalene.
“After a few months we learned a valuable lesson: Alone time is essential. When we want to take time for ourselves, we no longer worry that it’s because of something the other said or did, but just that we need some space. That realization had an immediate and positive impact on the way we travel. Every week or so we go in our separate directions for a few hours. Pete grabs his camera and hits the streets; I usually find a quiet corner in which to write or read. And almost six years later, we’re happier in our marriage (and in our perpetual travels) than we ever thought possible.”
6. Develop secret signs of endearment
In April 2006, travel journalist and ZOZI contributor Karen Catchpole and her husband Eric Mohl hopped into a pickup truck and embarked on their ongoing Trans-Americas Journey, a 200,000-mile road trip through North, Central, and South America. “My parents are fond of pointing out that we have spent more time together in our 20 years of marriage than they have in more than 50 years of marriage,” says Catchpole. After spending almost 12 years together traveling, the couple has become skilled at expressing affection for each other no matter where they are.
“Public displays of affection are not acceptable in many parts of the world but PDAs are important as a bonding tool for most couples, especially during challenging travel moments,” she says. “We first came up against the PDA issue while backpacking through South and Southeast Asia in the second half of the 1990s. In many of the countries we spent time in, showing affection was a no go, so we came up with silly, socially acceptable signals that we could give each other in public to let the other person know that in a more permissive circumstance we’d be reaching for their hand or pecking them on the cheek. It could be anything—a toe tap, a subtle hand signal, or raised eyebrows.”
7. Remember to buy the plane tickets, then relax
After traveling with her husband, Outside magazine contributor Mary Catherine O'Connor learned a bit more about when to plan and when to let go. “I think it’s important to talk about what one expects in terms of scheduling and how much or little the other partner wants structure. Some people (ahem, my husband) are super chill about letting the agenda form itself and are not harried by things like, you know, logistics. Other people (I don't know, me maybe) love spontaneity in theory but often want to control what happens.
“We recently went to Costa Rica for 10 days and I was convinced I’d be bored if I didn’t schedule lots of activities. In the end, I had a great time doing nothing (go figure) and we still did fun stuff. On the other hand, we lost one day of the trip because he hadn’t actually bought the tickets, only reserved them. I think we both learned that there are times when planning is important, and there are times when it’s not.”
8. Expand each other’s idea of what’s possible
As a travel writer, ZOZI contributor Kimberley Lovato strives to experience each destination not just exist in it. When they met, her husband John was a world traveler of a different variety. As a corporate executive, “his trips were carefully planned (by someone else) down to the minute, and he often didn't see much beyond the inside of a conference room or a high-priced restaurant,” says Lovato.
“Years ago, I planned a trip to Croatia for us. John left all the details to me. He was used to that. When we arrived, we drove to a remote village for a cooking class. We drank wine under the shade of an olive tree, and ate like Croatian kings and queens. When our teacher wanted to introduce us to her mother, she whistled down the road, and a leathery-skinned woman arrived, pulled up the steep cobbled hill by two donkeys.
“John had no idea that travel like this existed. After that trip, he was more excited about trip planning. Recently, I sat back and let him take the helm—literally. He chartered a sailboat, and we sailed through the British Virgin Islands. I had no idea where we were going each day or where we’d be anchoring at night. Not a conference room in sight, and it was perfect.”
9. Ditch the postcard fantasy
At the end of 2006, Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott left their traditional expat jobs in Prague for what was meant to be a year long sabbatical. Over eight years and 90 countries later, they are still exploring the world and sharing their travel tales at UncorneredMarket.com.
“One of the things that we learned early on was to ditch what we called the ‘perfection narrative’ of our relationship—the idea that traveling together is supposed to be easy and ideal like the postcard image,” says Scott. “It’s essential for each person to be open and honest instead of trying to fit some sort of narrative of how it should be.
“This also applies for seeing your partner at his best and worst. Waking up next to someone after a week without showering in Nepal’s Himalayas will give you a new understanding of who that person really is. Later that morning, when that same unwashed partner makes it over a 5,400-mile high mountain pass—and motivates you to do the same—you might just find your heart brimming over with pride.”
10. Try doing things the other person’s way, too
Award-winning photographers Liz Zipse and Kip Patrick recently spent 16 months traveling and volunteering their way through 24 countries. They counted whale sharks in the Philippines, delivered bikes to working women in Uganda, and picked up trash along the trail to Everest Base Camp. Back home, the couple started 1 of 7, an online platform that encourages people to volunteer one day a week.
“No one would ever accuse Liz, a lover of seashells and sleeping in, of being a morning person,” says Patrick. “Whenever we stayed near a beach, I would try to sneak out early to surf. It was like trying not to wake a hibernating bear—if I made a noise my life was in danger. Finally, I convinced her to come out early with me, enjoy the sunrise, and also get first pick at all the seashells from the night before. Now we both enjoy early mornings, and after the surf session she naps while I figure out how I'm going to carry all her newly-found souvenirs in my backpack.”
Adam and Amanda Brill gaze into each other’s eyes in front of Indonesia's Kawah Ijen volcano. The pair sports masks to protect themselves from the sulfuric gases in the air.
11. Don't forget the romance
In March of 2012, ZOZI team member Adam Brill and his wife Amanda packed their backpacks and bought one-way tickets to the Philippines. Over the following 10 months they visited 25 countries. “When you are trying to explore a lot and move quickly to the next city, it’s easy to get absorbed in the day-to-day practicalities of trying to find your next meal or moving on to your next destination,” says Amanda. “Take time to slow down and surprise your loved one once in a while.
“Adam typically planned most of our travels when we were abroad. For his 30th birthday, I planned a day trip while we were in Spain. I booked reservations at Asador Etxebarri, a Michelin-starred restaurant we were excited to try after watching Anthony Bourdain's “No Reservations.” I arranged for a private tour of the kitchen so Adam could meet the chef Victor and see all of the custom grills and charcoals that restaurant is known for. I also arranged to have his gift, an engraved compass, shipped to his niece so I could pick it from her when we met up a few weeks before his birthday. Planning a surprise when you are constantly together is difficult, but the expression on his face that day was priceless.”