I’ve spent quite a big chunk of the past few years travelling with my partner, and when we meet new people around the world, there’s one dreaded question that ALWAYS pops up.
“Why aren’t you married?”
You see, we’ve been together for over seven years. In the UK that’s quite a significant amount of time to be in a relationship without getting hitched, but in some parts of the world it’s almost unheard of – at least, that’s what our shocked travel friends have told us. (I’ll never forget the guy in Uzbekistan who announced that, as 24-year-old, “No one will marry you now!” Anyway…)
Over time, we’ve learnt to tailor our answers depending on the circumstances. “We can’t afford it,” we sometimes say, “weddings are very expensive in the UK.” Other times we put it down to meeting so young, scepticism of the marital institution, time focussed on studies.
There is truth in all of these excuses. But the real reason is: we wanted to travel.
Every couple have different priorities and commitments, different things that bring them together and different goals. But for us, exploring the world was a priority. In fact, travelling together has been one of the most valuable experiences in strengthening our bond.
And it’s not just us. A survey of 1000 couples found that 72% of the respondents believe that travelling has kept their relationship healthy. But why exactly is this? It has to be more than long walks on beaches and candlelit dinners. What is it about travelling that brings people – especially couples – closer?
Well, I don’t have the answers a psychologist could provide, but I do have a few hunches. Here are ten reasons why I reckon ticking off your travel bucket list together can boost your relationship…
1. Sharing new experiences
Possibly the most obvious benefit to travelling with your other half is the opportunity to share brand new experiences. Encountering a new place, trying a new activity or immersing yourself in a new culture is truly invigorating for the mind and spirit. All of the adrenaline sports, inspiring architecture and adventure will boost your moods and brighten that ever-coveted “spark” in a relationship.
Anyone who has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro or encountered the ancient Inca ruins of Machu Picchu will tell you how just how formative these bucket list moments can be. Achieving a feat like summiting the highest mountain in Africa will teach you countless things, from the importance of perseverance to the lack of importance of a daily hot shower! Your perspective can be permanently altered by travel, so sharing these big experiences with your significant other is a fantastic way to strengthen your connection. Oh, and it means you can be those people telling all your epic travel stories at parties…
2. Quality time together
More and more, human interactions are being pitted against the constant connection between individuals and their electronic devices. Between work, daily responsibilities and perhaps children, most of us are always busy. And when we’re not, what do most of us do? Get our phones out.
It can be easy to forget to spend quality time with your partner, one-to-one, but travel gives you the perfect opportunity to do just that. When you’re travelling with your partner, there are fewer distractions to get in the way. You don’t have to check your emails, or answer phone calls. You might not even have an Internet connection!
Instead, you can explore the landscape, try new foods together, join in with a local celebration, or simply talk. This quality time is invaluable, and there’s plenty of it when you’re travelling, whether you’re occupying yourselves on the aeroplane or wandering through the cobbled streets of some Medieval town.
3. Open minds make a good match
How many times have you heard people say that they travelled and “found themselves” in the process? It’s become an eye-roll-inducing cliche. However, there is truth in the notion that travelling can help you to find a sense of your place in the world. Whether it be realising your own fortune, discovering the shared humanity in different cultures, or simply de-centering yourself for a little while, travel really does open the mind.
When you visit new countries, you realise that there are a thousand ways of doing things – from how we structure societies to how we form our relationships. On one trip, you might spend time in a culture where arranged marriage is common, on another you may meet someone who rejects the idea of monogamy altogether. These kinds of interaction are important because they make you think in a new way about the things you thought you “knew”.
Sharing this learning experience can be very valuable for a couple. It gives you a chance to discuss topics that are important to you from a new perspective. Meeting different people and experiencing different cultures will broaden your horizons, and make you more accepting of others – including those closest to you.
4. Learning to laugh it off
There’s no denying that, if you travel for long enough, you will eventually encounter plenty of funny situations. This was definitely the case for our recent Sahara trek group. During their tour of Marrakech, the group popped into a new pharmacy, where we’ve never taken Bucketlisters before. Usually, in a Moroccan pharmacy, the vendor will enthusiastically offer you herbs, lotions and cosmetics to smell, explaining their remedial properties. However, the lady in this pharmacy was different.
From the moment they crossed the threshold, our Bucketlisters were being offered concoctions for all kinds of humorous uses – natural viagra alternatives, even herbs that she swore, from personal experience, prompted breast growth! Of course, it was all – as it always is – a bit of fun, and our group had a great time joking away.
At times, of course, travel can create situations that may be confusing or frustrating. However, over time, you learn that the best solution in these circumstances is to laugh. On one trip, my partner and I were renting an old Lada Niva. On the second day of our two-week rental period, the engine caught on fire. Initially, we were worried. Would we get a refund? How would we get to the next town for a place to stay? But when the lender turned up two hours later, offering his own Mercedes for us to drive as a replacement, we had to laugh. We’d rented the cheapest car possible to take offroad, and ended up with a Merc!
Travelling will give you all kinds of unprecedented moments to laugh at, and there’s nothing better than laughing with the person you love.
5. Enhanced, erm, intimacy
According to the U.S. Travel Association survey, more than three quarters of those who travelled as couples reported having good levels of, ahem, intimacy in their relationship. In fact, 28 percent of the couples said that travelling together had actually improved this, and 40 percent of those said the improvement was permanent.
Of course, this will depend on what kind of trip you’re on. If you’re doing the Everest Base Camp trek, for example, the accommodation will be far from the stuff of honeymoon suites. On some trips, you’ll be camping in a group. Plus, after several days of trekking, you’ll want to get every second of sleep you can muster – trust us.
Truthfully, though, there’s more to intimacy than the physical kind. Emotional intimacy is the most important element of any romantic relationship, and travel is one of the best experiences to nurture it…
6. Sharing a challenge
…But why is this? Well, imagine again that you’re trekking in the Himalayas. You’re tired, dirty, it’s been days since you did anything remotely romantic. And yet, I promise you that when you reach Base Camp you’ll feel an overwhelming sense of emotional connection with your partner. You have just achieved an incredible feat, overcome all the challenges and doubts – and you’ve done it all together. These experiences are hugely empowering to share.
This is something I experienced first-hand when trekking 1000 kilometres across the Pyrenees Mountains from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean with my partner. It was the most gruelling experience of my life – physically exhausting, mentally draining, and, at times, scary. The closest we got to a romantic meal for 40 days was couscous and Cup-A-Soup cooked on a camping stove. Yet, in the moment that we dipped our destroyed feet in the Mediterranean Sea, on a beach full of bemused sunbathers, I’ve never felt more connected to and grateful for my partner.
7. Figuring out your ‘fit’
When you’re living in your daily routines, the dynamics of your relationship can become subconscious. However, when you’re travelling, you find yourselves thrown into totally new and unexpected situations. It’s in these moments that you learn about yourselves – what your individual strengths are, how you react to circumstances and, essentially, how you ‘fit together’.
That bit of distance you get from travelling teaches you more about each other and how you complement one another, as well as shedding light on any areas that you can work on together.
Naturally, you might have different ideas of what exactly this means. Upon asking my boyfriend what he thought were our individual travelling strengths, he agreed that I’m better at picking up languages, but insisted that he’s “better at pretty much everything else”. Not sure I’d agree with that, but his natural competency with navigation certainly makes up for my chronic daydreaming. I’d probably still be lost in the Japanese mountains without his superior Google Maps skills…
8. Time to relax
I’m pretty sure that my boyfriend likes me at least 30% more when we travel. Why? Because I’m about 30% more relaxed. When you travel, there is less pressure, less stress. You can forget about the deadlines and targets, the everyday drudgeries of cleaning, laundry, making your packed lunch. You can just be together and focus on your happiness in the moment.
Let’s face it, when you’re spending the week witnessing the Northern Lights, seeing a polar bear in the wild, and sledding with huskies, you’re hardly going to be worrying about what’s happening in the office.
As much as the person you love should support you through the highs and lows, there’s no denying that a chilled out partner is pleasant to be around! And after all, seeing your loved one happy will always bring a smile to your face.
9. Teaching tolerance
If you’ve been with your partner for a long time, the likelihood is that you know most of their quirks and habits – you love some of them, perhaps you tolerate others. However, when you travel together, especially on longer trips, you spend much more time together than you do at home. Because of this, you might start to notice things about yourselves that aren’t always apparent.
But if those things are irritating, you can’t just go into another room of your house for a bit of personal space like you might at home. While travelling, you’re sharing everything in very close quarters – hotel rooms, transport, meals – more or less every moment. This will quickly teach you tolerance for your partner, and awareness of their preferences.
For example, my partner loves to chat when we’re in a car, bus, or train. I, on the other hand, am almost incapable of staying awake in a moving vehicle. At times, he would accept this and let me have a blissful nap, and at others, I understood his need to talk to stay alert when driving, so I (reluctantly) forced my eyelids open. This is just a small instance of compromise that travel has highlighted – but showing consideration of your partner’s needs is undoubtedly one of the fundamental building blocks of any happy relationship.
10. Memories of your own
The final, and perhaps the most tangible, of all of the reasons to travel as a couple is to make memories to share. Any relationship is formed of shared moments, often fondly remembered and recounted over a cup of tea (or a beer). Taking the time to have exciting, unique experiences together will give you even more reason to sit back and reminisce about your best moments together. This is such an important thing to do – it reminds you of the good times when life feels difficult, and allows you to truly appreciate your bond with your partner.
And, I know this has all been about making time for your relationship through travel, but do remember to take a camera! You might think that you’ll remember all of those funny moments, but having photos to look through in a year’s time is bound to bring all of those bucket list moments back to life.
So, those are my top ten reasons why travelling with your partner is the best gift you can give this Valentine’s Day. Time to get writing that joint bucket list and making memories!