How To Navigate Traveling With a Romantic Partner For The First Time

Photography by Anthony A.

Learn from others’ experiences to make your first trip together memorable.

Words by Sydney Baker. Photography by Anthony A.

So, you and your partner finally decided to take a trip together? Yay! There’s nothing more exciting than hopping on a flight, train, ferry, or in the car to new places with someone you love. These journeys can be wonderful, as well as stressful, and in most instances, allow both parties to learn more about their relationship. Before you jet off for far (or not-so-far) away lands, there are a few things to consider. 

Compatibility for travel isn’t always informed by your compatibility at home. Michelle du Toit, who runs the website and online community, Romantic Explorers, explains that you can often begin to how you compromise and work together through the planning process. If possible, she suggests making your first trip “a short and close getaway to start with — that way, you get a taste of what it’s like to travel with your partner.”

However, you won’t necessarily get it right the first time. Kristie Gonzales of 2TravelingEngineers remembers it took her and her husband, Nate* until their third international trip together to sort out how to best travel together. Looking back on their first trip, she remembers having little privacy for the bathroom. The relationship was still new. “I decided to “workout” every morning so I could use the bathroom in the gym,” she said. “At the time, I had no plans to go to the gym every day but it worked out that way only out of necessity.”

What Are We?

Ultimately, closeness and how well you know each other will impact the trip, but there’s other more intentional conversations you can in advance. A conversation about relationship status and whether or not it means anything for the trip may also be worth consideration.

Popular travel blog The Country Jumper’s Caitlyn Boylan typically takes goes in with zero assumptions, prioritizes enjoying herself, remains open to see how things go and is honest about where she is at with the relationship. “The worst thing is to have expectations (again either of the relationship or of the trip) and not express them,” she says. “You’re guaranteed to be let down in that instance. I think this point is relevant to both expectations of the trip and your relationship status!”

Beyond how “together” (or not) you are, trust and understanding should be established some form. Hopefully, you would have some idea prior to the decision to travel together, but if not, it’s a great opportunity to discuss if either of your faiths (or lack thereof) impact things that come with travel such as sharing a room or feelings on sex before marriage. 

In the same vein, another way to know each other better before traveling is to share any health conditions, potential phobias, dietary restrictions, and comfort levels around alcohol intake according to du Toit. All of these might not initially come to mind for a vacation plan but could have huge impacts, on both the trip and the relationship as a whole.

“If you’re not sure about those points, give the relationship more time before traveling together — really get to know each other well. See how they react when things don’t go their way, see how they behave around other people and alcohol,” Du Toit said. “Most people put their best forward at the start of the relationship — but you might only much later (hopefully not during a trip) discover they struggle with addictions, for example, that could put your life at risk.

Additionally, unexpected things can happen when traveling. Taking the time to provide a person for each other to call in case of emergency is worthwhile. Even if you haven’t met the family or the best friends yet, exchanging emergency contacts (like that of a sibling, close friend or roommate) ensures an added bit of safety for a first trip.

Traveling Together Has The Potential To Shift Or Grow The Relationship

Gonzales said traveling likely accelerated her relationship (and comfort sharing a bathroom). “It requires getting comfortable and honest with the person,” she said. It also invites you to work on the relationship, as holding things can potentially lead to problems down the road. Lessons learned on vacation can provide opportunities to know a partner in different ways. 

This is where the fun (hopefully) starts – you can move on to planning the trip! “[This] is a fantastic way for couples to practice good communication and compromise,” du Toit said. And, you’ll learn more about each other’s likes and dislikes. 

Start the conversation (or ideally, conversations) with what each of you want out of the holiday. If one person is expecting a budget experience where you stay in hostels and the other has four-star hotels in mind, that should be discussed quite early on. Similarly, you don’t want to wait until you arrive to realize one of you wants to adventure-sport outdoors all day and the other hopes to cafe-hop and wander museums. 

Du Toit recommends that each person research individually and then come together to compare notes. “You won’t always want to do the same things, and that’s okay,” she said. As with any part of a relationship, compromise will be key. 

Beyond good communication practice, travel planning can help expand upon a safe space (or help you realize whether or not there is one) in the relationship. It can expose what you both do and don’t feel comfortable expressing to each other. Conversations around what type of holiday you want to have can lead to discussions of other vital points in the relationship.

Traveling Can Be The First Opportunity To Talk About Money

Finances are commonly a touchy subject, especially in relationships. For this reason, it should be addressed before any bookings. Gonzales remembers that when she and her now-husband (then-boyfriend) first started traveling, he took care of all logistics because she was still a student without disposable income. However, once she started working full-time, they began to split costs, and she took over most of the research and arrangements. “This happened organically. I just took on more and more with our trip planning and eventually just did it all myself,” she said. “My husband would try to help but sort of gave up when he would see the places I would find compared to what he proposed.”

Consider whether or not it’s fair to split everything 50/50. If there are significant differences in income, such early as in Gonzales’ relationship, it may make sense to approach it differently. Additionally, if one person wants to do a lot of luxury activities, should the other have to participate and pay? Du Toit recommends that you and your partner make a budget and cost-sharing system primary decisions in the process. This helps avoid disappointment later on if one person had dreamed about a particular activity only to learn its way out of budget. 

To Hard Launch Or Not 

While there’s plenty to consider before the trip, there are a few things that can be a point of contention on the trip and addressing them up front may help. Differing feelings about posting each other on social media can turn into real time, hotel room discomfort, especially if someone has a decent following beyond friends and family, such as Boylan’s accounts connected to her blog. 

“Social media usage has to be something everyone is ok with. I’m going to document my trip no matter what, and I’m going to post highlights on social media, that’s a non-negotiable, but whether the person traveling with me wants to be in photos or mentioned is entirely up to them ,and I would never go against their wishes on that!” 

It’s easier to approach it by talking about each other’s boundaries and how each person likes to share their lives on their social media than making it about whether or not you’re ready for a relationship hard launch and viewing it as an indicator of their feelings for each other. 

You May See Things You Wouldn’t See At Home

Additionally, it may be the first opportunity to see how someone behaves around different languages and cultures. Boylan encountered this when she went to Thailand with someone she recently started dating. After explaining that it’s respectful to observe and match local attire in more conservative regions of the country, her partner refused to even consider it and continued to walk around shirtless. “Traveling with him opened my eyes to a lot of the ways he saw the world which I didn’t agree with,” she said.

Planning a vacation is a great way to practice good communication, but the trip itself offers opportunities to learn about the relationship and gauge the connection. You’ll see your partner in a new light, have to rely on each other in different ways, and hopefully, come out the other end with a new level of understanding.

*The last names have been withheld at the requests of the sources.

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