Exactly one year ago, on April 6th, 2016 Perry and I hit the road for parts unknown, with a rough itinerary and open-ended return date.
The planning had been in the works for nearly a year and in preparation for departure we had checked off a long list of tasks, from saving money to selling our stuff to getting our teeth cleaned. We even had fun 'chores' such as researching destinations and poring over maps. We felt prepared, but in between trips to Goodwill and dentist visits, we missed a crucial topic.
How we would deal with 24/7 togetherness? And selfies? But mostly, how much time together is too much time together?
I read a few blogs written from the perspective of traveling couples, so had an inkling that it would come up at some point. I remember one pair suggested booking weekend trips apart if the togetherness became too much. We joked about our impending extreme cohesion, but after twelve years together (including living nearly three years in the UK), didn't think too much of it, and besides, until you live it, it's tough to prepare for it.
It hasn't come to separate weekends yet, but I can confidently say that long term travel adds a strange and sometimes taxing stress to a relationship. No matter how many hours you think you spend together, you most certainly get a break from time to time. Maybe you head off to separate jobs in the morning. Or partake in different activities in your off-hours. You probably have at least one happy-hour friend that doesn't overlap with your beloved.
Out in the vast world, we have nowhere to hide from each other.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking for sympathy. Sure, there have been a few tense moments, but I'm pleasantly surprised at how much travel has enhanced and strengthened our relationship.
Travel Togetherness: The Bad
Because I know you really read this for the dirt, I'll start with the unsightly (and obvious) side of being in the company of your lover every hour of the day. Lack of privacy.
When you share the space of small apartments and tiny rooms in guesthouses, let's just say you become extremely familiar with each other's intimate habits and maintenance activities. From bathroom schedules and favorite toilet time diversions (Fun Fact: I'm a fan of DuoLingo) to full view of personal upkeep (such as plucking that one hair on my chin), there are no secrets on the road.
Idiosyncrasies. Traits. Peculiarities. Eccentricities.
Whatever you call them, get ready, because your beloved's quirks are about to become your constant travel companions. Hate when he leaves whiskers in the sink after shaving? Irritated over her habit of leaving food open on the counter? Suck it up because there's no room to carry nitpicking in your backpack.
I'm lucky, because Perry is extremely conscientious, but even that became the source of an argument, once.
It's the inevitable downside of 24/7 togetherness: an occasional confrontation is going to happen. Since both of us tend be conflict avoiders, we are not big argument people, but do have them from time to time.
I'll admit it. I'm definitely the more difficult person in this long-term travel relationship. I require regular caffeination, at least one hot meal per day and a decent bed the majority of the time. I'm prone to crankiness and impatience and have been known to be just a teensy bit on the sensitive side.
While some squabbles are solely my fault (such as the cringeworthy 'you're too conscientious' episode) most are centered around two mutually frustration-inducing subjects: food and directions.
Food has been the source of several disagreements because it's nearly impossible to be in the same 'food space' with another person all day, every day. We all need to eat, but there are three decision making variables where things can go wrong.
- WHEN to eat
- WHERE to eat
- WHAT to eat
Perry prefers to snack instead of eating 'regular meals'. In fact, it bothers him if he eats the traditional way too often. I need something substantial like eggs for breakfast, whereas he's good to go with a banana, some cookies and a handful of peanuts. Where I need some meat and veg from time to time, he occasionally considers carrots and chocolate milk a reasonable dinner. A foodie he is not, and at home I had grown used to it. But on the road, since we always eat together, it has been a constant friction point.
Also, hunger is an obvious source for quarrels while you are having difficulty ordering in restaurants without English translations or trying to put a meal together from items in a strange supermarket only to discover you have inadequate kitchen facilities to cook it. I perpetually feel like one of those Snickers 'You're Not You When You're Hungry' commercials.
Directions is the other primary argument starter and our biggest spat on the road happened in Sofia, Bulgaria.
In our travels, I'm the chief navigator mainly because I enjoy it. OK, fine, because I like to be in control. Perry admittedly has a poor sense of direction but isn't too bothered or stressed out about getting lost or not taking the 'optimal' route. I spend a lot of time studying maps (city streets, metro lines, walking trails) and I'm in charge of directions most of the time, so when I'm wrong, I take it personally.
One day in Sofia, we decided to walk to the city center. It was a long walk and the day turned out to be fairly hot. The goal was to start at the the other end of Vitosha Boulevard, a pedestrian shopping street, as we had explored the opposite end the day before. We planned to have a drink and get out of the heat for a bit before walking the length.
After an hour in the sweltering sun, I realized we were not in the spot I had planned and expressed my frustration. What started as a volley of snippy comments escalated into a shouting match. There we were, in the middle of a busy sidewalk, yelling at each other in English to the bemusement of the Bulgarians passing us. Tired from our outburst, we walked home in silence.
We patched things up later, but I learned my lesson. Double check directions, especially when walking in hot weather, and keep my pissy comments to myself. Wait, did I really say directions were mutually frustration inducing?
Travel Togetherness: The Good
I'll try and avoid descending into Hallmark card territory here, but even this mush-averse gal has been won over by the relationship-building aspects of long-term travel.
First, we discovered that we have the same favorite travel activities. We are both hard core city walkers with a penchant for cat cafes and above all else, love spending hours in foreign supermarkets gleefully examining the strange and novel.
But as corny as it sounds, it's the shared experiences that have driven the deeper connection. The ever-changing scenery, plus constant exposure to the new and exotic has provided countless 'did-you-see that' moments. There are few days on autopilot and more fodder for inside jokes.
Another perk has been seeing a whole new side of Perry. Over the years, he has cultivated a variety of artistic talents and has never been afraid to stand out as unique and different, but since we've been living on the road, this impulse has expanded in a way that leaves me in awe. During this time away from traditional life, he has really embraced his creativity by dabbling in photography (perryja.com) and nurturing various entrepreneurial ideas, including his plan to try every chocolate milk in the world and document it in his website (afoolzerrand.com).
Being around someone who is excited about what they are doing is incredibly inspiring and helps make our days together more happy than not.
Finally, our differences have created a travel compatibility that brings out our respective strengths. When it comes to planning and motivating, I'm the COO and Head of Marketing. I've got the more adventurous spirit and outgoing personality, and that coupled with inquisitiveness has helped build a bold itinerary (Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge, Trekking Mongolia) to push us outside our comfort zone and experience new things.
Perry is our CFO and Head of Talent Management. In addition to being our budget wizard, he balances my excitable personality with an unflappable calm and serene patience. He also has super-smarts and a supernatural ability to read people and smooth over potentially rough situations.
Together, our life stays interesting, yet runs fairly smoothly.
What I've Learned
It takes a leap of faith to walk away from everything and everyone you know to travel the world with one person.
There are going to be moments of discomfort and uncertainty that can disrupt even a strong partnership. You're going to encounter every mood and moment with that person which will test the bounds of privacy and intimacy.
But the camaraderie you build with your partner while experiencing unforgettable and life-defining moments together is like relationship steroids. Without the roid rage, infertility and ban from sports.
It helps to be extra conscientious (even if it might occasionally make me crabby) and to say thank you often. Recognizing the contributions of the other person, whether it's his/her skill in keeping you on the road, making things comfortable or making you laugh keeps pent up animosity and grudge nurturing at bay. It's easy to take each other for granted and since we fall into natural roles, it is sometimes hard to appreciate those efforts, but make it a point to do it anyway.
When diplomacy fails, mini-breaks really do help. Sometimes, I visit a museum by myself or Perry will find a gym on the other side of the city so it takes longer. If we have more than one room in our apartment, we work in them separately. Occasionally sleeping in twin beds makes a difference, too.
I want to publicly thank Perry for taking this journey with me. You have made the experience more beautiful than I could have imagined.
Thanks for reading!
Next time on Gobsmacked: Hiking Tiger Leaping Gorge: A Complete Guide for the Average-ly Fit