The International Travel Test

We've all heard the anecdotal statement "traveling with your partner will show whether you're meant to be together or not."  It's pretty widespread, however it's only partly accurate.  I say only partly because there is a different between the affect of international vacationing and travel on a relationship.   The outcome will say a lot about the  relationship, but what it says will be different.  

Vacation vs. Travel

I think it's important to explain the difference between vacation and travel, as they aren't the same.  Vacation (or holiday) means an extended period of recreation or leisure... and the word travel comes from the French word "travail," which means to struggle or to labor. 

Vacation is intended to be stress free.  It's what people do to de-stress.  This usually refers to all-inclusive resorts, 5-star hotels, posh AirBnBs, fine dining, and pre-selected tours.  On a vacation you may just stay put on a beach or move throughout a country.  Overall, it's something people do that want "ease." 

On travel, you explore your surroundings solo.  You take public transportation or cheap transit.  You fumble to communicate through the language barrier.  You eat street food.  Your wifi is limited to restaurants and your accommodations.  The smallest task of way-finding is stressful.  Even ordering a meal is a challenge.  Public restrooms are startling.  There are personal space violations.  You have less than pleasing accommodations, but they're located where you want to explore.  The people that go on travel expect and want this stress.  Travel is about integrating into the real life of those living in that country.  It's about experiencing the culture as purely as you possible can given that you're an outsider.  Travel is meant to stretch your  mind in a way that you could never predict.  It's a growth experience. 

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."
~ Anonymous

Vacation as a Litmus Test

So when you go to vacation with your partner you are recreating.  Things are planned and altogether safe and easy.  This is a sort of litmus test as you will be together doing very enjoyable activities and stress is really at a minimum.  However, you're still in another country, which affects people different ways.  The relationship is likely bound for failure if:

  • Nothing disastrous occurs during this extended period of recreation and your partner starts to treat you unkindly. They become selfish and rude.  They complain a lot. They really don't want to do anything day after day.
  • Things are disastrous and instead of falling together the relationship falls apart.  

Obviously, since a vacation is about "ease" this should be an enjoyable time.  Compatible couples will enjoy their time together without creating unnecessary stress.  They seem to grow even closer and love deeper.  They enjoy each other.  Incompatible couples start to feel the strain and turn on their partners.

Travel Trouble

Travel is stressful, regardless of the length of time or location.  Though, traveling in third world countries for extended periods of time is even more stressful.  It's meant to be stressful, which means that the people on travel will be stressed.  Experiencing this stress is about growing and being. 

People handle stress differently.  How stress is handled as a couple is important and the result can be awesome or awful.  On travel, it's not if stressful things happen or things fall apart, it's when they do... how does the couple fair.  The relationship is likely bound for failure if: 

  • One of the partners starts to make rude cutting remarks to the other for no understandable reason.  
  • One of the partners starts to act out.  However, If you inform your partner of their behavior and they address it immediately, the concern is null and void. 
  • One of the partners begins to act put-upon and feel like they are being taken advantage of when in reality the relationship is balanced.
  • One of the partners becomes judgmental or intolerant of their partner's stressed out behavior (note this stressed-out behavior is non-malicious toward the other).  Intolerance and impatience toward one's partner is a killer on travel.

Travel will stress the relationship.  That is indisputable and is an expectation.  Partners acting stressed is not a sign that there is something wrong with the relationship.  It's really about whether mean/malicious behavior is present or a partner is impatient/intolerant of stressed out behavior.  

Helpful Suggestions

  • First, choose your partner wisely.  Really objectively evaluate your goodness of fit.  This is not just about passion. Make sure you match on the important levels.  Get to know them and have quality experiences together.
  • Try to remember your partner has wonderful traits that you love.  Also, acknowledge their flaws.  Their flaws may be infrequently present, so don't try to put them down for it or define them by it.  You have flaws too.  This doesn't mean that you as a person is wrong or bad.  Work together to love all aspects of one another.  Treat them always like you would your best friend, because they are.
  • When not on travel practice patience and kindness toward your partner. This will help you to be more kind and patient when you need it.
  • You may want to consider vacationing with your partner first.  Perhaps do short domestic vacations and then an international one before you embark on travel together.  I only suggest this given the ability to determine some really terrible incompatibility if vacationing doesn't go well. 
  • Don't take your stress out on your partner. If you do, apologize for your behavior and take action to amend future behavior.  Remember, this isn't about who is right or wrong...this is about growing together through a stressful experience.

Whether you only ever vacation with your partner or go on travel together...enjoy yourself and your surroundings.  Make the most of the experience regardless.

by Delicia Mclean, Ph.D., MHA