Five Ground Rules For Traveling as a Couple on a Long Trip

I have to be honest; at the start of the journey, I was apprehensive of the idea of spending a year travelling around the world with my wife. We’ve heard too many horror stories of couples that cancelled their trips halfway because of a breakup, or worse, couples that continued with a trip even though both parties had stopped enjoying themselves a long time ago.

My wife and I had travelled together before, but they were short trips of up to a month in duration. When we married, I do not think either of us foresaw that we would be in each other’s faces twenty-four hours a day for an extended period of time. When we were at home, our sanity could be buffered by family, by friends, and by time away from each other because of our careers. Even then, we both have our little personality quirks that would get us riled up at each other. We could see how this could be amplified when we have to be around each other all the time, and when we are exhausted by the endless waves of decision making and accommodation/transport hunting.

Determined not to become another campfire story, and because the cost of divorce would probably eat into our already dwindling travel expenses, we did our research prior to the trip and decided to come up with a few ground rules.

Ground Rule #1: We HAVE to talk about that monster called Money

This is one of the most common causes of disagreements between couples and even groups of friends who go on a long trip together. Many mid career travellers would have given up jobs/taken up loans just to be able to go on this trip. As the travelling days increase, so does the travelling expenses. It reaches a point when the big pot of money you seemed to have at the start of the journey does not look as large anymore. The occasional luxurious restaurant meal or the visit to the *boring* art gallery you don’t mind going to, just because another travel companion wanted to go, starts becoming more of an issue as your wallets grow lighter.

Unfortunately for us, my wife and I were never really comfortable talking about finance. But we agreed that as our day to day conversations will increasingly revolve around choosing between bus or taxi, hotel or hostel, museum or beach, we would need to talk about the financial impact of the decisions and how they will affect our budget.

Ground Rule #2: The Importance of Compromise and the Annoyance of Compromising (too much)

As cheesy as it sounds, my wife and I consider ourselves each other’s soul mate. We are freakishly similar in many ways, but we do not delude ourselves into thinking that during a trip of this length, we would always desire what the other party might want. We realized that sometimes, when we are travelling together, one of us would probably have to give up something so that the other one could get what he/she wants.

My wife and I have a Barter Trading system which is basically “If you do This with me now, I will do That with you later”. At times, when there is a deadlock, we would supplement the system with an Annoyance Metre. We will both write down a list of activities we would like to do for the day/week/month then rank them according to the Annoyance Metre, where “1” would be “Couldn’t care less if we don’t do it” and “10” being “I would be so extremely annoyed if we don’t do it that I would consider digging your eyeballs out slowly with a blunt instrument”. Once the list is done, we would Barter Trade what we would do based on the activity’s ranking on our individual Annoyance Metre, and also based on how much we value our sense of sight.

Ground Rule #3: We are not conjoined at the hips

While it would be amazing to experience all the different cultures, the unbelievable sights and the unique cuisines together, there would be times when one of us would loath certain experiences as much as the other one would love it. There would also be times a compromise just could not be made – when our priorities differ and no amount of Barter Trading could give us both what we want. When this happens, we have to be prepared to say “I need to do my own things for a while”, and the other person has to be matured enough to not take offense by that.

So, while she knows that letting me go off alone to a comic convention for the weekend might not be the best of ideas, the time apart might mean some time for us to get out of the other’s face for a while. At the very least, it could also mean some time for her to do her shoe shopping. (Also not a very good idea)

And this brings me to Ground Rule #4.

Ground Rule #4: Always say what we think, and think what we say

I know, this one is probably easier said than done, but it is the bedrock for all the Ground Rules above to work. In our culture, it is common to avoid conflict by simply not looking for it. We will take our piece of crap if it means there would not be any dramatic outbursts at that point in time. True, there might be festering unhappiness and lingering anger, but that’s a problem for the Future Us to solve.

In a year long trip, Future Us is not that far away. They would probably still be on the same trip, eating the same junk and sharing the same room, so it might be better to resolve any issues immediately rather than wait.

And last, but certainly not least,

Ground Rule #5: Always Remember Why You Chose to Travel with each other in the first place

There must be some solid reasons why you chose each other to go on this trip together in the first place. The reasons might not seem so apparent after a 12 hour bumpy bus ride to your roach infested hostel, but they will be there. Times like these, it is easy to take out the travel frustrations on the person closest to you (aka your human punching bag). It is important to remind yourself that the person you are travelling with might not really be a complete idiot, and there is a remote possibility that the travel fatigue is what’s putting you on edge. Deep inside, you know that you still love this moron beside you who seems hell bent on messing up your life.

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Photos by mroach, roeyahram, ah zut

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  • Zen Min Kok said at 2011-11-21T02:20:07+0000: Fortunately your M-I-L did not insist on joining you on your trip.. then you might need another 500 ground rules....