How Two Totally Different Travel Styles Come Together

Making Travel with Your Partner Work

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Nick and I grew up in the same city but we might as well have grown up on opposite ends of the earth.

His father was an avid outdoorsman (he taught a hunter’s education course for over a decade), and his mother is more than happy to partake in any excursion (on her first bow hunt she snagged a buck). The stories of his childhood make me jealous and cringe simultaniously. He was constantly climbing trees, handling snakes, walking across frozen bodies of water, and just generally getting into trouble. He was lovingly dubbed “nature boy” due to his penchant for running around stark naked, neighbors be damned. His family was always on the move- hunting, fishing, hiking, and camping. He practically grew up in the forest. His free spirited nature has certainly boiled over into his adult life. Nothing seems to frighten him, and he is constantly on the lookout for new adventures.

My parents were home bodies, and as such, opportunities to get outside were scant. I grew up in a rougher part of town than Nick did – I wasn’t allowed on my front porch after a neighbor was attacked, and I wasn’t allowed in my backyard when a new pitbull appeared in the yard adjacent to ours. My parents did their best to shelter us from the reality of our situation, but I knew something was off. I would always sleep with the light on and every night ended up in their bedroom. Causation or correlation- I’m not sure which- made them very cautious people. The opportunities to get dirty, mess up, and get hurt weren’t prevelant in my childhood. As I’ve grown, I’ve developed an outright disdain for anything “dangerous.” Nothing adventurous seemed worth the risk.

Except for a brief stint in my early adulthood (when I was living proof of the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex), I’ve always been this way. It is a strange dichotomy – I fear just about everything yet long for adventure. Even though I was hesitant, Nick and I started traveling together almost immediately at the start of our relationship.

Differing travel philosophies

Climbing a tree

Nick calls himself the big picture guy. He envisions the most epic of trips and leaves it up to me to fill in the blanks. His life list trips include Mount Everest (I tell him if we ever have $30,000 lying around he can go), Alaska (grizzy bears, ugh), all of the fourteeners in Colorado (without proper equipment) – the list goes on. He loves coming up with ideas, but he’s not a planner. He feels as though planning will hinder his ability to go where the wind takes him. When he takes the reins, this approach usually works. But that doesn’t mean I like it.

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It is in my nature to plan. As soon as our flights are booked, I start on our itinerary. I have food, lodging, and activity options for each location. The first day I set aside for getting the safest car possible (on a recent trip it took us 2 hours to rent a car) and heading to an outdoor outfitter to buy safety equiptment (first aid kits, bear mace, a knife). Redundancy abounds when I’m in charge. I find emergency contacts for each of the state or national parks we’ll be venturing to, and I proceed to plug them into both of our phones, on the itinerary I’ve made, as well as on a sticky note in my pocket. I’m okay with a brisk hike in the woods. Nick’s better when he’s “on a mountaintop breaking a trail through fresh snow.” Because our personalities and travel styles are so different, we have very interesting, passionate discussions when it comes to planning.

When we first start to plan, we have a general idea of where we want to go, but as far as activities are concerned, we’ll make seperate lists on our own time. When we bring our lists to the table and start to discuss them, our exchange typically follows this format:

  • Playful banter. We will flat out ignore what the other says. Nick will say he doesn’t want to do x and I’ll say that it’s settled and we’re doing x then, and that I’m glad he agrees that it is a good idea. We were always good at banter, and travel planning is no exception. There is truth in jest; however, so the exchange continues:
  • Guilt. We’ll claim that one of us doesn’t want the other to have any fun. We’re still kind of joking.
  • Pleading. Nick will ask me to just get over my fear of whatever it is he’s trying to do. I will ask him to get over me not wanting to.
  • Defeat. The conversation usually ends for the night with one of us exasperatingly saying that we won’t do anything at all because we can’t come to an agreement. We agree to revisit the discussion later.

I have a bad habit of saying “No” immediately. If Nick is trying to do anything that has even a scary word involved, it is all too easy (and almost reflex) just to say no. I feel as though we have both missed out on some epic opportunities because of my instinct to flee. I try to look back on those missed opportunities as motivation to say yes the next time. It also helps to reconfigure what meaningful travel means to each of us individually. Even if an activity doesn’t sound like me, there is still something to be taken from the experience. This could simply be that I’ll never do it again or that it completely changed my outlook.

Trip planning notes

After we sleep on it, we’ll come back together the following day at which point we’ve both waned in our absolute must do (or not do) criteria. We realize that travel is something we want to experience together, so each feels a responsibility to the other to make it happen. This is only our planning phase, mind you. It is easy enough (though not very easy for us) to write something down on a piece of paper, reserve online, and be done with it. What we ultimately agree to (and then pay for) doesn’t feel real yet.

The roadbumps we experience when traveling are a true testament to our ability to bend to meet each other’s needs – and this is where it is extremely helpful (necessary even!) for two complete opposites to travel together. If you are part of a traveling couple who has vastly different ideas of what makes a great trip, check out the following 4 tips to come together.

Push your partner

On a trip to Colorado, Nick and I had the pleasure of being exposed to bedbugs. I have never seen Nick so defeated – he was ready to throw everything away, eat the cost of a new return flight, and get the hell home. Although I broke down for a time myself, I decided that there was no way I was throwing away upwards of $700 on gear plus the cost of a new plane ticket plus a completely ruined vacation. I bucked up, made mental notes in my head on what to do first (it’s like a “chicken or the egg” scenario – cross contamination was a serious threat, and there was no way I was bringing those suckers home), and implemented my strategy. $20 in quarters later, 5 loads of washing and drying, two new hotels, two new duffel bags, a new rental car, and we were on our way. That trip ended up being one of my favorites. Nick still says he was so glad that I took charge, or he would have just gone home.

Push yourself

Mount Marcy

I’m very good about forcing myself to do things that I don’t want to do. I’m not very good at forcing myself to do things that frighten me. Nick being there with me makes me feel more badass. Even after 8 years, I still try to impress him. This seems like an extention of pushing your partner, but this is a completely internal process. Whatever the motivation, traveling with Nick makes me more apt to do things that frighten me. While hiking to Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York, I was faced with a decision in the form of a smooth, granite rock face. Of course, I’m scared of heights and falling (made worse by the fact that there was seemingly no grip whatsoever). It was going to be a low to the ground, on all fours, flat out scramble. Nick gently asked me to take a minute to think about it, and if I still wanted to go back down we would turn around. We were literally minutes away from the summit, and we had about 7 miles invested in Mount Marcy. It wasn’t going to be me that ruined our shot at our first 46er.

Though he was incredibly understanding, my hardheaded nature told me that I needed to prove to Nick I wasn’t a wuss. I sucked it up, got low to the ground, and started scrambling. The first few steps were akward and robot-like, but soon the natural human ability to climb kicked in. I was in the clear and at the highest spot in New York state. It felt awesome, and I can say with certainly I would have just turned around if Nick wasn’t there. Little did I know, I’d have to dig deep again on that same hike. I had worn brand new boots (what an idiot!) and developed some very painful blisters on the way down. Because of my akward gait, my knees started aching. I proceeded to go into zombie mode where I didn’t talk to Nick at all. I was determined to get down, and I made it. At the end, my new boots were soaked through with blood from my heels, and a couple of weeks later an x-ray told me I had tendinitis in my knees. Still totally worth it.

Be each other’s backbone

Hiking to the arch

At Chautauqua National Historic Landmark in Colorado, Nick was adament that he wanted to take a hike to the only naturally occuring arch in the state – Royal Arch. We were supposed to head to the Rocky Mountains later that day, and we had just flown in the night before. I made it clear to him that I was not in the mood for an involved hike, and he seemingly obliged. We walked across a meadow to view the flatirons, where Nick asked if we could just walk up the trail a bit to get into the woods. I agreed. Before I knew it, we were an hour and a half in with no food, 10 ounces of water, 30% less oxygen then we are used to, and no arch in sight.

We continued on and finally made it to the arch, where each of us proceeded to feel ill. Empty stomachs and no water to combat the altitude made me feel like I was going to pass out. Internally, I was freaking out because of how I was feeling, and I wasn’t sure if we would make it down. Nick also started complaining about feeling woozy (and he never complains). I put aside my own fear of what felt like dying and kept talking to him to make sure he was okay. Later on he told me that he had slightly exaggerated his symptoms because he knew worrying about him would help me. We made it back to the car wherein I proceeded to tell him about how ill prepared we were for a hike like that, and had I known we were going to go anyway, I would have at least brought us some water. Even though we would have never been in that situation if it weren’t for Nick’s “arch fever,” we made do and got each other through it. I have never admitted to him that the views were incredible, and I was glad we pressed on.

Be flexible

Snowmobiles

I had made mention earlier that the bedbug trip was one of my favorites. After disinfecting our belongings, we were faced with a choice, and a decision needed to be reached quickly. We could continue on with our plans in Colorado, visiting places we’d already seen, or we could go north into Wyoming. We decided we would take the 8 hour drive to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to go snowmobiling in Yellowstone. Nick had talked about doing this for years, and I always said no. Bears and bison, the caldera, and crazy snowpack were always at the forefront of my mind during these discussions. Our trip was already a disaster, so I said to hell with it and booked a tour. When you don’t have time to harp over your options, you’re much more likely to say yes. When it comes to traveling, I’m rarely flexible, but flexibility allowed to us experience an entire National Park almost completely by ourselves, countless bison, a bald eagle, Old Faithful and other geologic features. It was awesome.

It’s not always easy for the two of us to come to an agreement about what to do, but it is always worth it. We’ve conquered our fears. We’ve pushed ourselves well beyond our comfort zones.

It’s not always easy for the two of us to come to an agreement about what to do, but it is always worth it. We’ve conquered our fears. We’ve pushed ourselves well beyond our comfort zones. We’ve proven to ourselves and each other that we are capable of doing anything we set our minds to.We’ve tested and reinforced how strong our relationship is. Travel is about so much more than going to the far flung places you’ve always dreamt about, and Nick and I are reaping all of the benefits.

I’d like to offer some advice for those of you who think you could never travel with your partner – you must become a master at compromising, but most importantly, you must become a master at just saying yes.

For more on couples travel, check out the following articles:

manifesto - adapt as they go

Photo credits: Pembleton, all other photos courtesy of the author and may not be used without permission.

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Leave a Comment

  • said at 2014-07-15T15:08:54+0000: A wonderful read, Sarah! It's really nice that you and Nick share a true yin yang relationship!“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ― Mark Twain
  • Anthony Shaddow said at 2013-05-13T15:08:02+0000: Really well written! Discovering new things around the world or in your own back yard is always better with someone by your side to share it with. Arrivederci!
  • Shadis Dye said at 2013-05-13T14:34:15+0000: Sarah illustrates so simply how a little compromise and compassion coupled with pushing yourself to do things out of your comfort zone can make for some Epic, and sometimes hilarious adventures.
  • said at 2013-05-16T03:34:55+0000: Risk takers always have more fun and get to experience things that most others don't. I have always wanted to raft down the Colorado River - will have to share your story with my wife!
  • Nancy Gilsdorf said at 2013-05-13T23:53:13+0000: WOW! That just blew me away. Absolutely the best heartfelt and sincere description of how two different people can come together and compromise to fulfill each others dreams and experience the world around them I have ever read. Keep those adventures coming!
  • Colleen Muro said at 2013-05-15T02:07:39+0000: Really enjoyed the article, life lessons on how shared dreams can come true and not allowing fear to get in the way of your adventures. So, just do it.
  • Laura Tiedemann said at 2013-05-13T15:45:10+0000: Extremely well written! I know that whoever may read this article will walk away with some good information on compromising with their significant other when planning a trip! I know I did!
  • Jacquelyn Anne said at 2013-05-13T15:24:50+0000: such an honest, hilarious, and totally relatable article!
  • Joanne MacHugh said at 2013-05-14T22:39:56+0000: Touching and informative!
  • Kirsten Muro Tarangioli said at 2013-05-13T23:47:56+0000: Very well written and totally relatable!