The Challenges of Being a Couple Abroad

Posted on 03. Jan, 2011 by in Europe Travel, Expat Life, Travel Tips

I often say that I couldn’t have made it to Europe without my boyfriend.

Moving there had been such a hassle that many times, I wanted to simply drop the project and curl up under my covers. But we were a team. My defeat implied his defeat. Although many things have not gone the way we hoped they would, we still managed to get on the plane to London and build a life there for a year. Many people told us this adventure was either going to break us, or make us stronger – I’m happy to report that it definitely made us a stronger item, but it wasn’t all that easy. Here’s a few chapters of our story as a couple abroad.

Photo by Lost.In.Time

Chapter 1 : The Bathroom Incident

Having lived together before moving to London, we had already sorted the bathroom situations and had created many means to maintain our private individual moments, hum, private, so this chapter does not have anything to do with bodily functions. It is instead about the lack of space in a studio flat. Let me explain.

When a couple lives in a 10 m² flat 24/7, occasional quibbles are only natural. But some days were worse than others and on quite a few occasions, doors needed to be slammed and sulking had to be done (he told me I talked like my mother, what else was I supposed to do?). The question is: how exactly do you sulk in a studio flat? How powerless are you when the only door you can slam is the bathroom door? I had no other choice but to stay in there for as long as it would take to make him feel bad. But trust me, once you’ve manicured your nails and showered, there isn’t much to do. On the other hand, our shower curtain was a huge world map, so now I can tell you  the exact location of Djibouti. And Severnaya. And Uruguay’s capital.

Chapter 2: The Unit

Travel is all about meeting new people.  While being a couple abroad certainly has some advantages, it’s quite a bummer in this topic because of two things: difficulty to socialize and lack of individuality.

It’s not easy for couples to meet new people. Being one-on-one often creates the illusion that you do not need or want to socialize with the people around you, even though you are in fact you are dying to. Couples really have to make an extra effort to mingle because people will not go to them naturally like they would with individuals. And most of the time, people that approach couples are most likely in a relationship as well.

That’s exactly what happened to us.  The people we really got along with were couples, and more often than not, Canadian couples. Hello, travel experience.

Couples tend to befriend other couples for obvious reasons. If however, you happen to overhear one of their conversations, all you will hear is ‘we’. We are from there, we just visited this museum, we sleep at that hotel. Everyone gets referred to as a we rather than as separate I’s. And sometimes it can get blur the limits of individuality of each person. Most travelling couples create a merging bond that keeps them stronger as an item on given situations, but that bond needs to be loosened up on social gatherings.

Let yourself be for one minute!

Chapter 3: Sacrifices

That problem is not avoidable whether you travel with your partner, your friend or your parents. At one point, someone is not going to agree with your ideas.

Of course, travelling with your significant other probably means that you have the same, or at least similar interests. But when the day comes that you won’t agree on something, and trust me, it will,  it’s crucial that you seize up just how much you are sacrificing. Because as opposed to a friend or a parent, you will be with that person 24/7 during the trip and, most importantly, after. In other words: don’t give up something that is super important to you if it’s going to make you hold a gruge against your other half for the rest of the trip, but be open-minded.

My tip is to always have a first look at your itinerary beforehand. It’s what we (see, I don’t even follow my own rules) did when we planned our trip to Dublin. I don’t like beer and needless to say, I wasn’t to keen on spending a whole afternoon at the Guinness Factory. I went anyway to please my beer-obsessed-but-not-alcoholic boyfriend. And guess what? It ended up being one of the best activities of my whole year abroad.

Planning is the key. No need to have a tight schedule, but at least have a rough idea of what you will be doing. That way, shall there be an argument, it will happen before the actual trip and save you lots of time and energy on location. Spontaneity is overrated anyway.

***

Have you travelled with your other half? Have you experienced difficulties or challenges? Do you have tips or anecdotes? Speak up!

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33 Responses to “The Challenges of Being a Couple Abroad”

  1. anonymous

    04. Jan, 2011

    I agree that travelling with your partner can sometimes be really difficult. Usually, when you travel with friends or family, you will just keep it to yourself if they annoy you because you know that the trip will last only a week or two. So if after a week you realize that your lifetime friend is not your best travel buddy, well you just have to tough it a few more days.

    However, if travelling with your partner is hard, well there’s no “in a few days it will be over”. As always, communication is the key. As always, it is much easier said than done :P

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      Indeed, always easier said than done! But yes, communication is important, and yes, it’s important to know the boundaries.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Margo

    05. Jan, 2011

    It took us a while, but we figured out after a while that mutual respect was the key…. and always, always acknowledging that being the navigator is much more difficult than being the driver -both literally and figuratively…. Oh! And keeping each other fed, watered and w/ libations on a pretty tight schedule. (Kir Royales always trump another museum after 4pm :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      Haha, kir royal as a solution to couples traveling – I like the idea!

      Reply to this comment
  3. Lauren

    07. Jan, 2011

    I did quite a bit of traveling with my ex boyfriend–people alway say that if a couple can travel together, they can do anything. For me, the worst part about traveling as a couple (as you mentioned in this post) is that you lose your individual identity. And from the perspective of someone who is now single, I would be very hesitant to approach a couple during my travels, although I can’t exactly pinpoint why.

    On the other hand, I would also argue that traveling as two females puts you in the same “couple” category. When I was in Italy with my best friend last September, we socialized much less with strangers compared to when I traveled alone. I think people feel much less intimidated by one, instead of two.

    I really enjoyed this post so thank you for sharing!

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      I also think that a couple that travels well together is bound to last forever. There are no masks, no inhibitions when you travel – just your plain, old self.

      Just the fact of traveling in a team, whether friends or couples, does not tend to bring new friends over. You really have to make an extra effort!

      Reply to this comment
  4. Nicolas De Corte

    13. Jan, 2011

    Your 3 chapters sound so very familiar.
    I used to travel solo, but since I got in a relationship I now also travel duo. The lack of personal time can really kill me, as you’re on each other’s skin 24/7. Sometimes I need to get out for a couple of hours, just to be on my own. But if your other half doesn’t feel the same, it can be quite awkward to propose a split for the afternoon.

    The first time we traveled together, it occurred to me after two or three weeks that I didn’t make a single new friend. When I traveled solo I made friends on a daily basis but then I really had to make effort to get into conversation.

    What sometimes scares me is that you have someting like an unbreakable bond. You HAVE to get along because you HAVE to stick together. When you have an argument, You need to remember that the next day you have to sit in the bus together for 10 hours so you calm down and don’t say what you would have said otherwise.

    But then again, traveling with a partner has great advantages too. You always have someone to talk to, you are less likely to feel lonely and you have someone to share the beautiful things you experience with.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      It’s always intimidating as a couple to befriend other people, especially individuals. But I definitely prefer making fewer friends, and traveling with someone I’m already comfortable with!

      Reply to this comment
  5. Dina

    13. Jan, 2011

    I like it how you know exact position of Djibouti :)
    I’m traveling with my husband, and to be honest I can’t imagine traveling without him. But I agree with the bathroom, unit, and sacrifice problems. I feel like i have to sacrifice more than him in choosing destinations or what to do, but he might think the other way around. He’s into cheap traveling, and he is great in finding good deals, and he decides our destination that way. Since we are putting ourselves in tight budget (so we can prolong our journey), so he usually wins in deciding the destination. It usually ends up great though, either way, I love exploring new place. Could be here, or there.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      The wonders of a shower curtain :-)
      In regards to the sacrifices, that’s why I prefer to plan beforehand – it gives us more time to accept what we have to let go, and instead focus on the destination when we are there. We have so little time to travel, we don’t want to spend it fighting!

      Reply to this comment
  6. Mike & Luci

    11. Feb, 2011

    Yep…we wrote a whole blog on this! 1000 places to fight before you die….

    Reply to this comment
  7. Tawny Clark

    13. Aug, 2011

    I soooo know what you’re talking about with the bathroom incident. My boyfriend and I have been traveling together for years but it wasn’t until we moved into our teeny tiny studio apartment in Korea that things really started to heat up. He said I chewed too loud and I didn’t think he cleaned the bathroom enough. There were many occasions where I locked myself in the bathroom, or he went for long walks outside.

    We also understand how hard it is to make friends. No single person wants to be the third wheel in our relationship. The best friends we made ended up being couples. It was easier to relate, I suppose.

    Traveling as a couple might not always be easy, but for me, it’s definitely worth it. Who doesn’t like traveling with their best friend?

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      It’s important to keep your own personal space and to know when too much is too much – and to act accordingly before things get out of hand. And yes, it’s definitely easier to befriend other couples than individuals!

      Reply to this comment
  8. Nicole

    14. Sep, 2011

    I love the truth in this article!

    My advice if you are a young couple (20s) traveling and want your privacy but want to meet people: book a private room or apartment with a hostel that has a fun bar. We do this in foreign cities we travel to and it’s a great way to meet people. We usually meet groups of people (not other couples) and go out with them and have a great time.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      Yes, I definitely stick to private rooms now. Hostels are such a hassle for me! But the glass is still hard to break sometimes, even when we meet fantastic people.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Emily @Travelated

    11. Nov, 2011

    This are fantastic tips–thank you! My significant other and I will be going to Europe next summer, and I’ll keep these things in mind :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      29. Nov, 2011

      Do let me know how it went – I’d be curious to know if couples end up behaving the same way!

      Reply to this comment
  10. Pete

    18. Nov, 2011

    In regards to the planning bit, we take a different approach. Spontaneity is what we’re all about now. We used to have an idea what we would do when we show up in a city, but now we show up and let the city and its locals do its own talking. Albeit we tend to spend a good amount of time in each location we settle down in.

    If you are on a short schedule then maybe a little planning is in order (or at least a trip to the tourist office or some travel blog research).

    Too funny about your shower curtain map, I’m off to find out where Djibouti is :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      19. Nov, 2011

      Thanks for your comment, Pete!

      I think that the amount of time spent in a city can definitely impact the overall spontaneity – the more time, the more you can afford to wander and not stick to particular areas. If you only have a few days, planning is required at some point. Glad you can relate to my experiences :-)

      Reply to this comment
  11. Violette

    29. Nov, 2011

    Long distance relationships are so hard! Thanks for the tips.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Pam

    29. Nov, 2011

    I’ve never had to experience long distance relationships myself, and knock on wood, I wish i won’t!

    Reply to this comment
  13. Andrew

    09. Jan, 2012

    My wife and I are getting used to all of this as well. The expat culture-shock part as well as the traveling together and apart. We find we travel far better together rather than solo. 90% of the time if one person is having a bad day, the other isn’t, so it balances out. We’ve started to learn on those rare times when we both are out of it to just stop and talk.

    The social aspect traveling is a big one. We sit in seats together on the bus/train and would rather spend time together somewhere than in the common room. We need to practice, but have been married less than a year and spend enough time a part at this point. We will hopefully get better.

    Reply to this comment
    • Marie

      25. Jan, 2012

      Glad to see I’m not the only one who has trouble opening up to strangers! Traveling in couple makes it really hard to meet people, despite the popular belief. I really have to work on that!

      Reply to this comment
  14. Michelle

    04. Feb, 2012

    I laughed when I read your bathroom part, when I lived in a studio apartment in Vancouver I took more baths living there then I had before in my life or since!

    I used to be very much a solo traveller, enjoying the spontaneity and surprise of who you would meet along the way. After years of solo travel though I hit a wall on a trip around Ireland and realized I had had enough and would prefer to have someone there I care about to share the memories with. I still travel on my own very occasionally but only for short weekenders.

    Reply to this comment
    • admin

      14. Mar, 2012

      That’s the biggest problem for me – spending time alone or planning by myself is fine, it’s the memory-sharing part I have trouble doing alone. I’d much rather have it with a special someone or a friend!

      Reply to this comment
  15. Joe W

    13. Mar, 2012

    we are planning on getting on the road hopefully next year, we’lll see how that goes. At least now I got a better idea of what to expect.

    Reply to this comment
    • admin

      14. Mar, 2012

      You just have to be patient, respectful and open-minded, for everything to work. Good luck :)

      Reply to this comment
  16. This all sounds so familiar! When I moved from Canada to England to be reunited with my UK boyfriend things did not go as smoothly as expected. I found it much harder to settle into life in the UK and I hated living in Liverpool! I spent a lot of time being a hermit in our apartment. It really tested our relationship for the first few months, but we made it through.

    I actually found the opposite to be true in regards to making friends. As my boyfriend was in school and I was working we made no mutual friends. Either we went out individually with our own friends or one of us was kind of dragged along and left feeling a little awkward. I think our experience in Liverpool would have been much better for the both of us if we had managed to find some couple friends that we were both comfortable with.

    Luckily, I had a back garden and seperate bedroom to go and sulk in though. I did a lot of reading in bed those first few months!

    Reply to this comment

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