Mango Shaved Ice in Taipei

How we’ve Survived Travelling as a Couple

Andrew and I met almost ten years ago, at an 80s-themed nightclub in Bristol. When I first clapped eyes on that drunken, long-haired version of Andrew I never would have guessed that a decade on we’d be living in Vietnam together. How did those two students, with their uncertainties and unmade plans, end up fusing their lives together? More impressively, how have we managed to travel together non-stop for the last two years without killing each other?

Posing at the Valley of Love in Dalat

Posing at the Valley of Love in Dalat, Vietnam

The Perils of Travelling with a Partner

I’ve found long-term travel to be an intense lifestyle choice; while you’re on the road you can have the most incredible life-altering experiences as well as the most awful. You might be standing on top of a mountain one day feeling invincible, yet cramped into a tiny bus surrounded by vomiting passengers and live chickens the next day. All relationships have their challenges, no matter where or how you live, but I think the intensity of travelling as a couple can really make or break a relationship.

Mango shaved ice in Taipei

We often argue over food like this delicious shaved ice in Taipei

When we lived in London, Andrew and I worked a lot and saw each other for just a few short hours each evening, our lives felt quite separate. That all changed when we boarded a plane to New Zealand almost two years ago. Think you know your partner? Once you’ve spent every waking hour together for months on end and shared the highest of highs and the lowest of lows – the skydives, jungle treks, pink-tinged sunsets and the dodgy stomachs, hellish journeys and crippling bouts of homesickness – you’ll know each other on a whole new level. If you’re anything like Andrew and I, this will result in plenty of arguments along the way.

The View of Mount Doom from Mount Tongariro

A travel highlight we shared – hiking Mount Tongariro in New Zealand

It’s a sad fact that when you’re pissed off or upset you’ll likely take things out on the person closest to you because you know that they’ll forgive you for it. And when you travel with your partner, well, there’s usually no one else around to take it. Who else could I cry to when I got homesick in Indonesia? Who else was there to put a wet sock on Andrew’s forehead when he had a fever in Laos? Who could we complain to but each other when we were experiencing yet another Asian bus journey from hell?

Us in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Cruising Halong Bay on my birthday

The good news is that these travel trials have ultimately pulled us together and made us stronger but I’m not going to lie, Andrew and I have had some pretty huge fights while travelling. It’s not really a surprise that most of the things we argue over are trivial – when you’re together all the time, tiny things become magnified. Andrew’s snoring after a few beers, for example, when to turn the air con off or my fussy eating habits. In New Zealand  we had a bizarre argument that raged for hours over which sport we thought required the most skill. I can’t even remember how that started now or why it became so heated.

Us in Golden Bay, New Zealand

We were so happy on our New Zealand road trip

Most of our arguments, though they may be fierce, pass quickly. I remember the hot fury of having to trek up Ben Lomand in Queenstown when I really didn’t feel like it, all because Andrew wanted to save a few pounds by skipping the cable car fee. After a furious exchange I don’t think I spoke to Andrew again until we got to the top of the mountain an hour later – then I saw the incredible view, took a ride on the luge and all was forgiven.

Us on the beach in Koh Tao, Thailand

Relaxing on Koh Tao in Thailand

How we’ve Survived Travelling as a Couple

Andrew and I argue most often when travel gets tough, when we’re sick, exhausted or not enjoying an experience. A familiar argument-inducing scenario goes like this: we arrive in a new destination after a long, cramped journey. It’s the middle of the night and we’re hungry, dehydrated and exhausted but we shoulder our heavy backpacks, fight our way through a scrum of taxi or tuk-tuk drivers and wander the streets of an unfamiliar town in the sweltering heat looking for a room. An hour later we’re still looking – and we’re arguing. Ultimately, what matters though is that once we find a room, get something to eat and have a good sleep we move on from those arguments quickly and don’t hold a grudge.

A Ride on the Bamboo Train in Battamabang

Riding the bamboo train in Cambodia

We’ve also learnt to anticipate when problems will arise. Andrew knows I’m not good in the mornings, so he treads carefully around me when I first wake up. I know that Andrew can’t function without regular hearty meals, so I make sure we take snacks on long journeys and feed him plenty of my dinner scraps. When we arrive in a new destination we often search for restaurants on Tripadvisor to take the stress out of wandering the streets, hungry, looking for a vegetarian meal that meets my fussy-eater guidelines. We make sure we talk a lot and make our plans together; we try to make space to do separate things, even if that means just reading in different rooms.

Us relaxing on Bottle Beach on Koh Phangan

More beach time on Koh Phangan, Thailand

Throughout our travels we’ve been in plenty of tough situations but actually, this usually pulls us together. When I was suffering from a mixture of travel burnout, culture shock and homesickness in Jakarta, having Andrew to talk to and read me Harry Potter books was the only thing that stopped me from booking a flight home. When a mosquito bit the inside of my lip and it swelled up to Elephant-Man-sized proportions, Andrew was ready to drive me to the hospital until a local nurse showed up offering help. Similarly, when Andrew was extremely sick on the Gili Islands I upgraded us to an air con room, made him drink ginger tea and put a cool, wet sock on his forehead. When we’ve suffered more serious personal problems, we’ve pulled together and faced them. That’s how we’ve survived travelling as a couple.

Us at Taroko Gorge in Taiwan

Trekking in Taiwan together

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38 Comments
  • Katie
    Posted at 06:57h, 07 February Reply

    Such a lovely article; I think you’ve summed up the couple travel experience perfectly.

    Craig and I have been together for ten years this year, but even so I was intrigued as to what travelling would do to our relationship! When you are staying in a rather insalubrious hostel, with a dicky tummy and paper thin bathroom walls, it can be hard to keep the romance alive!
    I can totally relate to the stupid fights, and the lashing out when you are hungry/tired/hot – sometimes we are simply unable to resist the therapeutic relief of being a bit of an asshole for half an hour. But actually, fights seem less significant here. When you have only each other and you are on the other side of the world it seems kind of stupid to hold a grudge beyond the heat of the moment and it has taught us to be more understanding, more tolerant and less stubborn.
    I’ve been ill and homesick a couple of times, and it’s at those times when Craig is so understanding and caring that I feel very lucky we have each other.

    We don’t spend much physical time apart, but like you said even just reading and having some “mental space” is a great way to refresh. We also have little projects we work on separately – Craig works on some IT wizardry (and thus concludes the depths of my understanding) while I enjoy writing and keeping a journal. We also try and go out for a “date” every so often – I put on my (only) nice dress and a bit of make up, and it feels nice to go out for a beer and a bite to eat like we would do at home.

    Travelling is ace, but I think the challenges you face (and hopefully overcome!) as a couple on the road benefit you long after you hang up your backpack.

    Also, I love the image of the cool wet sock on a fevered brow – that’s both very sweet and very practical!

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:40h, 07 February Reply

      Yes, the sock was all that I could find at the time but it did the trick 🙂 You’re right, it does seem stupid to hold a grudge when you only have each other while you’re travelling. I think if your relationship can survive travel it can survive most things 🙂

  • Ben
    Posted at 10:54h, 07 February Reply

    This really made me and Hannah laugh. I can only imagine what it must be like and we are only a month in! The trivial sport argument in particular sounds like something that me and Han would bicker about 🙂 How do I cope? The 24 pack of beer Ha Noi above the fridge helps XD

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:53h, 07 February Reply

      Glad we’re not the only ones who argue over trivial things! It seems like you guys are doing great so far though; the odd beer Han Noi never hurt anyone either 🙂

  • Helen
    Posted at 13:52h, 07 February Reply

    We are finding the same thing too. Hunger, tiredness, stressful situations and one of us might flare up, but after everything is resolved no grudges are held and we are back to normal. I feel so lucky though to have been able to spend what has ultimately been quality time with Alan, it has definitely made us stronger as a couple. Most couples don’t do 24/7 living until they are retired. Enjoyed reading this post.

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:51h, 07 February Reply

      Thanks Helen, I’m glad you can relate. We have our share of arguments but I think what matters is being able to put them behind you and move on quickly.

  • Stefan Arestis
    Posted at 16:13h, 07 February Reply

    We find our arguments and tantrums are as a result of fatigue and/or hunger… Slowly learning to deal with it too.

    Nice photo in Koh Phagnan. We avoided it like the plague and still unsure if we regret doing this. How did you find it? (We just returned to Koh Tao to do our advanced scuba as it’s much cheaper doing it here then anywhere else)

    • Amy
      Posted at 17:07h, 07 February Reply

      We stayed well clear of the full moon party area of Koh Phangan and went to the quieter side of the island where we found some beautiful calm and unpopulated beaches: Haad Salad and Bottle Beach. Have an awesome time in Koh Tao, that definitely seems like the best place to do your diving; we snorkelled at the Japanese Garden and it was amazing 🙂

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 17:58h, 07 February Reply

    I always thought Tony & I had a rock-solid relationship before we left to travel—yes, we fought occasionally, but very rarely and for the most part were very harmonious.I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that our first month on the road was actually the worst month of our relationship: We were constantly bickering and were so angry and hostile towards one another. The stress of planning and leaving on our trip just caught up with us and we found we didn’t know how to communicate given the new parameters we were facing. It took us about five-weeks of being miserable with one another to finally figure out how to manage being together 24/7 and learn to fight better in our new lifestyle. Of course we still blow up at each other every now and then, but for the most part we’ve adapted and are back to only the occasional big fight one or twice a year. Traveling definitely taught us that you can’t drag out a fight and how to be less personal in our fights as well—rather than making it about the other person, we try really hard to focus on what about the situation is making us unhappy and could potentially be fixed and that seems to have done wonders for us. It’s certainly not easy being with someone all the time but, like you guys, I know that our relationship is so much stronger now than it was before our trip.

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:14h, 08 February Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience Steph, it really illustrates how the difficult adjusting to a life of travel can be for a couple. The first couple of months of our trip in New Zealand and Australia were pretty carefree, mostly because we were travelling in such ‘easy’ countries – things got tougher when we hit Indonesia (as you know). Our relationship is definitely stronger now too after travelling through Asia together 🙂

      • Jenia from HTL
        Posted at 16:57h, 09 February Reply

        We had a very similar experience to Steph and Tony! We’ve been together for six solid years — and took on many experiences in stride, from moving in together to buying and renovating a house — but traveling together was hard, at first! We are pretty different people, and deal with stress, happiness and whatever incidents in different ways. Prior to travel we didn’t have to reconcile those differences as much, but being together 24/7 forced us to. Overall, it made us a better couple, but it wasn’t always easy.

        • Amy
          Posted at 11:55h, 10 February Reply

          Hi Jenia, Andrew and I also deal with stress very differently too (he is very laid-back while I’m not) and this caused arguments. Like you, we were forced to deal with those differences while travelling. You’re right, it definitely isn’t easy to travel as a couple!

  • Emily
    Posted at 19:18h, 07 February Reply

    I think that if you can travel with someone, even if there are those fights and hardtimes, and whether it’s with your partner or a friend, then you can likely make it through anything. Travel is challenging – it puts you out of your comfort zone and forces you to deal with change and differences head on. I have many friends who really can only travel to Developed nations because they can’t deal with the ‘chaos’ that other nations present to them.

    Ewan and I had our first trip together 11 years ago – 3 months backpacking. It could have been disastrous, but thankfully we both realized that we love travel and so it made a stronger bond between us. Of course we have had bad days while travelling, but we’re like you guys, we don’t hold a grudge and do our best to minimize the chance that we’ll have a blow out (plan in advance for food/accommodation on travel days, allow ourselves lazy days even if we feel obligated to go out and explore, take time to ourselves).

    • Amy
      Posted at 06:55h, 08 February Reply

      Hi Emily, we burned ourselves out with a fast-paced itinerary at the beginning of our trip, which added to the stress and resulted in more arguments; like you, we learnt to allow ourselves ‘days off’ from travel to relax and that really helped. You’re right, travel does force you to deal with changes and challenges, which is something we can put off in our ‘normal’ lives, it’s a great learning experience 🙂

  • Maddie
    Posted at 13:23h, 08 February Reply

    I love this article, something that all of us couples who have travelled can relate to! After spending 18 months together 24 hours a day I now feel absolutely rock solid in my relationship – I couldn’t believe I learned so much about someone that I’d already spent nearly a decade of my life with! We also learned to argue better, when to walk away and how to choose battles more wisely.

    • Andrew
      Posted at 13:47h, 08 February Reply

      I think we have learned to argue better and choose our battles too Maddie; it’s amazing what travel can do for a relationship!

  • Alyson
    Posted at 14:10h, 08 February Reply

    We were the opposite. I think because Chef and I set off on our first 12 month RTW within months of meeting we were still so totally loved-up that we never fought or argued, not even once. I took that as a sign we should get married. Now, 12 years past our wedding day in Sri Lanka, and 2 kids richer, I still count the arguments on one hand. We look after each other, compromise adapt and adjust, it’s just the way we are. ( should I say the way he is, I can be evil!)

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:08h, 09 February Reply

      I agree, being able to adapt, compromise and adjust is so important when you’re travelling with a partner. This took some time for us to learn but we haven’t had a big argument for some time now. Living in one place and having time apart from each other at work here in Vietnam has been good for us too I think.

      • Alyson
        Posted at 06:54h, 20 July Reply

        Update: Menopause. Been living it for 10 years, just through it now.Boy that messes with your head and perception of the world around you. Yes, when the hormones go crazy, life is difficult. I thought I was losing my mind at times, didn’t know what it was. But once I accepted that horrendous mood swing, usually only once a month, as what it was, we could move past it, it causes terrible anxiety too, so everything seems hard or frightening. But it’s over now, touch wood, just got bloods back that show it should be, anyway. So as a survivor of travelling with husband and kids through peri-menopause ( 39 – 49 years for me ), you may as well do it on the road as at home, it makes little-no difference and being alone or together, no difference, he could annoy me from a different country quite easily. But really, no, we don’t fight. If that makes sense. Not much anyway.

        • Amy
          Posted at 14:35h, 20 July Reply

          Hi Alyson, that sounds traumatic, I’m glad you’ve gotten through it now and are feeling better. From what I’ve seen you guys travel brilliantly as a family unit 🙂

  • Patti
    Posted at 16:07h, 08 February Reply

    I giggled my way through this post, Amy, not because arguing is funny, but because I could SO relate. Abi and I have been married for 37 years and as you know the last 4 years were spent running our B&B together. Those 4 years were probably the most challenging in our relationship because as you say, when you’re frustrated by some stupid thing said or done by someone else (usually a guest) you don’t have anyone to lash out at, other than your partner. The one who loves you the most even in your most ugly moments. I think if you can survive traveling together – or running a B&B together – your relationship can survive anything! 😉

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:10h, 09 February Reply

      I can’t even imagine how hard running a B&B with your partner is Patti! I would think that travelling together after that will be easy 🙂

  • Sarah Somewhere
    Posted at 17:15h, 08 February Reply

    Love this Amy! Relationships are no picnic, that’s for sure! We have had some epic fights across the globe which we have, thankfully, come out the other side of with more understanding about ourselves and each other. I think the dreaded apology is important. When you are on the road, you really rely on that other person and sometimes take them for granted, so its important for me to admit when I have been out of line. It’s not easy, because my pride wants to hold on, but I don’t have time to be miserable anymore. I like the quote, “It’s better to be happy than right.”
    We used to butt heads so much over stupid things; it’s a power struggle that most couples go through. These days I try to let go of things quicker and get myself back on track. In fact, I think this may be one of the greatest lessons of my travels – that I am responsible for my own mood and well-being! I love that you talk about the silly arguments and yes, when we were moving fast we definitely argued more than when we are settled in a place and can develop our own individual routine, hobbies, etc. Great post!

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:14h, 09 February Reply

      I like that quote too Sarah; Andrew and I both find it hard to admit when we’re wrong but travel has made us better at it. Now we’re living in Vietnam and have our own working routines we don’t fight much but it’ll be interesting to see what happens when we set off again later this year!

  • Kellie
    Posted at 18:11h, 08 February Reply

    I LOVE that you had an argument over which sport required most skill, this is hilarious!

    In 14 months Rob and I have mostly learnt a LOT about each others toilet habits. Unfortunate but true.

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:16h, 09 February Reply

      Yep, I definitely think that happens when you’re travelling Kellie, especially in places like Asia and from the sound of it, South/Central America 🙂

  • Rob
    Posted at 18:23h, 08 February Reply

    Well it’s obviously darts that requires the most skill 😉 It made me laugh out loud that sports argument.

    Me and Kel relate to practically everything you’ve written here, although we are both the ‘hangry’ types so if we both get low blood sugar level, decision making becomes impossible and grumpiness takes over. We are never without at least a snickers bar in our luggage.

    Our arguments are quick and fiery and we are usually laughing at the ridiculousness of the cause pretty quickly.

    Great post!

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:17h, 09 February Reply

      Good tip Rob, always carry a Snickers bar 🙂 Andrew and I can now laugh at that sports argument too but he still insists football requires the most skill which is obviously ridiculous – what about Ice Dancing or Ice Hockey? Anyone can kick a ball, not everyone can skate?!

  • Charlie
    Posted at 02:53h, 09 February Reply

    This is such a cute post 🙂 I can already see after only a few weeks of travelling as a couple that it’s not easy at times. Even when living together with my boyfriend I realize now we only really spent a few hours together each day during the week and had pretty individual lives, spending near every waking minute together is tough occasionally. But it’s the deeper understanding of each other that you gain (like how you mention you and Andrew know when and what to do when he other isn’t at their best) and being there for each other during the low times that makes the relationship. Kyle and I are planning to spend chunks of our trip travelling alone, I think it’s good for keeping things fresh and for a bit of a personal challenge too.

    • Amy
      Posted at 03:28h, 09 February Reply

      Yep, I definitely think Andrew and I understand each other a lot better after travelling together. I think it’s great that you and Kyle are planning to do some solo travel Charlie, Andrew and I haven’t done that yet.

  • Miriam of Adventurous Miriam
    Posted at 01:00h, 10 February Reply

    Yay, congratulations! I definitely agree that the intensity of traveling can make or break a relationship! If you survive it, you come out much stronger as a couple. Communicating and being there for each other is the key to a healthy relationship, and it sounds like that’s exactly what you’ve been doing. I’m so happy for you.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:56h, 10 February Reply

      Thanks Miriam 🙂 Things are easier at the moment because we have a stable work/life routine here in Hanoi but we’ll have to adjust again when we hit the road in June!

  • Yohana
    Posted at 14:44h, 10 February Reply

    Reading this post makes me happy. 🙂 Last month I traveled with my boyfriend for 2 weeks in Vietnam. It was my first backpacking trip and the longest one too. Furthermore, we’ve only been dating for a month or so. It might be too early in a relationship to travel together, but we did it anyway. I thought it will be a good way to see if we’re truly a match. The trip started very smoothly, but going into the second week, we began to have small arguments. For most couple, the first few months of a relationship is the honeymoon phase. That’s not the case for us. Traveling together had brought out the worst in us (in a good way). I discovered his lack of patience, while he found out about my indecisiveness. Somehow we managed to accept that we’re not perfect and the trip bonded us even closer.
    Btw, I’m from Jakarta and I read your post about it. I feel so sorry that Jakarta didn’t treat you well.. I experience the chaos and traffic every single day and it makes me wanna get away as soon as possible!

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:19h, 10 February Reply

      Hi Yohana, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I’m glad that your trip ultimately brought you both closer together with just a few arguments in the process! We do have good memories of Indonesia as a whole but Jakarta was just too much for us – maybe if we went back there now after having lived in Hanoi we’d cope better 🙂

  • Rhonda
    Posted at 20:29h, 10 February Reply

    You are so correct that traveling puts a completely different stress on a relationship. Jim and I are so fortunate that we travel well together and fight no more or less than usual (which isn’t much) but it is certainly magnified on long travel days, when lost, when you’re not feeling well, etc. Congrats on two years on the road!

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:59h, 11 February Reply

      Thanks Rhonda 🙂

  • Jenny @ Till The Money Runs Out
    Posted at 02:32h, 07 March Reply

    Lovely post! Tom and I have been travelling full time together for 4 years and we met for the first time just 5 years ago. We decided about 6 months after meeting to sell everything we own and start traveling the world together so I truthfully don’t even know what a “normal” relationship with him would be like! We’ve decided with some pretty solid math that every year on the road with someone is equal to 4 years in a “normal” relationship, which I guess means we just kind of celebrated our 17th anniversary 🙂

    • Amy
      Posted at 05:26h, 07 March Reply

      Ha, I love your maths Jenny! You were brave to travel together after such a short time but it sounds like things worked out perfectly 🙂

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