Traveling together can be a great way to get closer -- or possibly drive the two of you further apart. Here, how to navigate the friendly skies and sometimes bumpy roads with ease.
The first time my husband Robert and I traveled together was a doozy. We had only been dating a few months and flew to Jamaica for a long weekend. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Could our youngish relationship take the strain? There would be no separate apartments to decamp to if the proximity got too intense. We'd have to agree on casual or fancy for dinner, and whether to hit the beach or lounge in the shade -- a big issue, since I can spend all day at the shore, while his fair skin can't take too much exposure. That trip was a test and, thankfully, we passed -- with the help of liberal applications of SPF 30 and a few well-timed breaks from each other.
If you and your mate are set to hit the highways and byways on a vacation, know that your trip -- from planning, packing, and traveling, to your time at the destination -- can bring you closer together, or reveal potential rifts in your relationship.
Figuring out what kind of vacation you both want is your first potential minefield. Our Jamaican jaunt was my idea, and the very fact that my freckled honey agreed helped to cement my growing feelings for him. Here, tips on how to plan a holiday you'll both enjoy.
- Pick a planner. If one of you is more organized -- or pickier -- then leave the tactical details to him or her. "I'm a pathological planner, so I organize our trips," says Robin, 42, an art director in New York.
- Be open to new ideas. Rebecca, 34, a public relations exec in Miami, and her husband, Dimitri, decide on trips democratically enough. "I'll say, 'Let's go here,' and he'll say, 'Sure, why not,'" she says. Other times, "We'll see something on television or read about a destination in the newspaper and we research that together."
- Compromise. "I'm happy to sit on a beach all day, drinking frozen margaritas and going for an occasional swim," says Debbie, 36, an editor in New York. "But my husband, T.P., says that the sand gets in his butt, and he doesn't like swimming. He'd prefer to sail all day. So we look for resorts with nice beaches that keep sailboats handy for guests."
Let's face it -- different folks have different travel styles. Carol, 60, and Frank, 66, a retired couple in Jupiter, Florida, enjoy all-inclusive spots, where they don't have to think about where they'll eat and play. They also enjoy group tours, where they'll be assured of not missing the highlights of any destination. Meanwhile, Michele and John, a 30-something pair in Whitestone, New York, are so anti-planning they've been known to show up at a destination with little more than a hotel reservation, and then figure out where they'll go and what they'll do. Here's how to lay the groundwork for a trip you'll both love.
- Plan in harmony. My husband and I do pretrip groundwork separately. He'll spend hours online, e-mailing me links to restaurants, museums, and the like. Meanwhile, I haunt the travel section of the bookstore, searching for the best all-around guidebook, and buying maps. Between the two of us, we hammer out a mutually desirable itinerary.
- Pack wisely. If packing tends to be an area of conflict, be smart and leave it to the one who is more interested and better at assessing just how much to bring. "If I let Dimitri do the packing, we'd live out of backpacks," says Rebecca. Your other option is to each pack your own bag. That way, the person who would bring a winter coat to Hawaii "just in case" won't frustrate the other one who'd prefer to toss in a few t-shirts and wing it.
- Make lists. The first thing I pull out to prepare for a trip is pen and paper. I write down literally everything we'll need, then I tell my husband what items of his to set aside. For example, he may need a sports jacket and good shoes if we're planning to eat at nice restaurants.
You've chosen a spot, you've taken the plane, train, or automobile, and now you're there. What's next? Once you're at your destination, you have to deal with potentially differing styles in activities, schedules, budgets, and more.
- Accentuate the positive. Discover activities you mutually enjoy. "We both like to explore the towns we are in, and spend most of our time together, finding the unique and/or genuine aspects of the destinations we visit," says Rebecca.
- Find fun in offbeat ways. "Sometimes when we go away, we play a game we call the 'witness protection program,'" says Debbie. "Even if we'll be in the same town for a week, I'll book us into several different hotels, so we switch places every couple of days. For some reason, we find that highly amusing," says Debbie.
- Let the better navigator plot the route. Once you're at your destination, discuss how you'll handle local transportation. "[My husband] Andy does most of the driving and map reading, but I tend to have a better memory for directions in places we've been before," says Robin.
- Sort out budget issues. "T.P. used to book us into Econo Lodge-type places to save money," says Debbie. "We stayed in some really marginal places. I finally got him to spend even $20 or $30 more to stay in a hotel that at least doesn't have paper-thin walls." Your best bet: figure out how much you have to spend before you leave, planning for bigger expenditures like dinners out or guided tours, so you don't end up having fights over money.
You and Me: 24/7
If you've planned well, packed wisely, and gotten to your destination intact, will your relationship flounder or thrive on the intense contact a vacation provides? Vacations have the potential to bring you closer as a couple, as you discover activities you both love, and see and do things together for the first time. But a small room in a strange city can also make you feel claustrophobic. Be sure there are one or two activities each of you can indulge in separately, if that's your thing.
- Take a voyage of discovery. "Our first trip together was to the Pacific Northwest," says Robin. "We had no reservations, we just drove around exploring the area. It was a wonderful, carefree time. We were totally in sync."
- Take time off. Even if you both are dying for that ski trip together, you need not take every run side by side. Let him go off and try the black diamond trail, while you read a book by the fire. On a trip to New Hampshire a few years back, my husband I split up for an afternoon of solo shopping, then met up for a drink. You don't even have to leave your room to separate; even an hour by yourself in the bathtub while he naps or reads can recharge the romance.
- Be open to new experiences. "Traveling has brought us closer together," says Debbie. "Once, T.P. suggested a rustic resort on the coast of Maine. It didn't sound like me at all -- I'm a city gal -- but I gave it a shot. Once we got there, I was so enchanted by the beautiful shoreline and the little lobster boats, that I didn't mind the saggy beds and see-through towels. I think it made us realize we had more in common than we thought."
- Have a laugh. My husband and I arrived for our much-anticipated honeymoon at a Caribbean resort that ended up being abysmal. We searched for and found another, nicer place on the other side of the island, but we still had to make the best of a bad situation for a few days. Nearly three years later, the laughs we have about the droning, dripping air conditioner, the muddy beach, and the indifferent service remind us that, sometimes, you really can travel on love alone.
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