We knew that traveling together for a year would be the ultimate test of our relationship. We joked about this make-it-or-break-it situation. Now engaged, here we know that this journey has only made us stronger. But, more about the truth is that we fought a ton right before leaving and during our first month traveling.
It was a big change to shift from our independent daily routines at home to spending nearly 24/7 with one another (not to mention dealing with the stress of travel). But since then, drug we’ve made some changes in our relationship. Here are some ways we’ve managed not to kill one another…
10) Define Roles: Our biggest conflicts came from us two control freaks trying to do too much with all hands in everything. I hated every moment learning HTML to update the website. Jenni grew frustrated writing press releases. We learned to leverage our strengths. As a social worker, I’m a natural networker. I become in charge of finding the Supergays, spreading the word about our website, and handling public relations. Coming from the tech world, Jenni had the best skills to create the videos, manage photography and video data, and create our website. We now have a better appreciation for each other’s unique skills, and we stick to the things that we’re best at.
9) Share the Big Stuff: After we learned How Not to Budget, we realized that handling the finances was too big a job for any one person. So, now I keep daily track of our spending on a spreadsheet while Jenni runs a monthly report using Quicken. Our tallies still depress us, but by sharing the responsibility we only have ourselves to blame. We also share the responsibility for travel planning. Jenni made the arrangements for China, Taiwan, and New Zealand where she spoke the language and had contacts. I booked everything for Australia and the Philippines where we stayed with my family.
8) Cruise Captain of the Day: Our friends and fellow world travelers, Kelly and Aaron, suggested this idea that we used for several months. On even calendars days, I put on the figurative hat of Cruise Captain and on odd days its Jenni’s day. The Cruise Captain gets the power to plan the day’s activities and have the final word on any decision. This structure helps us to share responsibility and make definitive decisions. We also periodically rely on the scientifically proven rock-paper-sissors method as well as the flipping-a-coin method to decision making.
7) Journaling: Jenni has become an avid fan of daily journaling. I swear that half of her entries begin….”Lisa drives me crazy because…..” Journaling has helped her to sort through her thoughts, explore the source of her feelings, and not blame me (at least right away) for everything.
6) Bring a Book to a Meal: Most days, we sit down for three meals together. We enjoy each other’s company and can hold conversations for hours. I’m the type of person who insists on turning off the TV while having a meal to focus on conversation. But after spending a full day together, it can be refreshing to check out for a bit with a book during meals. We’ve downloaded books and magazines onto our Kindles. Most days over breakfast and lunch we read our Kindles and then have something more to talk about.
5) Invite New Friends to Join You: We really try not to be one of those unapproachable couples sitting down together closed off to everyone else. Recently in Taiwan, we invited a couple of solo European travelers eating alone to join us. We spent the following four days sharing all our of meals with them and going on a couple of day hikes with them. We also love having friends from home come to visit us. Jenni’s coworker Dave and his wife Laura were the first friends to meet up with us this year, and we shared an unforgettable ten day trek with them in Nepal.
4) Know When to Give in: Australian Supergay and former High Court Judge Michael Kirby, taught us this very valuable lesson that he has learned in order to stay happily married with his partner of forty years. He told us, “I always give in. I always look at the big picture.” Jenni and I try to remember that fighting to win an argument or keeping tabs doesn’t lead to the healthiest relationship.
3) Treat Yourself on Special Occasions: We’ve been staying in the budget $4-$25 a night hostels, but for our birthdays and anniversary this year we’re using Jenni’s Starwoods points that she’s hoarded from her business travel days. We spent five nights at the Westin in Bali for Jenni’s 30th and already have five star places in India and Brazil booked for my birthday and our third anniversary. An occasionally luxury (and good bathroom for scrubbing) is the best way for us to keep up the romance.
2) Spend Some Time Apart: We actually spend far less time apart from one another than we originally thought. At home, we’re pretty independent individuals. During a typical work week, we have our separate schedules and social appointments and don’t see each other most days until bedtime. Abroad in the developing world, it is often most safe for us to stick together at all times. But we try to find time (usually going for solo runs, walks, or trips to the supermarket) to have some time to ourselves.
1) Practice Using the Word “I”: Before meeting Jenni, I was single for many years. Couples used to drive me crazy by using the word “we” so much. Having drinks recently with a single Australian traveler, I realized we had become that couple! Trying not to become overly enmeshed or co-dependent, I ask myself often….What do I want, feel, need? Once I can identify that and regain my own sense of identity, I usually slip right back into couplehood as a better partner.