Long-term travel as a couple

Every couple on a trip will fight about something.

You’re going to get on each other’s nerves, argue about money, both have what you think is the best idea, deal poorly with a stressful situation and at least once or twice get hangry to the point where you can’t remember what started the argument. While travelling with a partner has a number of benefits compared to solo travel, it comes with its’ own challenges, especially when travelling long term.

Dinner and movie night

As we said our goodbyes to family and friends in Australia, a friend said “Wow. What a great test of your relationship!”

Up until then, we had been so focused on the planning of the journey that we hadn’t thought of our trip that way.  For at least the next year or two, we would be spending every waking moment with each other. Every week. Every day. Just about every hour.

In our non-travelling life, we had a balance of ‘us time’ vs. ‘me time’ that ticked over in the background of our week by week living much like many of our other routines. Now it would be different. In fact, every day would be different. We would be in a new place every day, facing new challenges, experiencing all kinds of ups and downs with only one consistent thing that binds it all into one piece: We would be doing everything together.

Pre-travelling life
Back before the Little Bike Ride, we were both worked 9-5 office jobs for 3 years to save up for our adventure and lived a typical city-dwelling lifestyle.

We’re often learning more about both ourselves and each other, even though we’ve known each other for over 4 years now. When we started we had near-daily high points where the days just flew by with how enjoyable they were. On the flip side we’ve had days full of disagreements, grumpy attitudes, and the occasional shouting match. We sometimes ride with enough distance between us so that we don’t have to talk to each other for the remainder of the day, or more often until we realise we can’t remember why we even started the argument in the first place. While those days are rare, they still happen, and we’re still learning how to spend each day together while living life on the go.

Bike shot

After three months travelling by bike, here are four strategies we’ve put in place to help us with this transition to living on the road.

Be aligned on the goals before setting off

It might seem obvious at first but the details can sometimes be both important, and at times, very inconspicuous.

The big goals are simple: Where are you going and how long do you want to be there?

The little details are things like: What kind of places do you want to spend your time at? How much travelling vs being stationary is comfortable for you? How frugal do you want to be with your money? How much time do you want to spend together every day?

Find your routine and stick with it

We’ve been following the same routine for the last three months now and it’s saved us a lot of arguments that previously came up in every day life. You didn’t do the dishes. Why are you always leaving your things around? Have you done x y or z yet? Sound familiar? Like all couples, these sorts of situations would come up in our pre-touring life. Apply the stress of travelling and the need to stay constantly organised, and these arguments are bound to come up.

Specific to bicycle touring, our routine looks something like this: Dan’s jobs are setting up and packing up camp, securing the bikes/gear, navigating,  and managing the website and social media. Erika’s jobs are cooking and cleaning, grocery shopping, organising where we’ll camp, and contacting Warm Showers or other hosts. There’s more jobs thrown in there between us, but you get the idea.

For your long-term backpacking trip, delegated jobs could be finding accomodation, managing money, deciding where to eat, navigating public transport, driving and more. The important thing is to know who has ownership of the responsibilities to the point where it becomes a subconscious routine. Rather than arguing about the little things, wouldn’t it be nice to spend that time and energy on something positive?

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The shorter day agreement

We have an agreement that, no matter what the circumstance, either one of us can end the day’s travelling at any point. You could be feeling ill, sore, over-heated, down, or simply sick of jumping on the bike every day. The moment one of us says they would like a short day, the day ends with however many miles that person chooses to ride (providing we can find a place to camp).

While travelling, you could have an agreement that you have a day up your sleeve where you both just sit around a hotel watching movies and ordering room service. You could have a day where one person can carry the load of responsibilities to give the other person a break. These are just a couple ideas we’ve had. Insert your own preferred “way to spend your off day”.

We don’t often pull the trigger on these short days but knowing a judgement free break is available gives us both a boost to our willpower on days where it can be hard and we have to keep going. It’s kind of like going to work knowing you can have a short week if you want to – you just feel great.

Set aside ‘us time’ and ‘me time’

How do you set aside ‘us time’ when you’re travelling with each other almost every hour of the day? Isn’t that the very definition of ‘us time’? Well, for us, ‘us time’ isn’t cycling together, setting up camp, eating together, killing time in the evening or anything other part of a daily routine. ‘Us time’ is taking ourselves out of the travelling routine and doing something special.

For us, this might be jumping off the bikes at a nice city or national park. It could be going to a local festival. It could even be something as small as cooking some fresh food and watching a movie on our laptop on top of a picnic bench. In non-travelling life, how boring is it when you go week in, week out with the same routine? Travelling can sometimes be not too different. Sometimes you just have to break the routine and spend quality time.

So, what is ‘me time’? That one’s easy. It’s time you have completely to yourself. Sometimes one of us might want to go out and see something while the other just wants to lounge around and browse the internet, read a book or go to a yoga class. For us, it’s important that, whenever you feel the need for some alone time, you can just put your hand up and say so without feeling you might be upsetting your travelling partner.

Peaceful spot to read

No matter what the situation, when you spend lots of time with one other person, there will be areas of compromise. Being aligned in your shared goals, checking in on how each other feels day to day, and setting aside alone time and time for you and your partner together are just a few small actions that may make a big difference to your trip together.

Hope you enjoyed reading how we make travelling as a couple work for us.

What are your tips for travelling with a partner or friend? Or, if you’re travelling solo, how do you make it work?

5 thoughts

  1. Dear Dan and Erika —
    What a brilliant post! Probably one of the most useful bicycle articles I have read online – ever. With your permission, I would like to repost it on the Freewheeling Freelancer in early November.
    Smooth roads and tailwinds to you both.
    Jonathan

    Like

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