It seems that within the travel blogosphere, there are two types of travelers: those who are single and travel solo, and those who are romantically involved and travel as a couple. There aren’t too many folks out there like me, who have a significant other (in my case, my boyfriend Marc) but who still choose to travel solo.
I am very lucky to have a boyfriend who doesn’t mind his girlfriend going off to gallivanting around the globe without him, who understands my need to travel. Marc enjoys travel himself, but in the more traditional sense of a vacation or two a year to a given location, with some sightseeing involved. You see, Marc grew up in the Foreign Service. Born to an American father and a French mother, he spent his first 6 years living in France, and then lived, over the next 10 years of his life, in Yugoslavia (back when it still was Yugoslavia), Benin, Guinea, Botswana, and Nigeria, before being sent to the US to attend boarding school there when no suitable school was found for him at their post at the time. Marc has traveled extensively, but after spending the first 16 years of his life as an expat, he is happy to finally be able to be in one place for awhile (his job is tied to the government, meaning he has to live in the DC area). I understand and respect this. He also understands and respects my nomadic tendencies.
Marc started dating me about 4 months before I left for my year in Korea. He was fully aware that he was becoming involved with a girl who was about to be 10,000 miles away for the next 12 months. I had been planning my year in Korea for long before I met him, and was not about to change my mind, and he felt it would be wrong of me to do so just so I could stay near him. We talked extensively about how this would effect our relationship and decided to have a go at it anyway. We decided to try and maintain our relationship while I was overseas by chatting daily (or near-daily) over skype, instant messenger, and emails. If things ended up not working out, well, I was already living apart from him, so it would be a clean break. Thankfully, we made it through my year in Korea without any major bumps and we moved in together when I returned. We’ve been together for over two years now and we both feel that our relationship was actually strengthened by being long distance so soon after we got together. We know that we made it through the difficulty of being 10,000 miles apart for a year (minus the 3 weeks he visited me in Korea), and so everything after that seems like a cakewalk.
One of the reasons that Marc and I are able to make things work is because we take advantage of eachother’s preferences, and we try to see everything as a strength, rather than a weakness. In having a boyfriend who has a career that ties him to our location here in Washington DC, rather than losing a travel companion I have gained a trustworthy caretaker for our cats and our stuff. In having a girlfriend who likes to travel around the world, rather than losing a companion who greets him after a hard day at work Marc has gained a girlfriend who does neat things like motorcycling around Korea, and who he never has to worry will fill up the apartment with expensive clothes and housewares. Marc is sort my rock, my home base. I can be a flighty person and I know myself well enough that without something to give me stability in life, I tend to drift aimlessly, and not in a good way. I like having a boyfriend and two wonderful cats to come back to and tell about my travels (well, I tell Marc – the cats just chew on my souvenirs), and he likes getting to live vicariously through me without having to give up a career he has worked hard for. Through my traveling, we also both end up getting our necessary “alone time” – something crucial in a relationship between two independent people. Our time apart allows us to maintain our identities as individuals, rather than only two halves of a whole.
Don’t interpret my detachment as a lack of desire to travel with Marc. It’s anything but. I love Marc, and when we do travel together I find that he is an excellent companion. Like me he would rather see the locals than the “sights”, he is very low-key and flexible, and he takes things in stride when they go wrong. We both have similar interests (cultural and historical stuff, rather than bars and social stuff), which makes it easy to plan our days. I prefer to take the lead when we’re traveling, and Marc is more than happy to sit back and let me do the legwork when we’re on the road together.
Something a lot of folks don’t realize about us is that we actually do travel together quite often. We drive anywhere from 1-6 hours two or three weekends a month to attend reenactments together, and Marc enjoys urban exploration, which takes us to some pretty nifty nearby locations. Sure, these aren’t “vacations” in the traditional sense, but it’s time that we spend together, away from home, enjoying ourselves and engaging in our hobbies. If that’s not travel, I don’t know what is. Plus, we do tend to take at least one major trip together per year, which satisfies our desire to experience the world together.
There are a few things I consider to be key if you want to travel but your partner doesn’t have the travel bug. Here are some of them:
1. Respect. Your partner isn’t just your partner, they’re another human being. It is not their job to be constantly at your side, nor should they sacrifice their happiness for yours. This applies to both sides, as I feel it is just as unfair for a more stationary partner to try and keep a traveler at home as it is for a traveler to try and drag an unwilling, more home-based partner around the globe. Similarly, don’t judge. Being a nomad is no more “valid” of an existence than being a homemaker, and I hate it when I see travelers reject perfectly good partners just because they don’t want to drag a backpack around the world for 9 months of the year. Similarly, the partner who stays home shouldn’t see the traveler as “immature” or “escaping reality”. It’s completely possible for a traveler and a stationary person to be in a relationship, but it means that they have to respect eachother and their differences.
2. Acceptance. You cannot, and should not, change people, so don’t even try. This goes heavily hand in hand with the first item on the list, respect. Accept that you will not always be with your partner, and you will find that really, you don’t always need to be.
3. Work out arrangements for what you will do about your household while you’re apart. Should the traveler pay a full half of the rent/mortgage even though they’re not there to use the housing? If you’re going to be apart for a year or more, would it make more sense for the stationary partner to move to a smaller, cheaper place? What about storing the traveler’s stuff? Does the traveler want everything to be left in place, or can belongings be put into boxes in the closet to free up some space? These are all things that need to be discussed.
4. As hard as it is to do, talk about what will happen if one of you meets someone else while you’re apart. Discus all the scenarios. What if it’s just a fling? What if it’s something more serious? Will you break up? Will you ignore it and stay together? If you break up, what will happen to the traveler’s stuff back home? As scandalous as this may sound, Marc and I have an arrangement that when we’re apart, we’re each allowed to have flings, as long as the fling-partner knows from the get-go that we’re not available, and that it’s just a fling. We also have a do-ask, do-tell policy. It may sound weird, but really, it’s better to know than to not know, and we both find that it actually eliminates, rather than creates, jealousy and paranoia. As for what we’d do if something serious occurred and we broke up while apart? We have that worked out as well. These are hard discussions to have with your partner, but they are crucial. If something happens while you’re 6,000 miles apart and you break up, the last thing you want to be doing is crying over the phone, wasting your minutes trying to figure out what to do about your shoe collection or your dachshund, Millie.
5. Think long and hard about your living arrangements. If your apartment is only going to be inhabited by two people for half the year, do you really need all that much space? The larger the residence the more empty it’s going to feel with one inhabitant, so if you will be frequently separated, you might want to downgrade to a smaller, cozier place that won’t be as much of a reminder of your absence. If you’re going to be away for a long time (6+ months) and your partner is particularly social, he or she might want to consider getting a friend in need of a place to stay to move in while you’re away.
In the end, there’s no reason that couples have to travel together, nor does being romantically involved with a non-traveler mean that you have to stay at home all the time. In fact, it can really work out for the best. If you have a partner at home, you may both have to make some compromises (maybe you travel twice a year for three months at a time instead of in one, 6-month long stint), but I feel that if you have a good, strong relationship, it’s worth a little compromise. Your relationship will likely be strengthened, rather than weakened, by your time apart, and it will help you grow both as individuals and as a couple.
I would love to hear responses on this from all types of travelers: solo nomads, traveling couples, folks like me who are attached but still travel alone, etc. The travel blogging world can sometimes lack variety in voice, and I would love to hear from many perspectives on this.
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