The Way I Travel: Leaving the Boyfriend Behind

Note: This post was inspired by a question from Stephanie of 20-Something Travel. To ask your own question about the way I travel, please do so on the original post.

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.


  1. As someone who is currently quite single, I am often curious about how other people manage the demands of traveling and having relationships. It sounds like a big part of what makes this arrangement work for you is serious open communication.

    Thanks for sharing Kelsey!

  2. Yes, communication is key. I thought about making it a bullet point on its own, but it would have been really long (in fact, it could be a post on its own!) and I felt that it was better to go into a few of the specifics and show real examples of real communication.

  3. Bravo for being ‘out’ about your open relationship dynamic! Before I was nomadic, I was known in the polyamory world as a community organizer and activist. Something I haven’t brought as forward in my nomadic presence, but isn’t hidden either. And something I intend to bring back into my presence, as I suspect there are more of us open-relationship folks in the nomadic world than is told.

    Before I met my lifemate, Chris – I was living with another guy (F), that I had been with for many years. When F and I met, he had a job that had him traveling 3 or 4 weeks a month. That worked out fine for us – as we had a poly relationship, and I had other more local partners to keep me entertained. He eventually got burnt out on travel, found a local position and rejoiced in being stationary.

    However, I had a nomadic soul – and continued my travels solo, even though he was no longer called to it. I met Chris in the process of my travels, which was totally cool in my and F’s dynamic as polyamorous. Chris actually came to live with F & I for several months while the three of us explored how the new dynamic might work.

    In the end, F and I were on very different paths beyond stationary vs nomadic. We remain excellent friends to this day (in fact, just spent 10 days visiting), while Chris and I have embarked on building our partnership.

    While Chris and I identify as polyamorous, it’s not something we’ve actively explored in our travels. ‘Flings’ were never really my style anyway, I prefer deep meaningful relationships. Which are difficult to maintain multiple of when you’re flitting about :)

    So yes, I have explored being a solo traveler while having a stationary partner back home (and been on the other side, being more stationary while having a traveling partner). It was fun for a while, but I’m definitely much happier having a travel companion to share the everyday joys of travel with. I’m sure in the future, Chris and I will explore many dynamics of travel together and apart.

  4. @Cherie: Well, we don’t really identify as “poly”, because we’re not interested in having additional *relationships*. In fact, that’s what we explicitly *don’t* want. I have known many poly folks, including kids my own age who were raised in poly families, but it’s not a lifestyle for us. I am not a very romantic type, and it’s very rare for me to find myself attracted to anyone, be it physically or emotionally, so for me it would be pointless. Marc can’t stand drama, and sees no need to have more than one emotional relationship, but he does get lonely sometimes when I’m away, and I understand that, so he’s allowed to have flings if he wants to. The open relationship thing is 99% for Marc, which seems to often upset poly folks (because *gasp* it’s unequal!) but really, it’s mainly because I don’t care one way or the other. Does that make sense?

  5. Wasn’t even remotely suggesting that you identify as poly.. just acknowledging the openness about being in an open form of relationship. (I view polyamory, do-ask-do-tell, don’t-ask-don’t-tell, swinging, etc. – to all be forms of ‘open relationships – but not necessarily synonymous. Sorry if my language usage wasn’t clear.)

    And then further decided to share from my prospective, as you invited :)

    Your relationship dynamic makes total sense, and seems to be working great for you guys. And *that* is what matters. I’m not one of the die-hard poly types that gets my panties in a wad if other people don’t make the same choices I have. :) Because at my core.. I’m all about conscious living.

  6. @Cherie: Oh, I know, I was just clarifying, since some folks tend to distinguish between poly/open relationship. Sorry if I came off as defensive – many poly folks tend to get snippy about our “unequal” relationship and I kind of have an elevator speech, which you unintentionally got. 😉

  7. I’m actually ending a relationship once the trip begins. I’ll be gone for a year or so and we decided that if it works out when I get back, great. If not, at least he didn’t waste a year waiting around for me and I didn’t turn down anything on the road that could have progressed into more.

    However, he will be coming to visit time to time and that makes it a bit more complicated. I’ve decided not to fret about it now and just go with the flow.

    • I can see that being a good tactic if you’re in a casual relationship. Unfortunately, I never have casual relationships (in fact, I’d argue that I barely date – I’m really picky so usually things progress extremely fast with me – I’ve lives with all but one of my boyfriends, for instance). Marc and I are invested in a long term relationship, so it makes more sense for us to remain together while allowing for dalliances when we’re apart.

      I’ve seen your tactic used to good effect though, including someone who had a “break up party”!

  8. I forgot to add that I’ve ended a pretty long relationship in the past specifically because he could not comprehend/support my desire to go wandering. He took it as a personal affront that I would want to “leave him behind.”
    Obviously not a particularly mature point of view (and not a very confident guy, we would have broken up eventually anyways I’m positive), but it has made me slightly wary when scoping out new partners. I don’t necessarily think I need a travel partner (although I’m not opposed to the idea), but I do need someone who is secure enough to let me follow my passions, even when they take me away from him. Sometimes it seems like a tall order.

    • @Stephanie: I don’t think it’s a tall order at all. In fact, respect for your partner’s interests should be standard, not an exception. Make it known from day 1 that you like to travel the way you do, and you’ll find it weeds out a lot of folks very quickly. Disappointing? Sometimes, but they’re not guys you would have wanted to be involved with anyway.

      I’m the same way not only with traveling, but reenacting. The person doesn’t have to be a reenactor themselves, but they need to be okay with me being gone at least twice a month at events and they need to think it’s neat, not silly. My ex constantly made fun of it and it was one of the things I was glad to be rid of when we broke up.

  9. This is a super interesting post, Kelsey…something I’ve never had to worry about at all. Seems like you two are both very unique individuals though, not sure how many other couples could do it. You’re both lucky!

  10. Jeremy and I backpacked together for eight months and though we had our difficult moments, I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have done it any other way. But I know that I’m not the “solo” type. We left each other in Korea and after one week apart on our own separate trips, we were too miserable to carry on. By week two, we were together again in Bishkek. :) We did do a month apart though when he went to Iran (no-go for us Americans) which was difficult but also good. We found that after a month apart, we were even more committed to each other and loved each other even more (distance/fondess thing).

    As for what it’s like to do some serious tramping with a partner, it’s a lot of fun and sometime quite useful. If you need to use the bathroom at the train station, you have a trusted friend to watch your bags. If you’re harassed by touts or drunk locals, someone has your back. If you find yourself at a particularly boring hostel, you have someone to play cards with (imo, the companionship is the best part). And if you’re tired, you have someone to carry your heavy camera gear!! :)

    Logistically, we made some decisions which helped us keep things uncomplicated like keeping our money separate but purchasing flights together. We did share a lot of expenses just because that’s how we are, but keeping our money separate kept each of us from feeling like we had to “take care of” or “financially support” the other. And it kept things a bit more equal.

    Sorry that was so long! :)

  11. @Kortney: I really can’t stand traveling with someone else for more than a few weeks at a time. Call it selfish, but I don’t like having to take someone else into account when I make my plans (or don’t make them, as is generally the case). I also tend to spend most of my time taking pictures while traveling, and that’s not very fun for a non-photographer to have to tag along to. Sure, it’s nice to have someone who can hold your bag, or play cards in a “boring” hostel, or watch your back. But…you can also learn to lighten your bag, get out and about rather than staying in the hostel, and learn to watch your own back. I much prefer to take care of myself, rather than have someone to take care of me.

    Then again, I also don’t really mind being apart from my significant others. I’ve had several long distance relationships in my life, and I have a very strong sense of self. I’m very independent, and in fact, even when I’m living with someone, I have to be apart from them for at least a few hours a day or I start to go crazy. When I was a kid I wanted to be a hermit when I grew up, and I’m still sort of like that. I’m just not all that fond of people, even the ones I’m fond of. 😉 If I had to take Marc along on the trips I make, I doubt we’d still be a couple!

  12. @Candice: Your comment has actually prompted me to write a follow-up post to this one, which I will post sometime soon! We’re both unique, but we’re not *that* unique. I honestly believe that any couple can accomplish this. It takes excellent communication, respect, and understanding, and you each have to have good self esteem and a solid sense of yourself as your own person, but these are also things that I feel folks in *any* relationship, traveler or not, should have. When I see couples who can’t stand to be apart, I seriously question their self esteem and seeming codependence.

  13. Funny about the hermit stuff! :)

    I hope I didn’t come off as though I were trying to “correct” your travel style! On the contrary, I think what you do is admirable! Travel of any kind and in any form is good if you ask me, so long as it doesn’t damage the environment or exploit local populations. Every person needs a bit of exposure to the “foreign” if we ever want to see real tolerance played out at home and abroad. So whether it’s solo or with another person, I think it’s good.

    That being said, obviously some people would ruin their relationships by traveling in pairs. It can be a bit overwhelming to be with one person all day, everyday for months on end and constantly thrown into stressful situations. It’s no surprise to me at all that some couples don’t make it through the trip. I consider us to be among the lucky ones. We often joke that we don’t need pre-martial counseling because backpacking together was sort of a trial-by-fire which we passed. :)

    • @Kortney Nope, I knew you weren’t trying to “correct” me, I was just trying to clarify! And yeah, I definitely agree that many couples would not make it through long-term world travel. I think it’s a good test of a relationship though, as you yourself experienced!

  14. I am one of you. I travel almost exclusively without my boyfriend, although I always want him to come. He likes to travel somewhat, but usually not to the places I’m interested in and not for the lenghts of time I want to go. He’s more into adventure travel and I’m more into absorbing the culture travel.

    It is difficult, and we don’t have any agreements like you and your boyfriend have, like what we’ll do if we meet someone else. We just figure we won’t. And I’m never away for more than several weeks at a time, so far, so for us, fortunately, it’s kind of a moot point.

    I love traveling alone. It’s a huge part of who I am. I’d love to have my boyfriend along sometimes, though. Still – and I think about this a lot – I’d almost certainly never have the getting-in-deep experiences I have if he or someone else was along. And it’s those experiences that I love the most.

    • @Sabina: I would enjoy having Marc along with me, but not for some of the longer stuff. We have similar interests when it comes to travel, thankfully, but travel, for me, is largely about experiences and self-discovery, and I find that difficult when someone else is with me. As you said, those experiences are the best part, and they’re the hardest to have when you have a companion next to you.

  15. TOTALLY agree with you Kelsey, it’s why I’ve been single for so long. 😉 Looking forward to the follow-up.

    • @Candice: I think that many of the reasons that folks aren’t able to leave a significant other at home have far more to do with their own self esteem than the state of the relationship or their partner. 😉 Isn’t it funny how those of us with good self esteem also frequently seem to be single? I think it’s hard for people to be in a relationship where they don’t feel “needed”, but I personally think that’s a healthy relationship. I’ll link to you in the follow-up!

  16. It’s interesting- and refreshing- to see how you make this work. I was in a long-term relationship with someone who had never traveled and had no desire to. After a while, I realized that if he didn’t even want to get a passport, there was no way he’d ever really want to travel the way I did. While I’m fine traveling alone (and I still traveled a good amount while we were together), I spent many trips feeling guilty for leaving him behind. It was simply a dynamic that never would have worked. And I’ll never forget the disbelief in a friend’s voice: “You’re with someone who doesn’t like to travel?!”
    Now I’m single and enjoying the freedom that lends me. It also has made me more aware of what to look for in someone: perhaps someone who loves to travel as much as I do, or perhaps someone who is comfortable with letting me pursue my dreams on my own.
    Either way, it’s nice to know that it’s possible to have a relationship that works with a nomadic lifestyle–and still gives you the independence to travel exactly the way you want.

  17. I stumbled upon this article while searching for an answer to my dilemma: My boyfriend also doesn’t care to travel, and while I don’t go on month- or year-long trips, I do feel guilty if I go backpacking for a few weeks without him. I also tend to get a lot of judgement from both friends and other travelers I meet, who imply that our relationship must not be going well if I am “running away from him”. Thank you so much for your tips, which I think will help out both my partner and I. And if you are ever looking for a travel companion, send me a message!

  18. OMG. I needed to read this. I JUST got off the phone with my BF and the conversation was a stressful one. I am living in South Korea right now and I also met him about two months before I had to leave. He actually asked me not to go! I came anyway obviously. It is getting to the point where I dont know if things will work out because I am trying to be understanding and I know he doesnt have the travel bug but he expects me to just stay within the USA. ;./ Im glad you have found a mutual understanding. I can only hope he and I come to some agreement before it is too late.

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