Backpacking with a significant other
Updated: May 4, 2019
Traveling for an extended period with a significant other is an experience that most couples do not get to have. No matter how many years you have been with someone, there is nothing like spending every waking hour of a day with the person you love (let alone anyone other than yourself), short of actually doing it.
It seems like 2 camps of thinking are at play when it comes to traveling for so long with the person you love. When we told people we would be traveling for 4+ months, we’d usually get one of two responses. The first was something like, “Wow! What an amazing experience you two get to have. How special.” The second was a bit more weary and might say something more along the lines of, “Wow, that’s a lot of time to spend together, good luck!” While most people fell into the first, nearly everyone also acknowledged the challenges of spending so much time together, in general and specifically for us as a newlywed couple embarking on this months-long journey.
It’s also worth noting that Will and I have always been a couple who prides ourselves on our individuality and love each other more for the strong friendships we harbor and interests we find outside of our relationship. We of course think about each other with every decision we make, but we by no means are the type of couple who spends every minute together when not at work, often doing our own thing in the evenings or weekends.
A trip like the one we are on is in many ways a petri-dish for potential fights. There are seemingly unending factors that are constantly floating around, just egging on an argument. Beyond the fact that you’re spending 24 hours together for days on end, things like long travel days, general exhaustion, heat exhaustion, not understanding something in the local language or culture, miscommunications (with each other or locals), feeling scammed, uncomfortable accommodation, occasionally limited food options, etc. With all of that, it’s nearly impossible not to get into it as some point, and we’ve of course had our moments. Any disagreements we’ve had thus far have been minimal and short lived. When they do happen we have gotten stronger as partners and travel companions, usually learning something about ourselves and each other in the process, and hopefully preventing something similar from happening down the road.
What are our strategies?
Set Expectations: Before we left, we talked about this A LOT. We agreed that neither could be mad if the other needed a ‘me day’. We acknowledged that if and when we realize that for ourselves, it’s important to make it happen. We imagined some days where Will would do one thing and I would do another. Interestingly, this hasn’t happened to the extend we expected it to, but I think knowing the option is there gives us both peace of mind.
Together but alone time: Not feeling the need to break every silence by filling it with idle chatter and giving ourselves time to do our own thing (write, read, email, check instagram, research our next stop) is important. It can be easy for couple to feel like they have to fill every second with conversation, but it’s even more important to feel comfortable with silence when you already know everything about each other's’ day.
Taking turns with decisions: I’m not sure exactly how this started, maybe as a result of the point above. Regardless, I think this has helped us both with possible decision and planning fatigue. We still usually are very democratic about our decision process, but knowing who is leading the current dinner decision, for instance has been a good way to make sure we both have the opportunity discovery a new restaurant and cuts down on the less fun part of small every day decisions like that.
Acknowledging our daily needs: As I mentioned above there are a number of factors we’re dealing with on a daily basis. I’ve learned that I get really affected by the heat. I get cranky, uncomfortable and generally am not fun to be around. Tie that in with hunger and possibly a long travel day ahead and that is the end of me. So I’ve figured out to plan ahead, getting snacks, water, or whatever it might be that I need. While Will really doesn’t like wandering around a city trying to figure out where we should eat when he’s already hungry. He’s made sure we either have a place picked out, or allow time before Hanger has any chance of taking over. We’ve both been getting better at identifying things like this for ourselves and each other. By acknowledging how we feel and what we need, we can make easy changes like finding a day to just reset and relax or giving the other the reins for a little while.
Remembering we each have different needs & preferences: This is similar to the point above, but goes beyond the things we need to stay comfortable and happy daily. Sometimes we are too worried about the other’s happiness & comfort (which is sweet & necessary, of course) and as a result end up in a place where no one is happy because we aren’t getting what we need. From this we’ve learned that sometimes it’s important to focus on what we need individually and to remember that we are both adults who will take care of our needs (yes, I’m basically saying focus on yourself). A good example of this is with eating. I’m picky and don’t eat a lot of things Will enjoys. There have been times than rather making him compromise on a place, I’ll wait while he eats, knowing I’ll find something else to enjoy later.
Perhaps there is more that we are doing that we are not aware of, and undoubtedly my grandmother, sex therapist Dr. Jacqueline Rose Hott would have had a number of things to add, but I think we’re doing pretty damn well for the science experiment we’ve created for ourselves. We have possibly even gotten to the point of reading each other’s minds, though not sure yet if that is a good thing (Note: this is actually true, over the last week Will or I have made a comment unrelated to the current moment at hand only for the other to say, ‘I was just thinking about that.’ It’s happened several times, so much so that it’s getting weird.)
Hopefully we’re not testing our luck, but 2 months in and 2 more to go, we’re still enjoying each others company, aware of this unique opportunity and feeling incredibly lucky. And if you were wondering, Will agrees, I’m reading it from his mind across the table as I write.