People often say that packing up and heading on a trip with your Significant Other is the ultimate test of a relationship. Travelling together’s on another level to other milestones like moving in together – you definitely learn a little more about each other when you’re together 24/7, often in close quarters. You’re sure to encounter rough times, tough decisions, conflicts of interest and, above all, experience incredible, life-changing adventures together; what better way to see if you really are compatible. Plus, there’s the inevitable food poisoning that comes hand in hand with it all and, let’s face it, if you still love someone while they’re face down on the bathroom floor covered in… I won’t finish that… then they’re probably a keeper.
1. The Decision
Before we even get into the trip, deciding to go away together can be seen as a pretty big step. My Boyfriend and I for one are not ones for taking it slow – we went on a two week holiday together for what was, essentially, our first date (it’s a long story) – but the decision to take a proper, pack-your-bags trip was still a big one, especially as it was open-ended. It was exciting, it cemented how we felt about one another and allowed us to really get excited about our future. Sure, we were totally broke and in no way could afford everything we had planned but we just saw that as a teeny tiny insignificant detail…
2. The Planning
Once you decide to go, that’s when the fun starts. You start saving, planning and researching together and your head is just full of ideas. You tag each other in every Social Media picture of amazing scenery you come across, you send each other countless articles, lists and tips, you talk about it ALL THE TIME to absolutely everyone and anyone who will listen (cue annoyed co-workers who, strangely enough, don’t want to hear about your plans to sip caipirinhas on Copacabana in the sun while they’re sitting at a desk in rainy England). I always seem to make this point but having something to look forward to is just the best and having someone to do that with makes it a hundred times better. To be honest, though, this stage is much the same as planning a trip with your best friend, it’s only once you take off that reality hits.
3. The Honeymoon
On second thoughts, reality doesn’t hit quite straight away, first there’s the wonderful honeymoon phase. Oh it’s just bliss. You’ve been planning and tracking and saving and making notes for what’s felt like forever and now you’re here. You may be gross and sweaty and cranky from the plane but that’s nothing you’ve not seen in your SO from a hangover day on the sofa in front of Netflix, so no real relationship bombshells just yet. My Boyfriend and I had been working so hard to save up for the trip and trying to fit in seeing all our friends and family before we left that we felt we had hardly spent any time together. Once we landed it was such a treat to just be together amidst the stunning backdrop of Rio. The honeymoon is the best; you’re free to just enjoy each others company and stroll around the city, eat amazing food and sample the local booze. It’s heaven… until Stage 4
4. The Irritation
This is where it shifts a little from travelling with a friend to with a partner. Spending all that time together in cooped-up hostel rooms and stifling buses inevitably leads to a bit of tension and frustration. The smallest of things start to annoy you, you completely lose the ability to make even the most basic of decisions, a minor hiccup in your day sets you off into either a blubbering wreck or a crazed maniac… all of this does not make such a happy couple. In a way, you still go through this phase when you’re travelling with a friend – you certainly start to grate on each other a little but here’s where it’s different: with your SO you’ve got a get-out-of-jail free card. You’re allowed to let the annoyances get to you, you don’t need to suppress them like you might with a friend, you don’t need to let it bubble away before realising you’re being stupid. You can embrace it, let it out, snap at each other, get in a massive mood, even scream at each other mid-hike if you so desire. They’re your Boyfriend, you’re allowed to be stroppy and stressy! I’ve been travelling with my lifelong best friend before – you can’t get closer friends than that – and whilst we definitely had a few frosty hours in mutual grumps, it’s nothing like how my Boyfriend and I behaved on particularly fed up days. Don’t freak out at this stage, it’s so normal and 9 times out of 10 you’ll realise you’re annoyed over nothing and make up over some local cuisine and cheap booze. Bonus tip: boys get hangry. If you’re not sure why he’s in a mood, stock up on snacks and re-assess in 20 minutes.
5. The Perspective
That brings me nicely onto Stage 5, when you’re suddenly struck by the beauty of your surroundings, the magnitude of the hike you’ve just accomplished or the wildlife right in front of you… how can you stay mad? You realise how lucky you are to be travelling this amazing world and to be sharing it with someone so close to you, how silly of you to be so upset that they didn’t want the fan on last night. It’s quite lovely actually, the moment you’re looking out at a breathtaking view and you reach out to hold their hand following your stupid little tiff – it’s a little way of saying ‘I’m sorry I was such a crazy bitch about you not rubbing my sun-cream in properly earlier, I love you really’ without saying anything at all.
6. The Illnesses
You all knew this stage was coming. It’s unavoidable, so you might as well accept now that if you’re planning on going away with your SO you’re gonna see a WHOLE lot more of them. You name it, it will happen; weird rashes in even weirder places, Cachaça-indused hangovers (the WORST), food poisoning on an overnight bus, simultaneous bouts of sickness with only one bathroom… I could go on. All of this brings you a lot closer together. If you’re at the stage of your relationship where you’re close enough to travel together you’re probably already past the point of really caring what you look like in front of one another, but it reaches a whole new – and a whole lot more disgusting – level when you’re away. When it’s 3am and you’ve been in the bathroom since midnight battling Delhi belly you’ll definitely be looking worse for wear, but will appreciate them being there more than ever. If you want to see your partner at their worst, hit up some back alley street food stalls and wait for the magic to happen. Besides, there’s something strangely romantic in riding out food poisoning with a loved one.
7. The Fights
You’ve already gone through the niggly little mini-fights that stem from the frustration of being in such close proximity for so long. Sometimes these aren’t even fights, just a day where you’re grumpy or snappy or barely speak. For any high drama fans out there, don’t worry, now’s your moment. You will have a couple of blow out rows. You will scream and cry and say things you don’t mean. It might take a while, but a couple of months in and these nearly-fights and grumpy days will explode into a shit-storm of a row, an explosive, shouty, messy burst of tears. Again, don’t worry. You don’t need me to tell you that all couples fight and that it’s healthy. Travelling magnifies everything; people you spend a week with become lifelong friends, day-to-day experience become cherished memories, mini-fights become big ones. It’s natural, it’s normal and you should expect it. Exhausted couples going through intense situations is obviously going to lead to something like this, just roll with it and enjoy making up over a glass of wine on the beach.
8. The Clique
Another thing that accompanies spending all this time just the two of you, is seeing yourselves, more than ever, as an indestructible little team that can handle anything. You’re out conquering the world together, you’ve seen all this incredible stuff, you’ve come out the other end of the aforementioned rows, you’ve done it as a pair and it’s great. You inevitably start to rely on each other and become unable to separate them out of this journey you are on. Over time, this results in the two of you seeing yourselves as some sort of clique. You’ll be out and about and start judging others and making bitchy-comments because – of course – they’re not a patch on you two. This stage is common since you’ve only had each other as a frame of reference for so long, but nip it in the bud ASAP. Get over yourselves, go make friends and realise it’s not all about the two of you.
9. The Fake Out
This is a bit of a weird one but bear with me. You will of course meet other couples on your trip but, more often, it will be groups of solo travellers or friends. You obviously want to make friends and you don’t want them to think you don’t wanna hang out or get involved in things just because you’re a couple, so you start to distance yourselves from each other. I don’t mean you pretend not to be a couple, but you become very conscious of the fact you are one and try not to make this shown so publicly in an effort to blend in amongst your single fellow backpackers. Really, they won’t care that you’re a couple and if you want to hold hands while walking round the museum, go for it.
10. The End
Once it’s all over you will have changed both separately and as a couple. You will have gone through all these incredible experiences together and have built up so many amazing memories. As you get back into normal routine you will see things that remind you of the time you spent away, you’ll go to restaurants serving the food of the places you went, you’ll listen to the songs that provided the soundtrack to your trip. Unfortunately, you’ll also have come full circle back to annoying the hell out of your friends and co-workers with ‘Oh, this time we were in Peru’ and ‘When we were cycling round the wineries in Mendoza’. All in all you’ll have built up the most unbelievable bank of stories, memories and souvenirs that will always be a big part of your relationship.