Life on the road is one of those grand adventures that everyone has opinions on. You’ve probably already digested all the comforting slices of wisdom pie: It’ll teach you empathy and humanity; it’ll teach you how to date; you’ll find yourself. We know these things to be factual — they’ve been well studied.
But the notion of travel-as-self-improvement comes with a massive asterisk: You have to be open to the idea of personal growth and change in the first place. You have to embrace the joy and the hardships. Because it’s tough out there on the road. Especially when it comes to love-while-traveling.
I left America in 2003. I found love on the road in 2004. Over 14 years, my partner and I lived in Moscow, Prague, Jakarta, Manchester, Los Angeles, and, finally, Berlin. In between, we traveled to well over 50 countries. We learned a lot about each other on those trips and learned even more by trying (and sometimes failing) to actually thrive in far-flung places.
Traveling with a partner amplifies everything. You’re no longer flying solo. Suddenly there’s someone there who can (and will) question your whims or desires. The whole dynamic changes. Then there’s that next step you can take: Living abroad together. When you decide to move to another country with your significant other, the end destination is the adventure. You’re untethering yourself from family, friends, and furniture for something wholly new. It can be terrifying.
What you learn on the road is whether or not you click with someone. What you learn by staking a claim somewhere foreign is whether that click means more than just an attraction. Whether it means you can work together, protect one another, and grow in thrilling ways together.
Here’s our recipe for success:
YOU TEST YOUR LIMITS AND SEE SOMEONE ELSE TEST THEM TOO
Fanciful culture and language are fun quirks to play with when you’re just passing through a place. When you live in that place, they can become insurmountable obstacles.
Having to deal with constant bribing in Russia will wear you down. Dealing with bartering for everything in markets in Indonesia is great fun when you’re there for a week or month. When you’re there for a year or more, it gets daunting.
[Pro-tip: have the cash in your hand that you’re willing to pay and offer it directly to the person selling. They’ll almost always take the cash once they see it.]
Little things start to get amplified in very different ways. Eating with your hands in Java is fun at first. After about two months, you may start longing to bring a fork and knife with you.
Everyone starts off living in a new and fun place by promising themselves they’re going to only eat at local joints and dive as deeply as they can into the local cuisine. Then one of you will break and a Chilis or Pizza Hut or McDonald’s will become part of your routine. Judge all you want, but it’s called comfort food for a very good reason.
The point here is that we all break when thrown into the deep end of new cultures. You will break. Your partner is going to break. Often over stupid little things like a knife and fork or just wanting some familiar fries or not wanting to have to barter for ten minutes to buy some sunglasses. Things wear you down when you live abroad. And it’s how you support each other and pick each other back up that strengthens your relationship and resolve.
The best way to fight your limits as a team: Take a language class together. Spending five, or so, hours a week with a common goal is one of the best ways to remind each other that you’re in this together. And, the progress you achieve by learning the local language will feel like a common victory that then makes living together in a foreign place that much easier to boot.
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