The intoxicating freedom of long-term solo travel is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. No one to judge you if you overindulge in rice wine, opt for pizza over salad, or swap a day of temple sightseeing for a 12-hour chocolate and Netflix binge in bed. But having embarked on a 7-month solo trip around Southeast Asia and South America a couple of years ago, I had to admit that sometimes, like when a tuk-tuk driver is yelling in your face, or you’re stood up on a 30-hour bus journey, it might be nice to have a friendly face to help you out. So when planning a year-long adventure through Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, I decided that this time, I would bring my boyfriend Phil along.
Long-term travelling with a partner sounds dreamy —think romantic sunsets, midnight swims, and someone to take all those halcyon shots for your Insta. And when I told my friends they unanimously declared jealousy. But there’s also this pressing question: “If we spend all day every day together for an entire year, will we want to kill each other?” We’ve been on the road now for 11 months, and for us the answer is a little from column A, a little from column B. Here’s what we’ve learned.
5 of the best things about couple travel:
1. Emotional support
We all know that travelling can be a transcendental, life-affirming experience. But sometimes, especially on long trips, the day-to-day demands of this lifestyle can get a bit too much and you’re left ugly crying in front of the bewildered Vietnamese receptionist who can’t find your booking. Travelling as a couple means that whenever one of you feels close to a breakdown, the other is able to pick up the slack, from handling some pesky travel admin, fending off tenacious salespeople, or just nipping out to the shop for a much-needed bottle of Chang.
2. Sharing the logistics
In between all the wonderful sunsets and fairytale waterfalls lies a whole world of travel admin: booking buses, trains, planes, taxis, hotels, and tours. And rearranging all of the above if and when things go wrong. It doesn’t usually make it to #travelinsta, but trust me, it’s true. And if you’re away for a while, this logistical planning becomes less exciting and more of a chore. After staying in over 80 accommodations over the past 11 months, I literally don’t care where we lay our heads, as long as it has WiFi, Air Con, and a functioning shower. Travelling with someone else means you’re able to slice this labour in half: maybe one of you takes the transport and the other accommodation, or you simply alternate days.
3. Enjoying romantic destinations and making memories
This is the really dreamy stuff. Shivering in our pyjamas to witness a candy floss sunrise over the Mekong on Laos’ 4,000 Islands. Brimming glasses of wine on a Ko Lanta beach bedecked with fairy lights. Smoking crackling blueberry cigarettes as we sailed across a huge glassy lake in northern Myanmar. Diving together into the cool sea outside Dubrovnik’s marble walls. Dancing to live Bosnian folk music at a smoky vintage cinema in Sarajevo. This is the stuff I want to remember. And the fact that we’ve experienced it all together means we’ll be able to reminisce for years to come. This is a marked departure from my solo travels, where most of my friends ‘jokingly’ label me pretentious if I reference “this one time when I was biking up the coast of Vietnam…”
4. Swap hostels for hotels and apartments
Most of my nights as a solo traveller were spent sharing dorm rooms with strangers. I do enjoy hostels: they’re vibrant, you meet loads of people, and they tend to have good bars. But sharing a room means we’ve cut the cost of hotel and apartment stays in half, which usually comes in under the price of an anonymous bed in a hostel. I can’t say I miss shuffling into the bathroom every morning to get changed, or the conspicuous creak of a bed frame as two star-crossed lovers make frantic love in the top bunk. And staying in apartments with kitchens means we don’t have to eat out every single night, an important factor for two vegetarians attempting to navigate the spiced-meat-heavy Balkans.
5. You get super close
We thought we were close before we set off, but it turns out we knew nothing. Like most couples working a 9 to 5 and attempting a social life, we’d have a couple of hours in the evening together and maybe one full weekend day. Going from that routine to spending every single minute together means we know each other better than ever. Understanding what makes each other happy, sad, and worried, and how to make the latter two things better, has been a happy side effect of the trip. We now have so many cringey in-jokes that I’m concerned we’ll never be able to speak to other people again. And while it is a constant worry that one day we’ll run out of things to talk about, it hasn’t happened yet. Also, we may have given ourselves co-dependency issues.
5 of the worst things about couple travel
1. You have little space or privacy
Are you one of those couples who thinks it’s important to retain the ‘mystery’ in a relationship? Yeah, you can say goodbye to that. It’s not even the ensuite bathrooms that does it. It’s the long coach journeys, fetid squat toilets at service stations, and the menagerie of bugs you inevitably pick up while travelling the world. For us, it was a mild bout of Dengue fever we rode out in a small bungalow in northern Myanmar.
2. That sense of freedom dwindles
If you ask me, the best thing about solo travel is that wind-in-your-hair, no-one-knows-where-you-are vibe. Yes, so much freedom can sometimes be scary, but it’s also completely thrilling. Travelling as a couple eliminates a lot of that. In fact, with your partner likely being the only other person you know in the whole country, you have to check in more than ever. And that’s on the rare occasions you actually do something separately; you do pretty much everything together, because why wouldn’t you?
3. Arguments can seriously affect your trip
When you’re together 24/7, little bouts of bickering— you wanted to stay out, he wanted to go home; he told you you should reapply your sunscreen, you didn’t and now you look like a tomato —can blow up. And if one of you is in a Big Mood, it’s not as if the other can head out with friends until the storm has blown over. While we’re not really the confrontational types, preferring highly passive aggressive tactics, we have met a number of people along the backpacker trail who began their trip with their significant other, and have since gone separate ways. All you can do is try to put things in perspective, and remember that if you’re sick of each other after two weeks, maybe you’re not soulmates after all.
4. Compromise becomes a way of life
Opposites attract, and when you’re spending every second together in an unfamiliar environment, your differences tend to become heightened. If one of you is super into a calming bedtime routine and the other loves staying out late, you’ll have to compromise. If one of you loves nothing more than an ancient ruin, while the other is all about paradise beaches, you’ll have to compromise. If one of you is incredibly money conscious, while the other wants to snap up every souvenir shot glass you encounter…well, you get the picture. You’re less independent than you were back home — you can’t just plan a night out to blow off steam — so compromise is king when it comes to mastering couple travelling.
5. Looking your best is often impossible
I fear that couples who got together due to nothing more than physical attraction would not do well on a long trip. You’ve been rotating the same few outfits for a year, your makeup has run out, and you look super bloated after plane journeys. Most of the time, you’re sweating and covered in bugs, so what’s the point of trying? Unless you’re luxury travellers, long-term travel is simply not designed for looking good; false lashes and beauty tutorials have no place here. And had we not abandoned our dignity back in northern Myanmar, I’m not sure we’d have made it. My eyebrows currently look insane. Until we can get home, head to a salon, and go shopping, we’re working on the principle that we CAN both look nice, we’re just currently choosing not to. And that’s okay.