Traveling Together? What To Know Before You Go!

You and a friend or partner have decided to travel together for the first time. Assuming you've known each other a while and enjoy each other's company, you think it would be fun to share an adventure. You plan the itinerary, get vacation time approved from work, choose appropriate clothing, buy your tickets, pack your bags, and you're off! Traveling together can be a wonderful experience…or your vacation expectations can go from dream to nightmare!

When planning a trip with someone for the first time, there are specific concerns to keep in mind, especially if you are not going with a tour group, or if you will be at a destination resort where everything is planned for you, or if most of your time is not otherwise structured. Here is a different kind of travel list--a “Traveling Together Checklist,” which may help prevent common pitfalls that have the potential to wreck a much-anticipated vacation:

1) Do you have a common understanding of what “traveling together” means? For example:

  • Do you have similar interests and/or enjoy the same kind of activities?
  • Do you both like to do the same things at the same time (sightsee, nightlife, museums, etc.); or do you both prefer to pursue some, or all, of your interests independently and then have “together time” to share what you've done earlier?
  • Do you have different needs for ”quiet time” or rest?
  • Do you have the same energy levels for activities; is one an early bird and the other a night owl?
  • Are decisions/arrangements easily made that are mutually satisfying? If one person tends to “take over” is the other willing to take a back seat? Or is a power struggle brewing because both of you have strong opinions and each wants to exercise control?
  • Are both of you comfortable expressing your ideas and feelings?
  • Are assumptions being made without checking them out with the other person?

Nothing can put a chill on a vacation faster than when it is presumed you are both on the same page--and you're already on the trip when you find out you aren't!

2) Do you agree on money issues? For example:

  • Do you have different ideas about tipping; if so, can you compromise or agree to tip individually?
  • Do you agree on budgets for entertainment or accommodations (traveling coach vs. first class; 4-star hotels vs. bed & breakfast inns vs. youth hostels)?
  • How are general expenses to be paid? Do you expect equal contributions to be made for mutual expenses? Will you go “Dutch treat,” or have you decided on another kind of arrangement?”

3) Have you both traveled before?

  • If traveling abroad, have either or both of you traveled out of the country?

International travel can sometimes be more stressful than domestic because everything is different: you may not be familiar with the social customs; the monetary system can take some time to figure out; and unless you speak the language, or your own language is readily spoken/understood, you may not encounter others with whom you can communicate other than your traveling companion. And if you are very far from home, with no additional support system to help you get through the experience, there can be a sense of isolation. Anxiety and stress can intensify when one is away from home and away from one's comfort zone. Feelings of anger, resentment, betrayal and/or depression can result, and have been known to persist long after the trip is over.

The best way to prevent a disappointing travel experience is to discuss your mutual needs, ideas, and feelings during the early stages of planning your trip. It may be a mistake to presume that, because you like (or love) each other, everything will go smoothly when you're both away from home and away from what's familiar. If you run into snags early in the planning stage, there may be time to work them out before you proceed, or time to change travel plans altogether if the differences are not resolved within a reasonable amount of time.

If a couple is having difficulty resolving any of these issues on their own, and especially if the relationship is more intimate than a friendship, then perhaps the difficulties are recurrent and/or indicate communication concerns that might be successfully addressed in couples counseling. If one or the other perceives she/he is not being heard when attempting to communicate needs or feelings in general, it may be helpful to seek consultation with a therapist before attempting a major vacation together. I have worked with couples who say that they relate better when they travel than when they are living at home. If this occurs, it may be because when they travel, they are away from their usual stressors and have no day-to-day responsibilities, so they feel more relaxed and are “on a holiday” from real (or perceived) demands. However, for others, the stress of traveling can create more interpersonal tension that intensifies whatever difficulties already exit in the relationship.

Exploring the "Traveling Together Checklist" with each other before you depart is like having trip insurance for your relationship: there may be unforeseen events or bumps in the road along the way, but if they occur you're basically covered.

Bon Voyage!