As we enter into the last three weeks of our incredible trip, Taylor and I have started to reflect on our journey and what we’ve learned, both individually and as a team.
When we initially purchased the plane tickets and started to really plan the trip, I don’t think either of us knew exactly what we were getting into, which ultimately was crucial in making us actually follow through! In addition, neither of us have traveled long term with a significant other, and I had never left everything I’ve known to travel to the other side of the world for an extended period of time (Taylor served 2 years in Zambia in the Peace Corps, so she knew a little of what that entailed).
As we think back on our growth and experiences so far, we’ve come up with 5 of the most important aspects that tend to bring us together and help us grow as a team as we travel through foreign lands. If you are thinking of traveling with your partner, whether it be for four days or four months, we think sharing our ideas and experience could be helpful as you embark on a fun new adventure together.
This is absolutely, absolutely, essential! Traveling in a foreign place can quickly start to feel like a pressure cooker; I think we’ve all been there a time or two on a family vacation. The frustration, fatigue, and fear builds until there is a release, which, unfortunately, often times is targeted at your partner.
I am so guilty of this and it’s something I must be constantly mindful of; I am frustrated with myself, with my inefficiency at getting around, with the unspoken rules of a new culture, not with my partner. Although this seems obvious when sitting in the comforts of your own home and culture, it is so easy to forget this mantra in the frozen Himalayas or humid, polluted cities in SE Asia when nothing seems to be going quite right. When you are surrounded by a culture that doesn’t speak your language, it is so important to communicate effectively and efficiently with the one person you know you can count on.
This idea holds true for both the negative situations and the positives. Communicating love, encouragement, excitement and happiness is just as important as bringing up those small annoyances! We make it a point to tell each other we love each other every day, to praise our small victories (like managing to not die while driving a motorbike through a Vietnamese roundabout), and to express our appreciation for one another and the unique gifts and insights that we bring to the table.
Finally, check in with one another regularly. Which activities are on your “must-do” list? Do they match up with your partner’s? If not, can you make a plan that compromises? Are you tired, hungry, bored, not having fun? SAY IT. Don’t let it fester, don’t say it’s fine when it’s not, because resentment will creep in before you know it, leading to more frustration and an endless cycle. When you are with someone 24/7, it becomes easy to assume and guess how the other person is feeling, even though we all know the consequences of assumptions. This has led us to make a habit of regular “check-ins” to ensure we are still on the same page, still having fun, and still lovingly supporting one another on this journey.
2. Avoid decision fatigue
Constantly being on the go has brought us a life completely bereft of routine, which is good in that it has challenged both of us and pushed us out of our comfort zones, but dangerous in that it requires a high level of consistent communication.
With lack of routine comes incessant decisions: where do we get breakfast, lunch, dinner? Do we walk, take a bus, ride bicycles, rent a motorbike? Which activities do we want to do? What time do we get up? We have found it important to make one decision at a time and not overload ourselves with options, and to make a routine as best we can when we settle down in a place for more than a couple days. Even going to the gym several days in a row or frequenting the same coffee shop in the mornings brings a small amount of predictability and stability to our lives, which tends to make us less edgy.
If you can, try getting up at the same time every day, find your local hangout spot, or set a goal to get to the gym or climbing center each day you are in one city. For people who thrive on routine and stability, this will help tremendously!
3. Take time for yourself
Of all the pieces of advice we got before the trip, spending time alone was one highlighted by more than one friend offering advice.
And it has been something we’ve done terribly at.
In the three and a half months we’ve been gone we have spent a total of three days doing separate activities, and most of that due to one of us being sick. Looking back, one reason we’ve not done more on our own is that we have such similar interests. We both love exploring outdoor spaces, going to museums, finding hole in the wall food stalls and hanging out at the beach or coffee shops.
We do make an effort to decompress on our own most days so even if we may physically be in the same room we are reading our own books, taking time to talk to friends and family or just browsing the web. This time I see as pretty critical to avoid burnout and to keep a sense of self.
While we certainly could have done more solo activities, being together pretty much constantly has forced us to improve our communication skills and have conversations we probably never would have otherwise.
4. Be intentional
When we were (dying) in Phnom Penh, we ended up talking about how we felt more like friends and adventure buddies than romantic partners. We fell into this easily and without noticing, long days of traveling and making decisions leading us to lean on each other more like best friends than girlfriends. We decided from there on out to intentionally make date nights to remind us of our romantic side. Even if we had spent all day together, we still freshen up and find nice restaurants, pay for one another, and treat it like a true night out on the town. This has been an important practice to reduce any distance that has naturally grown between us and to remind us of our love for one another!
5. Watch your words
It’s easy to snap at one another during stressful times, like playing Frogger when crossing roads in Vietnam, or shivering to death in Nepal. Just like being intentional, it’s important to watch the words and tone that comes out of your mouth. When it’s just the two of you in a foreign environment, it’s easy to take out your frustrations on the only person you have, the only person who speaks your language. Take a minute, think of what you’re going to say and the impact it’s going to have, then speak. Kendall needs to work on this one more than Taylor, but we’ve definitely both had our moments on this trip.
As always, thanks to everyone for reading and following along on our once-in-a-lifetime journey. With less than a week left in Vietnam, stay tuned for another update as we make our way to the Land Down Under.
-K and T