“I have a little bit of a routine when I travel,” I warned my husband when we took a flight down South last year, our first time traveling to another state together. “I arrive at the airport two hours early, pack a bunch of snacks, I don’t check any bags, and I download a bunch of books on Audible ahead of time. Also, I get an Ambien script, meditate on the cab ride there …”
“A little routine?” he asked. “This sounds more like a cult initiation.”
I’m okay with that. If there were a cult of the Freakishly Overprepared Traveler Who Likes to Schedule Every Vacation Right Down to the Bathroom Breaks, I would join, no question. Because I am an enthusiastic vacation planner, and you should be, too. Do you know how many ruined trips I have prevented simply by having every medication known to man in my carry-on? Or the vacations that have been salvaged because I was ready with a fourth backup transportation option when the Uber was late, the cabs weren’t around, and the trains weren’t running? I rest my case.
Still, there are downsides to being a picky traveler in a relationship. My husband’s travel style is the total opposite of mine, having worked as a road comic up to 40 weeks a year for ten years, and involves just two preparations: a suit in a bag and a toothbrush, “Chuck Berry style” he calls it. He’s become an expert at cutting things close and taking things as they come. Which works fine if you’re traveling solo, but he’s not anymore.
While I’ve never broken up with anyone mid-trip, I have had my fair share of close calls with the Traveling Breakup Curse (a stormy walk-off to a deserted beach in Brazil in the middle of the night, leaving my hotel room in London without having the spare key because I was so angry, an epic fight that ended in me pouring coffee over a box of doughnuts at a Tim Hortons in Canada).
I’m not alone either. In fact, a study in October commissioned by YouGov showed that even the stress of planning a vacation can cause couples to break up. One in 8 women said they were involved in a travel-related argument and 1 in 12 couples said they’ve fought over poor travel planning. So how do you avoid becoming a statistic? Vacation-proof your romance — before you go.
After all, it’s not rocket science. It’s vacationship science.
Rule No. 1: Don’t assume your partner does the whole two-hours-early to the airport routine like you and every other sane person on the planet.
This is one of the great debates when it comes to meaningless lifestyle-choice minutia. Are you an early-bird traveler or the person who rushes into airport check-in last minute with the hot, pulse-racing thrill of the wind at your cheeks?
No matter who you are, the key is to not get insulting or defensive about expressing your needs. I used to think “honest communication” meant saying things like, “You know only idiots leave no time to spare for getting to the airport — so, you know, don’t be an idiot.” (See how that could be a wee bit softer?)
Once I changed my pre-traveling speech to the far less caustic “I’m an incredibly anxious person, and running against the clock really stresses me out,” everything has gone just swimmingly.
Rule No. 2: Talk finances before the trip!
Why? Because one person’s “meal allocation” is a $300 dinner at a five-star restaurant while someone else’s is five cups of instant ramen stashed in a suitcase.
For instance, my husband and I set a travel budget during our last trip to San Diego of $2,000 so that we could pick and choose between ramen feasts and Michelin-starred dining while not breaking the bank. This also included gifts for my family, a rental car, picking up the dinner tab for my parents, and other expenditures that might have otherwise caused resentment and/or sticker shock later on.
Being in the same general economic bracket as my husband is a plus in that neither of us are whining about “why can’t you be more spontaneous?” (translation: Why can’t you make as much as me?). And while my husband is not quite as much of a snack-carrying pack rat as I am, he does appreciate a good squirreled-away energy bar to avoid the temptation of a $7 “appetizer” box filled with stale chips, EZ-cheese, and a spork.
Rule No. 3: Plan your alone time ahead of time.
I need a lot of time by myself. And sometimes I forget to monitor this until I’m at an absolute breaking point (see story above about doughnuts in a Tim Hortons). Even when things aren’t tense at all, problems can sometimes arise when a seemingly out-of-the-blue proclamation like “I’m going to take a walk” takes on a totally unnecessary air of gloom.
Here’s a solution: Give each other the heads-up before you travel that you’ll be taking spontaneous alone-time sojourns frequently and unexpectedly on your trip together. Then the two of you can be quiet in the hotel room for a few hours, and when you bust out with “I think I’ll go for a walk,” your significant other will look up without a thought and say, “Awesome, have fun!”
The other tip I recommend is paying to get a hotel room that has a dividing wall or some kind of extra room so that your vacation is truly reinvigorating in every way possible. That way you can be chilling with HBO while he’s catching up on work in the other room. Vacations are about replenishing your mind, body, and soul, and a vital part of that is alone time — which, in the end, makes you appreciate the together time even more.
Rule No. 4: Trade off between preferences on your trip.
I’m a planner, and I like to block out events on my phone, then send a Google calendar invite to other parties involved and double confirm the night before. What I consider organized I’m told others call “control freak.”
There’s a happy middle to this, though. Just as couples often trade off planning everything from chores to date nights, you can split your trip duties as well. If one person prefers the spontaneous experience where you suddenly find yourself on a yacht with a deranged billionaire (but oh the excitement!) and the other likes to buy all the packaged tours humanly available (yes, the hidden ghosts tour of is worth doing), trade off days for who is planning what. Even when that means the plan is no plan.
The other secret to this? If you really prefer to be in charge of calling the shots, try this magical little mental trick. Think of your vacation as being a double getaway: Not only are you away from your normal environment, you’re also away from your normal mental hangups, and there’s a certain roller-coaster-ride glee to just letting go.
And finally, whatever you do, don’t let toxic people, places, or things ruin your time together. Family and friends (no matter how much you love them) can create stress, especially when they plan your trip for you; hotels can reek of smoke and sex and despair; and the pressure to have a good time can sometimes be the kiss of death. When that’s the case, consider the most anti-romantic thing I’ve ever said to my husband.
We were caught in terrible traffic in Atlanta, the hot air stunk around us, our rental car was crappy and gross, and at one point I was forced to pee in a Big Gulp cup because we couldn’t pull over fast enough.
But neither one of us could stop cracking up at the horror show our trip was turning into, and neither one of us could remember when we had laughed so hard at absolutely nothing.
I looked at him then and felt such gratitude.
“You know,” I said, “I could take a vacation to a dumpster fire with you and still have a good time.”
So before you take that trip with your significant other, ask yourself honestly: Would watching a dumpster fire together still be a blast?
If the answer is “yes,” you’ve officially vacation-proofed your relationship.