How To Stay Married While Traveling
First, a disclaimer. I am not a trained marriage counselor, therapist, psychologist or psychoanalyst. I am not the best example you could find for conflict resolution skills, marriage communication techniques or emotional maturity. Given this reality, take these guidelines with a load of salt, and with the knowledge that they may not work for you, your spouse or your relationship..
While in Africa we met a guy who had spent seven years sailing around the world with his wife and his kids, who were both born during their travels. In discussing marital durability during extended sailings he commented, "within two weeks you'll either be divorced or headed for a wonderful adventure together."
I believe the same basic principal holds true for long trips by motorcycle.
Traveling with someone teaches you a lot about that person. Being alone with them on a motorcycle for months at a time in foreign countries with developing economies teaches you more than you may want to know. How do you keep your relationship together, while growing and learning from the experiences you share? Here are some suggestions based on our experiences:
- Test the waters. Don't make a multi-month international motorcycle trip your first extended trip together. Do some easy trips together first. Experience some challenges. One good test is to go canoeing together. Next try wallpapering together. Cook a few meals in a small kitchen together. If you can survive that, you're good candidates for an extended motorcycle trip.
- Best Practices. Read some books and take some workshops on problem resolution, marital communication, etc. A lot of these issues have been studied to death over the years and you'll see "solutions" to the same problem that are diametrically opposed. All the same, a little learning can't hurt and if nothing else, it will engender some good conversation between the two of you.
- Intercom. Don't travel without an intercom that allows you to talk to each other with your helmets on. This is a real marriage saver in a box. If nothing else, it will save the kidneys of the rider from the Braille/rabbit punch method of communication.
- Plan/priorities. Discuss a plan for your travels. Having a loose itinerary is fine, even optimum, but talk about what each of you wants to see and experience while you are exploring a country. By listing out the options and then attaching a priority to them based on time available, weather, logistics, roads, etc. you can prevent misunderstandings and simmering resentments.
- Manage expectations. During our travels I often needed one to three hours after dinner to copy, archive, edit and post media (photos, video, text). If your companion is not involved in these tasks, their day will end after dinner, while yours is just beginning. After a few weeks of this, resentments can build on both sides. Discuss the time requirements of what each of you wants and needs to do as a regular part of your travels. Things like media management, bike maintenance, journal entries, meditation/prayer, etc. are best considered and accounted for prior to departure than argued about a few weeks into the trip.
- Time alone. Each of you will need some time alone at some point in the trip. Be flexible when your traveling companion needs to just get away for a while. Believe it or not, even you and your charming personality can get old after a while.
- Days off. Global motorcycle travel can be grueling. The stresses of chaotic traffic, shouting vendors, darting children, incomprehensible languages, motorcycle maintenance, finding a hotel, finding a meal and avoiding theft, injury and illness can wear down even the most durable and experienced traveler. Schedule a complete "do nothing" day off every couple of weeks. If possible, do this in a relaxing location that is conducive to recharging your internal batteries and refreshing your spirit.
- Roles. Splitting and sharing responsibilities can greatly facilitate smooth travel. For instance, my wife took care of checking out prospective hotels with a quick walk-through and checking us in for the night. Meanwhile, I was responsible for unloading, daily maintenance, covering and locking the bike. There is no shortage of responsibilities, duties, chores and activities in adventure travel. Sharing the load in a balanced way keeps everyone involved and helps both of you avoid getting overloaded or burned out.
- Flexibility. Be flexible with yourself, with your traveling companion, with your itinerary, with your goals, with your destinations and with the people you meet along the way. Global exploration travel is not predictable, and the unexpected things are often the most rewarding. Keep yourself open to new opportunities and don't get locked into objectives that, in the end, won't make a bit of difference in your overall travel experience.
- Celebrate. Celebrate the little victories along the way. Finding a beautiful waterfall, discovering a cold drink on a hot day, sharing a magical moment with a village elder are all things to be celebrated in special ways. Take the time to discuss and appreciate the little things that add up to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
- Ritual. Establish some rituals for your trip that only you two share. Adopt a mascot. Make up a song. Have code words for disagreeable people. Talk in the couple-shorthand that you'll inevitably develop as you share experiences. These are the secret things, shared only with your spouse, that bind a relationship together and help it weather the inevitable storms that life, and especially international adventure travel, brings along.
- Be nice. As previously mentioned, international adventure travel by motorcycle is challenging. It presents very tough challenges for individuals and relationships. The journey will present multitudes of rough edges. These can be smoothed by remembering to be nice to each other. A little politeness, some positive words to each other every day and taking a deep breath rather than pushing your partner's buttons can be keys to a happy and rewarding journey. We found that something as simple as a morning hug every day made a big difference in setting a positive tone for that day's journeys. Smile. Be polite. Be nice.
All content copyright © 1995-2004, Douglas Hackney, all rights reserved.