Every couple remembers the first vacation together. The mutual decision to step outside hectic daily life and invest in intimate time can be a potent bonder and aphrodisiac. Travel has the power to bring new lovers as well as long-time partners closer and propel the relationship to a new level.
Still planning one trip that satisfies the needs of two people can be a flirtation in relationship disaster. The process comes loaded with expectation, anticipation, and anxiety. Learning to harness those emotions in healthy ways takes continual work for both partners. So how can we travel together in a manner that rejuvenates us as individuals and strengthens the relationship in the process?
In honor of Valentine’s Day, we sourced relationship experts to help navigate best practices for lovers embarking on travel. Our panel agrees, the first step is acknowledging that time away is a necessity not luxury for a healthy relationship.
“Our nervous system, our body, and our spirit, all scream for periodic breaks,” says SeatGeek’s dating expert Paul Brunson. “When you take time away from the hustle of everyday life, you acknowledge that you value your peace of mind … when you take time away with a loved one, you show that you hold them with the highest value.”
Regardless of where you go or for how long, the value is in the going, together. Check out the tips below for travel with your Valentine.
Seek Common Ground
Communication is the number one relationship skill tested during travel, says Brunson. “We all recharge in different ways. So when choosing a destination, it’s important to take into consideration the differences in your rejuvenation styles. Think in terms of we not I. If that simple concept can be embraced, you’ll have the foundation of a great vacation (and relationship).”
Certified Relationship Coach and founder of Maze of Love Chris Armstrong recommends exploring intentions early when planning. Discuss desired activities, climate, duration, and budget. Listen to your partner’s vacation dreams, even if they don’t match your own, then work toward compromise.
Overloaded itineraries are one of the biggest travel fails. “[Couples] become exhausted, cranky, and unromantic,” cautions Brunson. “When they return from vacation, they’re more tired than when they left.” Seek rejuvenation and be generous with down time.
Don’t pack along the baggage of daily life. Optimize the opportunity to leave stressors behind and focus on sharing experiences with your partner.
“Vacation offers a few things besides just great sightseeing and exotic drinks,” says Armstrong. “It offers quality time free of distractions. Couples can get reacquainted with each other in an intimate way … a couple coming back from a vacation has often renegotiated where each other fits in the other’s head and heart without ever formally talking about it.”
He uses the phrase, “relationship PIE” to describe three vital types of intimacy: physical, intellectual, and emotional. Being present in the moment allows couples to invest in each area.
When it comes to creating intimacy, licensed marriage and family therapist and host of FOREPLAY Radio Sex Therapy podcast Laurie Watson says couples should be intentional. “If your idea of vacation is lots of sex, then you’ve got to plan some leisure time,” says Watson. “Make sure three mornings are free. Don’t start your itinerary until noon. Plan for a nap on two days with nothing to do but wake up and go to dinner.”
Discuss Budget Early
No surprise here, money is often a source of contention. “Have conversations early in the planning process about budget, where each person is generally comfortable spending, and what important things each person wants to do,” says Armstrong.
Lori Salkin, senior matchmaker at Saw You at Sinai cautions the usual way you handle finances at home may not align with expectations during travel. One person may see a trip as the opportunity to splurge, causing friction with a more fiscally conservative partner. Outline spending before leaving home so it need not be a topic of conversation during travel. And, be clear about each partner’s monetary contributions to the vacation fund.
“Don’t go crazy,” advises Brunson. “It’s important to treat yourself and your partner lavishly every now and then, but be careful you don’t go into debt.” Remember, travel need not be expensive to be meaningful. The point is to get away from your usual routine and enjoy time together.
Inflated expectations can put enormous pressure on a vacation. “Don’t expect it to be a perfect Disney or Hollywood magical vacation,” says Salkin. “From things outside of your control, lost luggage and the hotel not even being close to the description on the website, or rain ruining romantic walks along the beach every night, going in with expectations of a picture perfect vacation will only set you up for disappointment.”
Armstrong cautions not to “major in the minors.” Don’t let little annoyances and disagreements derail your time together. Maybe you experience the city’s worst restaurant, so what? Laugh about it together, then move on.
Prioritize Room for Two
For couples with kids, finding time to get away is only part of the struggle. Salkin often hears from couples who spend an entire trip talking about the kids or feeling guilty for leaving them behind. Nurturing the couple relationship will benefit the whole family in the long run, she says.
Brunson agrees, adding, “If we want our children to know what love, affection, stress management, and strong relationship skills are, my wife and I have to first exhibit them in our own lives.”
Set up brief calls or video chats with kids as family time, then shift to couple time.
Pro tip: Vacation offers an opportunity to develop a new shared hobby and conversation topic.
Select activities you will both enjoy like a surfing lesson or cooking class. Then, be willing to compromise on activities outside your interest. “If your partner wants to rock climb, or bungee jump, or do something you have zero interest in, still support them,” says Brunson. “Perhaps that won’t be participating in the activity with them but at least be present to cheer them on and take a photo of them doing their thing. Your presence is love.”
“It is also nice to explore on your own a bit and be able to report back excitedly to the other about your findings,” says Salkin. Balancing togetherness with alone time will give you space to grow as individuals and as a couple.
Be Explorers in Happiness
The best trips open our eyes to deeper discovery of our partner and ourselves. Often it’s in the simple moments and gestures when the true nature of the relationship shines through.
Pro challenge: On the first day of your trip, ask your partner, “Why can I do to add to your happiness today?” The question and the answer can set both partners on a powerful new journey together.
Main photo courtesy of uditha wickramanayaka/ Flickr CC BY-NC
Jess Simpson is a full-time digital nomad, grateful and giddy for bylines in Paste, Mental Floss, Bustle, UAB magazine, Birmingham magazine, and more. Follow her travel secrets and tales at Paste as well as on Facebook and Instagram.