They say that travel is the best relationship tester.
You learn about each other’s capabilities and vulnerabilities when travelling in a foreign country outside of your comfort zone. Things going wrong there is inevitable.
That’s how my first two relationships went down. When I was 18, my gap year involved a Contiki tour around South of Europe with my senior boyfriend.
Neither of us had left Australia before. The second day, we got lost from the group bus they gave us free time to use around the Eiffel tower. Since both of us had a terrible sense of direction, we led ourselves to sheer panic, squabble, and frustration. We relentlessly tried to work out a plan to catch up with the group—we eventually did in the end.
From that day onward, a wedge presented itself in the gap of our relationship. A similar scenario played out whilst trying to find directions in Barcelona and again at the airport in London on our flight back to Australia. As Pema Chödrön says, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.”
We made the call to cut our six-month trip short and return back to Australia. Not long after that, we decided to go separate ways.
Two years later, another opportunity presented itself to me shortly after entering a new relationship. He and his friends were in the midst of preparing for a Euro trip before I came into the picture. He was adamant that I should come along, but I was hesitant. I was uneasy since my experience with my previous partner was sour.
I voiced my concerns, and he listened to me and reassured me. New challenges presented themselves with train timetables, language barriers, finding vacancies in fully booked out hot spots, and drunken incidents. In the midst of the trip’s hurdles and challenges, I was able to approach them head-on.
In fact, the trip brought us closer together, and it felt like serendipity. Here’s how:
>> Travel allowed me to discover my partner’s bad habits (and mine) that inevitably make or break the relationship.
We got into some petty fights overseas—especially when faced with unforeseen problems. We were both confronted with the mirror image of our not-so-perfect selves that we were so willing to cover up in our cushy, everyday life back in Australia.
Maybe we were young, naive, didn’t know any better, or waited on the other to step up and take the lead. When things got tough, all respect for each other and the relationship went out of the door. Instead of working together as a team, we inevitably became each other’s worst nightmares.
>> Our journey and experiences allowed for growth.
Although my first overseas trip with my first boyfriend wasn’t so peachy, it was a great template for what not to do when travelling with your partner. There are so many obstacles and experiences that you will go through together while travelling that call for growth and self-awareness. The experiences that you share and the bond that travel builds aren’t the same as the bond you build while shopping or watching movies.
I’m so grateful for being brave enough to show up in the world and to opening my heart to travel again. One thing I’ve learnt is that all experiences are entirely different. Every time we are presented with an opportunity, there is a lesson to learn—whether for ourselves or for our relationship.
Travel is the ultimate journey of finding it.