No matter how long you’ve been together, taking your first big trip as a couple is exciting, and a little daunting. Travel can be both exhilarating and stressful and it can bring out the best and worst in others. It presses fast-forward on a relationship and can bring a couple closer together … or drive them apart for good.
Careful planning can increase the odds that your trip will go smoothly and you’ll return home happy — and still together. Here are a few important questions to ask to help plan your first big trip as a couple.
#1: Where Do You Want To Go?
The most obvious question can be the first issue of contention. Maybe you want to relax on a Caribbean beach while your partner is keen to explore the big cities of Europe, and you don’t see how you’ll ever agree.
First, figure out what type of trip appeals to you. When you imagine your trip, what do you see? What is one thing you absolutely must do, and what would you rather not do? Make a list of what is most important to each person and look for destinations that offer both.
If you want the beach and your partner wants art and culture, check out the Greek islands or French Riviera. If you want adventure and s/he enjoys wine tasting, Mendoza, Argentina or Cape Town, South Africa would satisfy you both.
Thinking in general terms of what you want to experience can open your eyes to the range of destinations that will make you both happy.
#2: What Are You Willing To Give Up?
It’s often said that traveling together makes a couple stronger, and one reason is that it teaches compromise. Almost every decision you make on your trip may require some compromise, with each person giving just a little to make sure that both parties are happy.
If Paris is a make-or-break destination for you but your partner won’t be happy unless he’s on the beach, there are two ways to compromise: either divide the trip time into Paris and a beach town, or decide that this trip will be Paris and the next will be to a beach destination of his choice.
While it’s likely that you’ll agree on at least some aspects of your trip, you could compromise on everything, alternating decision-making authority every other day so that each person gets what they want out of the trip.
#3: How Will We Divide Trip Responsibilities?
For some couples, the perfect trip means sharing the planning duties. In other relationships, one person makes decisions, with the other content to go along for the ride.
But I think the best method — and one that ensures the planner doesn’t feel he or she did all the work and the non-planner doesn’t feel like he or she had no say — is to divide up the responsibilities. Do it by day, by destination, or by interest: you can plan the beach portion of the trip and your partner can map out plans for the city, or you can research museums while he or she finds dining options.
In my marriage, I handle logistics — hotels, transport, and the budget — while my husband loves finding unique activities and the best restaurants. And since I do most of the pre-trip planning and handle all the money, he’s the “problem-solver” once we arrive.
#4: How Should We Handle Money?
Money is often cited as the top reason that couples argue. It’s a sensitive subject that you may not be comfortable discussing early in the relationship, but skipping the money talk before your first trip can lead to needless arguments (or worse, finding out one person is out of funds halfway into the trip) and ruin an otherwise amazing experience.
Before you finalize any plans, decide individually how much you can afford or are willing to spend on the trip. If you can spend more than your partner, decide if you’re willing to put in the extra … and if you’re sure you won’t resent your partner for it later.
Once you have a budget, figure out how you want to spend it (this almost always goes back to compromise). And finally, determine who will handle the money — if you’ll each pay your own way or if you’ll pool your funds and put one person in charge of tracking your spending.
#5: Do We Have to Spend Our Whole Trip Together?
Because many couples see travel as an experience to share together, they don’t feel comfortable spending time apart. But separating for a little while is perfectly okay if it makes each person happy.
If you wake at dawn while your partner likes to sleep late, there’s no reason you can’t spend a morning on your own. Or if s/he wants to take a surf lesson or yoga class while you visit the spa, there’s no harm in going your own way for a while. Each person gets to do what they want, and you can share stories of your adventures later. A little alone time gives you time to recharge, especially if you’re not used to spending 24 hours a day with another person.
#6: How Do You Handle Stress?
Travel is wonderful, but it can also be stressful. Long days at a fast pace can make us tired and cranky and more apt to take it out on our partner.
If the relationship is new, you may not yet know how your partner is going to react outside of his or her comfort zone. Talking about your triggers, and how the other person can help when you feel a meltdown coming on, can help you recover from stressful moments more quickly.
After five years together, my husband knows that when I’m upset, I don’t want to talk, and I know that when his blood sugar drops, he gets cranky. So now when I get stressed, he leaves me alone until I calm down and when I notice he’s getting testy, I make him have a snack. Knowing this about each other would have saved a few tense moments on our first trip.
Arguments are inevitable, but if you can head off (or at least more quickly recover from) silly fights that stem from stress, you can spend more time enjoying the trip together.