Today’s guest post is from Simon Thompson, who I nagged to share his experiences of travelling with a significant other. He’s generously entertained my whim and turned in an extremely useful rundown of survival tips for intrepid couples. Take it away, Simon!
Prior to our ‘big trip’, my girlfriend Ruth and I lived in different cities. And, because of my job, when we weren’t living in different cities we lived on different continents. Ours was a weekend relationship punctuated with several three or four month periods of complete separation. By the time we left for our five-month bike trip through South America, we had been going out for three years, but had never spent longer than two weeks together.
What’s more, Ruth didn’t own a touring bike until a few days before departure. She hadn’t biked much since childhood, and we’d only had a couple of short weekend tours together in preparation.
However, we survived. The trip was amazing, and we hope it’s the first of many to come.
For other couples with differing abilities, differing expectations, and differing tolerances, here are the five key lessons we learned on the road:
1. Keep it flexible
We planned nothing beyond the first couple of weeks, and tried to take a wardrobe that would allow us to become backpackers if cycle touring didn’t work out. Knowing nothing about the future let us take our time over the present and made the whole thing less imposing.
2. Accept differences
I can’t speak Spanish, and am a very lazy cook. Ruth can’t read a map without becoming a bit nauseous, and doesn’t know her bottom bracket from her elbow. It took us a while to realize it, but when we each played to our strengths and ignored the resultant guilt of not working on our weaknesses, we actually had everything covered.
3. Be open
In the early days I hoarded worries and concerns, not wanting to bring them up in case they soured the experience. Ruth always weedled them out of me, and it felt so much better for them to be out in the open. When there were inevitable interpersonal meltdowns (usually when the weather turned and we were hungry), we tried to not dwell on them and make sure we didn’t hold back and were open about everything.
4. Be realistic
Don’t expect constant romance. Before the trip we had visions of sitting outside our tent and watching the stars, and being bowled over by a wave of romance. In reality, by the time we set up camp we were usually exhausted, frequently stinky, and invariably freezing. We wolfed down our dinner and were usually asleep before 9. To keep the magic alive, we indulged on occasion with bike-free breaks in nice hotels.
5. Make it comfortable
I think my most important contribution to the trip was making a huge down quilt. This, along with a double sleeve for our sleeping mats, made our tent comfortable, cozy, and warm. With Ruth turning an otherwise mundane meal into something more savoury (usually thanks to plenty of chorizo and whiskey) we always knew that wherever we were and however tired we might be, we could set up camp and it would be a pleasant experience for us both. This gave us much more freedom than if camping had represented a last resort.
Our tour, though a relatively short and luxurious one compared to others that often appear on this blog, taught us some harsh lessons, and made each of us confront some uncomfortable truths. But we came through the experience with some amazing memories and a relationship that is stronger and better founded as a result. And these things learnt in foreign lands may well prove most useful when facing challenges a little closer to home…