The Three Keys to Successful Couples Travel

Posted by Ted on Dec 31, 2012 in Philosophy, Travel, Vagabonding

We wondered if we’d all kill each other. Instead we had a ball.

Those words of wisdom were from Brenna Redpath, one of a growing number of Vagabonding Case Studies that I’ve been curating. She and her family of four spent fourteen months traveling across much of Europe and parts of Morocco and Peru. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that being in such close quarters for a long time could be a recipe for drama.

However, both the fear and the happy realization are common among traveling couples and families. Are you thinking of taking an extended trip with a partner, but are afraid of driving each other crazy?

The Advantages of Couples Travel was part one of a series that came out of this year’s Meet, Plan, Go : National Event. In this second installment, I give you these three tips that will help you navigate those unknown waters.

1. Communicate

The name of the game is communication and collaboration, pre- through post-trip.

One might think that’s a no-brainer, but most problems that couples face, whether at home or on the road, is a failure to communicate. Making assumptions, failing to express unhappiness, and projecting one’s own feelings are all traps that lead to tension and resentment.

  • Set clear expectations
    Communication starts before buying those long-haul plane tickets or figuring out what to pack. It’s important to talk openly and honestly about what each of you hope to get out of the experience, what kind of travelers you imagine yourselves to  be, and the kinds of things that get on your nerves. It’s also important to talk about your individual interests and ideas of a budget. Setting these expectations ahead of time will lead to fewer surprises down the road.
  • Negotiate and compromise
    When traveling alone, you have the ultimate freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want. As soon as you are traveling with someone, whether that’s a friend, a partner, or as a family, individual desires and preferences need to be taken into account.
  • Air grievances promptly and calmly
    Whether you’re upset at your partner, or just having a bad day, the worst thing you can do is hold it inside where feelings of anger and frustration can turn into resentment. Being open with each other, sharing the bad as well as the good, allows issues to be aired openly and dealt with before they become bigger problems.
  • Forgive quickly
    Even more important on the road than at home is to forgive quickly. It’s fine to be angry or upset, but the close quarters that come with traveling mean that holding grudges can ruin a trip. Take a few deep breaths, maybe even a long walk, but be willing to let it go and move on.
  • Learn something
    If you’re going to have a disagreement, make it productive. Let it be an opportunity to learn more about each other and how to travel better together.

2. Embrace togetherness, and the individual

Traveling as a couple doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re joined at the hip 24/7. Everyone benefits from a little “alone time” to get away, recharge, and pursue their own interests.

  • Take joy in sharing
    Sharing the world with someone is one of the most wonderful things. Cherish it.
  • Take a break from each other
    This might seem at odds with the last point, but it’s important to remember that everyone is different. While interests overlap, one person might really enjoy museums, while another might like mountain biking. Spending time on individual pursuits is healthy and supports growth and fulfillment.

    Taking breaks allows for an opportunity to share different experiences with each other afterwards, and provides much needed alone time. On trips of a few weeks or months, one might spend a few hours or even an overnight or two away from their partner. On longer trips, one might even spend a week or two apart, taking a workshop, volunteering, or even just a side-trip, and then coming together again can be an exciting heart-grows-fonder reunion of sharing what each person did during the time away.

3. Plan as little as possible

This advice is as true for the solo traveler as it is for couples. Over-planning causes undue stress and puts limits on spontaneity. During the tail end of our Southeast Asia trip, we had intended to visit Vietnam and take the train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, purchasing plane and train tickets in advance, but ultimately letting both go in favor of staying in Chiang Mai.

  • What to plan
    Obviously, booking the long-haul flights (or at least the outbound!) is a necessity. It’s also helpful to book at least your first night or three after big travel days, so you aren’t stuck with trying to find lodging while overtired and jetlagged.

    Instead of planning a trip down to every detail, choose a few special places, centered around particular sights you want to see, or festivals you want to attend. On our trip, we knew we wanted to stay on Gili Air, a small island in Indonesia, and we wanted to see the lantern festival in Chiang Mai – everything else was decided spur-of-the-moment.

  • Negotiate locally
    Often, the best deals aren’t found online by searching Kayak or Hotels.com. Even in some of the most remote areas, travelers can show up at the train station, bus stop, or boat launch and find touts who will happily suggest a place to stay. When we arrived on Gili Air, a tout took us to a bungalow, 20 feet from the ocean, with a sunset view of Bali, for $7/night.
  • Travel slow
    Especially on shorter trips, it might be tempting to try to hit as many places as you can, but beware – it can make the trip much more stressful. It’s always better to travel slower, see fewer places, but experience them in a deeper fashion.
  • Travel light
    You need less than you think you do. We survived for 3 months with what could fit into two 35-litre backpacks, and there were still items we never used. Traveling light keeps you more mobile and less tired from carrying heavy packs. Besides, sooner or later, someone will have to carry both backpacks.
  • Stay flexible
    The best part about planning as little as possible is that it allows the freedom for magic to happen, in a million unexpected ways. Random encounters can lead to the most memorable experiences.

Communication, planning as little as possible, and sharing the experience while allowing for individual pursuits are the keys to successful couples travel. With these firmly in mind, you’ll be prepared to take a trip of two weeks, two months, or two years.

What are you waiting for? Grab your partner and GO!

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Advantages of Couples Travel

Posted by Ted on Nov 30, 2012 in Philosophy, Travel, Vagabonding

Some might think that long-term travel as a couple is a recipe for drama. However, this is usually not the case. More often than not, it is both a rewarding experience, and can be an easier journey than if traveling solo.

Surrounded by tea in Longjing, China

A few weeks ago, I was invited to participate in the annual Meet, Plan, Go : National Event. I talked about our extended trip to Southeast Asia, and on Couples Travel. In this two-part series, I’ll highlight what we talked about and more.

Dispelling the Myth

Traveling with a partner isn’t crazy.

The fear that many couples have of traveling together is just that – fear – and most couples actually grow closer.

Advantages of Solo Travel

There are two very important benefits to Solo Travel;

  1. Freedom
    You get to go where you want, when you want, and you don’t have to negotiate with anyone.
  2. Overall cost
    One person can certainly travel cheaper than two.

Traveling alone is simpler and cheaper, and there’s nothing wrong with it. There are thousands of solo travelers out there right now, exploring the world on their own terms and loving it.

Advantages of Couples Travel

A simplistic view might make it seem that traveling as a couple is both more complex and more expensive. While technically true, one needs to look at a number of other benefits to understand the differences more fully.

  1. Individual cost
    A couple traveling together can do so for somewhat less than twice the cost of a single person, as they can share things such as food, lodging, and local transportation. There are exceptions – air, bus, and boat fares, and per-bed dorm-style lodging at hostels – but per-room lodging, taxis, and sharing meals can allow two people traveling together to travel cheaper than they could individually.
  2. Combined resources
    Leading up to a trip, two people can work and save more than one person alone, perhaps reducing the time needed to accumulate the necessary funds. On the road, two people can work to offset daily costs or extend a trip.
  3. See more
    With two sets of eyes, and two ways of interpreting the world, a couple traveling together can see and experience more.
  4. Safety in numbers
    Even two people traveling together are less likely to get scammed or robbed.  Of course, there are no guarantees – taxi drivers and gas station attendants can be experts at the craft of hoodwinking tourists.Also, in some countries, attitudes towards women can be dismissive or aggressive, especially when traveling alone.
  5. Collaborative problem solving
    Whether on a short vacation or an extended trip, “something unexpected” is a matter of when, not if. With two minds thinking through a problem – getting lost, communicating with a local, dealing with an accident, getting sick – a couple can weather those difficulties better and avoid having to be alone.
  6. Builds intimacy and trust
    Hand-in-hand with all of the above, sharing the experience of exploring the world, learning about different cultures, and solving problems can bring a couple closer together. While there may be the occasional argument, over the longer time of an extended trip, a couple becomes more efficient at being partners. They begin to understand how they complement one another, taking advantage of their individual strengths, and compensating for weaknesses, becoming better travelers and companions.

Success Stories

Don’t just take my word for it, there are plenty of couples who are making longer-term travel a reality.

For over two years, I have been curating a series of Vagabonding Case Studies which feature real people going on, currently on, or whom have returned from extended trips.

Out of almost 80 profiles, 25% of vagabonding travelers are couples and families.

What is most interesting about the studies are in the similarities. When asked about challenges on the road, couples would respond similarly to those traveling solo – safety, money, and missing family.

Here’s what a few of them have to say..

  • ..on planning;
    • “The more flexible you are, the more open you can be to amazing opportunities.”
      The Talbots
    • “Say yes as often as you can, to anything. When you’re open to life, good things happen to you. Try new things. Don’t be picky. Get your hands dirty.”
      Aron & Mariana
  • ..on relationships;
    • “As a couple we were worried that being together, 24 hours a day, every day, would be very challenging for our relationship. But the opposite happened – we were confronted with each other’s weaknesses and issues and, in the end, came out as a stronger couple.”
      Los Fogg
    • “We wondered if we’d all kill each other. Instead we had a ball.”
      The Redpaths

As these and many other stories show, traveling together as a couple isn’t scary. Far from the worst idea ever, it can be a recipe for success, allowing people to grow individually and together, sharing the beauty and wonder of the world.

What are you waiting for? Grab your partner and GO!

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Meet, Plan, Go! Nationwide Event – Oct 16, 2012

Posted by Ted on Oct 11, 2012 in Events, Travel, Vagabonding

Mention the words ‘career break’ to someone, and there’s a number of thoughts they might have, depending on whether their break was intentional or not.

Regardless of the reason that one might find themselves in a break in their career, such breaks can be used for people taking time out of their career for personal and/or professional development.

That’s just what the organizers of Meet, Plan, Go! strive to inspire by getting as many people as possible involved in conversation about the benefits of taking a career break in order to travel the world. Confidence, problem solving skills, and expanding one’s cultural understanding are just to name a few.

Many might find the idea daunting – of leaving a perfectly good job, or ceasing the looking for one if unemployed – in order to gallivant across the world. However, while it should be a serious endeavor, there’s no reason for it to be scary, and that’s what they try to show through the giving of information on their website, and through their ‘Nationwide Event‘, happening on Oct 16, 2012, at 10 cities across the country;

Austin | Boston | Chicago | Minneapolis | New York City | San Diego
San Francisco | Seattle | South Florida | Toronto

This will be their third event, and it’s likely to be the best yet. A new format will make the sessions even more interactive, and exciting keynote speakers set the inspirational tone of the evening. I attended the first National Event a mere week before Liz and I left for our Southeast Asian Adventure. As one of several ‘Ambassadors’ sprinkled among the crowd, I helped answer questions about the logistics of travel, and shared my own unique story.

Two years later, I’m excited and honored to return as a featured panelist for the San Francisco event, sharing the stage with Kelly Wetherington and Francis Tapon as we talk about our different experiences with career breaks and travel.

Come Meet with us on Oct 16 in SF, or in one of the other 9 cities, to find out how you can Plan your big trip, and GO!

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Lost in the Yucatan

Posted by Ted on May 16, 2011 in Travel, Vagabonding

Alone, I awoke this morning in the room of someone I’d met just 36 hours before. I’d been connected to JC through a woman I’d met once at a Burning Man party last summer. Thankfully, travelers tend to look out for each other and freely offer crash space, even if it isn’t theirs.

I’d arrived in Cancun on Saturday night and made the 90 minute drive south to Tulum, passing kilometer after kilometer of one resort after another. However, as soon as I reached Tulum, it had a different feel – more like Pai, and less like, well, Cancun, the top of every spring break list.

I spent my first full day enjoying the beach at Playa El Mariachi, and my first cavern dive at Dos Ojos. While entirely awesome, that will be a different story. On a rather tight timeline for the week, I don’t have the leisure of staying in one place for long, so today I started off snorkeling at Gran Cenote, before heading off towards Chichen-Itza, stopping for lunch at a roadside ceviche stand.

I saw a sign mentioning Ek Balam, and decided to follow my map along smaller roads. Unfortunately, said map appeared to be a bit incomplete and outdated. I passed Yalcoba as expected, but ended up in Xtut rather than Dzalbay. Turning around, I came across a sign for Hunuku, but still had to stop a few times to ask locals the right way. Interestingly, this lostness wasn’t stressful in the slightest. There was still plenty of daylight left, and the scenery was beautiful. There were arches of beautiful red-leafed trees and rolling fields. I stopped to let a small herd of cows pass, and several iguanas played frogger across the road.

I finally arrived at Ek Balam at 4:50, only to be told that the gates closed at 4:30, and really, anytime after 4:00 since everyone gets kicked out at 5:00. But I took even this in stride. The day, much like this trip, is about the journey, not about the destination. Besides, a stranded tour guide needed a lift down the road to the next town, so clearly my purpose in showing up so late was to be his ride. Casimiro and I talked about local life and his desire to start a family as we made our way to Temozon.

Now I sit alone in Hotel Dolores Alba in the town of Piste, near Chichen-Itza, with plans to visit the ruins first thing in the morning before the tour buses arrive from Cancun, and then I shall try again to see Ek Balam, and either spend the night in Valladolid or return to Tulum, before returning to Cancun on Wednesday for the true purpose of this trip, to witness the Sacred Mayan Journey of hundreds of canoeists traveling from the mainland to Cozumel to hear the wisdom of the goddess Ix Chel.

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A plethora of food in Penang

Posted by Ted on Feb 25, 2011 in Travel, Vagabonding

Up on the earlier side to go to dim sum again, and was much busier. We sat in the street with Penny, and talked about Bali’s attitudes towards women. We got the egg custards today, and they were the best we’ve ever had. Went back to the 75, where we called into DYC’s house warming party. We were two heads on a wall in Berkeley, a video call from 16 hours in the future

This was the beginning of my journal entry from Oct. 24th, just four months ago. We’d arrived in Penang a few days earlier, having taken an overnight “VIP” bus from Malacca that dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. We finally talked down a taxi driver who was genuinely helpful, and after saying that we could not afford his friend’s hotel, promptly took us to the Travellers Lodge, better known as simply ‘the 75‘.

The first thing that any Malaysian guidebook or traveler will tell you about Penang is that it is a food-lover’s paradise. Most of its culinary delights are found in Georgetown, on the northeast corner of the island. Our Chinatown guesthouse was conveniently situated near Little India, with the best that both worlds had to offer within easy walking distance.

Our introduction to real Indian food in Singapore only wet our appetite for more. On our first night, we found ourselves in the most upscale of Indian restaurants, as evidenced by their enclosed air-conditioned dining room and sizzling brownie sundae dessert. While the food was certainly very good by American standards, it wasn’t until we discovered a little hole in the wall a couple of nights later that our bar for Indian food was forever raised. Lured by a streetside dosai-maker, a tout pulled us into the waiting arms of Krsna where the chicken and potato dosai was crispy and flavorful.
Lest you think we limited ourselves to just Indian food, fear not. Not only did we enjoy dim sum almost every morning at the same restaurant with a fellow traveler, but we sampled our way around town, from one street cart to another. Our favorite vendor may have been the one on Kimberley Street that would serve up char koay teow to order. We watched as his practiced hands fed the coals and cooked up a stir fry in 49 seconds.

Then there’s ais kacang. On top of scoops of grass jelly threads, sweet corn, red beans, and palm fruit, build a mountain of shaved ice in a bowl. Then drizzle root beer and bubble gum syrups over it, and finally, a ladleful of evaporated milk. It’s actually pretty awesome. So wonderful, in fact, that it inspired an idea for a Burning Man art project, as you can see from the diagram in my notebook.


While Georgetown may not be the prettiest of destinations, it has its charm, and it has decent lodging and great food, to be had for a bargain. You can even catch Bollywood movies at the Veenai Odeon. We spent longer in town than we’d planned, deciding on where we were going next. Two weeks before the elections and Aung San Suu Kyi’s release , Burma seemed like a poor choice. The islands off the coast of peninsular Thailand seemed expensive. So after five days, we left Penang on two overnight trains to Laos, in the middle of which we cast our November election ballots electronically, from the internet room in the Bangkok station.

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