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8 Things I Learned The Hard Way While Traveling With An SO

Here are all the ways to avoid the most common conflicts.

For three years now I have all of my furniture and tchotchkes stored in my mom’s house because I have left Chicago and have been trying out new addresses all over the world. I had a one-bedroom in Lisbon, lived in a highrise in Kuala Lumpur, got a little cottage in Dublin, and have no plans to stop. Along the way, I have fallen in love and had boyfriends join in on these joyrides, following me through passport queues and into big adventures. But here is the thing: traveling alone is much different than traveling with a partner — there’s a learning curve. A big one. And I have learned all of the triggers, downfalls, wrong turns, and pitfalls so you don’t have to.

Do you want to avoid being that one flustered couple standing on the street corner, map bunched in one hand, fanny packs slung across hips, arms flailing and yelling at each other as pedestrians go about their day around you? Would you rather not sit in tense silence at dinner, plotting their death behind the menu as you weigh between the chicken or salmon? Would you perhaps not want to come back to a broken home after vacation? Yup, I got you. I have traveled with four boyfriends and have learned all of the hard lessons you don’t want to learn, and I have tips for you. Ahead are the things not to do while traveling with a partner.

1. Don’t Skip The Budget Talk

Have this talk before you even buy tickets. If your partner is imagining doormen and swim-up bars, and you’re imagining hostel kitchens and night buses, then you’re going to clash. Hard. Money is the number one strain in any relationship, and you don’t want it tainting your trip. Plan out a loose budget, and share what each of you expect. Decide what kind of accommodations you will be sticking to — hotels, Airbnbs, hostels — how much you feel comfortable spending on food a day, and see where you can cut back so you have more money for fun stuff (like taking buses instead of taxis.) Both of you will know what to expect the moment you land, and there won’t be any surprise splurges on Hotels.com.

(Pro tip: Sticking to a budget is easier said than done. Download a budget app like Mint where you can log all of your spending on that trip and see if you’re getting dangerously close to surpassing your agreed upon amounts. While you don’t have to follow it strictly, it will help reign you two in without having a big talk.)

2. Don’t Play The IOU Game

Buying a coffee for your love is a nice gesture — but only if it was your idea. If you find yourself constantly paying for their espressos, getting the taxis, and covering their sweet tooth cravings, you’re going to start getting annoyed. Sure, they said they would get the next thing, or maybe they said they only had big bills they couldn’t break, but the next thing always seems to cost half the price. This might seem petty, but if you’re traveling for a month together these little transactions start to add up, and you might start feeling frustrated about the insensitivity or irresponsibility of it all.

A great way to nix that in the bud is to set up a Splitwise account before the trip. In it you log each thing you paid for and need to split or pay back, and then the app will tell you the balanced IOU total at the end of the trip. It’s a lifesaver.

3. Don’t Leave Lunch Up To Chance

Do you two start getting testy when you’re hungry? So does every other couple in the world. To make sure you don’t end up breaking up in front of a Burger King, look up some great lunch and dinner spots in the city you’re visiting and have them on reserve. That way you have a well-reviewed and must-see spot on the ready, and the relationship won’t unravel because of a lack of an appetizer.

4. Talk About Roles Before You Board The Plane

If you have traveled more than your partner, you will soon find out that they will think you’re an experienced tour guide that will take care of every little thing on the trip. Trust me, it has happened to me every time. For some reason they assume you  know how to look up stuff on Google faster than them because you have been on the road for a little longer, and it will make you give them a dirty side eye every time. In order to avoid this, talk about what each of your roles will be.

You might be in charge of booking accommodation, they could be in charge of transportation, and each of you has to look up at least three things to do in the city once you’re there. And for the love of god, even though you know they will drop the ball, do not do it for them. This is the crucial part. If they make you miss your train because they didn’t do their share, let that responsibility sit on them. That way you won’t be weighed down with doing all of the planning while your partner lounges in the corner like he’s on a Tiki Tour group.

5. Do Not Be Attached At The Hip All The Time

Do you love visiting temples but your partner loves visiting cafes? Do you like to walk hours in a day, but they like seeing the top three attractions and then retiring for drinks? That’s totally okay! Once or twice a week, agree to separate to do your own thing. That way you not only get to experience the city the way you want to experience it, (or go on an excursion they’re not interested in,) but you also get some space from each other, too. Being inside of each other’s pockets 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is taxing, so getting some space from each other is necessary. Just make sure you agree to these solo days before you go on your trip, or else they will interpret it as you being sick of them, and that won’t do.

6. Air Annoyances Immediately

And I mean immediately. Say you were in the middle of haggling for a tuk-tuk and were about to shave off $4 from the asking price, when your partner climbs into the kart and says the original price is fine. You can’t believe it. All of your hard work, gone. Rather than seething silently and bottling it up until it turns toxic, you should let go of the frustration by telling them it annoyed you. Set that anger free.

Just say, “Babe, can you not do that again. I love this part of haggling, and I almost got us a cheaper fare.” Chances are they will smile sheepishly, apologize for undermining you, and not do it again. And you won’t have to think about it ever again because the crisis has been averted.

7. Ask: Wallet, Keys, Phone?

If they forget their phone at the cafe, they will blame you. It’s just knee jerk to lash out. If they forget their wallet on the bus, the trip will experience quite the hitch that will be hard to overcome. If their keys get left behind on a park bench, the two of you will have to climb through the window of the Airbnb and get blacklisted on the site when the cops get called. Do yourself a favor and each time you get up to leave, ask: Wallet, keys, phone? (And “backpack” if they’re extra forgetful.)

8. Go Out Of Your Way To Be Nice

Traveling can be tough and frustrating, and if you’re doing it for an extended period of time it can start to feel less like a romance and more like a to-do list. Between catching all of those planes, figuring out where the hotels are, doing the math on the currency, and dragging your suitcase for what feels like miles, tempers can start fraying. Because of that, go out of your way to be nice.

For example, if you’re stuck sitting on a curb because your bus is delayed by three hours, wander off to get two small lattes, and sit down to let your knees cheerfully bump against each other. If you get to your bungalow and find out it’s more swamp-shack than beach-chic, make light of the moment by getting wine and playing Uno underneath the mosquito nets. Tell them they look hot as they’re getting sunburned in the stuffy local bus and kiss them unexpectedly at traffic lights. These little moments mean a lot during hard situations, and it reinforces that you’re a team. Plus, wouldn’t you rather be tipsily laughing in your falling apart bungalow than muffling tears into your lumpy pillow? Exactly.

If you follow these easy tips, you will come back from your trip all smiles and stronger than before. Don’t forget the souvenirs!