Most fellow travellers we've met during our bicycle tour from Rome to Russia have chosen to make their trips as part of a couple or larger group. We've met husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, best friends, and parents with children, all embarking on long trips together.
Travelling with someone else can make everything a little easier: you have someone to watch the bags while you shop, there's a second brain to figure out confusing signs and information, and you always have someone to share your joys, triumphs, and anxieties.
But, travelling with someone else, be it your one true love, your best friend from grade school, or your twin sister, will be a major – perhaps THE major – challenge of the trip.
I can't say Stephen and I are perfect at it yet, but during these last two months we've developed a few techniques for getting along day after day.
Declare Some Me Time
Even if you've lived with someone for decades and you know them as well as you know yourself, taking a long trip with them will reveal all sorts of new foibles, tics, and traits you never knew existed (or had somehow managed to ignore). To put it bluntly, your travel partner will irritate you in new and exciting ways every day.
When you're at home, it's easy to escape these irritations by going to work, popping to the shops, or hiding in the basement. On a trip, it can feel as though you're stuck in constant exposure, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.
It doesn't have to be that way.
If you need some me time or some down time, declare it. One of you (this is Stephen in our relationship) may find it hard to let go, to give the other space. It is not necessarily because they don't want to let you recoup, but because they don't want want to miss out on your adventures. However, after a little practice at having your own time on the trip, this will become easier.
There's nothing wrong with one of you going to the museum while the other goes shopping, or one of you taking a nap while the other checks out the local bars. You probably won't miss out on anything Earth-shattering, and your separate experiences will give you something new to discuss over dinner.
If it's impossible to get away, like on a long train trip or in a tiny tent, plug in your headphones and listen to music or a podcast for a while. We often take advantage of free internet in cafes to lose ourselves in our respective projects and just ignore each other.
It might sound anti-social, and it might look rude to those around you, but it's one of the best ways to cleanse your palate and make your appreciate the company of your partner a little later in the day.
Step Into Each Others' Shoes
Everyone we meet travelling takes on certain roles within the group. Usually, there is one person who does most of the planning, choosing destinations and sights, while the other agreeably goes along for the ride. This can work for a short trip, but after a few weeks, you may both start to feel that something's not quite right.
If you're the planner, you might find that you're spending all your energy doing things for both of you: organising tickets, booking hotels, reading guidebooks. If you're the agreeable one, you might find that you're not really getting what you want out of the trip.
Try a little role reversal. Planner, bite your tongue when your partner suggests a destination that your logical brain would never have dreamed of visiting. Following your partner for a while will allow you to relax and enjoy the scenery. Agreeable one, step up and make a few decisions. Not only will you relieve your partner of some pressure, but you'll get to do exactly what you want for a change.
Just Get Over It
Travel heightens emotions and magnifies experiences. That's why we love it. It's also why a small sleight, a sharp word, or a selfish act can seem so much worse on the road. Little arguments will tend to happen more often because you'll both be tired, hungry, and irritable more often, and frequently at the same time.
On the road, minutes after an argument, you will probably have to work together to interpret the map, make an eating decision, or figure out a foreign sign. Being angry at your partner can lead to stupid decisions, wasted money, and even injury.
The solution? Just get over it. Did your partner say something rude? Just shrug it off. Did your companion take the last piece of chocolate without offering it to you? Too bad. Are they just being a jerk? Get over it. Take a deep breath, count to ten, stay calm. Don't be the one to escalate something tiny into a big deal.
By giving each other a free pass every once in a while, you'll spend less time bickering, and more time enjoying your trip.
A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way
When you're tired and road worn, you can feel like there's only enough energy to take care of your own needs. If you're both doing this, it's easy to fall into your own little travel bubbles; even though you're travelling side by side, you're not really communing over what you experience. You can actually end up feeling more disconnected from each other, because there's just no energy left to bond.
You can also end up feeling ignored, because the attention you're used to getting at home is not happening now that you're on the road.
Even if you're exhausted or rushed, spare a little time and energy to show your partner some kindness or affection. A small compliment, a little kiss, or a hug will go a long way to patching the damage done by yesterday's bickering. It will also remind you both why you chose each other to travel with in the first place.
You won't be able to avoid all arguments and squabbles while you're travelling, and it wouldn't be great for your mental health to try. But with a little practice, you can erase most of the unnecessary bickering and resentment, and truly enjoy each others' company day after day after day after...
To find out how we're handling each other on a daily basis, squabbles and all, visit our daily trip journal at www.myfiveacres.com