How to travel with a partner

In my 23 years, I have been fortunate enough to travel widely, deeply and with a range of companions. I travelled with my entire family on cruises around the Caribbean, Disney World adventures and to resorts in the DR.  I’ve travelled with another family to meet more of their family in the Philippines in Korea. I’ve travelled with friends I’ve known forever and friends I’ve just met. I’ve travelled with my mom. And I’ve travelled solo.

But until last summer, I had never travelled with a partner.

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I was so excited for the ten-day trip Colin and I planned to Toronto and New York last summer.  First of all, I hadn’t been home since January, so I was really looking forward to seeing all of my family and friends.  I was also really excited to introduce them all to Colin and vice versa.  Secondly, I had never been to New York, despite always wanting to go. Colin actually suggested we tack New York onto our Toronto itinerary and I’m so glad he did.  I was also really excited to share this experience with him.  I relished the idea of introducing my love (him) to my other love (travel).

And it was a really amazing trip.  One of my favourites, by far.  But I also learned a lot from this trip – about myself, about Colin and about travelling as a duo.  I’d like to think I was able to implement some of that learning into our most recent trip to LA, even though that wasn’t strictly a couple’s trip. And I look forward to learning more about our travel style in preparation for a big trip we’re both dying to take sometime in the near-ish future, finances willing!

Tip #1: Consider what they want to do
So I had already booked my ticket to Toronto in August before Colin decided to join me.  When he did, I made a really big effort to make sure this felt like his trip too.  It’s not cheap to fly back to Toronto so I wanted to make sure we were making the most of it.  Starting with Colin’s suggestion to add a New York detour to our trip!

Colin had never been to Toronto before so I knew there were some things he’d want to see besides my family and friends. So we added trips to the Toronto Zoo, Hockey Hall of Fame, CN Tower and Niagara Falls to our itinerary to satisfy his inner-tourist. It was actually fun for me to experience/re-experience some of these attractions and play tour guide in my own city.  And we were able to fit in all of these experiences in just four days while also meeting most of my friends and family.

Tip #2: Be respectful of the purpose of the trip
Colin knew the reason I had booked my ticket to Toronto was to spend time with my friends and family, particularly in attending my grandfather’s 80th birthday celebration.  He also knew that since we weren’t sure when we would be back in Toronto, this was his opportunity to meet all of the important people in my life.  He was such a trooper as I dragged him to countless meals (in four days I think we only ate alone once) and activities with 44 different members of my family and friends.  I can only imagine how overwhelming it was to meet all of those people in such a short time span.  He was amazing! He didn’t complain once, made a great impression (my friends and family were raving) and made sure I got the time I needed to reconnect with my loved ones.

Tip #3: Have a plan
This isn’t necessarily specific to travelling with a partner, but I think it is always good to have a plan for your trip.  Depending on the trip, this can be as flexible or as rigid as needed.  With this trip, since we were trying to see many people and many things in a short amount of time, it needed to be pretty rigid.  In fact, I had a google spreadsheet going for the Toronto portion of our trip.

Tip #4: Be on the same page
In relation to having a plan, it’s important that you both have the same plan.  We had to figure out what worked for both of us in terms of budget, accommodation, transportation, itinerary, etc.  This was something we worked out in advance, which I think is really important.  We spent a lot of time on the computer together looking up hotels (Colin is anti-hostel, but I’m trying to convert him), the best way to get around, what attractions we wanted to visit, etc.  Luckily, we were on the same page budget-wise (cheap without being scary) and had a lot of similar places on our to-see lists.

Tip #5: Play to your strengths
So as evidenced by tip 3, I like to plan ahead.  For New York, I had made a giant list of everything I wanted to see/do and plotted it all out on a map.  Each night I would pull out that list, with accompanying research about opening times, costs, etc., and Colin would pull out our New York map and we would finalize our route for the next day.  I was much better at the planning ahead and Colin was much better at the last minute planning.  We worked well together.

Playing to our strengths came up in other situations too.  I’m more comfortable in airports and on planes, given how much experience I’ve had with them whereas Colin hadn’t flown for a while (to the point that his passport was expired when I met him, shocking, I know!). So I navigated us through security and customs and was available to hold his hand during take-off.  Colin was more savvy with the transportation in New York – helping us learn how to use our transit passes and ensuring we were getting on the right trains. He was also more cautious with our hotel, which saved us from sleeping with bed bugs for 5 nights!

Tip #6: Know how you handle stress
This tip was one I had to learn the hard way.  In what we affectionately refer to as my “5 o’clocks”, we learned that when I get stressed I get quiet, short/non-responsive and very close, if not there already, to tears.  We first discovered this on our 2nd or 3rd day.  It was about 5:00pm and we were planning to head to Wall St to see the sights. After a full day of walking in the August humidity, I really wanted a drink, a seat and some air conditioning.  Apparently, I didn’t state that clearly enough because Colin suggested we keep walking to the subway to try and get to Wall St.  So as we’re heading to the subway platform (aka the hottest place in New York), I have basically stopped responding.  Poor Colin can tell I’m upset and tries to make it better by over-talking.  Except I’m too stressed to explain myself, so I just end up crying on the platform.  Eventually, I’m able to explain enough and five minutes later we’re sitting in an air-conditioned Dunkin’ Donuts with iced coffees in our hands. And I was all better.

A similar incident happened the next day: we had a bit of time to kill between museums/Central Park and heading to the Mets game.  It turned into a long goose chase to find a specific coffee shop when all I really wanted was a cool drink, place to sit and air conditioning.

We’ve gotten a lot better with this one since.  I’m working on being more communicative when I’m stressed or upset. I know it’s not helpful to completely shut down.  And Colin is learning that I’m more of a secondary processor and might not be able to fully explain my emotions in the moment.  The thing I love is that we’re both very quick to apologize and make sure the other person is okay.  As stressed as we (or, let’s be honest, usually me) get, our first priority is always each other.

Tip #7: Take a break
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a ton of break time during our New York trip.  It was, and probably still is, the most time we’ve spent together just the two of us with nothing like work or other people to break things up.  It was just me and him 24 hours a day for five full days. And, besides my 5 o’clocks, it worked. I don’t think (you’ll have to ask him to check) that we got sick of each other or upset with one another.  That being said, I think it is important to have that time apart, especially if we do longer trips.  Even taking small moments, like both reading our books back at the hotel or splitting up to shop in Time Square, were important so we didn’t feel like we were stuck to one another and completely responsible for keeping the other person entertained.

Tip #8: Be flexible
Again, I think this is a tip that serves any trip, but is especially important when travelling with a partner.  A lot of items on our itinerary changed last minute: our flight leaving Vancouver was delayed to 2 in the morning, Wicked stopped doing afternoon matinees, the New York Public Library closed much earlier than it should’ve, etc.  But we rolled with the punches: sleeping in shifts at YVR, heading to the Book of Mormon lottery (which we won) instead of the Wicked one, being satisfied with just a picture of the outside of the library, etc.

Tip #9: Enjoy each other’s interests
Since meeting Colin, a lot has changed in my life.  I have been to 8 (or maybe 9) NHL hockey games.  I have watched multiple Marvel movies on opening night and regularly follow TV shows about superheroes.  He’s adopted some of my interests too; we’ve been to at least 5 live plays/musicals and have memorized every word of  the “Hamilton” score.  So it was with this same sense of openness and adventure that we willingly added each other’s suggestions to our itinerary.  This was how I ended up spending hours at the Hockey Hall of Fame and how Colin ended up walking blocks and blocks to find the Tiffany’s from Breakfast at Tiffany’s with me.  But we both did it willingly, knowing there was a light at the end of the tunnel (Tiffany’s was followed with pizza lunch and a coffee re-fuel).  And, if I’m being honest, I actually enjoyed myself at The Hockey Hall of Fame. Who would’ve guessed it? 

Tip #10: Love it, learn from it and plan the next one
I am by no means an expert or experienced partner traveller. Colin and I have only been on two trips together, with only 5 days when it was just the two of us.  I know we have so many more adventures, and lessons to learn, in our future.  And I am so excited for them! Travel definitely has moments of high-stress, fear, anxiety, exhaustion – things that can be heightened in a pair and things that have to be dealt with together. But I look forward to taking on those challenges if it means going on more adventures together and learning more about myself, my partner and our relationship.

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This summer we’re headed back to Toronto in June for a wedding and hopefully a couple nights in Montreal with my family. And then in July we’re planning to do a roadtrip over to Calgary for the Stampede, to see Colin’s family and to hit some cool spots (like Banff!) along the way.  And I hope we also fit in some mini trips this summer to Seattle, Pender Harbour, the island, etc.

I can’t wait 🙂

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