Alex and I are currently on a two-month-long backpacking trip through the beautiful country of Colombia. Over the years, we've learned that the extended trips we've taken with one another, especially while on a budget, have tested our relationship to the max.
When you escape the safety net of your hometown and spend every waking (and sleeping) moment together, you discover the most about each other.
The good news is that once you make it through, you'll come out stronger and more emotionally connected than ever before.
If you're thinking about embarking on a journey with your SO, here are eight tips you can use to relieve some stress and to ensure you make it through in one piece.
1. There Can Only Be One Chief
In our world, a group of two or more people traveling together is considered a tribe. In this tribe, there are two different roles a person can take on: the Chief or the Indian.
The Chief is the decision maker, the planner, and the one who keeps the group moving forward. Because the Chief takes on a high level of responsibility, she can come off as tense or high-strung. This is only because she actually wants to plan activities to see and experience the country she is visiting.
The Indian, on the other hand, is the follower, the supporter, and generally the one who brings a sense of ease to the group. Because the Indian takes on little responsibility, he can come off as lazy, forgetful, and irresponsible. This can be very frustrating for the Chief, as she feels like she is doing all of the work. In reality, the Indian is just waiting for the Chief to plan something and once planned, the Indian will bring life to the adventure.
Without the Chief, the Indians would just lay in bed and do nothing all day.
Without the Indians, the Chief would be lonely and wouldn't have much fun on his or her adventures.
The most important part of all of this is that there can only be one Chief in all groups of less than four people. In your relationship, allow one person to be the Chief and the other to be the Indian. This should come naturally based on your innate traits, but if not, decide who is what and stick to your roles.
If you're elected as the Chief, know that you are the one who is going to have to make a plan for tomorrow. The beauty in this is that you can choose what YOU want to do. Make a decision, and stick to it. Once you embark on your new adventure, leave it up to your Indian to make it a fun experience. If you're the Indian, give your Chief support, trust, and confidence. They are the reason you're not still sleeping.
2. Use One Another for Confidence
Let your companion be a symbol of familiarity in moments of stress, anxiety, and discomfort. This will allow you to feel safe and confident, in almost any situation. Use each other to push the boundaries of your comfort zone and try something you are too scared to normally do alone, like making friends with strangers.
Our first night at our hostel in Medellin, several backpackers were chatting and having beers outside on the balcony. Although I wanted to join, I felt intimidated to approach them because I felt that I would be intruding as a newcomer on their already-formed group. By using Alex as a beacon of familiarity in an unfamiliar setting, I was able to muster up the courage to start a conversation and within ten minutes I had made a handful of new friends. Had Alex not been with me, I honestly don't know if I would've assimilated into the group as well as I did. He gave me the confidence to be myself while reassuring me everything was going to be just fine.
You can use your partner as a confidence booster to try even the most adventurous of activities, like paragliding or skydiving. In two weeks, Alex and I will be embarking on paragliding and white water rafting trips in the outdoor adventure capital of South America, San Gil!
3. Share Daring Meals
It can be difficult to decide what to order off a menu in a foreign country, especially if the country doesn't share your native language. It's easy to stick to what's familiar, like burgers and fries, but I often find myself wanting to try something local or unique to the culture. To avoid the likelihood of wasting money on food I may not have a taste for, Alex and I usually split two meals: one that's familiar, and one that's a bit more daring and adventurous.
This way, we both get to try a local treat, but don't need to risk completely hating our entire meal. We've never come across a situation where this didn't work out for us. If you're feeling frisky, try ordering two items you've never had and split them both. You'll be amazed at how many new foods you fall in love with. Ever try guinea pig or kangaroo?
4. Create a Joint Credit Card Account
Say goodbye to keeping a never-ending running tab on your phone for who owes who what.
Depending on how close you are with your SO, this method of splitting funds is an absolute must. Get a credit card that has zero foreign transaction fees (more on what we used later), and add your partner as an authorized user. Use this card as much as you possibly can on your journey. Not only will having both of you on the card help you accrue bonus points, but at the end of the trip, you'll just have to split the statement in half to figure out how much each person owes.
The card that Alex and I applied for right before leaving for Colombia is the Chase Sapphire travel credit card. I am by no means a financial guru, but I do feel confident in saying it was one of the best preparations we made upon leaving. Apart from all the benefits and travel-specific perks the card provides, like zero international transaction fees, I was able to add Alex as joint user which instantly gave us 5k travel points. In addition, we'll easily hit the $3,000 target between the two of us that we need to accrue an additional 50k bonus points.
Creating a joint credit card account will take lot of pressure off of you because you will no longer have to go over who paid for what after a long day out. I'm terrible at math, but dividing by two is my specialty.
5. Know Your Strengths and Use Them to Your Advantage
We all have talents and we all have... Well, areas of our life that need improvement. Travel has a way of bringing out both, very, very rapidly. What might normally take three months to learn about your partner will take five days while traveling, especially when staying together in a hostel.
I quickly found out that Alex has an amazing sense of direction but that he doesn't like asking people for help. On the other hand, Alex found that I am incredibly comfortable approaching anyone and asking for directions, even in foreign countries, but have a tendency to get lost virtually anywhere. By putting our strengths together, we are able to find our way around any city in the world.
Once you each learn your unique strengths, put them together to accomplish any task ahead of you.
6. Take Time for Yourself
Although you may spend a lot of time together at home, traveling will take this to a whole new level. You'll be spending every moment together, awake and asleep. If you're not careful, this can quickly lead to disaster.
No matter how dependent you are on your partner, you need alone time. You'll know when the moment comes when you start feeling annoyed and frustrated at your partner for no apparent reason. The person you once completely and wholly loved will now annoy you just by the way he chews his food, or the way he spits when he brushes his teeth. The important thing to realize is that you don't all of a sudden hate your partner; you simply need some alone time. Use these moments of annoyance as cues to let you know that the clouds are forming and that the storm is coming. If you don't take time for yourself, you'll start fighting. And when you're in a crowded, hot hostel room wearing dirty clothes after not showering for three days, your words can be more hurtful than anticipated.
Before the storm breaks out, find a way to get away from each other. Even a few hours apart will do the trick. If you're afraid to venture out into an unfamiliar city without your partner, find two different spaces in your hotel or hostel and separate in a safe way. One night, Alex and I were too tired to venture out on our own, so I chilled out in our hostel room while he went into the common area to play a game with a friend. These few hours apart seriously saved our sanity and when we came back together we were able to be much more present and attentive with one another.
Whenever you start to feel annoyed with your partner, take as little as thirty minutes for yourself. In the long run, this simple step can actually save your relationship.
7. When Packing, Make a List Of:
A) The things you can share, and
B) The things you need for yourself
It was convenient for Alex and I to share contact solution, sunscreen, and snacks and to divide those things up between the two of us. However, I recognized that I wanted to bring some luxury items like makeup and a small travel straightener that he would have no use for.
A note for the ladies especially: don't feel high maintenance for bringing a few beauty items that will help you feel a little more at home. Just don't go overboard, and realize you will need to make some compromises; a full size hair straightener would not have allowed me much extra space for clothes and souvenirs I might want to purchase later on in the trip, so the mini travel straightener was a great comprise!
8. Dirty Socks, Periods, and Farting.
Girls: Your boyfriend is going to leave his dirty socks lying around once in a while, get over it.
Guys: Your girlfriend is going to get her period every month. Get used to it.
Both of you will fart, pee, shave, and cry in front of each other, multiple times a day. Get comfortable with it. If you can't stand your partner farting and peeing in front of you, how are you ever going to take care of them when they're older? It's part of life. Traveling with your partner will bring out the best and worst of both of you. If you can get through a backpacking trip together, you'll likely be able to face all of the other struggles of life together with a bit more ease.
Best of luck on your travel adventures ahead. We hope that by using these tips you'll come out of it stronger than ever as a couple. If you have any questions about traveling as a couple, hit us up! We'd be glad to answer anything that may be on your mind. If you have any other great tips, please let us know. Although we have done a lot of traveling together, we still have a lot to learn.
Bon voyage and happy travels!