Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My boyfriend and I went to Mexico over the new year. While we had fun, and the place was gorgeous, I remain shocked at how much friction and discord we had.
We had been together a year and done some stuff around Alaska but this was our first real trip together. First off, we couldn't agree on where to stay. I wanted to keep it cheap in a hostel and he wanted to go big at an all-inclusive spot. What we settled on was kind of in the middle, a hotel that was medium-sized and had air conditioning and a pool. He wanted to stay by that pool all the time. I wanted the beach. All he wanted was food from the nice restaurants, and I wanted to try street food. He wanted to party every night. I wanted to go to bed early a couple times and enjoy catching up on sleep.
I'm a planner and wanted itineraries so we could make the most of the time there. He didn't want to commit and so we ended up missing out on some things — like we didn't even see the Mayan ruins nearby. I'm still pissed about that. I love traveling because I can unplug and really just immerse myself in the moment and culture, but he was on his phone the whole time chatting with his buddies.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The whole experience baffled me. In the "real world," he and I never fight. We get along so seamlessly it's crazy. But the second we attempted a real vacation, it's like he was a whole new person. Or I was. Or we both were. Either way, it's like we no longer were that happy, easygoing couple.
Now he wants to schedule a trip to Europe and I'm panicking. Europe will be even more intense than Mexico. I think if we go, it might seriously kill our relationship. What should I do?
I've always loved traveling alone because I can do exactly what I want to do when I want to do it. Selfish? You bet. There's something liberating and indulgent about all that time to yourself.
But vacationing with a partner, friend or family can be just as wonderful — and in fact, even more rewarding. Traveling with someone allows you a chance to come to know and appreciate them in a whole new way, not to mention make memories together that will last a lifetime. It's true that travel logistics like long airport lines, language barriers, lost luggage, wacky weather and huge bills will stress anyone out. But those logistics are out of our control. What you do control is your communication with your partner and the delicate art of compromise.
Clearly your Mexico trip unfolded with both of you doing what you always do, without really thinking about how to meet in the middle. Rookie mistake, and understandable.
This time, talk about expectations before your departure. Each of you should pick three things you really want to do during the trip. That way you've found some middle ground where you have the satisfaction of a vague plan and he isn't totally floating mindlessly through his days. Split the itinerary in two, and each of you book a place for one half of the trip. It will be a mutual surprise to see what lodging you land on. And take turns picking places for meals, so you each end up with something desirable on your plate.
Finally, those bills rack up fast when you're on the road, with splurges like nice meals on down to unexpected expenses like bottled water and ATM fees. You'll both be happier in the long run if you discuss a budget before you go and try and stick to it along the way.
Here's my motto: You can't spell "plane" without "plan." I don't care if it's a quick flight for lunch in Talkeetna or two days of flying for a 14-day tour of Tasmania: If you're getting on a plane to go anywhere for any amount of time, you must have a plan.
What happens when you don't have a plan? You end up at the last available Airbnb in town, sleeping on a janky twin bed and sharing a bathroom with three other procrastinators and a homeowner named Bubba.
What happens when you don't have a plan? Your buddy lands the floatplane and you're the only one who didn't bring fishing gear, a sandwich or bug dope.
What happens when you don't have a plan? Your boyfriend scrolls Instagram by the pool and tries to set the resort's all-inclusive drinks record while you take long romantic walks on the beach … by yourself.
Whether you're going alone, with a partner or a whole crew, travel is usually a serious investment in money, time and energy. Why wouldn't you maximize your journey and minimize your stress by having some kind of plan? You wouldn't dream of going on a work trip without an itinerary, right? Why would you take a trip on your own dime less seriously?
I'm not saying you need to go full Clark Griswold and have every little step planned out. But at the very least you should draft a high-level trip outline or a short list of things you must accomplish. This will help you get the biggest bangs for your buck and time, and avoid any travel troubles with your travel partner. And yes, make a plan even if that plan is unplugging and doing nothing but sitting in the sun and reading.
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