Why Traveling Strengthens My Relationship

“If life wasn’t meant for travel, we would have roots not feet.”
 Looking out into the world at Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Looking out into the world at Badlands National Park, South Dakota

 

From the beginning of time, people have felt an innate call to travel, to traverse the earth and discover new realms.  For me, travel sparks something inside my soul that I cannot find through any other activity.  It allows me to open my soul to new cultures, new people, and new places. I learn to navigate the world with my heart, rather than with my mind. I discover ways of communicating beyond language. Traveling forces me to be absolutely present, and to push myself beyond my comfort zone. It allows me to explore the edges of the unknown, within myself, and in the world.

Traveling has also proved to be a major key in strengthening my relationship.

Before meeting Christian, I had the fortune of traveling to Europe and Mexico with my family, and studied abroad in Italy for seven months.  Through the development of our relationship, I traveled alone in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, and flew to Haiti for a week for work.  Christian on the other hand, spent a large part of his developmental years traveling between the U.S. and Malaysia. He studied for a year in Brazil, a semester in Denmark, and explored areas of Europe and South America. Our stories of exploring the world bonded us together instantly. We challenged and tested one another with our individual experiences.

Learning the amount of places, or destinations was less important than discovering what the other learned, how they grew, and how uncomfortable they felt.  These were the key points we were each listening for, because we both desired a partner who would be willing to go beyond their personal limits, in the name of travel and exploration. Why?

Because someone who knows what it means to truly travel, and immerse themselves in a new culture, is brave, strong, curious, willing to be vulnerable, flexible, and most importantly growth oriented. These are all traits that I believe are essential in a relationship.

 Second day (of five) hiking the Salkantay Trek to Macchu Picchu, a brutal, beautiful, and worthwhile journey - not for the weak

Second day (of five) hiking the Salkantay Trek to Macchu Picchu, a brutal, beautiful, and worthwhile journey - not for the weak

These conversations of  our own individual experiences traveling, bonded us together through a common interest. However, we knew that to get to the next level of commitment in our relationship, we had to take the leap and travel together. For many people the next level of commitment is moving in together, or getting engaged. For us, we had to travel first before anything else.

After celebrating four years together, and ending two years of long distance, we chose a destination: South America.  We planned a six week trip to Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.  All we had were two backpacks, and our love, before stepping into the unknown together.

JK... those weren’t the only two things we had.

There was also a sense of fear and uncertainty. We did not know what the journey would bring. With travel, you can not predict the major events that might alter your state of being or perspective on the world. This time there was more at stake than when we had traveled alone. There was both the opportunity to grow and strengthen our relationship, or the opportunity to destroy and hurt our relationship. I'm happy to say that it turned out to be the former...but not without proper challenges.

On our journey we visited friends in Ecuador, trekked for five days to Machu Picchu through 14,000 feet elevation, and discovered the magical streets of Cartagena, Colombia.  We tried new foods, danced the nights away, and escaped to the beach. There was joy and romance, yes, but more importantly there were challenges, and discomfort. We had to battle through food poisoning, getting stuck in the middle of the ocean when our boat generator died, heat stroke, and fatigue.  I had panic attacks, depressive episodes, and cold sores. We had miscommunications with our hosts, terrifying bus rides, and weeks without showering.

 Hiding out and napping in a shaman's hut at Macchu Picchu, after getting food poisoning the day before

Hiding out and napping in a shaman's hut at Macchu Picchu, after getting food poisoning the day before

Through those obstacles we grew the most.  We had to persevere, and learn not to take out our frustration, anger, or confusion out on each other. We were in a completely new situation every day. We had to develop even deeper trust, and we had to rely on each other to pull through for the relationship even in the most challenging times.  We did not feel 100% every day, and often times we had to take turns taking the lead. In the midst of turmoil we learned to appreciate the small moments that brought us peace, laughter, and connection. We experienced the high highs, and the low lows that come with travel.  We saw each other in vulnerable situations and saw how we worked together to deal with adversity. The greatest gifts of all that we received after these six weeks were a greater sense of confidence, trust, and commitment in our relationship.

Traveling makes my relationship stronger, because it provides a microscopic look into what life will look like together in the long run.

 Riding a reed boat on the floating Island of Uros, on Lake Titicaca 

Riding a reed boat on the floating Island of Uros, on Lake Titicaca 

Life, like travel, is often unpredictable.  You can plan as much as you want, but inevitably there will be bumps, and curve balls that force you to re-route. Traveling is a wonderful way you can see how your partner might react in difficult, or unknown situations, without having to wait 10 years to find out. Now, after traveling, I know for a fact that both Christian and I choose to let adversity strengthen us.  We allow it to deepen our bond and capability as a couple.  Traveling also allowed me to peel back another layer of myself, and be more vulnerable with Christian. I got to experience more of his flexible, adventurous, protective, and strong side and that made me fall even more in love with him. These experiences give me great confidence in our future together. I know that challenges will only get more complex as we grow older, but I trust him to have my back, and to keep moving our relationship forward.

Since returning from our first trip abroad, we decided to move in together, recently got engaged, and are now living abroad in Italy together. I am positive that without traveling together first we would not have been able to take each of those major steps in our relationship.

IMG_6101.JPG

I am beyond grateful for these opportunities, and I recognize that every couple has different non-negotiable, priorities, and values.  I have shared with you that traveling is one essential element that has strengthened my relationship, and now I want to hear from you!

What practice, value, or priority has strengthened your relationship, and why? Is it attending a religious service every week, cooking meals together, going on walks, camping in the woods? Or if you are not in a relationship right now, what is something you would prioritize in your future relationship and why?  Share your answers in the comments below!