We’ve been travelling together now for over five years, through dozens of countries and most of the continents. And here are our couple travel tips that have come as a result.
Along the way, we’ve been through our share of crises as we try to do unusual things like learn languages, embed ourselves in local culture, and generally see what it’s like living in other places.
Travel is an amazing privilege, but it can be stressful on relationships. A lot can go wrong. Every traveller has a story of a lost wallet (or passport), stolen bags, getting food poisoning, forgetting critical things, being lost in a strange place, or all of the above! And each crisis can cause unnecessary stress between couples.
But each time something goes wrong, it’s an opportunity to learn. This is partly how we create principles for travel as a couple. We also learn from when things go well — when we’re grateful we brought some item or having planned in advance.
This principle of learning from both good and bad decisions is just one of many from the book Principles, by Ray Dalio. That was our inspiration for writing our own set of principles!
Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
When making mistakes, keep a record or update a checklist so it doesn’t happen again. When doing anything, reflect on past mistakes, to avoid them.
Our first couple travel tip is a negative; but it really comes from a positive action of keeping a log.
For example, while on a trip, every time you realise that you should have packed something, write it down immediately on the packing list for next time.
Every time you make a small mistake, it’s an opportunity to improve next time. Keep a record (e.g. in a checklist) so you can avoid the mistake next time.
Learn from Good Decisions
Remember good decisions you made and make the same decisions again.
You don’t have to just learn from mistakes. Learn from good decisions, too!
Every time you want to give your past “you” a pat on the back for thinking ahead, cement that memory so you can do it again.
Again, keep things in a checklist. Speaking of which…
Use checklists, particularly when preparing, and update them.
Checklists may sound boring and almost redundant. But they remove stress from your life, because you just have to go down through a list, without trying to remember it.
There have been many studies that show that checklists improve efficiency, even of highly-trained individuals who have done things hundreds of times.
When a checklist is made up of your own experience, from times things went well as well as wrong, it becomes very powerful.
In couple travel, we use checklists for
- Making accommodation bookings — making sure that the apartment has everything we need
- Packing up — A checklist for all the things to make sure we’ve packed
- Going on day trips — A checklist for all the things we’ve learned, from experience, we should take.
The result: Battle-tested checklists that are refined from experience. Plus every item in the checklist tells a little story.
Prepare for Worst-Case Scenarios
Have a plan to mitigate extreme stress when you know it’ll happen. Stick to the plan, and take it one step at a time.
Couple travel can have the same worst-case scenarios as when travelling alone, but with added stress as it puts pressure on a relationship.
We’re often caught by surprise by scenarios that should not have been that surprising. When we see them coming, we have to use the principles in this document, especially those about communication.
But it helps to try to foresee a worst case scenario, have an action plan and execute according to it.
Preparing for worst-case scenarios means imagining
- Our batteries might be drained
- Our equipment might be stolen
- We might be mugged
- There might be unfavourable weather conditions
You don’t have to go overboard and plan for every eventuality, but over time you figure out what kind of future pain you may encounter, and plan to avoid it.
Avoid Unnecessary Risks
Think about risks you’re taking that you don’t need to (or want to), and eliminate them.
Many couple travellers have high risk tolerance and maybe even get a little rush from pulling things off.
This can be making it to a flight or ferry with minutes to spare, managing to finagle your way into a country despite not having pre-booked a visa, or surviving a rickety form of transportation.
Rarely is a risk necessary with enough forward planning, so we just have to realise that tendency within ourselves to embrace risk and not indulge it unnecessarily. Some risk is OK, but there’s enough risk in life!
Designate a Head Chef and Sous Chef
When working on something together that’s routine, appoint one person in charge.
We invented this couple travel tip in the kitchen at home, but it extends to everything we do: We designate a driver and a navigator, or a planner and an executer. The roles aren’t fixed; we can swap them.
The sous chef can provide input, but the head chef decides what is done and by whom. This reduces needless discussion. We can switch roles for other situations.
Another couple travel tip related to this is to agree on how to communicate, like “I’ll check the map every five minutes” or “I’ll tell you if I’m not sure where I am”.
Double Perform; Don’t Just Double Check
When something is mission-critical, we must both carefully do it, not just double-check each other’s work.
This tip is to both mentally do the work for anything that needs careful examination.
This involves anything involving dates, complicated trajectories, or large amounts of money.
The worst case scenario we’re trying to avoid is having nowhere to stay because we got a date or time wrong.
Double performing means both members of a couple doing a task, even if only mentally. We both have to apply 100% of our brains to it. We check our own calendars, and do our own math.
This rule sometimes means waking the other person up or interrupting them otherwise so you can both perform something important that is urgent and time-sensitive.
Do the Easy Tasks Before They Become Urgent (and Expensive)
Think about tasks that are non-urgent now but which will become urgent, time-consuming, expensive, and stressful later, and do them now!
There are easy things we leave until the last minute. A classic example of this is making a booking, requesting a visa, or even updating a passport.
If you leave any of those items until the last minute, they become harder, more stressful, and more expensive.
Think about all the things that you have a tendency to leave until too late for no reason, and start doing them earlier.
Schedule Time for Boring Admin
Do the boring but important regular admin, and don’t let it pile up.
Travel is not all glamour. There’s boring admin, including offloading excess baggage, planning for income and expenses, and making booking for flights and accommodation.
Rather than let it pile up, we have to schedule regular periods when we both have mental energy and a good internet connection to get it all done.
Understand and Communicate the Emotional context
Understand when we’re exhausted or stressed, or reacting to things abnormally, and communicate the context.
We sometimes react to things in strong ways and the other person may not even know why as it has nothing to do with the surroundings.
If one partner suggests something and the other reacts in a grumpy way or snaps back, then there’s something unspoken that hasn’t been said, like something they wanted to do or a personal preference.
It takes extra effort to dig deep, understand the feelings and then put them into words. So we’ve learned to identify those times and proactively resolve them.
Communicate Extra Clearly in Stressful Situations
In stressful, high-stakes situations, we have to communicate extra clearly: Loudly, short words, eye contact.
When we’re stressed, we have a tendency to start communicating less than effectively.
There are lots of stressful situations in travel: Being late for things, being too hot or too cold, or being in a dangerous place.
When there’s stress, it’s extra important we work together as a team. Otherwise, one person is left behind, and we both end up wearing even more stress.
Praise Generously; Criticise Compassionately.
Say more nice things than you need to, so when you have some criticism, it is better received.
A lot of what we’re doing and learning is actually totally new to one of us or both — learning languages, or trying to live in a foreign place.
When things go well, a little praise goes a long way. We do occasionally get praise from the outside, but it’s easy for us to give it to each other.
On the flip side, when something needs to be criticised, having given ample praise puts you in a good position to criticise compassionately.
Ask for Help
Don’t hesitate to ask for directions, how to do something, or the WiFi password.
We both have a tendency to be stubborn and try to do things alone. We’d often just rather figure things out than ask anyone for help. We’ll try to navigate ourselves, guess a WiFi password, or walk rather than hitch a ride.
Asking is hard, especially in situations where people might say no (e.g. asking for a ride). So we both have to make an effort to get over our stubbornness, fears and insecurities and remember that the pay-off for asking is huge.
Creating Your Own Couple Travel Tips
We started creating principles after one frustrating experience. Over time, it grew, alongside our experiences.
Every couple needs their own principles, and the best ones come by way of personal experience. So start making your own couple travel tips that apply to the way you travel!
Remember to learn both from the good and the bad. Keep doing the good things, and avoid doing the bad things.
If there’s a unique and useful principle you use, we’d love to hear it.