The experts all agree. Travel before marriage is a great way to discover if your partner really is “the one” or not. And yes, by “experts” I am referring to Bill Murray and Mark Twain. Isn’t that who everyone is talking about when they say “experts”?
Bill Murray famously gave this piece of advice when he crashed a bachelor party in Charleston, South Carolina:
‘If you have someone that you think is The One, don’t just sort of think in your ordinary mind, “Okay, let’s pick a date. Let’s plan this and make a party and get married.” Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if when you come back to JFK, when you land in JFK, and you’re still in love with that person, get married at the airport.’
Twain conveyed the same message much more concisely when he wrote:
“I have found out there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
We (Twain, Murray and I) aren’t talking about the type of travel where you lounge on a beach and someone hands you a drink before you are thirsty and a snack before you are hungry. Not that I am hating on that type of travel, in fact I LOVE it and probably have the highest tolerance for lounging around and doing nothing while my every whim is taken care of, than anyone else I know. It’s a gift.
Choosing your partner based on how you interact during the type of traveling where you don’t have to make any decisions and nothing goes wrong is like choosing your partner based on how well you got along in preschool. When your every need is being met, most people are pretty easy to get along with. But unfortunately, life is not like that. It does not come with gentle teachers imposing snack time, nap time and play time.
I am talking about the type of travel that, like Bill Murray said, takes you places that are hard to get to and hard to get out of. Travel that has it’s ups and downs but is chock full of adventure.
10 good reasons to travel before marriage
1. It speeds up the process
When Tom proposed marriage to me in Bali we had known each other for two calendar years. I say “calendar” years because we figured out, with some extremely precise and accurate math and science, this equation:
1 unit of time traveling together = 4 units of time of being together not traveling or 1T=4NT
In a “regular” life each person in the relationship has outside interests, jobs and friends. Most couples spend at least 9 hours a day apart, and you basically spend ALL your time together when traveling. Using our incredibly accurate equation, on the day Tom proposed we had actually squeezed 5.5 years into what looked like 24 months.
Travel can help you know very quickly whether or not you have found your life-long partner-in-crime!
2. Joint decisions and compromise
In “regular life” decisions that need to be made jointly only come up every once in a while. Where you are going to live, for example, is a big decision that is made once and then done for a year or more. A car or bus pass covers transportation. You may even have routines like “taco Tuesday” or “salad Saturday” that make it so meals don’t constantly have to be discussed or decided on. My guess is that the average couple probably makes 3 (at the VERY most) joint decisions a day. When traveling together you will probably make about 15 joint decisions daily. Accommodation, transportation, food, and entertainment – all of these things need to be discussed and decided on a nearly day-to-day basis.
You will probably make more decisions together and compromises in a month of traveling than you will in a year of marriage. This a great time to see how you make decisions together and if one person feels like their needs or wants are getting trumped for the other’s. Do both people feel their wants are treated equally? If one partner feels a lack of equality in the relationship, it is definitely going to cause problems later down the road.
3. Money matters
An often quoted statistic is that money is the number one reason couples fight. I have no idea if that is true or not, but there is no question that budgeting while abroad can cause tension! Navigating a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and are constantly trying to remember the exchange rate can be stressful, and if you don’t already live together this may the first time that you are equally sharing funds. Many people don’t join finances until they become engaged but it is common for people who travel together to split everything.
When Tom and I took our first trip together out of the country we opened up a joint bank account and each put in the same amount. We used that account for everything on the trip, and then figured that if there was any left at the end we would use it for future dates or vacations. It was a great way to test out merging our finances and to see how we felt about each other’s spending habits and budgeting style. People often prioritize different things when it comes to spending and saving money, which can cause major problems when sharing financial responsibilities.
4. How you deal with problems/issues
There are always going to be issues and conflicts that come up in life, and they seem to happen even more frequently when traveling. Some days you may even be lucky enough to see how you interact with your partner after the 20th thing goes awry in one day! Do you have each other’s backs or do you turn on each other and bicker? How do each of you deal with being hungry, tired, dirty with 6 more hours of travel to go before you get to take a shower? It is a wonderful thing when you can make each other laugh and relax when you are frustrated with the world, the meal or the taxi driver, and a not so wonderful thing if you escalate the situation. When the boat has engine trouble it is always better to laugh it off and grab an oar, without trying to assign blame or pout about it.
Dollars to donuts you will bicker and/or fight at some point while traveling, all couples do. What is more important is HOW you fight. Do you remain respectful of each other as you work things out, or do you lose it and say things you both regret later? Can you let go and still have a good time after a fight, or does one of you hoard those hurt feelings to bring out and re-hash later?
5. How you celebrate triumphs
As important as being there in the hard times is how you celebrate the triumphs and high points together. Any good trip will have much more of these than low points. Does your partner enthusiastically make those moments that much sweeter, or do they bring it down a notch? Can you both find joy in the everyday and mundane as well as the “bucket list” items? Can you find something positive to celebrate and savor together every day? You know you have found a life partner when you can delight in the joy of a great cup of coffee, or a hard day’s work as much as you do swimming with manta rays or looking out over the Andes. Does your partner make the ordinary extraordinary, and the extraordinary extra-extraordinary?
6. Pulling your weight
For all of it’s rewards, travel can be hard work and it sure helps to share that work between two people! Do you both pull your fair share without micro-managing each other? Or is one person just along for the ride?
7. In sickness and in health
Also known as the ICK-factor. I am pretty sure that the two groups of people who talk about poo the most are travelers and new parents. It happens. You get sick, or you get a dodgy tummy. You learn to take care of each other, give each other space and that you are going to have to let some stuff go. Do you still find each other irresistible after trying to help translate personal information to a doctor, or after scouring the shops to bring some Pedialyte back to your sweetie?
8. Weed out the psychopaths
How you treat people around the world shows how much empathy you have. As we all know, psychopaths don’t show empathy. Does your partner understand that not every culture has the same priorities and respects the customs and people of whatever place you are visiting? Do you both travel with the idea that when you are in someone else’s country THEIR priorities trump yours? The best travel partner (and life partner!) shows empathy, generosity and the willingness to smile and diffuse situations instead of being a grump and getting all bent out of shape when you travel to someplace different, and things are different than back home.
9. Form an identity of working as a team.
Once you’ve decided to marry someone they are family, and even if you sometimes drive each other a little bananas (and everybody’s family does) you always need to have each others backs and trust one another to be in their corner. Traveling together is like “spring training” for marriage. It lets you practice working as a team and is a great time to cultivate a “team” mentality. Go team!
10. Test drive the wedding vows
There is no better way to test if you really are ready to make that pinky swear of all pinky swears; are you in it for good times and bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health? When traveling there will be budget-conscious times and splash out times, one or both of you will probably get sick or hurt, and there will definitely be high times and low. If you don’t enjoy all of those times with your partner after a month of traveling, do you really want to swear to a lifetime?
On a final note, traveling together really helps you be relaxed about the whole wedding-planning thing. Because what is planning a wedding besides making a whole lot of decisions together? And looking back at our own wedding, there were some things we didn’t get to do (I really wish we would have done a sparkler send-off) but we loved and enjoyed all that we did get done. As any seasoned traveler knows, you can’t possibly see or do it all. The world is just too big and there where will always be that dish you didn’t try or that city you didn’t visit. At your wedding there will always be that sparkler send-off you didn’t have, or that photo you didn’t take. What matters is at the end of the day you find yourself with the best partner you could ever have imagined!
Now, just for fun here are too many photos of our wedding details, Martha Stewart eat your heart out: