There is something really special about traveling together, alone, as a married couple. Regardless of your plans to start a family (because, traveling with kids is possible!) or how often you traveled together while dating (because, more than likely that’s one of the reasons you fell in love!), married travel creates opportunity to escape routine and do the very thing you pledged at the altar to do: Live life together, adventures and all.
While my husband and I had both done a bit of international traveling before we met, it wasn’t until after getting married that our combined love of travel really flourished. However, despite the win that it may be to have both a life partner and a travel buddy forever locked down, traveling as a married couple does present its own set of challenges—and if you aren’t prepared, those challeges can really erode your joy of travel into an unfortunate wedge of division.
How to prevent it? Though every marriage is unique, the following are the three biggest areas I’ve found to be key in ensuring your travel plans—and your hearts—as a married couple don’t go awry.
Before you go:
When you’re single, you alone decide how much you want your travel plans to affect your budget. You know how much it matters to you, so you may be willing to part with little luxuries or skimp in certain places as often as necessary to make a trip happen.
Enter: marriage. Now two people are in the mix, with two (potentially extremely) different spending habits, priorities and preferences; also two who most likely share the same bank account. Finances can be a frequent point of contention for many marrieds, and because of this it’s perhaps the most important part of trip planning. Decide, together at the start, how much you both want to spend on a trip and how you’re both going to afford it. Keyword: both.
Should we use our tax return for flights? Cut down on date nights? Forgo that basement remodel? Open a savings account just for travel?
I cannot stress enough the “together” concept. It may seem simple, but you never want to create space for resentment to grow over how big chunks of change, or even careless little purchases, are spent. You’d be surprised at how far subtle assumptions can go when one half of a couple hears, “We really need to tighten up our budget” and the other interprets this as, “OK, I’ll get the smaller-sized latte,” instead of skipping the morning coffee run all together.
Creating a system where both parties are equally and specifically sacrificing (therefore, saving) will make a shared budget less of a drag and more of a partnership. You can even make saving for a trip fun: Skip the movies and read a book together about your next destination, watch a travel show streaming online, or try cooking a new cuisine at home, together, instead of eating dinner out.
This may not be for everyone, but my husband and I have found that if we’ve previously agreed on a budget, then having him carry and parcel out the cash during our trip creates the least amount of stress.
Having one person serve as “bank” is great for several reasons: It cuts down on confusion over spending; if all the money stays in one spot, you always know how much you have left; it also reduces the chance of pickpocketing or loss. My husband is 6’7’’ so the chances of him getting swindled are far less than mine, but this isn’t a case for bigger is better. If one of you is more organized or aware than the other, capitalize on his or her strengths and let that partner carry the important credit cards, travel documents, and receipts, perhaps while the other focuses on taking all the photos or journaling the trip. It’ll streamline any potential stressor if you always know which one of you has the goods.
Another helpful suggestion? Stick to a daily budget. If you’ve both previously agreed on said budget, then you both will be able to agree if you’ve gone over one day and need to cut back on spending the next. Saying yes to an extra round of drinks one night may mean grabbing breakfast from the not-so-yummy, but free, hotel buffet in the morning. But with togetherness, this isn’t a problem; it’s simply understood.
Lastly, my husband and I have a rule that we’re each allowed one special “memento” when we travel. This helps curb the double shopping sprees and is a way for us each to make a trip memorable in our own way. We also decide beforehand if there are any gifts we want to buy for friends or family back home (usually a thank you for our dog-sitters, too) so all potential spending is on the table up front.
Ah, the lure of cheap lodging split between five study abroad friends. While such travel is great, albeit necessary for a certain season in life, when you’re married, hostels can be anything but desirable and “splitting the cost” means putting it under the same name.
So, no. When you’re married, you’ll want to remember that you’re married—if you catch my drift—and chances are hostels, aside from meeting a few interesting characters, will not give you the kind of travel experience you want. Hostels are typically priced out per person, not by room, so you’ll be better off searching for two or three-star hotels (if budget is a concern) that’ll cost you the same as a hostel but with infinitely more privacy and that glorious, en-suite bathroom.
If you’re both extroverted and worry about loneliness while traveling, many apartment-style European hotels also have a common room or kitchen where it’s easy to meet other travelers. Group tours or family-style dining establishments (just ask your B&B host or hotel concierge to recommend favorites) are also great places to strike up conversation with locals and fellow travelers, alike.
Also, be honest with each other when it comes to the type of lodging you’re expecting. Some hear “vacation” and want to live accordingly complete with room service, king-sized bedm and killer view. Others could get by with a cot if it meant afternoons out, sipping wine along the Seine. So knowing where the other draws the line when it comes to comfort will help narrow-down options that are realistic for you both.
And, if you happen to book a dud, don’t get mad at the one who found it. It’s happened to the best of travelers, so have a laugh, sleep on top of the sheets, and at least be glad you don’t have to stay there alone.
Schedules (and Attitude)
One wants endless time wandering every museum and the other wants to hop on bus and just see where it goes. How to accommodate both a planner and a bohemian’s travel spirit? Well, truthfully, you can’t. At least, not perfectly, and just knowing that your trip won’t be everything that it would be if you were traveling alone (or with like-minded friends) is a big start.
When traveling with your spouse, remember the point. This isn’t an Eat, Pray, Love tour. This is a lot of eating with the one, I pray, you already love! While this doesn’t mean your wishes should be downplayed, it does mean that you stand to gain far more from letting a trip evolve to reflect the both of you, not just the half of you. So try to build equal parts of spontaneity and planning into a trip. Balance out a hectic travel day with one where you have nothing scheduled. If one of you gets up early, use those hours while the other sleeps for some alone time at a nearby café. Clearly communicate (especially when one of you is hungry; many a travel arguments are birthed out of hangry-ness!) and create a short list of non-negotiables that each of you want to see—but then beyond that let a place create its own experience.
Being open to another’s interests can teach us more about a place and ourselves than we realize, because we’re not seeing life (or another country) through just our own lens. One of the best things about being a married, traveling duo is that you’re already used to doing life together. Traveling gets to frame those little details into something grander for a while, so you’re reminded to see each other in a grander, new way, too.