Travel with a companion and you’ll learn about a lot more than just the destination. Studies and surveys have proven time and again that those who travel frequently are, on average, happier than those who don’t. It’s easy to see how dreamy destinations and regular breaks from a hectic schedule could be the key to happiness—but what happens when you apply that logic to a relationship test?
Are people who travel together more likely to achieve bliss?
OK, maybe not bliss. Travel, like a relationship, is a bumpy, winding road. The lows teach you just as much as highs, and the best of both challenge you to experience new and exciting things.
Psychologists have said the best way to test your compatibility with someone is to take a trip with them, and the U.S. Travel Association has found that traveling couples are typically happier and have more sex than non-traveling couples. Whether you want to strengthen a romantic relationship or test the waters of a new one, setting out on a journey together might be the best thing you can do.
Here are some of the ways traveling will challenge you and your partner, and why that’s good for your relationship in the long run.
1. Constant communication
When you’re spending every waking hour with someone in an unfamiliar place, trying to make decisions about every little thing—from where to sit on the plane and what to eat to leisure activities and the lodgings—requires constant communication.
Not voicing your wants and needs, or ignoring the other person’s, is a surefire way to ruin a trip. Want to rest instead of taking on another walking tour or hike? Say so—you’ll probably regret it later when fatigue makes you crabby and ignites a fight. Feel uncomfortable or unsafe in your lodging or mode of travel? Speak up—your travel buddy might even be thinking the same thing. Listening and being heard is a fundamental need in any relationship, too.
Disagreements happen, and they often require compromise—another core pillar in healthy relationships and in life in general. Meeting in the middle when you have a disagreement with anyone is essential to being equals—no one wants to travel with someone who rigidly dictates the plans based solely on their own desires.
Relinquishing a little power and agreeing to something less than ideal is fine as long as you’re OK with it, and is preferable when your travel companion is willing to do the same for you. On a weekend trip to Montreal, I once agreed to accommodations my travel buddy made that I felt reluctant about. Why? Because he agreed to let me take the reins on booking an early-morning French food tour he would rather have skipped. We both ended up loving the things the other chose despite our initial disagreement. And even if this hadn’t worked out as well, we both knew the trade-off was fair.
3. It’s truly the best and worst of times
In my opinion, the biggest reason to travel with someone close to you is the chance to share some of your absolute best moments, and to help each other out when you’re at your worst.
While there are all kinds of nightmares that can strike while traveling – a missed flight, lost or stolen valuables, sickness, injury – being vulnerable isn’t so bad when you’re with someone who supports you. Even the worst travel nightmares don’t compromise the thrill of seeing incredible new places together, much like the difficult parts of a great relationship or friendship don’t compromise the highs.
4. A peek into spending habits
If you’re wondering how a partner handles money, their day-to-day spending habits will become clear as you experience travel budgeting with them. This is likely important if you’re seriously considering spending the rest of your life with this person—or maybe you’re just nosey. No matter the reason, it’s important to be on the same page spending-wise when you’re booking a trip together. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’d rather spend or save a little more.
Money might be awkward to talk about, so this will definitely test your bond. Still, you shouldn’t need to put yourself in debt or put up with uncomfortable conditions to travel together. Finding a financial middle ground is another form of compromise.
5. Adventure addict, or hopeless romantic?
Opposites can attract, and your partners’ vacation style will probably reveal where you both fall on the personality spectrum. If it’s about the same place, that’s probably great; but what happens if you’d rather camp and your partner is uncomfortable outside of a resort hotel room, or vice versa. You could try to learn from them and teach them about what you love, or, you might learn you’re better off with someone else.
Travel will usually reveal someone’s tendencies because, after a while, a person is going to want what they want. It’s easy to start out a relationship trying to accommodate a new partner, but sharing every waking moment together is sure to bring out some fundamental differences. Communication is key at figuring this out before you’re on the road, but being away together will probably bring it out regardless.
6. Setting boundaries
In light of spending all that time together—traveling with someone is also a good way to gauge boundaries and set limits. Something as simple as wandering around a museum could signal what works best for you both—do you find yourself appreciating the exhibits together and sharing your thoughts, do you prefer some distance, or do you find yourself in different galleries altogether?
You can have the same experience in taking time to separate for different activities, or simply for some alone time. Whether or not you both enjoy these breaks could signal how dependent or independent you both are. Some people just need their space every now and then—and some would rather share all of their experiences.