Travel couple The Common Wanderer explore the world hand in hand: take their survival tips...
For months now, you’ve been dreaming of your European backpacking adventure with your main squeeze. There are sunsets over the Seine, candlelit dinners in tapas bars, and dreamy days spent exploring the world hand in hand to be had. And yes, travelling with your partner is a wonderfully dreamy experience; it brings you closer together and creates amazing memories to reflect on in your twilight years.
But for all its magic, travelling as a couple is definitely not without its own set of challenges. How do you manage your finances without fighting? Spend every day together without ending in blazing rows? And how on earth do you navigate the hostel thing when you’re a twosome?
We’ve been a ‘travelling couple’ for two years now, living in each other’s pockets 24/7 - and so far we’re yet to kill each other.
While we certainly don’t have a magic formula for relationship success, we have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way to help keep your travels happy, healthy, and fulfilling.
How to travel together without killing each other:
1) There’s no ‘I’ in ‘us’
When you’re out there in the big wide world together, you’re a team.
Whatever the destination, this means you constantly have to think beyond simply what you want, and instead think about what’s best for the both of you. Looking after each other isn’t as simple as just asking ‘how are you?’ each morning – it’s about having each other’s back every moment of the day.
Crossing a busy road? Don’t run off – cross together. On a night out in Amsterdam? Stick real close. Lover got a terrible case of food poisoning? Dote on them. Suggest a hike or gym session to work off all that gelato, and keep your minds healthy by playing cards or having a D&M. On the road you’re all things to each other: best friend, travel buddy, cheerleader, nurse, sports coach, and security guard.
2) Get reaaaaal comfy with gross things
If you’ve lived together before, you’ll probably understand. If you haven’t, you might be in for a rude shock. We all poop and fart and burp. SHOCK!
Chances are, a quick change in diet is going to lead to some seriously urgent bathroom time for you at some point during your trip. Or you could get reaaaally lucky, and both get violent food poisoning at the same time, just like we did in Laos. The quicker you can look past the ickiness, and get comfy with the intricacies that make you, you - the better.
3) Give each other space
Travelling as a couple means you get to discover the world with your very best friend, every day. 99% of the time, that’s really awesome. But no matter how much you love each other, there WILL come a time where one of you needs space and time away from the other.
Don’t stress: it’s not the beginning of the break-up ballads and tubs of ice cream. In fact, it’s only natural to need some time apart every now and then. Recognise the warning signs, and give each other time to become yourselves again. If you’re the one in need of a chill out, plug in your headphones, concentrate on your book, or go for a walk. You’ll be back enjoying each other’s company in no time!
Is one of you a Parisian café and gallery fiend, and the other keen to get out into as many remote mountains as possible? Prefer to pound the cobblestones, while your partner would rather take it easy on public transport? Everyone is different, and so are your interests when you travel.
Before you hit the road together, sit down and discuss what you each want to see and do, and then agree on how you both can get the most out of your trip. Then you can tailor your itinerary and daily schedule so everyone gets what they want.
Leave the stubbornness at home, compromise, and enjoy the experience even if it isn’t your jam! You may even discover a new interest.
5) Divide and conquer
Some people are blessed with mad organisational skills. Others simply aren’t – and it’s totally ok. Play to your strengths, and assign duties accordingly.
If one of you is a master organiser, let them handle most itineraries and bookings. If the other has a knack for bargaining prices down at markets, or can pack a bag at the speed of light, give them free reign. It’s all about being as efficient as possible, to give you more time to enjoy what you’re really there for.
6) Make time for each other
Spending every day together and eating at restaurants when you travel does not equal quality relationship time. Being on the road definitely doesn’t mean you should miss out on the date nights you’d have back home.
Every now and then, splurge on a private room for a few nights (with a/c for bonus points!), check out a movie at the local cinema (we did this in Myanmar, and loved the insight into how other cultures do it), share a bottle of wine with dinner, and spend some time reconnecting again. Your relationship will thank you for it!
7) Don’t let yourselves get 'hangry'
This is not a drill: Do. Not. Let. Hanger. Strike.
You might laugh now, but as someone who gets mega grumpy when they haven’t eaten for a while (generally about 20 minutes!), arguments caused by hunger are real, and they ain’t pretty.
Always make sure you’ve got a ‘hanger emergency pack’ in your day pack to combat grumbling tummies, and you’ll find your disagreements dissolve down to nothing.
8) Make an effort with locals and other travellers
When you’re travelling as a pair, you’ll soon discover that other travellers at hostels will start to treat you a little differently. While the solo female traveller next to you is quickly swept into a game of cards by your hostel mates, you’re given a wide berth.
Don’t take it personally – most people will just naturally assume that you’re so loved up that you just want time together. Stay in social places like hostels, make an effort to speak with locals, and watch as those new friendships blossom.
How to survive hostels as a couple:
1) Take the arguments outside
Whether it’s because the passports have been ‘misplaced’, someone took a wrong turn that got you lost, or you’re both simply hangry – if you’re in a dorm room, don’t force your roommates to watch a couple’s fight break out. No one wants to hear you bickering, it’s awkward for everyone involved, and neither you nor your partner come out looking good.
Go somewhere private to talk it out, and if you’re simply not ready to make up, go for a walk until you’ve both cooled down.
2) Get bunks next to each other
If you’re like us, you’ve probably divided all your worldly possessions up between your bags. Your toothbrush is in his bag, her passport is in yours, and your hiking gear is spread across whoever’s bag it would fit into.
Grab bunks either next to each other, or one on top of the other, and that way you’ll keep all your belongings contained to one area.
If you’re bunking one on top of the other, you’ll also avoid the guilt of coming home late and waking up a stranger in the lower bunk by rattling and creaking up the stairs.
3) Be sociable
Try not to keep to yourselves if you’ve made the decision to stay in a dorm room: try and get involved with the people you’re sharing the space with. Be friendly and open to the idea of socialising and you might end up making some friends for life!
4) Cool it on the PDAs
We get it: you guys love each other, you do everything together, and you want to be able to show your partner how much you love them whenever you like. And that’s totally cool; you do you, guys.
But PDAs that make others feel uncomfortable definitely aren’t cool. Try and keep the overt displays of affection to a minimum, and lay off the funny business completely. Staying in a hostel as a couple is all about being considerate towards the people you’re sharing a room with.
5) Don’t forget European hostels have double rooms too
If the thought of not being able to snuggle bae to sleep every night troubles you, don’t forget that hostels have double rooms too, and they’re often not much more than two people sleeping in a dorm room either. If you’re after a little more privacy than a dorm room can offer, here’s your solution.
How to budget for backpacking around Europe:
There are no two ways about it. Travelling on a budget can be difficult, but over the last two years, we’ve found a few ways to make the whole process easier on everyone…
Before you go:
Make a plan
Budgeting for your trip starts well before you buy some snacks and a cheap novel and board that plane to adventure.
Sit down together and work out how much you’ll need for a roof over your head each night, transport between places, daily meals, cash for sightseeing and the odd night out, and a spare ‘emergency fund’ to see you through unforeseen events. You’ll also need to work out your ‘travel style’, and whether you’re happy to dorm room your way through Europe, or splurge on the odd private room.
Once you know the total amount you need, set clear saving goals and strict deadlines for meeting them. If saving is something you struggle with, there’s nothing like the threat of your partner leaving without you to help you put those pennies away!
Sell your unused stuff
When we left for our year on the road, we realised how much ‘stuff’ we had just lying around. Clothes and shoes we’d barely worn, electrical equipment and furniture we definitely wouldn’t need once travelling.
Pop items you’re unlikely to use on eBay or Gumtree, and make yourselves some quick cash. You’ll be surprised by what people pay for the things you deem useless; use that money on your travels (or at least spoil bae with a date night in an exotic location!).
Do your research
Last year, while road tripping through the Namibian desert, we decided to wing it and not organise our accommodation ahead of time (in hindsight, not the best decision when travelling in one of the world’s most remote regions…!). It was only after we showed up at the hotel lobby in Sossusvlei that we were informed we’d picked the peak season to travel, and the only room available would set us back USD $350… a night.
The moral of the story? Winging it can be fun and spontaneous, but if we’d done our homework before arriving at our destination, we’d have been much better prepared and saved A LOT of cash in the process.
On the road:
Travel in shoulder season
Imagine exploring Rome’s ancient sites, wandering the streets of Paris hand-in-hand, and enjoying the nightlife of Berlin together with minimal crowds, pleasant weather - and at a fraction of the usual cost.
Seem impossible? Think again!
Europe’s shoulder seasons (March to early June, and September through to late October) are the answer to just about every Europe travel question. School’s back, which means less families with snotty kids at tourist sites, the changing seasons make for less extreme weather, and prices for sightseeing entry, accommodation, and even meals are slashed to a shadow of their peak-season rates.
Which means the two of you can focus on really getting a taste of everything Europe has to offer, without stressing over whether it’s going to break the bank.
Set up a joint travel fund
Nothing is guaranteed to kill your happy relationship buzz quicker than squabbling over finances while you travel. Avoid being that couple arguing over the pizza bill by setting up a joint travel fund (if you don’t already have shared finances). There are a few great challenger banks and travel bank card options around, to help you avoid huge international fees and withdrawal charges too!
Agree on a set budget per person per month, transfer your cash into the central account, and wave goodbye to pointless arguments over who paid £2 extra last time.
Save while you’re on the road too
Not just about saving before you go – make savings while on the road too. Instead of eating every meal out, buy your own food at local markets, and make use of the hostel’s facilities. Take public transport wherever possible too – it’s better for the environment, and much cheaper than taxis and planes.
Or even better – if the weather is nice, organise a picnic for the two of you somewhere special, and watch as your brownie points accumulate. After all, what could be more romantic than a baguette and cheese picnic in Paris?!
Look for free days and inclusive passes
Did you know that on the first Sunday of every month all state museums are free in Rome and Paris? Or that you can get huge discounts on sightseeing entry, fashion brands, eateries, and transport by organising a youth travel card (if you’re under 31 or a student!)?
There are plenty of ways you can continue to keep your costs down while travelling, and save your cash for the important stuff (like a luxury stay in Paris!).
Article and photos by The Common Wanderer