It was day ten of our epic southwest road trip and we’d made it to Arizona. After camping in Oklahoma, the Texas panhandle, and New Mexico, we were exhausted, but fortunately our night in Winslow was gloriously uneventful.
We booked a cheap motel instead of camping as originally planned, found a local pizza buffet, and by 8 o’clock I was in bed.
GLORIOUS, I tell you.
Before we left Winslow I made – ahem, I mean, I nicely asked Jim to stand on the corner and sing the Eagles before we resumed our adventure.
“Making him sing” vs “asking him to sing” is an important distinction, and it’s part of how we managed to survive a month on the road without wanting to tie each other to the hood, mouth propped open to catch ALL the bugs, or add arsenic to each other’s water bottles, or just throw the other off one of the many, many scenic overlooks we viewed.
Adapted from Chapter 18 in Two Lane Gems, Vol. 1: Turkeys are Jerks and Other Observations from an American Road Trip.
If you think you’ve got a solid relationship, here’s a good test: go on an extended road trip together. I’m not just talking about a weekend. I’m talking weeks, together, in a car, with no way to get away from each other.
It’s just the two of you and the Bee Gees and that bossy GPS lady giving you directions that are often right, but not always.
Survive travel as a couple and you’ll know you can survive anything. You’re so solid you could mount your relationship in platinum. You could cut glass with your relationship, because you’re diamond and you will last for-ever.
Jim and I? We’re solid. By Day 10 we were a third of the way through this epic Southwest USA road trip and we were still talking and laughing (with – not at – each other) and most importantly, we still liked each other. Neither one of us was thinking “if I have to spend another hour in this car…”
(At least, I wasn’t. I can’t completely speak for Jim.)
I’m not saying this to brag. It’s because this isn’t a feat that just happened. While we’re quite obviously suited for each other, we’re not blessed with infinite patience nor are we complete milksops.
We’re opinionated; we’re independent; we’re driven (pun intended), and we’re distinct individuals.
We made a choice fairly early on in our relationship that we wanted this to work, and we love to travel, so we figured out how to spend solid blocks of time together without losing our independence in the process.
Related: budget is a point of friction. Check out my guide on saving money on a road trip.
We made that decision during our first long-term road trip in 2011. We took sixteen days to drive Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica and back, and the first half was hell on four wheels.
On the way west, we hit the breaking point and when we got to California we decided it’s either stop or go – when we returned home we were either going to be done or we were going to be diamond.
The reason we’ve survived and grown as a couple, and as individuals, is because we’ve developed a set of tools that allow us to be respectful to one another and to ourselves.
This works when we’re traveling as a couple, but it was also especially important during lockdown. Throw my breast cancer in the mix, and we had a lot of stressors to overcome.
But we did. We survived. We’re still in love, we still like each other, and we’re excited to spend time in a metal box together again.
These tips on surviving travel as a couple are pretty basic, but they’re HARD. With practice, it gets easier. These guidelines not only make our relationship better, but they’ve also improved every interaction we’ve had, from family to friends to Comcast Customer Service.
Honestly, Jim’s mastered that last one but I still have some work to do. A lot of work. Let’s just say I’m not allowed to call them anymore.
Want to know how to survive an epic road trip and not want to kill your partner? Follow these simple guidelines.
How to Travel as a Couple
Yowzers this is hard. Be honest – when’s the last time you had a conversation when you weren’t waiting for the other person to finish so you could say what you want to say? I’m not talking about an argument. I’m talking about everyday, casual conversation with anyone.
Listening is always important, but when you’re in an enclosed space with another person for an extended period of time, it’s vital that you let your partner use his (or her) words and refrain from interrupting no matter how badly you want to.
This isn’t just when you’re annoyed, this is all the time. Every conversation, every sentence.
See? Told you it was hard. Which is why you
DON’T MAKE STUFF UP
We all hear things through our own translator, so it’s important to pay attention to what’s being said, and not what you think is being said. Listen to the actual words and try not to put your own interpretation on them. Instead,
If you hear something that tweaks your attitude, ask if you’re hearing what you think you’re hearing. Say something like “It sounds like you’re saying this. Is that what you mean?”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something he said and thought he meant something completely different.
Nine times out of ten it’s because I’m hearing his words through my history and through the way I would interpret the situation. I’ve put my stuff in his suitcase, when what I need to do is
PACK YOUR OWN BAGS
We all come with baggage. The older we get, the more baggage we have. This is not just “last relationship guy was controlling so I’m going to do the opposite of what you want,” it’s also stuff like knowing I like barbecue sauce on the bottom bun of my burger and ketchup on the top.
Jim doesn’t care where the sauce goes. To him I could seem high maintenance, while to me he could seem like a sandwich maverick. I mean, doesn’t he know there’s an order of things???
Listening is hard, but knowing what’s in my suitcase is harder. Unless it’s something that’s a dealbreaker, when you’re on a road trip it’s best to
PICK YOUR BATTLES
When you’re together with anyone for an extended period of time you are going to get upset. There will be traffic. There will be construction. GPS will take you down the wrong road or will disappear altogether.
Your backup paper map will become mush after the cooler leaks all over it. Gas prices will spike twenty-five cents a gallon overnight.
Related: save money on gas with GasBuddy
All of this creates tension, so it’s important to make sure the tension in the situation doesn’t become tension in your communication.
(I actually wrote that in my journal after a tense moment that could have gone sideways, and immediately thought that’s going in the book. Sounds like something a self-help guru would say in a relationship workshop: “Repeat after me: tension in the situation is not tension in our communication.” If this travel thing doesn’t work out, I may have a lavalier mic and a stage in my future.)
And sometimes, you’re just going to get upset with each other. That may be the time to say “Battle, picked,” and you agree to be ticked for a bit. When that happens,
Cliché warning: you can’t regret words you don’t say.
It’s a cliché because it’s TRUE! This is harder than listening, harder than recognizing your own baggage.
Just. Shut. Up.
Stop talking. Look out the window and breathe and mutter to yourself (Internally. Trust me – muttering under your breath is about as bad as just saying it out loud.) and Do. Not. Speak.
After the tensions have dissipated you can look in your own suitcase and find that dirty laundry that needs to go in the wash.
Or, you find a way to calmly say “this bothered me and this is why.” Most importantly, you find whatever it is you did wrong, because when things get to this point it’s rare that either is blameless, and you need to
Say “I’m sorry.” Mean it. Don’t say “I’m sorry you didn’t understand me,” which is a non-apology. Say “I’m sorry I did this that caused you pain/hurt/anger. That was not my intention and I will try to be better.”
None of this is easy. It’s hard work, but the reward is a 31-day road trip without a single argument (although there was one picked battle) and a 35-day trip with one moment of grumbling.
Doing all of the above meant we didn’t miss out on any of the amazing things we could experience, and they weren’t colored by anything but blue skies and red rocks. It meant that when we got to the abandoned mountain lion zoo I didn’t want to tether him to one of the rusting bars and leave him there for the next tourist.
Following these tips for traveling as a couple is how we survived lockdown and cancer treatments not only intact, but even stronger than we were before. Has it been easy? No.
Has it been worth it?
Yes. A thousand times yes.
Do you have tips for maintaining the peace while traveling as a couple? Leave a comment!