“I’m not moving,” I insisted, for what felt like the hundredth time.  As if to emphasise the point, I thrust my backpack down upon the street, very nearly taking out a small Thai child in the process.  Stuart – my long suffering boyfriend and the causer of my annoyance – stared at me, aghast.

“You can’t just sit there!” He cried, as I settled myself down on my makeshift bench, ignoring the looks I was drawing from the nearby market vendors.

“Watch me.”

And so began one of the more dramatic arguments of our trip – to this day, one of our most memorable.

At the time, I would argue that my tantrum was completely justifiable.  Now, of course, I look back on it and cringe.

 Allow me to elaborate…It was 2013.  We had just made the long journey from Phi Phi island to Phuket.  We were still acclimatizing to the Thai humidity (an act somewhat thwarted by our stinking hangovers), and top it all off, we had just been dropped off in the wrong part of town.  Without a map.

“I’m sure we can walk it.  The hotel’s only a couple of kilometres up that road.”  Said Stuart, as though the sentence warranted the use of the word ‘only’.

“And if you’re wrong?” I snarled, with visions of us lugging 30kgs of luggage through the red light district coming to mind.

His response was simple;

“I won’t be.”

What bothered me wasn’t the heat.  It wasn’t the street vendors who edged closer and closer like ducks waiting to be fed.  It wasn’t even the fact that we were lost.  It was his arrogance.  How could he possibly know where we were when I didn’t?  How could be so convinced he was right?  Why did he have to be such a bloke?

Of course the painful truth was that he probably was right.  Stuart is great with directions.  Freakishly so.  The boy is like a bloody human sat nav.  I, on the other hand, am terrible – more Paddington Bear than Bear Grylls.

Despite my navigational ineptitude, I’m also a bit of a control freak.  I’m never content to just be told where to go, I have to be able to visualise it for myself.  I hated the fact that Stuart knew where we were and I didn’t, but even more so, I hated the fact that he was always, always right.  If throwing a tantrum in a busy market place was the only way of getting my frustration across, then so be it.

And so I refused to move.

Twenty minutes later, having trekked the entire distance by himself just to see if the hotel was in fact where he thought it was, Stuart returned to help me with the bags.  He was, of course, right.  Did I feel like a bad girlfriend?  At the time, no.  Now, yes.

I wish I could say that this was the only argument we had during our six months together on the road, but sadly that would be a lie.  From bickering over who got the window seat to whose turn it was to pay for lunch, you name it, we fought over it.  We even managed to fall out before leaving Heathrow in what has now become known as ‘Travel-Adapter-Gate’.

I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was hard not to see our arguments – or at least, the most serious ones – as blots on our trip, as though somehow we had failed at being ‘that couple that travelled the world together’.  There was something very romantic, after all, about the notion of setting off into the sunset with your other half, and somehow I couldn’t help but that we were getting it all wrong.  While others smooched in front of the Sydney Opera House or proposed at the Grand Canyon, we were more concerned with grumbling over the smell of each other’s feet.

With every quarrel that ticked by, my brain was awash with the reactions we had faced when we told people we were going to travel together.  While many had been supportive (after all, we had been together for five years!), others had struggled to contain their dismay, their questions ranging from the understandable;

“What happens if you spend too much time together and discover that you hate each other?”

to the thought-provoking;

“What if you shit yourself?”

Experience has taught me that it pays to be prepared for both.

Travelling is great.  It’s one of the most fulfilling and enriching things a person can do, but it’s also bloody tough.  It’s dealing with early mornings and overnight bus journeys.  It’s sleeping in airports and realising that you’ve missed the last bus.  It’s missing your family and the people you love and having to come to terms with the fact that nowhere outside of the UK does Sunpat peanut butter.  It’s coming to terms with the world, not as you’d like it to be, but as it really is.  And yes, it’s also finding the strength not to laugh as your partner nearly shits their guts out on a crowded metro after eating one too many slices of dodgy pineapple.

It’s not for the faint-hearted, and while it has tendency to bring out the worst in people, it can also bring out the best.  There were definitely times when I’m sure we wanted to poke each other in the eye with a pointy stick, yet there were also moments in which we couldn’t have coped without each other’s company – the day Stuart received the news that his family dog had passed away, the nights we had to huddle together as we crossed through an unlit park in the rough part of  Sydney, the time I fell down a drain in Singapore…Whatever crap is going on around you, sometimes you just need the person that knows you best to give you a little hug or to look you in the eye and tell you to man the hell up.

We had our ups and downs, but we were always grateful for each other’s company.  People might assume that it’s frustrating to share your memories with another person, but actually it’s pretty great.  No one else knows how good it felt for the sun to finally come out on our day in the Whitsundays, or how paradoxically great it was to stay awake for an entire overnight bus trip, just so we could take in the views of the Rocky Mountains.  No one else remembers the sense of victory we felt upon finally finding wild koalas after months of searching, or how lucky we were to have the beach to ourselves as the sun set in Koh Lanta.  These memories are ours and ours alone.

Somehow, we survived it all and lived to tell the tale.  Sure, we learned things about each other along the way, but we also learned things about ourselves.  I learned that I need to relax more and not stress over the finer details; Stuart learned it was probably best not to expect much conversation from me on a 5km trek between hostels.  We also learned that most of our arguments stemmed from the fact that we are two very different people, but that there’s nothing wrong with that.  Over time we found a system that worked for us, and came to love and respect each other’s strengths, and even weaknesses, for what they were.  In the end, I even let Stuart take control of the map, albeit with the knowledge that he would be held personally accountable for any mistakes.  Annoyingly, he always got us from A to B.
Travelling with a partner is great fun, but there is a knack to it.  We certainly didn’t get it right all of the time, but we did learn from our mistakes, and if I was to offer any advice on travelling as a couple, it would be the following:

Don’t even consider going if you’re unsure about the relationship

Travelling, as they say, is one of those things that’ll either make or break you.  The same goes for relationships.  I was amazed how many couples we met along the way that clearly regretted going travelling with one another.  Many were barely on speaking terms, but felt trapped into staying together because of the plans they had made.  Believe me, nothing kills passion like a two hour wait on a cold, bathroom-less train platform, and nothing will test your commitment like a life on the road.

Shatter all delusions of grandeur

Sorry to burst the bubble, but the sooner you come to understand your partner in all their flawed glory the more enjoyable your experience will become.  We all have our vices, and it’s much better to acknowledge and deal with them from the start.  You’ll save yourself a lot of aggro later on if you just learn to accept each other as the horrible, cranky, irritably bowelled people that you really are underneath.
 

Learn when to let things go

It’s easy for things to escalate when you’re on the road.  You’re tired and irritable, and more likely than not, in desperate need of a shower.  Things which would normally seem small suddenly take on epic proportion, and in a world where you’re surrounded by strangers, it’s easy to vent your frustration on each other.  Put things into perspective; in six months time will it really matter that he forgot to set the alarm, or ate the last of the oreos?  No.  Swallow your pride and calm the heck down.

Give each other space

No matter how much you love someone, it’s impossible to spend 24 hours in each other’s company without eventually wanting to push them off a cliff.  It’s important to remember that just because you’re travelling together doesn’t mean you have to do everything together.  Make sure you give yourself time to do the things you want to do, even if it’s just as simple as going for a run or finding a quiet spot to read your book.  If your other half doesn’t want to spend four hours comparing didgeridoos then for god’s sake, don’t make them!  Wherever we went, we made sure to give ourselves a little ‘me’ time; I’m pretty sure Stuart appreciated not having to go for a Thai massage that day, and similarly I was more than happy to let him go off at 3am in search of a 24-hour sports bar which would be showing Alex Ferguson’s last match with Man Utd.
 

Don’t forget that you’re still a couple!

This sounds like an obvious statement to make, but it’s so easy when you’ve spent six months travelling with someone not to see them as just your bus buddy or carrier of heavy bags.  Remember to take some time to do actual couple-y things like going to the cinema or for a walk on the beach.  And just because you’re short on money doesn’t mean you should stop making romantic gestures – hide a wee note in their backpack, draw them a silly picture, use your imagination – just don’t forget to show each other how you feel (though after sharing a dorm with a rather amorous German couple in Byron Bay, I would strongly recommend keeping the ‘showing’ element strictly to private rooms…).

 

 

About The Author

A twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for travel and a never-ending supply of terrible puns.

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