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Travel Relationships - When Things Get More REAL Than Real Life

Travel backpacking couple on a bench

Romantic relationships are different when you’re traveling.

Most couples don’t realize it until they do it. What’s the fastest way to determine if things are going to work out in the long run? Spend a month on a trip together. And I’m not talking about a quick vacation, glitzy holiday or preplanned all-inclusive voyage. That’s not traveling, that’s just fun. I mean put on a backpack, fly to a Third World country, take local transportation and stay in cheap accommodation with the only plan being to have the time of your life as you both get comfortable being uncomfortable. You will grow and learn more about each other this way than you ever could in “real life.”

I often find myself defending travel relationships—likely because that is how I’ve dated or formed connections with most of the individuals in my life. People often assume a relationship that starts and ends on the road doesn’t mean as much because it is shorter lived and not within the frame of what is considered normal at home. It is hard to keep a girlfriend when the longest you’ve stayed in one place is four months in 10 years. But time is simply irrelevant in a relationship, or even friendship, when you’re both backpacking—it’s more like a vortex. Experiences are constantly blasted your way and accumulate so quickly (in such an intense range of highs and lows) that even a week of traveling can equate to months of being together at home.

I’ve even used math for those that insist you can’t really know someone until the fourth date or third month or whatever nonsensical measurement people might use. Ok, let’s say you’re dating someone at home. You’re both working full-time jobs but manage to still see each other 2-3 times a week outside of other friends and commitments (which is pretty good in today’s busy lifestyle). Whether it’s dinner and a movie, clubbing on Saturday night or Netflix ‘n Chill, we’re likely talking 3-4 hours per hangout, 2-3 times a week. So if you’re not living together, you’re lucky to get more than 10-12 hours a week with your significant other.

Compare that to 24 hours a day of traveling and living with the same person every day: packing and moving each morning, debating itineraries, negotiating with the locals, eating out or cooking every meal together, dealing with theft, getting sick and constantly adapting plans and budgets while sharing some of the most magical moments of your life together. Needless to say, the long travel days and daily decision-making constantly push the boundaries of your comfort zones. I like to think you get to know someone a lot more while traveling than you do sitting in silence staring at a movie screen together or by how well you both agree on what channel to watch.

a couple kissing in Paris

A kiss in Paris - always more meaningful than one on your couch at home.

At home, you go on a date when you feel like it and have time to look good. Then, you’ll go home when you’re tired, sick or need a break from the person. Traveling together doesn’t quite offer that luxury. Not feeling so fresh? Sorry, no showers on this 14-hour night train to Bangkok. You normally dress up on a date? High heels and makeup don’t really work in the jungles of Costa Rica. You’re a picky eater? Well, neither of us can read this Burmese menu so I guess we’ll eat whatever they bring us. It’s Day 17 and we’ve run out of things to talk about? Perfect, we’ll learn to enjoy silence together. And when someone gets sick (it will happen), you’ll have to stick even closer together to get through it—especially if no one else speaks English in the village you’re passing through.

When you travel with someone you get to see the real version of them. All of it. You get to witness the bliss on their face when they have life-changing experiences while also sharing any possible burdens and emotions that emerge alongside it. Within days, you uncover sides of people that otherwise might have taken months or years to surface. Traveling creates that strange—and often uncomfortable—change within an ordinary relationship that allows people to experience more real life than real life.

We put incredible amounts of time and money into our relationships. My thought? The most efficient and effective investment might simply be a backpack and plane ticket.

Happy Valentine's Day from Nicaragua xx John Early

*This article is an excerpt taken from my newly self-published book Tales of the Modern Nomad - Monks, Mushrooms & Other Misadventures. It covers my ten years of backpacking over 30 countries across five continents with all the crazy details, stories, photos and quotes you won't find in any other travel book. It's now available in hardcover HERE.

Backpacking through Nicaragua with my real travel girlfriend, Normita (my ukulele).


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What do a monk, a stripper and LSD have in common?     My New Book.

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