Many of us embark on the nomad life because we want to challenge ourselves. But be aware, traveling couples, that your relationship may be challenged most of all.
I hoped no one would come into the marina bathrooms. At least not while I was ugly-crying in the showers.
I can’t remember the last time I had cried so hard (which for someone with a lifetime history of depression is saying something). But I had no better coping mechanism for dealing with the stress of my struggling marriage.
Although I had been married 25 years when my husband and I moved on board our sailboat, I discovered things that challenged everything I thought I knew about him and myself.
Traveling full-time as a couple in a tiny vessel is like earning a Ph.D. in relationship building.
We’re still learning. And trying to find my best way forward. But do you want to know the 14 things I’ve learned that every traveling couple will learn once they set out?
In no particular order…
Your partner is not different. It’s just that you see them more.
My husband has always struggled with motivation. When he works, he works hard. But when he’s unmotivated, nothing can move him.
On land, when he struggled at work, I tried to stay out of it. After all, if his boss wasn’t complaining, why should I?
But now, as I spend my time cleaning up the boat, working for my clients, and building my blogs, I seethe at the lump on the settee binge-watching A Handmaid’s Tale when we have a to-do list five fathoms long.
Nothing has changed. But now it’s happening right in front of me.
I’d ask Mike what personality trait of mine he always knew I had that is making him crazy on the boat. But I don’t have the courage.
It’s okay to do separate activities.
When we lived on land, we assumed that we’d want to spend time together when we weren’t working. In fact, I joked that it was ridiculous that we lived in a 1300 square foot house since we followed each other from room to room.
Luckily, on a fun beach vacation, we had already learned the joy of separate activities. While I spent hours lazing on the beach reading my book, my husband bicycled up the shore or took a kayaking trip through the marshes.
It was one of the best vacations we ever had.
Having separate interests and activities when you travel together (especially in a small boat or RV) is a relationship saver.
Acknowledge your trigger points.
Most people who know me well would not call me an irritable person. But two things definitely make me downright cranky: being hungry and being sleepy.
I’ve learned not to plan any important tasks for late at night or before breakfast.
Everyone has a trigger point that will make them irrational. Traveling couples who thrive acknowledge their triggers. And the partner not being triggered has to make allowances for the other.
You’ll see each other at your worst.
When you live in a dirt house, you have more options on a bad day. But when your home and your transport are the same, it’s harder to go off for a long drive to cool your temper. And just try storming off when you’re anchored in rough seas.
You have no choice but to just deal with each other.
You’ll see each other at your best too.
I’ve marveled at some of the things I’ve seen my husband do.
Mike understands the ins and outs of the diesel engine and outboard better than I ever expected. He rivals MacGyver in his ability to rig nearly anything with a few pieces of string.
He says he hoped that living on a sailboat would be the making of him. I think it has been.
Maybe one day he’ll realize it too.
Full-time travel has little in common with a vacation or weekend away.
Sure, you can learn lessons helpful for full time traveling couples on vacation. But RV life and cruising are not vacations. Trekking around the world takes a level of planning and organization that you don’t need for two weeks on a beach.
Even people who are fortunate enough to not have to work for pay while traveling have plenty of work to do. The sooner you realize you’re not on vacation, the happier you’ll be.
You’ll have to find new things to talk about since you’re always around each other.
“So what did you do today?”
“The same thing you did.”
Yep, a life where you live, eat, sleep, and work in the same tiny home can get stagnant. Here’s a tip every traveling couple should heed—make sure you always read different books.
Arguments start from the stress you’re under.
When you’re under stress because you’re broke, tired, or anxious, your nerves will fray. Guess who gets the brunt of that? Yep, your partner.
And with spotty internet, you can’t even get into a twitter rage fest with a stranger.
But there’s also good news…
After a while, you’ll stop caring about stress-related bickering.
I hate conflict. But I’ve grown a thicker skin since living onboard.
When Mike snaps at me during a tense moment, I will probably snap back. But I also tell myself, “It’s no big deal. We’re just stressed out.”
You’ll learn the impossibility of controlling another person.
The more you try to control someone the worse the outcome. Besides, the longer you live the more you realize there are infinite ways to do any given task.
As one wise cruiser noted, “6 + 1 = 7, but so does 3 + 4.”
So learn to sit back and let your partner complete their task the way they want to. Whether you stop trying to control them or don’t, they’re still going to follow their own path.
Your relationship will be transformed.
Your job is to decide if the transformation is into your relationship being a blessing or a curse.
Small space living while traveling requires new coping tools.
I wish I remember where I read it. But one cruiser talked about wearing her “leave me alone” hat. Unable to get much distance from her husband on their 35-foot boat, wearing a particular hat served as a sign that she wanted to be alone.
My favorite survival tactic? The public library. When anchored near a town, a dinghy ride to the library is much less trouble than a divorce.
And earbuds? They’re my new favorite thing. I buy them by the dozen at the dollar store.
You’ll be happier if you focus on what is going well than on what isn’t.
This is true for everyone at all times. But when a couple is facing the steep learning curve of RV life or cruising, it’s a relationship-saver.
Travel doesn’t change you. It makes you more of who you already are.
That can be a good thing. Or a terrible one.
One thing’s for certain, in the pressure cooker of leading a new life, you’ll gain realizations about your partner and yourself you might never have known if you had stayed in the same place.
Traveling Couples Who Grow
To see new places, meet new people, and to grow.
The traveling couples who grow embrace the new things they learn about each other as much as what they learn from the world they’re exploring.
Do you have what it takes?