Travel can test even the closest of relationships. You’re in an unfamiliar place, coping with unexpected challenges and mounting expenses, minus your support network, spending 24 hours a day together—all while under pressure to be in a blissful state of romance. How to minimize tension and arguments and return home with your relationship intact?
My husband and I are polar opposites in our travel styles. I make plans in advance so we can move around efficiently; he likes to figure it out when we get there. I aim to see and do as much as possible in a new place; he’s a photographer who likes to linger in one spot, waiting for the right light.
Sound familiar? If so, here’s my hard-earned advice for you:
Pinpoint your main vacation goal.
Articulate to each other the non-negotiable thing you each need to get from the trip. Is your primary goal relaxation and recovery from work? Or is it to get out of your comfort zone and have an adventure? What from past trips do you most want to avoid? What do you each think would make the trip most memorable? Find common ground.
Identify your differences.
Are you looking forward to long, decadent meals, or would you prefer to skip lunch so you’ll have more sightseeing time? At what hour do you get up and out in the morning? Do you have in mind to spend $50 a day, or $500? Get your differences out in the open so you can get on the same page about expectations for your trip.
Choose a destination with activities you both will enjoy.
Last summer, when my husband and I were headed to Western Canada, one of his goals was to go fishing in the wilderness—an activity that could hardly interest me less. So I suggested Sonora Resort—which I found on TripAdvisor’s list of Romantic Hotels in British Columbia—because, even though it’s a remote fishing lodge, it also offers a spa, a pool, gourmet cuisine, and numerous other outdoor activities. I was more than happy to hang out there. I even ended up going fishing just for the spectacular scenery from the boat.
Divide your itinerary so that you get equal time for “your” activities.
You might divide days into his and hers. Just be sure to do the research and legwork for any activity you impose on your partner; it’s only fair that you be the one to wrestle with the planning it entails. If you’re looking for ideas for romantic activities at your destination, type “TripAdvisor Romantic Guide [destination name]” into your search engine; a list will pop up.
Consider a hotel geared to adults only.
Check out the 2016 Travelers’ Choice top hotels for romance. These intimate inns and small resorts offer features such as private hot tubs, bungalows secluded in gardens, and child-free zones. Alternatively, consider booking a suite, as suites tend to come with superior views, balconies, oversized Jacuzzi tubs, and the like; here are five times when a suite may be worth the splurge.
Pre-book at least one activity that each of you wants.
Book what is likely to sell out, especially if it requires equipment with limited capacity—for example, a balloon ride over Napa Valley, or a tour of New Orleans’ French Quarter by Segway. It’s easy to research and book such tours and activities in advance on TripAdvisor. Also pre-book what needs to happen at a specific time—say, a couples massage on the anniversary of your first date.
Leave one or two days unplanned. Weather and other unpredictable events happen; if one person’s preferred activity is cancelled, this gives you time to replace it. You can always use the TripAdvisor mobile app for last-minute arrangements.
Set ground rules about work.
If you have no choice but to check email daily, do so at times when your partner is asleep or in the shower or otherwise engaged. If you’re going to have to work each day, let your partner know when and for how long (be honest), so he/she can make other plans. By not overscheduling, you’ll be giving yourself time to handle any work emergency that might arise. Here are tricks for making sure work does not interfere with your vacation. Last but not least, if you’ll be irritable without reliable, fast Wi-Fi, make sure your hotel provides it or bring your own mobile hotspot.
Give yourselves a daily break from each other.
Everyone needs “me time” to decompress or pursue an activity that doesn’t interest the other person. When you get back together afterward, you’ll have plenty to talk about as you compare notes about what you did separately. If you’re not sure how to ask your partner for alone time, give him or her the break as a gift: If your partner loves to dive, for instance, give him or her the gift of a dive excursion.
Divide trip responsibilities according to your strengths.
My husband is the one who handles navigation, driving, and luggage. I’m the one who handles flight, hotel, and restaurant reservations. Play to your strengths.
Zap irritability upon arrival at your destination.
Usually, when you first get to your destination, you’re sleep-deprived and cranky from the long, cramped flight or drive to get there. Plan something soothing and reinvigorating for shortly after arrival—say, a massage or a swim—to zap your bad mood before it infects your trip. When my husband surprised me with a romantic ski trip to Andorra one February, he chose a hotel with a decadent indoor pool; after the transatlantic overnight flight, that pool was just what the doctor ordered. Winter is just one reason to pick a hotel with a fabulous indoor pool.
Avoid unexpected costs and hotels that nickel-and-dime you.
It’s hard to focus mental energy on your partner when what’s filling your mind is alarm over a mounting hotel bill. One solution is to choose an all-inclusive resort, but they can be huge and not especially romantic. Another answer is to come up with a daily budget in advance—and stick to it. A third idea is to dive deeper into TripAdvisor’s top hotels for romance, as they tend to include a lot of amenities in the price. The Henderson Park Inn in Destin, Florida, for instance—the #1 hotel for romance in the U.S.—gives you beach chairs and umbrellas, bicycles and helmets, wine in your room, box lunches for picnics, a complimentary happy hour at sunset… When you’re not being nickel-and-dimed, it’s a lot easier to relax with a loved one.