At the beginning of last year, I told my boyfriend of nine years that I wanted to quit my job and go to Portugal and Brazil to travel via work exchange for nine months. And that it was something I wanted to do alone.
Needless to say, he wasn't ecstatic about the idea. After many long discussions that went on late into the night, he slowly started to realize just how important this opportunity was to me and began to accept the idea. In September 2018, we parted ways. Both of us were apprehensive; would our relationship survive this test?
Today, in July 2019, I've finally returned home after nine months of traveling while exchanging my skills for accommodation with Worldpackers, and my boyfriend and I are still together. It wasn't always easy, but we made it.
There will be many people out there with similar stories. One person in a couple wants to travel a lot, the other wants to stay home, or perhaps wishes they could travel but can't, for whatever reason. Everyone's situation is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
However, during my travels, I did manage to gain some insight into what it takes to make a relationship work while traveling all the time without your partner. If you're in a relationship and are considering traveling and being away from your partner for an extended period of time, here is my best advice on how to make your relationship work.
How to make a relationship work when you're traveling all the time
Make communication a priority
Learn to deal with jealousy
Enjoy independence and alone time
Keep an active social life
Be realistic — nothing ever stays the same
1. Make communication a priority
No matter what the circumstances, if you want to make a relationship work, communication has to be a priority.
From the moment you have the idea to go traveling to the day you return home, open and honest communication with your partner is very important. The more they know about what is going on in your head, about what is driving you to do this, the better.
Encourage your partner to do the same; we can't read each other's minds (most of us anyway), so in order to avoid frustration when you think your other half doesn't understand you: communicate!
While you're traveling you're going to want to speak to your partner. But how often? This will depend on your personalities and the kind of relationship you have. For me and my partner, talking on the phone once a week and messaging every few days was enough.
For some long-distance couples I know, daily phone calls are standard for making a relationship work. Luckily we live in a world where we can get in touch with each other instantly and in a variety of ways, wherever we may be. Make video calls, use FaceTime and Skype, record clips of yourself and what you are doing to send to your partner, send GIFS, photos, e-mails... be creative!
2. Set boundaries
Related to the importance of communication is the necessity of setting boundaries before you part ways. It is a good idea to discuss what you would consider acceptable behavior when you are apart and what is a no-go.
For example, if you are in a monogamous relationship, do you both want to keep it that way? If you do, then it’s all pretty straight forward and the relationship can continue as it was before.
If you want to explore the possibility of being able to see other people, it's a little more complicated. Traveling means meeting lots of new and often interesting people and, however much you love your boyfriend or girlfriend, you may end up having the chance for a little holiday romance.
The practice of setting boundaries is truly one of the most important ways to make a relationship work. Where you draw the line is up for you both to decide, but you need to talk in-depth about this and reach an agreement that works for both of you.
3. Learn to deal with jealousy
Learning to deal with jealousy is an integral part of what makes a relationship work long term.
Feelings of jealousy are unpleasant but bound to happen at some point. It's normal. What isn't normal, however, is letting such feelings take over your life to such an extent that your relationship is put under strain.
There are many reasons why people get jealous, but here I am referring to being jealous of others. You are both going to meet other people and have a great time with them.
Maybe one day you're going to see a post on Instagram in which your loved one appears with an attractive person sitting next to them and they look like they're having a lot of fun. You might go on to feel a sudden and strange feeling deep in your gut and then your mind may try and come up with all kinds of crazy stories about what is going on between these two.
This is jealousy. Recognize it and deal with it, don't let it get out of control. Realize that you do not own your partner and you are both within your rights to have a good time with other people, without worrying what the other will think. In the wise words of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, "Love one another, but let's try not to possess one another."
4. Enjoy independence and alone time
This is a big one. It's my personal opinion that the best way to make a relationship work is to learn to enjoy independence and value alone time.
Naturally, couples tend to spend a lot of time together and it is going to be difficult when you are apart. Rather than see this as something sad, see it as an opportunity.
Being physically separated from each other is an opportunity to reestablish yourself as an individual and not just one part of two halves. Furthermore, try to make the most of being alone for a while and start enjoying your own company.
If you feel yourself getting lonely or bored (something that is more likely to happen to the person staying at home), do something to occupy yourself. Take advantage of the extra free time you have now that your partner is not around — spend more time on your hobbies, doing sports, reading, going for solo walks to clear your head or even just doing nothing. Working on yourself is always a big step towards making your relationship work.
Be happy just being with you!
5. Keep an active social life
One way to soothe the pain of missing somebody is to keep yourself busy. Therefore, try and maintain an active social life and (re)connect with friends who you may not have seen as much as you'd like due to being in a relationship. Staying social while your partner is away is one of the best ways to make your relationship work.
Friends are people who we can have fun with and share happy moments with, but also talk to and get support from. My partner found my absence particularly difficult during the cold and dark winter months but dealt with it by regularly having people over for dinner and making an effort to meet new people when he went out.
This is a great idea! The person who is traveling is going to be meeting a lot of new people all the time so why not try and do the same? Start a new hobby, join a local meet-up group or stay in a hostel in your own country for a weekend. It's important not to let yourself get lonely, so get out there and enjoy yourself.
6. Be realistic — nothing ever stays the same
If you still find yourself asking what to do to make a relationship work, be realistic.
Don't be under the impression that nothing will change and that everything will be like it was before your partner went away. People change, especially people who have traveled a lot and couples who have spent a long time apart.
This may mean that being together again will be challenging, at least at first. Communication, again, is essential.
Talk to each other about your feelings now that you are reunited, discuss the lessons you have learned while being apart and enjoy the process of getting to know one another again. Hopefully, your relationship will be stronger than ever.
That being said, making the decision to travel regularly or for a long period of time without your partner is not easy. In fact, it can be extremely challenging at times for everyone involved.
However, staying together and maintaining a healthy relationship is possible. Hopefully, the above advice will help those of you out there who are either thinking about taking this step or who are currently in a similar situation.
If you want to travel and bring your partner along, Worldpackers currently offers a Couple and Friends Plan. This plan is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — an annual plan for a couple or two friends who are traveling together! All you have to do is pay the one-year fee of of $59. Once you and your travel partner have been verified, you can apply to any host that accepts doubles.
If you have any questions or doubts, feel free to comment below or send me a message!
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I quit my job as a teacher to travel around Portugal and Brazil to improve my language skills. I've ended up learning loads more than just Portuguese and am having an amazing Worldpackers experience. Passionate about travel too? Get in touch.