It’s Valentine’s Day. Happy day to all you with or without partners, straight, gay, not sure, not interested, and too young to care.
I haven’t been writing much about travel and life, in part because the 2016 Election made me so sad and angry I lost creative edge. Part of the problem, such as there is one, is that I feel travel blogging has been done and done and done to death. I can’t compete with people who make it their life’s mission to create content and who seek out the highest views with strategies I can’t imagine. Instagram travel is breaking the world of travel as we know it. I’ll write about that soon. I promise.
In light of the sappy lovey happy day that at least some readers will be having today, I want to break you all up with a traveller’s myth. Bloggers who travel long-term often include it in their musings. It’s a pervasive myth that may even harm people who believe it. It’s a myth that people who meant well when I started travelling in 2009 have constantly said since then.
You can’t have a long-term relationship with a person so long as you have a long-term relationship with travel.
Well, I’m living proof. It’s not true.
In fact, I’d have never met my life partner without having an established long-term relationship with travel. If I hadn’t ever travelled solo before, I wouldn’t have been comfortable enough to take the Seoul Subway all my myself and get on a bus all by myself to go hiking with a group of people I didn’t know. The man who sat down next to me is now sitting across from me at my parents’ kitchen table, nearly six years later.
We’ve travelled MORE as a couple than we did separately. It helps that our passports don’t match and so we have to keep moving around looking for ways to live in the same country. Graduate school for me in his native London. Working in Shanghai together. Travelling throughout India, Korea, China, Vietnam, and the USA. Living two summers in remote Iceland together. Living in Vietnam now, saving to move to Montenegro this summer.
From the moment we met, we started going on adventures. The day we met I struggled up more than 800 steps on Ulsan Bawi with epiglottis. For our wedding, we travelled blind to a venue we’d never seen in a country we had never been to with homemade meade in tow. On our honeymoon, we went into Vatnajokull’s ice cave. A few years later we climbed the Great Wall of China together. We walked more than 7km underground in Paradise Cave together.
Our adventures together are every bit as intense, life-affirming, and challenging as my previous adventures alone. Sure, it changes things from solo travel. But we also have twice the ingenuity and twice the ideas about what would be cool to do. We work together as a team. We watch each other’s backs. Now that we’ve been travelling together for six years, we’re pretty aware of how the other person works and what is likely to get under their skin. If I travel alone and fall ill, who is there to help me?
More importantly, we have changed one another for the better in terms of travelling. I never thought I was able to hike very well, including on the day that we met (I told Russ to just stop being so nice and leave me behind on our way up the mountain). Now we hike together every possible opportunity, and we go farther than I would ever go alone. There’s no reason that I can’t discover more about myself while sharing a breathtaking experience with my husband.
We enjoy good food and drink together around the world, but Russ has also encouraged me to go minimalist. I have fewer possessions now than ever before, although I’m still not to his guru level of detachedness.
Recently, Russ took up digital photography. After years of watching me do my own as my hobby, he bought a DSLR and is rapidly improving. Just last night we travelled on a microadventure together to Pawnee National Grasslands in Colorado, where we spent 90 minutes freezing our extremities off and excitedly photographing the stars. Together. I wouldn’t have been brave enough to drive to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night alone.
The myth arises from people who think that travel precludes relationships due to the impermanence of the lifestyle, but in my experience the problems run deeper. Long-term travellers want freedom and do things sino por cadena (one thing just leads to another naturally). It’s easy, on the road, to convince oneself that travel is only one way (think ‘elephant pants,’ heavy drinking, drawn-out philosophical conversations about nothing in the hostel bar, Instagrammable moments), and that relationships just can’t coexist with the behemoth.
It’s easy to listen to everyone asking, “When are you going to finally SETTLE DOWN?” and take it too literally. It’s not as if having an established relationship suddenly bolts one’s feet to the floor in a suburban wasteland. The prevailing ‘wisdom’ is clear; relationships and travel are mutually exclusive. I have seen so many of them convince themselves that they have to make a permanent choice between the two.
I have to tell you, I made that choice myself. I started travelling when I was in a relationship. It tanked after I changed and then tried to ‘come home’ unsuccessfully. My then-boyfriend made it clear to me, along with his whole family, that I could not travel and have him in my life as a partner.
I chose travel, and then my life-affirming relationship found me a couple years down the line as a direct consequence of my choice to keep travelling. It wasn’t that travel prevented me having any long-term relationship. It was that my previous long-term relationship sucked all by itself! It was doomed to begin with. Travel just helped me to chuck it out the door in a timely manner so that I could be my true self sooner.
Love, marriage, and family life are all possible as a long-term traveller. It’s true that you may not have a mortgage, a car of your own, or much in the bank. Frankly, long-term travellers who are in a long-term relationship probably have a better idea about what being a life partner is really about. Travel strips us to the bare necessities; a relationship borne of true knowledge about what is actually important (coupled with the self-knowledge travel tenders in a person) is surely superior.
Long-term travel is not mutually exclusive to a long-term relationship. If you are incredibly lucky like we are, you might even be able to write it into your vows:
“I promise that I will walk next to you through the world
I will follow you to the ends of the Earth
You are my home.”