Continuing on from last week’s post, today we will be going over Part 2 of Millennial Revolution’s Guide to Travelling as a Couple And Not Killing Each Other!
Rule #4: Don’t Obsess Over Things You Can’t Control
Tell me if this sounds familiar: You go somewhere on vacation as a couple and one person just seems in a perpetually bad mood for seemingly no reason. The plane ride might have been uncomfortable, the taxi took too long or was too expensive, the coffee in the hotel room tastes like crap. Nothing in particular went catastrophically wrong, but the steady drip-drip-drip of minor irritations gradually builds until it’s an unstoppable tsunami of anger and then it’s just constant fight city.
This is super common, and the chief culprit is something that everyone inadvertently takes with them they travel: A set of rose coloured glasses.
People think that traveling and living this nomadic lifestyle is like getting on a magical unicorn and riding off into a world of rainbows and happiness. And don’t get me wrong, on the whole it’s totally a lifestyle worth at least trying out as it’s added so many positive things to our lives, but some things are going to be different in a negative direction. You’re not going to be able to go your favourite neighborhood coffee shop anymore. You’re not going to be able to communicate with people as well. And the culture’s going to be different.
This is especially pronounced for Americans who travel. In America, you have a very service-based culture, built around anticipating your needs and filling them before you have to ask. That culture doesn’t exist in Europe or Asia, so if you’re used to and expecting waiters to come around and fill your water glass, you’re not going to have a good time.
We run into this culture shock all the time when we travel, and never more than when we help plan Chautauquas. We were in the surfing town of Sagres scouting out potential locations for Chautuaqua Portugal, and when we went up to a tour operator asking if we could book a paddle-boarding trip for our group, we were met with an icy “No.”
“Uhh…what if we pick a different day?”
“Maybe if we split the group in two?”
“Can I maybe speak to a manager?”
And the lady just went back to reading her magazine.
She just didn’t feel like doing any work that day, so she didn’t. And it wasn’t just Portugal, this was everywhere in Europe. Getting people to take your money outside of the US is surprisingly difficult.
And in those cases, it’s easy to get annoyed and start griping, but at the end of the day we have to realize that we’re in another country, the culture and the people are going to different than what we’re used to, and that’s OK. You can’t expect that when you travel, you get to keep everything you like about home AND only experience stuff you like about the destination you’re traveling to.
You have to take the good with the not-so-good, and that’s just part of the experience. In software jargon, it’s a feature, not a bug.
Rule #5: Don’t Let One Person Plan Everything
OK show of hands: Of all the couples out there reading this, would you consider one of you to be a control freak?
While I can’t actually see you doing it, I’m willing to bet that nearly all of you put you hand up.
Among FIRE enthusiasts, there’s always at least one control freak in the couple. It’s almost a requirement. After all, if someone wasn’t spending their evenings and weekends poring over spreadsheets, they wouldn’t be reading finance blogs in their spare time, and they wouldn’t be pursuing FIRE.
Now where this runs into problems is when you start traveling together. Because inevitably what happens is that the control freak of the couple takes over the travel planning. After all, they reason, they’re the detail-oriented one. So if you want a job done right, you do it yourself, amirite?
This is a terrible idea.
Because what inevitably happens is that things go wrong (See Rule #3), and the other person in the couple just sits there and bitches at the person who did the planning.
Travel planning is not like regular planning. When you’re running your life back home, it’s possible to micro-optimize everything until it’s all running like a well-oiled machine. But when you travel, your surroundings are constantly changing. If you travel long term, every few weeks you’re basically uprooting your entire life and moving into a new city. There’s too many moving parts, so mistakes are unavoidable.
So because mistakes are unavoidable, if you set up a dynamic where one person does all the planning, every mistake results in that person being blamed for it. So every mistake results in a fight. Soon, nobody’s having fun and everyone just wants to go back home.
The solution to this that we’ve found is to split up the responsibilities of travel planning.
This may seem counter-intuitive, especially for the control freak of the couple, but by splitting up the travel planning, you both contribute to the workload, which keeps any one person from getting exhausted and, more importantly, you both jointly own the results.
How you split up these responsibilities is completely up to each couple. You typically want to play to each person’s strengths and varying levels of meticulousness, but for us FIRECracker takes care of housing and activities while I take care of transport.
So she will do all the research that goes towards finding AirBnbs or hotels, as well as finding things like walking tours or cooking classes that we can do to get to know the city that we’re exploring. I will be the person poring over SkyScanner or Google Flights to figure out how we get to the destination for the least amount of money, as well as figuring out how we get to and from the airport.
FIRECracker also takes care of packing, as she’s very meticulous and has a very particular system of how all our stuff fits into our backpacks. How she packs is the same every time, and as a result we never leave stuff behind anymore because if it didn’t get packed she would immediately notice a hole in her packing system.
Generally, when we move out of a location, after FIRECracker packs and checks out of our AirBnb or hotel, we’ve “gone mobile.” At that point, I take over in navigating to the airport, making sure we catch our flight, then landing, getting through immigration, then navigating the new city’s transportation network to find our new apartment. Once we get there, FIRECracker takes over in checking into the new place, unpacking, and at that point we’ve settled back down.
Rule #6: Trust, But Verify
This rule took about a year of continuous travel to figure out, but we’ve since come up with a system called “Trust, But Verify.”
Here’s how it works.
After we started implementing Rule #5, we quickly realized that while splitting up responsibilities helped in balancing out the workload, it still suffered from the “blame” problem. In that, if one person made a mistake (like say, getting the time/date of the flight wrong), it would have a catastrophic effect on both people. This would still cause the person who made the mistake to get blamed and a fight would result.
So even though the responsibilities would get split up, before any important decision gets made, the other person has to check over what they did.
So for example, if I find a flight to take, I will click through the airline site’s buy system until I get to the final confirmation page with the “Buy Now” button. Then, I will hand the laptop over to FIRECracker, and she will verify all the details, being extra careful to double-check the time/date (“You got month/day reversed again”) and location (“Why did you click on Panama City, Florida? NOBODY wants to fly to Panama City, Florida!”) and she’s the one who actually hits “Buy Now.”
This has two effects. One, it greatly reduces the frequency of mistakes because two pairs of eyes and looking at the same information. Secondly, and this is SUPER important, if a mistake still gets made, no one person can blame the other.
The point of the “Trust, But Verify” system is to avoid the situation that makes traveling as a couple not fun: Fighting with each other when shit goes wrong.
Now, when things go wrong, it’s not “YOU fucked up,” it’s “WE fucked up.”
By avoiding the blame game that comes with making mistakes, this refocuses our effort when a mistake gets made into figuring out a solution together rather than tearing each other down.
Mistakes have gotten more and more rare these days, but they still occasionally happen. For example, recently when booking a place in Malta, we accidentally booked a dive. The host didn’t have any reviews and used misleading pictures when advertising the place, and when we got there everything was covered with flies and half the furniture was broken and unusable.
But because we both looked at the listing and jointly decided to take the risk of booking an un-reviewed host in order to get a good location, neither of us blamed the other for getting us into this (literal) mess, and once we realized we couldn’t stay there, we immediately started working together to get us out of it. FIRECracker started frantically looking for nearby hotels while I got on the phone with AirBnb to negotiate a refund. Eventually, AirBnb was able to find an acceptable listing, albeit in a more remote location, and was able to apply the amount we already paid towards the new place.
After all was said and done, we were able to work together as a team and found a solution as a team. That night, we were high-fiving each other on a job well done.
That’s the real value of “Trust, But Verify.” By creating a framework of ensuring that neither person can blame the other when something goes wrong, and working as a team to fix problems when they arise, we avoid the toxic situation of “Mistakes = Fight” and turn it into “Mistakes = Teamwork!”
As a result, every time a mistake happens, rather than driving a wedge between our relationship, it gives us an opportunity to pull together as a couple and fix shit together. So not only does this system make the frequency of mistakes rarer, every time a mistake happens, it actually makes us stronger as a couple rather than weaker.
Aaaand we’re done
So that’s it. 6 simple rules we’ve learned over time to travel as a couple and not kill each other.
Is it rocket science? Not really. But what I’ve discovered as we’ve helped people get their finances in order, quit their job, and come travel the world with us is that these rules are not obvious at all to couples who travel together. It took us both nearly a year to figure out how to do this without killing each other, and my hope is that by writing this guide, you will be able to skip right to the awesome part of travel without that year of gunk that we had to get through.
What do you think? Do you travel as a couple, and if so, what do you do to make the process as painless as possible? Let’s hear it in the comments below!
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