How To Travel The World Without Killing Your Spouse – Part 2

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Wanderer

The Wanderer retired from his engineering job at a major Silicon Valley semiconductor company at the age of 33. He now travels the world, seeking out knowledge from other wealthy people, so that he can teach people how to become Financially Independent themselves.
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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?”

“No.”

“Maybe if we split the group in two?”

“No.”

“Can I maybe speak to a manager?”

“Still no.”

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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23 thoughts on “How To Travel The World Without Killing Your Spouse – Part 2”

  1. Awesome post. We follow most of the rules you have mentioned in the post

    However, I do think that even after following these rules couple will still fight. Because marriage is still a marriage, no matter which part of the world you are at. Plus, non travel related things will still come up.

    The most important thing for us is that we have a fight during travel, we talk about it and what made the each of us upset because if we don’t that will only build up resentment for us

    1. Oh yeah, sure. Disagreements will always happen, but travel is unique in that it’s almost an environment where fights are guaranteed to happen. So once you figure out how to not fight while traveling, the rest of life seems almost easy be comparison.

  2. As a couple that almost never fights and doesn’t travel very much, we still use a lot of these rules in our day to day life.

    For example, “Trust but verify” I was the one who decided on our investment allocations for our portfolios but before we bought anything I got my spouse to read your investment workshop and then showed him the information pages for each ETF so that he understood what we were buying and had to agree with it first.

    “Don’t let one person plan everything” when we bought in 2011 I dealt with the realtor, lawyer and mortgage broker and viewed the listings every day and arranged the viewings. My spouse coordinated the move. Same when we sold our place in 2017. We have also always split up our household responsibilities this way in that I deal with paying bills and grocery shopping and he deals with cooking, laundry, etc.

    We are also really good at pulling together to deal with issues and being stronger because of it.

    1. That’s awesome. You sounds like an awesome couple. Out of curiosity, do your friends look at you with wonder and ask “How is it that you get along so well?” Cause that’s the kinds of questions we get too. 🙂

      1. We don’t really because people usually don’t understand our relationship and how we do things but it works for us. For instance, when we go back to the greater Vancouver area during the holidays we actually spend the entire week apart including Christmas. We don’t really mingle with people as a couple, he has his friends and family and I have mine and they rarely mix so people don’t really see us in action as a couple very often.

  3. The more we travel, the more we’ve come to adopt many of these strategies. I won’t book anything anymore without my fiance’s approval because 1. He always seems to find better deals than me no matter how thoroughly I search travel sites and 2. I am NOT taking the blame if it’s a total dud.

    You guys are fortunate in that you seem to naturally have similar travel styles. I’m much more of a plan everything to the hour type of traveler, and my fiance is much more of a “let’s just go and see what happens!” type of guy. Over the past eight years, we’ve had to do a lot of compromising to try to make our approaches align, but I do actually think it has enhanced both of our travel experiences to do so.

    Fingers crossed your tips and tricks keep us fight-free on our honeymoon this summer!

      1. Tying the knot in the Rhone Alpes in France then heading to do a bit of the Tour du Mont Blanc before backpacking the Dolomites from Northern to Southern Italy and ending in Venice. I know you guys have witnessed first hand how spectacular the Swiss Alps can be (we also sang the Sound of Music the entire time our last trip to Mont Blanc), so we’re pretty excited to head back for more!

      1. Azores were amazing! Really enjoyed our time there… did I mention they have hot springs?

        Currently we are in Helsinki and the weather is definitely not the same as the Azores.

    1. Hey, I didn’t come up with it. That was Ronald Reagan. He used it to describe the US policy towards monitoring the Soviet Union’s compliance with nuclear disarmament.

      Now THOSE are two parties that have a LOT of trouble trusting each other.

  4. Nice! Lots of great tips. I quite like the Trust, but Verify… I’m using that one. 🙂 I tend to do most of the travel planning and have definitely run into feeling like I’m planning alone. Now we’ll try to divide up sightseeing responsibilities, or if visiting multiple cities – we each pick a city to plan. It’s definitely helped.

    Would love to see if your packing lists have changed over the last four years! I’d commented on your packing post a few months ago. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  5. Love these posts! Over the last four years of vacation planning with my spouse, our travel system looks very similar.

    I like how “Trust, But Verify” includes the non-planner making the purchase/booking. I’m the control freak, and while I always tell my husband what we’re booking and ask if he agrees, it’s always months ahead of time. Inevitably there ends up being something that he mis-remembers about the what/where/when/how of our vacation, and we argue over whether I told him about it. We’ll definitely be incorporating the two-party system of getting the other to “sign-off” on the travel plans.

  6. What phone are you using to take your pictures? The picture of the two of you in this past and the last one really look good. Are you just using the basic setting in the phone or something more?

    1. Thanks for noticing! Yeah, we’re trying to take our photo-taking lately to the next level. We’ll be writing a guide/review for the stuff we use soon, so stay tuned!

  7. Financial Independence is an economic strategy. Travel is an experience. Make sure you have a clear understanding of the two.

    FI gives the opportunity to experience life in accordance to your values. Travel is just one among a million of possibilities.

    DO NOT travel for the sake of FI – you will get burn out!

  8. I know you initially started travelling with Miles and Points. Are you still able to get credit card sign up bonuses or do you now fund the travel with cash?
    And since your last portfolio published was $1M has it grown since and is that a joint portfolio or for each individual?

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