How To Travel The World Without Killing Your Spouse

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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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After Chautauqua Portugal, we ended up spending a few weeks meeting up with friends around Europe and catching up. One couple in particular was a previous attendee from Greece. Financially, they were in great shape, and on top of that, they had a super-stressful job (sound familiar?), wanted to get out there and start travelling, and basically live the awesome awesome life we live.

So knowing all that, plus the fact that they had backpacked across SE Asia before when they were younger, we were comfortable giving them the thumbs-up to GO FOR IT!

As it turns out, their experience travelling turned out to be a bit more stressful than they were expecting.

This was somewhat our fault. On our blog and in media appearances, we present nomadic living and global travel as a pretty easy, idyllic life, and for us it is. But what we have to remember is that at this point, we’ve been travelling together as a couple for 4 years. We’ve worked out all the kinks and figured out how to travel long term, so for us it’s easy. But that’s not necessarily true for someone that’s just starting out in their nomadic lifestyle journey.

The truth is travelling as a couple is a skill, and like any other skill it takes time and deliberate practice to get right. Once you figure it out and master that skill, using it becomes second nature and they, quite frankly, make it look easy. But for someone who’s still learning, practicing that skill seems like trying to climb Mount Everest with a boulder tied to their foot.

An example of this is driving stick. I never learned to drive stick. I grew up in Canada where automatic cars are the norm. But in Europe or Asia, automatic cars are much less common, and tend to be much more expensive to rent. Which is why I’ve steadfastly avoided renting cars while I’m travelling outside North America.

Fortunately while we were together for the week, our friends knew how to drive stick so we were able to rent a car. Watching him drive stick, you’d never know that the car wasn’t an automatic because shifting gears was so second nature to him he just made it seem effortless. But when he took us to a parking lot so I could try it out, the results were…far less than ideal.

“OK now, press down on the clutch and change gears…”

“Which one’s the clutch again?”

“The pedal on your left.”

“OK…I think I got it…”

*Car makes horrible grinding noise and shuts off*

“…and you stalled it.”

“Fuck.”

That’s actually how it feels when you first start travelling together as well. Lots of stuff going wrong, terrible grinding noises, and frequent stalls.

So without further ado, allow me to present: Millennial Revolution’s Guide to Travelling as a Couple And Not Killing Each Other!

Rule #1: Don’t Try to See Everything

I get it. You land in a foreign country, you’re only there for a week, so you need to get out there and see ALL THE THINGS!

FIRECracker used to do this. When we first started travelling, she would have a minute-by-minute schedule worked out in order to maximize the amount of sightseeing-per-hour. “We’re not here to relax! We’re here to VACATION!” is a thing she used to yell.

I tried to calm her down and reason that such a tight schedule left no room for things to go wrong. If anything got cancelled or rescheduled, it would have a ripple effect on the rest of her travel schedule and everything would blow up. She didn’t listen to me, ominously saying that she would “MAKE it work.”

So of course on the 2nd day, it started raining (in London. Who could have seen THAT coming?), a walking tour got cancelled, and her schedule got screwed over. At one point, she was sitting in our hotel room frantically trying to rearrange her schedule instead of, you know, actually going out and sight-seeing. Eventually I had to come over and physically take the laptop away from her when she started hyper-ventillating.

This happens to EVERYONE when they start travelling. Your time in the foreign country seems too precious to waste sitting at a cafe, so you naturally want to see as much as you can. Which makes you pack as much as you can in the time you have, which stresses you out, which causes more things to go wrong, and it’s an endless negative cycle. Eventually, you end up needing a vacation from the vacation. My Dad still travels like this, and my Mom dreads it every single time.

This, by the way, is the Scarcity Mindset reeling it’s ugly head. The same Scarcity Mindset that causes people who have grown up in poverty (like FIRECracker) to hoard money causes you to hoard your time when you travel. None of it can go to waste, the Scarcity Mindset tells you, because you don’t know when you will ever be back.

The trick here is to adopt the Abundance Mindset. If you are FI, like our friends from Chautauqua Greece, then you will have the rest of your life to travel and explore the world. You don’t have to see everything, because you will eventually be back (if you so choose). That realization changes everything, and once you adopt that Abundance Mindset, you will give yourself permission to relax and just enjoy the experience rather than rushing from one attraction to another.

Find Your Travel Rhythm

FIRECracker no longer flips out over travel schedules, but as an A-type personality she’s still not OK with just sitting on a beach for weeks on end. So we’ve adopted a Travel Rhythm called “One Day Work, One Day Play.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. One day, we’ll go find a library or a cafe and work on the blog, or book promotion, or whatever side hustle activity we’re pursuing at the time. And then the next day, we’ll go to a temple, or climb a mountain, or play with some kitties at a cat cafe. This gives us a balance of still being productive in our post-retirement life, while still taking time to enjoy the city and act like a tourist.

And we never schedule anything.

Well…except maybe media interviews. And Chautauqua. And Podcast sessions. And meetups…okay fine. Maybe a couple of things.

Rule #2: Don’t Check Any Bags

This one really depends on the type of travel you do, but if it’s at all possible to avoid checking bags at the airport, do it. It makes things so much easier. We’ve been travelling for 4 years no and have never gotten our bags lost. And yet I go home and talk to friends who just travel once or twice a year for vacations and they’re constantly losing their bags.

The reason for this is everything we own fits into two carry-on backpacks, and it comes into the cabin with us. Flights get redirected all the time, and connections get missed or re-routed. If you check your bags and one of these things happen, you’re going to be SOL.

Plus, not having a checked bag means I can roll up to the airport and go straight into security without waiting in line at the bag drop desk. And it means I don’t have to wait around at the carousel when we land. The less things you have to do at the airport, the less likely things will go wrong.

Don’t check your bags. Just trust me on this.

Osprey For the Win!

Incidentally, in case you were wondering what backpack we use, it’s this: The Osprey Farpoint 40L.

Why the Osprey? Because it’s the maximum amount of volume that can fit into every airline’s carry-on dimension. Professional travellers like us actually start recognizing each other when we see them carrying this backpack, and airline workers see it and don’t even bother measuring it because they know it fits.

If you do decide to get one, please consider clicking the above affiliate link. We will get a small commission, plus we’ll get the warm fuzzy feeling that you too will never have to deal with another lost bag. 

If you want to see what’s in our bags, check out this post.

Rule #3: Accept that things will go Wrong

I like to describe travel as “an endless series of things going wrong.” This is not me being cynical. It’s a fact.

There’s a reason so many couples fight when they’re on vacation. When you’re at home, both of you have your routines, everything’s familiar, and generally there’s no major surprises.

When you’re travelling, everything’s unfamiliar and there’s ALWAYS major surprises. You’re trying to catch a flight in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language, and your phone’s about to run out of battery, and oh crap the gate just changed and we have no idea where! GAAAH!

This is normal. When you travel, the country’s different, the language is different, the road signs are different, sometimes you have to drive stick instead of automatic (!), and if you travel continuously like we do, you never stick around in one place long enough to become familiar with it. A routine never develops, so you’re just constantly in a state of confusion.

And in that situation, mistakes will happen. Flights will be booked on the wrong day, ferries will be missed, etc. Things will go wrong. Not “may” go wrong, but WILL go wrong.

One of the biggest epiphanies we both had as perpetual travellers was to accept this as part of the process rather than something we could completely prevent.

Now, that being said, I’m not saying that you should just give up on planning, throw up your hands and just “let things happen.” Things will go wrong, but there are techniques you can use to reduce both the frequency and severity of those cock-ups, but when you accept the fact that you can never get those mistakes all the way down to zero ended up eliminating a LOT of anxiety as part of the travel process, especially in FIRECracker.

But unfortunately, this article has already gone way too long, so I’m going to discuss those techniques we learned next week, in Part 2. 

So that’s it for now. What do you think? Are you able to travel as a couple without killing each other? Or is this something that still eludes you? Let’s hear about it in the comments!


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31 thoughts on “How To Travel The World Without Killing Your Spouse”

  1. This read a lot like a overview of “How to slow travel when you’re a childless couple.” Seriously, traveling gets a lot harder once you have a family. Trivial stuff like a changed flight or a tour cancellation is well… child’s play.

    Traveling as a parent to more than one kid can be hell sometimes. I’ve been to hell and back multiple times. You kids have it easy. 😉

    No checked bags…oh, you’re killing me! LOL!

    1. I just smiled and nodded as I read it 😉

      We finally did a “real” trip with just the 2 adults in the household. 11 days to Mexico City. Pretty great and stress free compared to traveling with kids. Flights no problem. Waiting no problem. Getting a little too tipsy on free Priority Pass lounge liquor, no problem. Sleeping in, no problem. Bored – that’s your problem! Restaurant choices – flip a coin or eat at BOTH places (we aren’t picky).

    2. Oh, I don’t disagree. Add a kid into this mix and I’m going to have to write a WHOLE new guide.

      I’ll let you know when I get there.

      Alternatively, I’d love to hear about what it’s like to travel from your perspective. Future blog post?

  2. Thanks for the memory of my then-boyfriend, now-husband teaching me stick shift without raising his voice, after my father had ended up yelling, “I’m not teaching you again until you learn how to drive!”

    I never thought of attributing it to scarcity vs. abundance mindset. Good one.

  3. My spouse and I have been together for over a decade and we haven’t done much travelling other than a few trips between the gulf islands and the lower mainland and one raid trip to visit family 7 hours away. We rarely fight about anything and this doesn’t change when we travel. I am a bit of a stress case and my spouse is really easygoing. I’ll be the one stressing out making sure that everything is planned out and prepared travel wise but I don’t do a lot of planning for once we get there because we don’t travel to do touristy things because my spouse isn’t into any of that and I can only tolerate being in crowded places for a couple of hours before I am more than ready to go home.

    Travelling sounds awful for a couple like us but if we had to do it I don’t think we’d fight very much because we only do it when we have to and when we do we have this “we’re in this together” mindset where we just want to make things as easy as possible because we know neither of us really wants to be there.

    1. That’s an…interesting take. That if you see travel as an ordeal to get through, it pulls you together.

      Sounds like you might be happier as a homebody in retirement, but hey nothing wrong with that!

  4. I remember asking you about this in Greece, so I enjoyed reading this article. I think you said, “My wife is awesome so why wouldn’t I want to spend all day with her?” 🙂

  5. Having a small child along certainly does complicate things as Mr Tako says. I think having good snacks along is up near the top of the list too, to sort out low blood sugar and crabby little ones. 👧🏻😊

  6. Travelling with kids is easy! 😁
    Travelling with three teens is something else! It’s like 5 adults who have varying interests trying to make everything work out and three of them (the teens) have no problem stating their opinion or complaining! Haha! Yet we still do it all the time and we create so many great memories but there are definitely some disagreements!!

  7. we have been traveling together for 35 years … not all the time like you guys

    but often … such as 4 winter months in SE Asia

    we like to travel together its more fun and you still meet people .

      1. mostly India .. our fave (so friendly so exotic not as hot )…. Nepal sri lanka … thailand of course .. and Burma is amazing and Laos . thanks

  8. It really is a skill you learn over time. Mrs. Done by Forty and I traveled with Baby AF recently to France, Switzerland & Germany, and a kid definitely adds some new rhythms to get used to. But one we liked was that we slowed down a lot. Have to work in time for naps and snacks, shorter excursions and more meals at the AirBNB. It was a good change overall.

    We unfortunately don’t think we’ll be able to get away with just carryons anymore, but who knows. Maybe we can squeeeze all the stuff into our smaller packs.

  9. Hi! I am just starting to learn about FIRE and am totally inspired!!! I don’t have a full plan yet but for the first time in my life, learning about finance, investing and saving seems fun and hopeful, rather than a super stressful chore that I will forever feel like I’m failing at and will never “get” the way rich people do. It’s in large part to your book which is the first I’ve read on the subject!

    I saw in posts a couple years back that you were researching Wealthsimple as a robo-investing option and were going to report back. Have you reported back yet and if so in which post? I couldn’t find it using the site search. Thank you!

  10. As a fellow engineer, after reading your blog and other FI blogs, confirming that the numbers are OK for my own situation, and somehow still harboring a feeling that things may not work out, I decided to do an actual life test by starting my world travel about 2 years ago. Things have turned out well, much better than I thought and I have learned to trust numbers and to use numbers to guide many life decisions during my travel.

    At the beginning of my travel, I used to leave/donate items forbidden to be carried into the plane (e.g. knive, scissors, trekking poles) before I went to the airport, and then bought new ones once I arrived at the destination. I calculated that it’s cheaper since I do mostly overland and only occasionally fly. No need to pay the baggage fee and no risk of losing my bag. Just like you mentioned.

    However, it has become tiring after a while (especially looking for trekking poles at the new destination) and also the stress of lining up to get into the plane soon so that I could definitely find a space for my 32L backpack.

    Lately, I have settled with checking-in my backpack and pay the fee, mostly with budget airlines in Southeast Asia. Otherwise, in Europe or others, it’s still within the budget airline’s allowable weight limit so it can be checked-in for free. Benefits: I get on the plane as late as possible since I don’t have to worry for a luggage space in the overhead bin, no need to redo the buying routine at the new destination. Downside: need to arrive at the airport earlier and my baggage has been ‘lost’ once (luckily found and returned back 24 hours later, it happened the US not in other 60+ countries I have visited so far).

    I would love to eliminate the fee + luggage lost risk completely by not checking-in anything, but I guess I just have to compromise somewhere.

  11. Traveling with kids doesn’t have to be too crazy. Once the youngest could pull a “wheelie” bag and carry his own backpack (and a jacket) we took all 3 kids on a trip to Maya Riviera (Cancun) and a missions trip to Quito, Ecuador. It instilled an appreciation of their life in the states and made them all lovers of travel and all that comes with that. Granted they were 7, 11, and 15 on the first trip, with babies that us a whole other set of concerns!

  12. I definitely had the same manual car experience and let’s just say it has scarred me for life…

    “You’re facing downhill, it will be easy,” said my mom.
    “But there’s a multi-million dollar house right smack dab at the bottom of that hill, I’m gonna run right into it,” I yelled.

    2 seconds later, the car literally hops up and down, making an awful noise and then stalls. That was enough for me.

    Love the post and think it is a topic that needs to be talked about more often. Travel isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, hell it usually isn’t even close. But if you can learn to work together, capitalize on each others strengths, and adjust when the inevitable plan goes awry, then you’re golden. If not, traveling prolly isn’t for you.

    Can’t wait for part 2… I’m telling you, that one skill has already been executed multiple times by us and our other travel buddies. It’s a lifesaver.

  13. Unrelated to travel (I have 3 kids that I travel a LOT with, nuff said) but I just finished your book. Stellar insights! Hubs and I are now retired in our 30s with 3 kids; we’re slightly different in that we have Gov’t pensions x 2 supporting our portfolio. I’m getting the itch to take the kids around the world, but their school is bumming me out – they’re in Francophone school. I know you don’t mention it, but I believe bilingualism (trilingual is, etc) is tremendously important. Any tips on how you and Firecracker navigate language in your travels?

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