How to Balance Meaningful Travel & Your Relationship with Your Significant Other

by Kayla Patterson

Something magical happens when we travel meaningfully. When we step outside our comfort zone, intentionally immerse ourselves in another culture, and learn more about the places we visit, it changes us. Our fundamental views of the world, ourselves, and relationships shift. We realize that before these experiences, our eyes weren’t wide open and we lacked a profound understanding of our place in the world.

Couple in Berlin, Germany
Kayla & Tyler in Berlin

Consequently, our significant others notice that we’re different, and it’s not just because we can’t contain our enthusiasm for wanting to share our experiences with them. So, how can we possibly explain to them what has happened?!

Having been in a relationship for nearly 10 years, and having enjoyed meaningful travel experiences with and without my partner, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to explain my experiences abroad to my significant other. So whether you’re two months, two years, or two decades into your relationship (or you just swiped right), here are some handy tips on how to balance your love of travel with the love of your life.

My First Try With the Long Distance Relationship Thing

The first time I traveled internationally without my boyfriend coincidentally happened to be the first time I participated in a truly meaningful international travel experience. While I had been to a resort in Mexico and spent a day in Canada, I hadn’t yet traveled to a place that would change my life in ways that I’m still realizing. This time I was going to the Philippines to work and volunteer abroad. Five flights and 48 hours later, I found myself in a third world country, thousands of miles and many time zones away from him.

The days that followed planted the seeds of what is now a full-on obsession and passion for travel, and it was also the beginning of an unexpected separation (physically and mentally) from my significant other.

two hands making a heart

What You Need to Do

While each relationship will require unique care and attention in ways that fulfill you and your partner’s needs, there are some best practices you can kick into high-gear once you’ve started to share your heart with travel. Here’s how to strike a balance between your two great loves.

Don’t Forget to Communicate.

This brings me to my first piece of advice: make sure you’re communicating! While you might assume that you’ll be texting or calling your partner every day, you’ll be surprised how easy it becomes to forget, miscalculate the time difference, or find yourself without access to a phone or internet. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t advise spending every possible moment on the phone with your boo. What I do recommend is making sure that your other half knows that even though you’re having fun, you haven’t forgotten about them. So send a little message each day, ask them how they are doing, and assure them that you miss them too!

It’s Not All About You.

Now that you’re communicating, make sure you’re not just droning on about your travels. Yes, the experiences and realizations you’re having are important and should be shared with your bae, but remember that they’re having feelings and experiences too while you’re away. When you get a moment to chat, ask them about their day – focus on making sure that your communication is mutually beneficial. Trust me, when you’re experiencing culture shock, making new friends, and exploring to your heart’s content, it’s all too easy to (subconsciously, of course) dominate your conversations with “me, me, me!”

A volunteer with kids in the Philipppines
Tyler Volunteering in the Philippines

Reflect, Then Share.

Once you get home, the hard part is over right? Wrong. Ever heard of reverse culture shock? More often than not, once you get home from your meaningful travel experience, whether you were abroad to study, teach, intern, work, or any number of other reasons, a period of euphoria, then sadness may ensue.

First, you can’t tell enough stories or show enough pictures to your significant other. You’ll be raving about the things you learned and how awesome it was. Then, you might realize that they aren’t as invested as you; they don’t actually want to look at all 1543 of your photos (the horror!). And you miss it. You miss the culture, your new friends, and that sense of joy you got when you woke up each morning in a new place (here comes the sadness).

Your boyfriend, husband, girlfriend, or wife might be different, and you might be different too. It’s possible that you’ll skip this step and your relationship won’t be affected at all. But for me, and for many of you, it will be affected. So what do we do? First, we need to reflect, then we can share.

What were the actual moments that changed the way you thought about life? Who were the people that you’ll remember the rest of your life? What did you see that made your perspectives shift? Reflecting on this and more will not only help you re-adjust to your daily life and have a deeper understanding of what just happened to you, but will also help you formulate how to share these experiences with your partner. Invite them into your reflection process and get their feedback on your newfound sense of self.

Commit to growing alongside your partner to help bridge any unintentional divide that travel exasperated.
Couple at Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Kayla & Tyler at Cliffs of Moher

Explore Together.

If you’re still reading, then I’m assuming something I’ve said has resonated with you, and that if you’re like me, exploring the world and participating in meaningful travel with your significant other is now a necessity. It’s true, if you haven’t already traveled with your other half, start planning now!

About a year after I first traveled solo, I was getting ready for another month in the Philippines and two weeks in Australia. Yep, six weeks away from my lobster. I was confident about being able to deal with the extended separation, but I was even more excited about the prospect of him coming to visit me. Not only so that we didn’t have to spend so much time apart, but mostly so that he could experience the places, people, experiences, food, and way of life in the destination that had changed my life forever.

His two weeks visiting and volunteering in the Philippines changed his life too (and now we relate to one another that much more!). Not to mention that one trip led to many more, another four months in the Philippines, a trip to Thailand, four months in Ireland, trips around Germany, and two weeks in Italy, and these are just some of our favorites.

Let Travel Strengthen Your Relationship

When I reflect on how travel has impacted my life, I think about how it has changed my opinions of people, my morals, my favorite foods and activities, my passions, and even how I feel about the country I’m from. But, if I’m honest, the most profound change has been a deeper understanding of myself and what I want in life. And guess what? Having a deeper understanding of those things has allowed me to understand not only my relationship, but my understandings of "me" in our relationship.

Volunteering with elephants in Thailand
Kayla & Tyler in Thailand

Travel has strengthened my relationship because I know that my partner and I want the same things, and because each time I travel I can reflect on what I’ve learned and share it with him (#relationshipgoals).

Do you have stories or advice to share about how you strike a balance between your wanderlust and your sig-o? Share in the comments or tweet me at @kaylapatt!