I’ve been in a long-term relationship for about 9 years now, which at age 25, is a sizeable portion of my young life. Also by age 25, I have completed 3 independent, multi month international trips as well as 1 shorter one, resulting in visiting 38 different countries. Being in a relationship has in no way hindered my ability to explore the world. And yet, I see other women forced to choose between their relationship and their travels, sacrificing one of their big dreams. I am a firm believer that you can do both, and here’s how I make it work.
Many people ask me how I manage to travel without my partner. They’ll ask me things like “Don’t you miss him?” or “You feel safe traveling on your own” and some even say things as awkward as “Aren’t you scared he’ll find someone else while you’re gone?”. Um no, I don’t think that. I don’t think any of those things, because I have a solid relationship that is built on strong values & principles. People tend to ask how we continue to maintain our relationship even if we are apart for months at a time. From my experience, the distance and independence actually makes us stronger as partners. Built on my experiences, I have some advice for women out there currently debating this dilemma.
First and foremost, there needs to be a strong foundation of respect between you and your partner. I have always been an independent woman, and I am relentless when it comes to getting what I want. Once I set my mind on something, particularly traveling, I make it happen. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. And thankfully, I am with a man who truly respects, accepts and loves that aspect of my personality. I know that Sam understands the person that I am, but more than understanding, he truly respects my choices and desires.
Secondly, you need to be fierce in standing up for what you want. American women, in general, tend to be too conciliatory, too self-sacrificing in the pursuit of their dreams. We get pressure to settle or compromise on our wants, rather than celebrated for taking risks. Yes, we are told when we are girls that we can be whatever we want to be. But once we are grown women, there are social pressures (ie marriage, kids, career, etc) that hinder our progress in achieving our now seemingly long-off dreams.
I, for one, believe that our society should praise independent, strong women more and really empower young ladies to fight for their dreams, particularly when it comes to travel.
Of course I love my partner and he loves me, and I don’t want to give up my relationship in exchange for my dreams. But he also understands that I will not sacrifice my travel ambitions (or career ambitions or personal growth ambitions) for our relationship, nor would he ever expect me to do that; conversely, he is one of my biggest travel champions.
Trust is the most obvious and often cited quality for long-distance relationships. When you are apart for long periods of time, it’s easy to let your mind wander. The traveler will be meeting all kinds of new and interesting people who may draw your attention. It does not necessarily need to be threatening, but the traveler needs to respect the boundaries. Having a relationship built on trust (and love) of the other person allows you to shake it off and remember that you have someone far more awesome at home waiting for you.
Equally as important to remember is that all these same urges are true for the person at home. They’ll be hanging out with different people while you’re gone and their social calendar might be a little more full than when you are there. The traveler can’t get jealous or feel like they’re missing out. You need to respect that they’re allowed to have fun while you’re gone (you’re having fun too, after all!).
Finally, is communication. I think this is probably the most important (for obvious reasons). Verbal communication is a HUGE aspect of any relationship, but particularly when that is your only means of connecting. These days, travelers have a bunch of different options to talk to their lovers back home, including Skype, What’s App and Google voice. And while digital communication will never replace in-person contact, it’s never been easier to connect across long distances.
I believe that it’s important to set communication boundaries prior to the trip. The traveler will not always have the time to share an hour-long conversation every night, nor the quality internet needed to support a video Skype. If you go into a trip without setting some expectations, the person at home may anticipate talking every night. Then when that isn’t the reality, they may feel hurt or jealous or forgotten about. Choose a time each night or a couple of times per week when you’ll both make time to be available. And stick to it. Don’t expect to be in communication all the time, but make the time that you do talk worth it.
I also think it’s important for the traveler to be empathetic to their partner back home. It’s easy to just ramble on about all the awesome things you’re doing while abroad. But your partner’s life is still progressing without you there, so make sure you are checking in with them. Ask about their days, check in with their emotional state, and ask what has been changing with them. As the traveler, you are bound to have a lot more going on, but never ignore your partner’s state of mind either.
When it really comes down to it, you need to be committed to your relationship. It’s not going to work when you’re together if you’re not committed to it, but it will most definitely fall apart when you add long distances into the equation. By building the foundation of my relationship on communication, shared values, trust and respect, I have achieved all my travel dreams with the best and most compassionate partner by my side emotionally. I consider myself lucky to have that level of support at our age, but I also feel as though we have done the due diligence together to make it a reality.