“There ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them,” Mark Twain once said.
There are certain litmus tests that all relationships should be run through before making big decisions. When considering marriage, having kids or even moving in together, I believe couples should survive three things: camping together, a trek to IKEA and a trip through a foreign country.
These three experiences quickly strip us of the illusion that we have any control over the world around us. The way someone reacts to unpredictable situations is perhaps the best time to get a glimpse into his true character.
In particular, nothing reveals the potential pitfalls of your relationship than traveling together. Seeing how your partner responds when things don’t go his way is critical to understanding how he’ll react when your relationship hits road bumps. Learning how she treats other people when she’s tired and can’t easily communicate can show you how she’ll treat you or your family when things get tough.
Travel can also deepen your passion for your partner in ways that are completely unexpected. I truly fell in love with my partner, even after being together for years, when I saw his eyes light up talking with an artisan in China. As a stoic man, I’d never seen him as compassionate as he was towards friends he’d grown up alongside in Cuba. Seeing his ability to fall asleep on a train during rush hour in Tokyo showed me how resilient he was.
It’s easy to love people when they’re at their best. But loving them and having passion for them even when they’re hangry and bored? That’s true love.
It’s also easy to love someone when you are at your best.
The greatest lessons I’ve learned while traveling are not about my partner, but about myself and how I show up in a relationship when I’m not at my best.
In our modern world, we have the incredible power to curate how people see us and how we shield them from our emotional warts and scars. Even our partners see us through edited text messages and selective romantic experiences.
Typically, I choose to avoid people when I’m sick because I know I have a short temper. I cancel plans when my anxiety spins out of control, because incoherent babbling is never flattering. But when I travel, being sick is inevitable, which historically meant that my anxiety was on constant display.
Traveling taught me to be vulnerable. It taught me to ask for help, for the first time, from my partner and travel companion. And I had to admit I was wrong. More than once. As a couple, we learned to truly communicate and work through issues in real time.
It’s true that traveling together can help define your future as a couple. But the lessons you learn about yourself can have more impact on your success in love than judging your partner.
Emily Straubel is a writer and ceramic artist living in Portland.