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Thoughts on Travel No.01 Advice for Couples who Travel (Part 1)

You’re on vacation in Paris with your beloved partner. You just walked into Sainte-Chapelle and are overcome with the beauty of the stained glass in the sunlight. Your emotions are powerful and somewhat surprising, and you’re flooded with memories from long ago.

What do you do with your experience? Do you talk about it with your partner? Is he or she interested? How much do you say? And should you say anything about the surprisingly deep emotions and the powerful memories, which, as far as you can tell, are not directly related to the stained glass?

I’m a marriage and family therapist, and the copy editor for Bearleader. Daniela asked me what tools I might offer couples who want to use their travels as an opportunity to strengthen their connection to one other. So I’m beginning at Sainte-Chapelle and the overwhelming beauty of the stained glass. Such experiences are at the heart of why I love travel: the unexpected, the new, the emotionally moving, and, especially, being able to share such experiences with my best friend, my wife.

Since you’re reading Bearleader, I imagine you can relate. Travel enriches your life, and even reading about travel or seeing great pictures from new, or even familiar, destinations, does something satisfying for you: It makes your life better. This article is the first in a series in which I describe some conversational and attitudinal tools that you and your partner can take along with you on your next trip, to make the most of those rich travel experiences.

The Setup

I’m intending this series of articles for those who are in relationships that are working well; for those couples who like each other and can comfortably express their care to one another; for those couples who are willing to be open with each other without great fear that their openness or vulnerability will be used against them.

Imagine that the two of you are going on a trip together – just the two of you. You’ll have plenty of uninterrupted time together and you want to use it to deepen your relationship. Not in a heavy, tension-prone, probing-your-deepest-fears-and-insecurities way, but in a way that is playful, explorative and friendly; in a way that can strengthen your connection and your appreciation of one another; in a way that can help you understand each other’s worlds and experiences; in a way that doesn’t seem possible in the midst of the routines and demands of your at-home, day-to-day life. If that’s you, then, along with your luggage, pack these tools and get ready to explore, learn, and have fun.

The Review of the Day Tool

Recently, I travelled with my father and sisters to spend a week in Madrid, Spain. After some 20 hours of travel from Seattle, the early morning arrival left us with the whole day to get settled and explore the city. I’ve learned that such days take a toll on me emotionally. Despite my excitement about visiting a new place, the fatigue and disorientation (not knowing my way around, being in an unfamiliar culture) can leave me discouraged and even doubting that the trip was a good idea to begin with. And sure enough, as the day wore on such thoughts and emotions got the best of me.

The good news, though, was that I had my little travel blog to write – a way to keep the folks at home up-to-date on our adventure. And this time it provided an unexpected gift: It helped me make sense of my day and it turned my discouragement and depletion back into excitement and anticipation. The trick? Reviewing the day.

The Review of the Day Tool is, like my blog entry on that first day in Madrid, simple and straightforward. It involves taking a few minutes in conversation to “walk” yourselves through your day. It focuses on the simple question, “What did we do today?” And invites a trip down recent-memory lane.

What did we do?
Where did we go?
What did we see?
Who did we see?
What did we like and not like about our day?
What was easy and what was hard?
What would we like to do again?
What was memorable?
What made us feel glad that we’re on this trip?
What made us feel glad that we’re on this trip together?

As I sat down at the kitchen table on that first night in Madrid, my day didn’t make any sense, and it didn’t feel very good either. But as I walked myself through the day by looking at the pictures I had taken, and then by writing – describing our activities and my impressions of the city – the day started to take on a form or shape. I could see its ups and downs. I could see its pleasures and its challenges. And I started to get a foretaste of how I might like to spend the rest of our time there.

Perhaps the best thing to come from my review of the day is that it helped me to connect the different events into a larger narrative: “We are on an adventure and we have been travelling all day, so of course I’m tired and disoriented, but I’m also exhilarated; and with rest, and a plan, it will get much better.”
The review allowed me to put myself within this adventure-exploration-first-day-depletion narrative and understand my experience from this larger perspective. It made sense of my experience and offered a way forward.

For you as a couple, reviewing the details of the day allows you to co-author the story of your trip: This is what we’re doing, this is what we’re thinking and feeling, here’s what we’re excited about, here’s what we want to learn more about, and here’s what it means to us to be together in this place at this time.

Final Thoughts

Travel is often referred to as a life-changing experience: Life can take on a new direction or purpose through travel. The tool described above, and those to come in the rest of this series, are some of the ways you can make sure to pay attention to the experiences that are having such a big effect on you and your partner. They help you to be together in these life-changing moments, to focus your attention together on the poignant, impactful experiences that travel makes possible.

Stay tuned – Part 2 of Bearleader Chronicle – Travel Tools for Couples, will be coming soon.