"Honey, let’s go on vacation! We need a rest! A break! Let’s get out of here!"
If those phrases sound familiar, you know the draw of getting away from it all. Whether your dream is to head to the beach, the mountains, or a far-off land, traveling offers opportunities for rest, relaxation, and discovery. Yet, even as we seek the rejuvenation and delights of travel, most of us have experienced journeys gone awry. A mountain of mishaps, from sunburns to disagreements over plans and directions, can leave couples drained and regretful instead of revived and rejuvenated.
Learning to travel well together has much less to do with the destination than with thorough planning and loving consideration. Even the most organized plans won’t prevent every misadventure, but thoughtfulness and preparation can go a long way to creating stress-free travel.
The idea of sitting down to make detailed plans might seem to conflict with the very concept of enjoying an easy and relaxing vacation. You might wonder, "Who wants (or needs) to get bogged down in details when the whole idea of a vacation is to leave to-do lists and drudgery behind?" Although it might sound counter-intuitive, the time spent planning in advance allows for greater ease and simplicity in the long run. When traveling, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. So before you and your spouse depart, take the time to tend to those minor (and not-so-minor) details that will make your vacation as perfect as possible!
1. Clarify Vacation Goals: This seemingly simple issue can become a big problem if partners have two different objectives! If one spouse is seeking relaxation while the other is hoping for adventure and sight-seeing, trouble is on the horizon. Knowing how essential it is that both partners have their needs met, take the time to openly discuss what each person hopes to get from the vacation. By talking about goals, the vacation can be crafted to give each partner a healthy dose of personal bliss. When different needs arise (maybe she wants to shop and he prefers to sit by the pool), plans can be made that allow for individual preferences while also maximizing joint activities and couple time. Hurt feelings can be avoided when partners collaborate to create a vacation that considers each person’s unique needs.
2. Discuss Personal Expectations: This tidbit is worthy of its own discussion, for too many vacations go awry when couples have conflicting vacation expectations. Many travels start with the common understanding that a vacation is deserved and needed, but underneath that truth, a host of silent expectations can be churning. She may be planning to spend the bulk of vacation time connecting with friends or family. He might be expecting lots of one-on-one time with his wife. She might be expecting a fancy dinner out each night, and he might be hoping to conserve funds. She might be pining for romance and sizzling intimacy. He might be hoping to catch up on e-mails and unfinished business. (Note: The issue of "to work or not to work" during vacation is an age-old concern for couples; make joint agreements in advance as to what—if any—work-related activity is appropriate. Whatever you and your spouse decide is best for your marriage, your time together will be much lovelier when such agreements are honored!) There is no "right" or "wrong" way to vacation; the key is to openly discuss each person’s expectations and desires. It’s the unspoken and often unconscious agendas that interfere with making plans that support each other’s hopes and expectations. Don’t be afraid to make your wishes known to your spouse. Talk! Explore! Compromise!
3. Create a "Travel Preparation" List: Many people have a love/hate relationship with lists. In fact, many folks like to rely on memory when it comes to a list of necessary travel items. Unfortunately, mental lists can fail us, especially during the often frenetic period leading up to departure. In general, written lists can help couples avoid both simple and serious oversights. A well-crafted travel preparation list can relieve a great deal of underlying travel stress. As an added bonus, the time needed to draft a list needn’t be wasted; once you draft your list, it can be saved to update and personalize as necessary for future travels. From packing bug spray and passports to arranging plant watering and mail delivery, your list can leave you knowing what items remain in need of your attention. As your departure date nears, each item you have "checked off" brings you one step closer to a safe and happy journey. Passport: Check! Tickets: Check! Fun Ahead: Check!
4. Pack Simply and Wisely: What to pack—or leave behind—can be a source of ongoing angst for couples. As with many travel issues, packing is simply not worth arguing about! Maybe he prefers to pack light, and she prefers to load the suitcase to maximum capacity. Maybe he forgets dress shirts, and she brings too many shoes. No matter the issue, the important lesson in packing is to get the job done with consideration and cooperation. A packing list can be truly helpful. By taking the time to sit down and anticipate the needs of each day (from proper attire to sunscreen), you focus more on "what’s best to bring" instead of "how much to bring." In the end, erring a bit on the side of knowing that you have what may be necessary can leave you feeling that you are well-prepared for your adventures. Let common sense be your guide as you keep in mind important issues such as luggage surcharges, space in vehicles, and toting oversized baggage.
“As with many travel issues, packing is simply not worth arguing about!”
5. Know and Honor Your Spouse's Travel Style: Everyone has their own travel style, and learning your partner’s unique needs and habits is part of the process of truly traveling well and intimately together—anytime and anywhere. Take the time to acknowledge your husband's or wife's little quirks, and openly address those that cause you stress or anxiety. Does he like to have clear, concrete plans whereas she’s fine with getting a bit lost? Does she like to anticipate every possible need and plan accordingly while he prefers to "go with the flow?" Does he like to seek adventures off the beaten path while she prefers to see each and every tourist highlight? Does she prefer to arrive two hours early while he has a habit of arriving in the nick of time? Does she get panicked in airports? Does he get seasick? If extended family is involved, does he tend to be the family’s "people pleaser" while she gets lost in chats with her sisters? As you learn to understand and honor your partner’s needs and little oddities, you can better discuss—and prepare for—the adventure ahead.
6. Plan for Children and Pets: Whether children and pets are coming along or staying behind, an extra layer of planning is necessary. If children are part of the adventure, make separate lists that anticipate their needs (food, clothing, toys, etc.). If kids are staying at home, a detailed list for caregivers will be reassuring for all. Such lists should include information for family contacts, doctors, medical issues, medications, schedules (e.g., daily routine, event plans, etc.), and your own complete travel itinerary. In the case of pets, a similar list is helpful. The more details you tend to in advance, the more peace of mind you’ll have along the way.
7. Manage Medical Issues: Going on vacation can make even the smartest traveler forget about medical issues, yet anticipating medical needs is a top priority. Whether you tend to get poison oak or insect bites, packing a well-chosen remedy or prophylactic can allow for a more enjoyable trip. If anxiety, car sickness, or other such issues plague you, see your doctor in advance to hone in on how to effectively manage your condition. If you are heading to an area where malaria or other such diseases are a problem, plan to get immunizations well in advance. If you face medical concerns such as diabetes or a heart condition, always keep medications in your personal carryon bags with back-up prescriptions in your suitcase. It is always wise to carry a laminated card that lists prescriptions, allergies, known medical issues, insurance, and physician information. (Bonus: Most modern cell phones have emergency and medical information available to store and access from the lock screen—swipe right on iPhones. Medical ID information can be added in the iOS Health app. This feature varies on Android and Windows Phone devices.)
8. Sum-Up Financial Issues in Advance: Many couples argue about finances before, during, and after vacations. Avoid this travel downer by discussing financial issues openly as part of travel planning. Make collaborative, wise decisions that won’t break your bank and leave you regretting a vacation that results in credit card debt or a too-big dent in your savings. Conversely, don’t scrimp on the truly important (and often comparatively minor) purchases or adventures that you’ll truly regret having passed up once you’re home. If you have a strict travel budget—as many folks do—plan wisely in advance for hotels, food, fuel, rental cars, excursions, souvenirs, and other expenses. Negotiate with your sweetheart so that you both feel that your top priorities are honored. By openly and honestly managing your finances in advance, you’ll feel free to enjoy that which your budget does allow. The worry and stress of unforeseen, extra expenses can take the fun out of even the most wonderful vacation. If you are traveling out of the country, here are a few extra tips:
a) Let your credit card company know your general itinerary to avoid having a "stop" placed on your card;
b) Determine in advance if your credit card company charges a conversion fee;
c) Get a bit of currency for the country you are visiting to give you cash on hand for tips, meals, and transportation;
d) Determine the currency exchange rate (phone apps can do the conversion work for you);
e) Talk with your cell phone carrier in advance to determine usage fees for calls, texts, and data; this simple step can help you avoid a very costly and unpleasant phone bill when you return home from your vacation. By spending some time tending to money issues in advance, you’ll catch most of the details that leave many couples feeling stressed and unprepared.
9. Craft a "Calming Travel Kit:" No matter your destination, it’s wise to think ahead to situations that might be stress-inducing. When spouses plan with an eye toward what causes each person stress and anxiety, preventative measures can be taken. For example, I often recommend that "Calming Travel Kits" include ear buds, healthy snacks, preferred music, medications, calming reading material, playing cards, throat lozenges, hand/face wipes, vitamins, and lavender essential oil. Having such necessary and familiar items at hand can certainly ease travel anxiety and stress. If your travel plans are interrupted and delays occur, the simple extras that you’ve packed can turn a stressful situation into a quiet interlude. When stressors do arise, the acronym "HALT" is the perfect reminder that we tend to overreact and absorb stress when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. By keeping "HALT" in mind during such times, you can be more compassionate and thoughtful when handling any stressors that you and your partner might face during your vacation. When travelers are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, it’s wise to take a "time out" and tend to the basics, such as eating a healthy meal, taking a restorative nap, getting some quiet time, or offering a healthy dose of loving hugs. As an extra bonus, many find that a "Calming Travel Kit" becomes a beneficial, stress-relieving tool that is useful in everyday life—from a harrowing commute to an unexpectedly long day at the office.
“When stressors do arise, the acronym "HALT" is the perfect reminder that we tend to overreact and absorb stress when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.”
10. Prepare a Recovery Period: In anticipating the vacation ahead, it’s easy to overlook the eventual return to reality. Even the most delightful excursion involves unpacking and attending to the mail, work, and other issues that have accumulated during time away. Many couples forget that building "downtime" into the vacation is an important aspect of the journey itself. If possible, make plans that allow you a day or two post-vacation to absorb your travels, adjust your routine and sleep patterns, and tend to a leisurely physical and emotional unpacking process. This extra day or two will allow you to return to your daily life without the abrupt shift that can leave you feeling disoriented and caught in post-vacation blues. A brief period of becoming acclimated to ordinary life will allow you and your sweetheart to better retain the refreshing benefits of your time away.
By using the above travel tips, you can create wonderful and relaxing vacations near and afar. And, of course, it’s no secret that a positive mindset can be your greatest ally. As I tell my clients, the "optimistic outlook" mental health tool is also an invaluable daily travel buddy: "Let go of the small stuff, and accept what you can’t change. Prepare as best you can knowing that no journey comes without a tiny mishap or two. As long as you smile and face each moment with an optimistic attitude, every journey will be unique, incredible, and perfect in its own way!"
As you prepare for your next vacation together, remember that travel planning and preparations needn’t be difficult; they can be incredibly fun, creative, and relationship-building events. In fact, you might find that the process of preparing and traveling together becomes a deeply bonding adventure of the heart.
When you shift your mindset, you will find that "traveling well together" isn’t about seeing new sights together without too much going awry. In the most wonderful way, "traveling well together" epitomizes the ultimate journey into a deeper discovery of yourself, your partner, your marriage, and the wonderful destinations that await you.
As a clinical psychologist in Sonoma County, California, Dr. Carla Marie Manly maintains a focus on helping clients transform their lives and their relationships. Using a body-mind-spirit approach that underscores the importance of overall wellness, Dr. Manly works with her clients on a highly individualized basis to uncover the core concerns that often manifest as psychological, behavioral, and somatic symptoms. Combining traditional depth psychotherapy with somatic therapy, Dr. Manly offers her clients a specialized approach to creating passionate, joy-filled lives. Working in both individual and group settings, she strives to promote change by increasing her clients’ personal self-awareness and insight. A devoted writer, speaker, and yoga instructor, Dr. Manly is dedicated to helping others create the lives of their dreams. California License: Psy25539. For more, visit www.drcarlagreco.com and follow her on Google+.