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Adventure Travel: Adding a Spark to Your Marriage
These couples say adventure travel offers many things, but most importantly it offers togetherness.

Illustration by Gabriel Lefrancois
Unlock a new adventurous side to your marriage through travel.

Can traveling together—particularly adventurous trips to exciting and exotic destinations—help strengthen your relationship? A number of couples who have shared many years of happiness think so.

"I have so many stories about what traveling has done for our marriage, I’d hardly know where to start," says Sue Painter of Knoxville, Tennessee. "Travel has always been a high priority in our life together; we’ve put it before new cars, new furniture, new clothes," says Sue who has been married to Bill Painters for 37 years. "As we have aged, our travel has changed—that’s a whole perspective in and of itself, actually."

When the Painters were in college, Sue says she promised Bill that when he turned 60, she would take him anywhere he wanted to go. When that day came last summer, they went to Peru. "I don’t think Bill will soon forget his 60th birthday," says Sue. "He had birthday cakes in Lima, Arequipa, Machu Picchu and Ica. And in a little village in the Sacred Valley, a group of Quechuan woman weavers decided to throw him an impromptu birthday celebration, which included throwing confetti on him and giving him a traditional blessing. Now that we are back home, we are happily sorting through a zillion pictures and remembering our adventures."

The Painters have visited 48 out of the 50 states and many countries around the globe. "Travel has engendered a lifelong love of adventure, exploration and learning together," says Sue. "It has taught us to 'just do it' rather than hold back and whine we cannot afford to go adventuring. It has taught us that we can do almost anything we set our minds to. We are so much more confident and fearless than many of our peers."

Bridging The Gaps
Experts agree that taking adventurous trips together gets couples out of ruts and deepens their relationships, according to Marilyn Barnicke Belleghem, M.Ed., a registered marriage and family therapist and author of books on personal growth through travel (www.mbcinc.ca). "People who live together get into patterns of relating and set ways to do things. New experiences through traveling together force us out of our comfort zone so stagnation stays at bay."

Belleghem continues, "As we travel to places where we have to make choices, we are challenged to try to hold onto our routines or to try something new. Trying something new stretches us and we can never return to being the person we were before the new experience." Belleghem says even something as simple as choosing a new restaurant rather then returning to an old reliable favorite helps us make choices and live with the consequences. "Personal growth means we mature into thinking adults who accept the responsibility for our choices."

Relationship history is based on shared experiences, Belleghem notes. Reliving the memories builds closeness with the person who shared the adventure—even if the stories are about conflicts.

Resolving Issues With Travel
It's not uncommon or unique to experience conflicts with your spouse while traveling. Still, those situations also offer relationship insights. One example is the twosome that never argues at home, but stays at each other’s throats whenever they are on the road together. Belleghem says a situation of argument during travel often reflects a relationship that has become routine. "Couples who are in a rut are more tolerant of each other than when they have to negotiate issues at every turn," she says.

Akaisha Kaderli of Mesa, Arizona agrees. She and her husband, Billy, have been traveling the world together since 1991. Asaisha says, "We have found that spending time in cultures much different than our own—not necessarily speaking the native language and having continuously unfamiliar life experiences—has strengthened our marriage. We have learned to rely on each other during these travel times especially when it comes to matters concerning our health and safety. We each have had to grow personally and that, too has strengthened us as a couple."

Shel Horowitz and his wife, D. Dina Friedman, of Hadley, Massachusetts, recently returned from Guatemala. He says their latest adventures included climbing an active volcano with "molten lava running right under our feet," deep immersion in the Spanish language and riding a "chicken bus" up a steep, rutted, curvy mountain road with no shoulder.

"Trips like this have been making us closer for almost 30 years," Shel says. "Travel is a major part of our memories, and one of us will often whisper a phrase that brings back a powerful memory." Their travel style includes exploring the destination in depth, staying mainly with host families, taking public transit, going to markets and cafes and "doing our best to meet locals and have local experiences."

Hiking together is a major factor in the lives of Jeff and Beth Alt of Charlottesville, Virginia. Jeff says the couple emerged from the church on their wedding day wearing full packs, and their honeymoon included an overnight backpacking trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.

Four years after they married, Beth lost her brother. Jeff helped her cope with the loss by sharing a 218-mile walk on the John Muir Trail. In his book, "A Walk for Sunshine," Jeff wrote, "In the woods, we discovered a new layer of our relationship. The hike brought us together in a holistic way. Our 16-day adventure was romantic and educational."

Gloria Taylor and her husband, Bob, who own Retzlaff Winery in Livermore, California, recently celebrated their 50th anniversary this year with a six-day rafting and camping trip on the Salmon River in Idaho. But they didn’t go alone: the 20-person party included their entire immediate family: two children, two daughters-in-law and two teenaged granddaughters!

"We traveled down the river for 100 miles and dropped 1,000 feet," Gloria recalls. "It was a glorious adventure. Every night our tents and cots were set up and waiting for us. The meals were beautifully prepared, elegantly served and delicious. After dinner we sat around a camp fire, reviewed the day’s adventure and told wonderful tales of fishing."

Gloria says trips like these not only help her and Bob, but also brought the entire family closer together, including getting to better know their son’s new wife. She adds, "We could not have had a better anniversary gift."

Ready, Set, Adventure!
If you’re thinking an adventure trip might be just the ticket to breathe some fresh air into your relationship, there are many companies that can help you find the perfect getaway. The Taylors’ "Far and Away Adventures" trip was booked through travelwithsalome.com.

Another is REI Adventures (www.rei.com/adventures), a 100 percent carbon-neutral travel service that combines the love for outdoor recreation (hiking, cycling, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, backpacking, rock climbing) with destinations ranging from the Grand Canyon and Washington, D.C., to Thailand and Mount Everest. "REI Adventures’ trips take small groups of travelers off the beaten path to immerse participants in the native food, customs and culture— avoiding standard tourist routes in favor of places not often found in guidebooks," says REI’s Jessica Zachar.

If you’ve always wanted to go on an African safari, consider Wilderness Safaris (www.wilderness-safaris.com). The 24-year-old ecotourism company operates camps and safaris in Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Seychelles. The company promises to deliver a unique experience for guests, while ensuring that southern Africa's pristine wilderness areas remain protected.

So, how can couples decide on a destination that makes everyone happy? Belleghem offers these tips.

* Choose a vacation location by dreaming as if you had no money worries. Then make a list of why the place was picked.
* Look for places within the budget that has as many of those features as possible.
* Look for common elements from each person's ideal vacation list and incorporate some of each one's wish list items.

Sharing a passion for adventure, Bobby Hickman and Joni Strandquest operate EaglesQuest Media Inc., a freelance writing service focusing on travel, lifestyles and business. To learn more, or to suggest ideas for future columns, visit their website at www.eaglesquestmedia.com.

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