Image Credit: Pushkar Girme (Text Overlay: Backpacking Brunette)
The summer before our senior year of college, I told Taylor, my boyfriend, I wanted to backpack through Europe. The idea just kind of came to me while I was at a journalism conference. Everyone was talking about internships, clips and dream jobs, and, I guess, it hit me that I’d like to see a bit of the world before starting in on all that.
We’d never really talked about traveling, so my suggestion (read: insistence) must have come as a surprise. But, Taylor never tried to talk me out of it. Maybe he thought I’d forget about it. At that point, our departure date was almost an entire year away.
I didn’t forget. Ten months later, we were on a plane to Amsterdam. The “before starting our lives” trip turned out to be the beginning of everything. It set us on the path to where we are today: celebrating our eighth anniversary in Mexico.
How travel changed our relationship
Travel changed our relationship. It, along with living abroad, has shaped us not only as individuals but also as a couple. How? Well, after four years of traveling and living abroad, we are:
More effective communicators
From improved memory to delayed onset of cognitive diseases, learning a second language has many benefits. For us, speaking Spanish has also made us more effective communicators in English. Studying another language has made us more aware of how our native language can be structured and manipulated. Personally, I’m more conscious of my word choices and take more time to think before speaking. Through my Spanish studies, I’ve also become a better listener. Our conversations are meaningful and productive because both parties are engaged and perceptive.
Before we moved to Madrid, Taylor and I never really talked about money. Even when we lived together in Indianapolis, finances never came up. He made more than me. He paid for me than me. I’d pick up a check here and there, but most of the time, Taylor got the tab. But, in Spain, all that changed. Since we were both language assistants in the same program, our paychecks were equal. By default, we became financially-transparent. With identical incomes, there weren’t secrets about who made what anymore. From there, we transitioned into complete financial equality. 50/50, baby! Today, even as online ESL teachers with slightly different pay rates, we’ve maintained our honest and egalitarian approach to money.
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Each other’s everything
When you’re on the road or first living in another country, it’s pretty standard not to know anyone. This scenario often puts a lot of strain on relationships. We’ve all seen that couple fighting in the hostel lobby. Or on the train platform. In line at the museum. Over a crinkled and partially torn map while standing in the middle of the sidewalk thus forcing everyone to go around them because in the heat of their argument they’ve somehow forgotten other people have places to go!!!
The stress of being in unfamiliar surroundings can tear people apart, but a shared challenge and downsized immediate support system can also bring people together. When we moved to Madrid, an entire ocean separated Taylor and me from our family and friends. When something bad happened, we turned to each other. When something good happened, we turned to each other. Only having each other to turn to made us less inclined to turn on each other. We stopped fighting about trivial things and learned to look at the big picture: our future.
On the same page
Speaking of the future, it’s something Taylor and I talk about regularly. As with our finances, we’re really open and honest about what we want for our lives—both as individuals and as a couple. Part of the reason for our almost constant conversation about the years ahead is there are so many possibilities. When’s our next trip? Where should we go? Do you think we may want to live their someday? Because we’re self-employed and work online, we’ve got a lot of options. It’s exciting, fun and necessary to talk about them. You can’t expect your partner to support your dreams if you never put them out there.
Committed and content
Maybe you’re wondering, if in all our talks about the future, we ever discuss marriage. The short answer: yes. We love each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together. However, traveling and living abroad have changed our ideas about commitment. I don’t need a ring or white dress or open bar to prove our dedication to one another. Taylor supported me when I decided to be an au pair and left a career when I wanted to move back to Spain. If that’s not commitment, I’m not sure what is. In our eight years together, we’ve traveled to almost 20 different countries and lived in three. From prom to Shooter’s to Querétaro, Mexico, we’ve always had each other’s backs. In all my travels—in all my 26 years on this earth—I’ve never met a kinder, gentler soul.
Happy anniversary to my fellow adventurer, my best friend and the love of my life.