How to prevent divorce when travelling the world with one's spouse?
October 4, 2013 6:40 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are about to embark on an extended period of travel together. It has been our dream for many years to do this, and now the time has arrived: we've quit our jobs, rented our house, and we leave the country on a one-way ticket to warm climes in about 2 weeks. We're going to be together A LOT for the next several months. What can we do to prevent strangling one another (figuratively speaking, of course) or causing a huge crisis in our marriage with so much (too much?) togetherness?

We have talked about this a bit and anticipate that we'll need to have hours (days?) apart from one another from time to time. OK, fine. But as much fun and as much as this is going to be incredible adventure together, during the days we are together it is also going to be stressful fairly often, what with the constant decision making and influx of novelty/unknowns.

My husband and I tend to make decisions in different ways (me = planner, him = doesn't like to think about things in advance) AND we both aren't very good (to put it mildly) at "being told what to do" (I think he is worse than me and will sometimes actually "do the opposite" of what is being suggested; but he would probably disagree and say that I am worse in this regard).

I don't want this trip-of-a-lifetime to be spent bickering with each other OR one of us feeling constantly resentful of, irritated by, angry with the other.

Has anyone else done something similar with their long-term partner? I'd greatly appreciate some "hacks" for preventing marital break-down and maximising lovey-mushy feelings under the sort of stressors that long-term travel will bring. Thanks!
posted by Halo in reverse to Human Relations (35 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I live with and work (5 feet away) from my SO. You've mentioned that you know you'll need to have time apart, and this is good. But something I sort of wish that we would have done would have been to talk about how exactly we were going to communicate when and how this would be done. You can't always plan when you'll want to be alone, so you sort of have to be able to say, "I'm going to x to do y, you're not invited", but nicely and without causing offense. It seems like it would be easy, but it wasn't for us. Not in the beginning anyway.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 6:48 AM on October 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

The good news is that you, as the planner, will have much more control over whether you hate each other at the end of this thing. The bad news is that to achieve this, you will have to stop being you, a little bit.

It's okay to draw up a schedule for each day. But be very, very clear about what things are Important Things That Must Be Done and what things are Things I Would Like To Be Done, and have way more of the latter than the former. Airplane schedules? Important. Tour schedules? Maybe less so. Lunch at this darling little place you read about in Lonely Planet? Totally optional.

Don't fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy -- if you've already paid for something but you still don't really want to do it, then be willing to write it off.

And one very specific thing: Never accuse your spouse of malingering. No matter how obvious it is that he's playing up a slight headache just to get out of being dragged to something he's been complaining about anyway, just take a deep breath and let it go.
posted by Etrigan at 6:50 AM on October 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've never done this, but
- schedule away time. Have a day to yourselves every now and then. I would!
- mushy love feelings come from experiencing new and/or dangerous things together. The excitement feeling gets associated with your partner. So experience the excitement, allow each other to take care of each other in these times and the mushy feelings will flow
- watch how you speak to him. With the stress of travel, do not allow yourself to snap.
- maybe pre-talk about things that you anticipate will be a concern? Come up with plans in advance how to deal with things. Have a "safe word" to acknowledge tension, or make a joke of it, or something
- say I love you often.

PS. This is me & my sweetie's future plans as well. You're living the dream!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:51 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Came in here to say safe word. If one of you needs a day to yourself, tell the other person the day before. Use the safe word. And be clear that they are no hard feelings as long as you use the safe word.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:52 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

One thing I've seen work for travel partners with different styles is to divide up time and/or destinations, and let one person plan the shit out of his/her absolute favorite cities, while the other person guides them through a seat of their pants adventure in her/his absolute favorite cities. Or, one person plans the shit out of Thursday and the other person guides them through an unplanned Friday.

If you're in, say, Paris, and the planner figures out how to get you through the high attention, long line attractions like the Louvre with a minimum of fuss, the non-planner can then turn his attention to wandering side streets in search of cheese or something. Both of those are appropriate ways to visit the city, and it might meet your separate needs to plan and/or chill. This means the planner has to agree to forego seeing absolutely every attraction in Paris and eating all their meals in the perfect, Rick-Steves-recommended restaurants, but it also means the planner isn't responsible for whether they're having fun at all times. It also means the non-planner has to be prepared to get up to an alarm clock and stand in some lines, even if they might rather not.

You might also consider letting the planner plan where they will be and how they will get there and where they will stay and let the non-planner cover what they will actually *do* in those places (as long has s/he meets a certain minimum of actually doing some of the things the planner would want to do).
posted by jacquilynne at 6:54 AM on October 4, 2013 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Is there a way you can divvy up responsibility for making certain minor decisions (meals, activities, lodging choices) according to some sort of pre-determined plan? Like, he'll make decisions about where to eat for lunch and you make decisions on where to eat dinner, and then you swap roles the next week. That, coupled with ground rules for what happens when one of you doesn't like the decision of the other for these minor things: that there be no shame or recrimination in, for example, choosing to eat now at a place of your chosing if a decision hasn't been made, or engage in an alternative activity for the afternoon. This may allow you to save your negotiations for more significant decisions, like how long to stay in place X or where to head to next. You may also find it easier to be "told what to do" if you've agreed in advance that that is what is going to happen in a predictable way.

Lovey-mushy feelings come from taking your partner's interests/desires into consideration when it's your turn to plan stuff.
posted by drlith at 6:55 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

It might not be as bad as you fear. My in-laws got along just fine when they traveled, even though they bickered constantly at home. I think the reason is that a lot of domestic quarreling concerns domestic stuff: not helping with housework, leaving a mess in the kitchen, dropping dirty socks on the floor, etc. A lot of this simply disappears when you are staying in hotels with maid service and eating all your meals in restaurants. (If you're renting an apartment, all bets are off.) Others have good suggestions, but I think you won't actually have much of a problem as long as you're on the move.
posted by Quietgal at 6:57 AM on October 4, 2013

Much good advice above, particularly on dividing up decision making rather than always trying to make a mutual decision on lunch (minor decisions are the most stressful). One thing from my travel time with SO: Have something to do together besides talk. We brought a couple of two-player board games (Ingenious and Lost Cities) to play in diners, and it was a really pleasant way to be together when we were all talked out or cranky
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:03 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I travelled around Oz for a year with my now wife, 9 months of which were spent camping and 25,000 miles of which was in a vehicle. We joked beforehand that it was make or break in that we'd either come back closer than ever or split up because of having to spend so much time in one another's company. We both loved our independence and prior to travelling had not lived together, and for six months of the previous year weren't even living in the same country. When we started travelling we had been together for 8 years.

The togetherness wasn't an issue at all. We didn't really need time apart, which I was surprised about because I liked, and still like, my "me" time.

The key thing for a trip like this is that you both get on the same page, quickly, about how the other wants to travel, what they want to get out of the trip and what they hate doing. The key term I'd use is your travel rhythm. I don't just mean the division of labour, but more generally that you both feel you're equally comfortable with and invested in what you're doing.

I don't think it is claustrophobic stress that drives established couples or friends apart.

It is more that the trip is a big deal. It's expensive and a one off experience and if one of you starts feeling that they're not getting what they want out of the trip then that feeds into a growing resentment or a sense that they should be doing something else, apart.

Travelling/holidaying is an acid test of relationships because people may have to come out of their comfort zone and because it's supposed to be fun - some people you love dearly but wouldn't travel with for all the world. Some people just want different things out of trips and are incompatible travel partners.

As a married couple you have a head start in that you know the things you do that wind one another up - she's always late, he's bossy etc etc. So be sensitive to those things. The obvious rules like not blaming one another when things go wrong also apply. And for sure - when you do get company with other people enjoy it unjealously - part of the fun of travelling is meeting new people.

But above all if you're going to have this great shared experience then the key thing is to make sure you are both happy with how you go about doing it. Discuss this beforehand. Discuss this while you travel as a form of progress report. If you do that and your marriage is otherwise fine then I don't see cause for alarm. You'll be on holiday - hopefully much of the normal stress of life should melt away. It did for me.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:06 AM on October 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'd plan ahead to your strengths by divvying up chores the way you do at home. You're a planner so plan ahead & get lodging situated. He's more spontaneous so make finding meals on the fly his challenge. Modify it as needed (e.g., lodging & breakfast is your thing so you know you've got a good start to the day, or if your budget allows, ditch the prepaid hotel if you happen on a B&B he really wants to check out).

As for time apart, build a day apart into each week. That way nobody's letting grar build because it's part of the routine rather than something someone NEEDS NOW.

Mindfulness retreats often include a practice of "noble silence" from after dinner to breakfast. Intentional shared silence is intimate without being intrusive, it's quite lovely & a great way to get space without being apart.
posted by headnsouth at 7:14 AM on October 4, 2013

Don't feel the need to do everything together. If you want to go to a museum and he wants to lie in, you go and he lies in.

Split the decision making. If there's a choice to be made, take turns.

Go out. Explore. Learn new things about yourself, each other and new people. Expand what it means to be you. Invest in yourself. Learn a new skill. Come back changed.
posted by inturnaround at 7:20 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Meet other travellers, and try doing things with them. As a group, or maybe split up.

Be okay with spending some days apart from each other - you can meet for dinner, and discuss your day. Depending on how big the town is, you might run into each other anyhow.
posted by backwards guitar at 7:21 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can really relate to your planner vs spontaneous divide.

There are times when I really want things to be done right... and by "right" I mean "my way", except I'm trying really hard to grow out of that definition. I've been learning how to accept that my husband will get to a perfectly acceptable solution if I leave him alone and let him make the decisions. We went on a trip last year, and I planned the big things (we arrive in City A Day 1, and I'd like to spend Days 4-6 in CityB, and 8-10 in CityC; I usually had a few places I wante dot hit, and had reserved B&Bs or at least had a list of lodging phone numbers) and gave him the guidebooks and the map and let him figure out the details. We're usually all about joint decisions and/or me being pretty bossy, so it was a real shift of gears for me to sit back and let him be in charge of things. It worked out pretty well, because he got to "explore the city" and make fairly last-minute decisions, but I could feel okay that we had a big-picture plan in place. There were definitely spats, but I think that the whole experience helped us in the long run, gave me more confidence in his ability to handle things, and helped me trust him more and micromanage less.

Regarding spats: always have a protein bar or granola bar or apple or something on-hand. Yes, there is exciting local food everywhere, but sometimes you will be cranky and underfed, and will suddenly be so hungry that you start picking fights about what to eat and accidentally postpone lunch by an hour, such that you're picking fights about everything. Don't do that. Eat an apple.
posted by aimedwander at 7:22 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

My suggestion would be similar to Muffin Man's. For me, the most important thing to do is to sit down with each other before the trip and have a conversation. Each person gets one sentence... what is the most important thing to them on this trip?

My answer to the question is usually "I want to eat good food, and I want a clean hotel." Other parts of the trip are fun but not a big deal... I'll be happy in a dumpy small town with few activities if I have great food and a clean place to stay.

My significant other's answer would usually be "I want good food, and I want to have time to decompress." She loves food too, but she really just needs to relax and go at a slower pace (a bit less active than me). Though, on some trips, it's the opposite, she feels like being active... so it can change.

We kind of blew it on one recent trip at one point. The trip was long, and we were driving down the California coast each day, making about an hour of progress and finding somewhere new to stop. We chose to stop at Disneyland near the end of the trip... and while we love that place normally, she was just too tired from all the go-go-go on the trip and it was not a fun day. On the other hand, we stopped at a beachside hotel on Pismo Beach for two days, and it was her favorite (and we were both happy because we had good food within walking distance both nights).

By the way- the one sentence thing matters to me. In my book, even savvy, smart adults need a simple principle they can hold on to. "Oh yeah... she wants time to decompress, so let's stay in this town for three days, rather than one." Maybe you could have this conversation once a week on your trip- "so, what's important to you this week," with no "I don't know" or "whatever you want" answers allowed.
posted by Old Man McKay at 7:24 AM on October 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

You love each other but you operate differently. You just have to talk about everything; give each other space for reading or wandering or looking at stuff separately, or indeed together, and then talk about it thoroughly afterwards.

Communicating with each other is always going to be the key to a happy life together.
posted by h00py at 7:45 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I went travelling with my now ex (we broke up in Australia!!!) and even though the writing was on the wall for us anyway, I remember one or two things from travelling together that really was the nail in the coffin for me.

1 - he was SOOO stingy (Frugal to the point of being mean). I mean, he ALWAYS wanted to find a cheaper hotel or a cheaper place to eat. We were in Asia at the time so I mean we were arguing over finding a hotel that was $5 a night rather than $7 a night. Sometimes, when you've been on a bus for 14 hours in Vietnam it's OK to spend an extra $2 per night... just saying

2 - He never acknowledged when I was exhausted and just needed some Jenny time. That was a big one. He would get frustrated with me because he felt that we ALWAYS needed to be doing something to make the most of the trip. When you're away for 18 months, it's really all right to have a day of doing nothing once in a while

Many many other things meant we just weren't compatible but I think these things are universal. I think what I'm saying is, don't sweat the small stuff, pick your battles, be kind to each other, compromise as best you can, recognise that when one of you is tired and irritable you might need to spend some time apart and just enjoy it!

Even though me and my ex didn't make it, we still had the most amazing time and memories that I will remember forever.
posted by JenThePro at 7:48 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A couple of my acquaintance has a difference of opinion about travel; he believes that it is good to leave at 6:30 or 7 AM and arrive at your destination in the middle of the afternoon, she believes that it is good to leave at noon or 1 PM and arrive at your destination just in time for dinner, or bed. They have been having pitched, misery-inducing fights about this difference of opinion for forty years. Do not be this couple -- figure out NOW how you're going to handle your differences of opinion, and then agree to stick to that plan and not be awful about it.. Maybe you do it his way, maybe you do it your way, maybe you split them up and alternate, but whatever you do, make an agreement and be happy with it.

Also, after years of travel together, my husband and I came up with the Rule of Threes for Traveling. There are three parts to the Rule of Threes:

1. It is impossible to see more than three sights in one day.
2. After three hours being out and about seeing things, we need to take a little break; a cup of tea, a picnic lunch, something.
3. After three days of sightseeing, we need to take a "down day" where we basically do nothing.

My "go go go go go gotta see everything!" husband chafed very much at these rules initially, but now he acknowledges that they vastly improve his travel experience. (He has a corollary to the third rule for more laid back vacations, which is "after three days of lying around relaxing, I have to go DO something.") For me, these rules make the difference between a fun adventure time and me being a weeping wreck after a week.
posted by KathrynT at 8:37 AM on October 4, 2013 [46 favorites]

Thank the other person when their approach works out for the good of everyone.

I'm a planner. A complex, multi-city trip that involves car services, 3 types of train service and complex flight connections? I will plan the crap out of that! After a long day of complex travel, my husband always thanks me for getting us where we were going with the minimum of frustration. My husband is less of a planner, but can find cool things because he's open to tossing out the plan. When he finds us a awesome gem, I remember to say thanks for finding that for us.

The things that annoy us about our partner are also some of the things we love about our partner. Being grateful when their approach works out helps smooth out the times when they annoy the bejeebus out of you.
posted by 26.2 at 8:59 AM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

As everyone above says, take turns. We did this on a family vacation last year - yeah, you get to pick what you are doing that day, but you are also responsible for the map reading and all arrangements. Everyone else acts as though they are on a tour. Add in the occasional day where you both do your own thing, and you're good.
posted by AnnaRat at 9:07 AM on October 4, 2013

Best answer: H.A.L.T. works for adults, too.

Recognize when you're hungry, angy, lonely, or tired. Talk about it, and both of you be on the same page with knowing what it means.

When you have low blood sugar, it's hard to make decisions and easy to get frustrated--first to get the whammy is your partner.

Enough frustration, whether from hunger, being lost, not understanding the language or the money, when bottled up leads to anger. Recognize that, and be willing to acknowledge, discuss, and listen to each other before it gets out of hand.

You'd be surprised how you can be lonely when you're with someone constantly while traveling. This takes the form of homesickness, being out of your comfort zone, no where to call home, being away from family and friends, etc. Again, realize what you're feeling. Maybe comfort comes from eating at a McDonalds, although you swore you'd never do that. Maybe it means staying at one place more than one night. Maybe it means bringing a comfort item--stuffed animal, blanket, picture, favorite item of clothing.

Tired is a big thing when traveling. Just STOP before it gets to be too much. Again, hard to make decisions or keep up, easy to lose your temper, to get overloaded and overwhelmed. Sit down and have a cup of tea, take a nap, make sure you get a good night's sleep. Don't force yourself to press on if you're ill. (Figure out how you will handle it if one (or both) of you is sick.)

Agreed that you don't always have to gogogo. Take time in small cafes to sit and absorb and reflect on what you've seen and done. Once in a while review what works best, what you both enjoyed together, and what one of you wants more of, but the other doesn't.

Remember that you're both going to be focused outward, seeing new things, adjusting, planning. Take time to concentrate on each other occasionally as well. Back and foot rubs, hairbrushing, reading to each other, hand holding, whatever brings you closer physically (besides sex.) Make sure this is discussed and agreed on before you leave also.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:59 AM on October 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

Talk about your expectations ahead of time. Try to think of what-if examples, not because they are necessarily going to be what you encounter, but because they will reveal underlying modes of thinking and feeling.

What if, say, you're staying in a hostel and meet another couple who invites you along to sightsee with them, but one of you has a cold and wants to take a downtempo day. Would it be ok for the healthy one of you to go off with the couple? What if it weren't a couple, but a member of the opposite sex? Etc. Again, not saying that'd happen; but a discussion about it should illuminate how you feel about togetherness on this trip; inclusion of other people; maybe other stuff. See what comes up for you.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:11 AM on October 4, 2013

I can get very impatient when traveling (I too am a planner). I hate being held back by someone else's morning routine. Why would anyone want to sleep in when there is a whole new city to explore? Instead of making one of those horrible compromises where no one gets what they want , I get up alone and out of the hostel for an early morning walk, coffee, and contemplation. By the time I get back, traveling companions are ready to go and I have burned off some excess energy and can take things as they come. Some of my fondest travel memories are from these walks , and they have prevented untold early morning arguments.
posted by velebita at 10:20 AM on October 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

When you have low blood sugar, it's hard to make decisions

Yes, yes, yes. I used to travel frequently with a friend. At the end of every meal, we'd schedule the time of the next meal and if possible the restaurant. Nothing is worse than milling around when you're hungry.
posted by 26.2 at 10:26 AM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas so far!

I actually suggested to my husband last week that we do something like taking turns with decision making (e.g., we trade off each week being the "king/queen of decision making", so that stalemates or bouts of indecisiveness are decided by the king/queen). But he is SO much against thinking/planning ahead, he thought the idea sounded daft and we should just figure things out as we go along. So this is what I'm working with.

Le sigh
posted by Halo in reverse at 11:15 AM on October 4, 2013

I actually think a whole week of making all the decisions is way too much time. Maybe every other day?

Truthfully, I think you have to accept that you are going to have disagreements and argue about things. My partner and I like to travel, and we realized that on big trips, about 2/3 the way through, we would have a huge fight, where we would blow up at each other, and split up for a few hours, and I would get SUPER upset because this was supposed be a fun romantic trip. Looking back on it, we needed the time apart, and had reached our "togetherness" threshold. Learn to recognize when this is happening and speak up for yourself, and I would definitely talk to you partner about not taking it personally when the other says they need some time apart.

I think the suggestion of taking walks alone early in the morning or at night (if you're a night owl) is a great one. And you can get alone time in smaller ways too, just because you are both going to the same museum together doesn't mean you have to look at the exhibits together, maybe you split up and meet at the coffee shop later to tell each other about what you saw.

My partner and I are both photography geeks, so even though we like sightseeing and traveling, we both have times where we are engaged in doing something outside of typical sightseeing and vacation things, and that we give each other space to do. I don't know if either of you take photos, draw, write, paint, knit, whatever it is, giving each other the time and space to pursue things you find engaging and rewarding is important.
posted by inertia at 12:26 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Figuring things out as you go along is not a bad idea, but you, Halo, will want to build a database to work from because I doubt your husband will. That way you can start with an idea of all the possibilities of your location and what will be going on in that place on that particular day (museum open or closed, market here or there, weather forecast, festival, transit strike). I would plan that discussion for each evening, which might satisfy his need for spontaneity and yours for some structure. Be prepared to change your plans on the hop. Be sure you get to do most of the things that really call to you, and make sure he plans to do the same, so neither of you ends the trip feeling you missed something you cared about.

My husband did very little planning for our long trip to Europe and North Africa. I did it all. But when we arrived he was the one who suggested, Let's go out to dinner tonight, and tomorrow let's check out that market, and let's take a walk down that allee of plane trees. So he came through in a way I didn't expect. I think your partner might surprise you pleasantly.
posted by sevenstars at 12:34 PM on October 4, 2013

Make sure you have enough money for what you are planning to do, if at all possible.

Also, if you have different spending habits, you may want to implement an allowance system - a certain amount of cash in had for each of you to spend on whatever makes you happy for a specific amount of time (ex. in inexpensive tropical countries this might be $30 a week, in Europe it might be $100). This goes towards beer on the beach/an ostentatious hat collection/spa treatments/comfort food from home etc. That way, when he is buying his 18th ostentatious hat you are not thinking about how he is jeopardizing your chance to finally see rare aquatic mountain goats through his spendthrift choices, and neither of you has to feel guilty about the small things (I write this because I assume the job quitting, house renting means you are sacrificing to travel).

Don't try and assign things your partner is possibly terrible at to him: "he does not like what I have planned today, so he must make the next plan" or "if it is important to him, he needs to look into it." There is a difference between being a good planner and being a good travel planner, but if you know or discover that you are a good travel planner then adapt your skills to the situation (i.e. learn how to provide information without telling what to do, give options but have the background information for the options).
posted by skermunkil at 12:45 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

My partner is also not a planner and we've taken some longish trips together. Generally, we are a very close couple and can be around each other in tight quarters without going crazy, but even we have had some trouble and it's wise to plan ahead for something like this.

Basically, I (the planner) just scheduled alone time for both of us. So, if there's something I know he'll enjoy but I'm not particularly into, I set up a time for him to go do that thing by himself. I sent him to get a lot of shaves — this is pampering for him and since it's a "guy" thing I didn't have any pressure to go. Shopping is also great. You go together to some place with a variety of stores, then split up to do shopping on your own. Get back together again in a few hours for a meal. That sort of thing.

Another technique I used was to take a day trip on my own — go visit a particular site or go on a hike — and leave him with a map and some money to figure out his day. Usually he would not do anything thrilling, but this Wasn't My Problem and gave me a break from planning.

So, ahead of time, I'd say you should sit down and each make a list of experiences or hobbies you'd like to enjoy on this trip. Anything that's not shared, try to do alone. Since you have a non-planner you'll probably have to be the one scheduling all this stuff, but addressing it ahead of time will keep you from having "you're not invited" drama.

Oh, and one more thing — when you make that list, maybe discuss expectations for things you want to do together. I found out my guy really wanted to eat meals with me, so it smoothed things out to be able to say "I'm going out, then afterwards we'll go out to bar/restaurant X."

Congrats on your upcoming adventure!
posted by annekate at 1:30 PM on October 4, 2013

I'll steal part of an answer from another question:
... learn how to play 5-3-1. It's a trick to settle the "where do you want to eat?" "I don't care, where do you want to eat?" game. One partner names 5 places, the other eliminates two of those choices, and the first one eliminates the remaining two. It's decision making in turns, and it works just as well as anything else.
I guess the hard part comes if he's NEVER willing to come up with five things.
posted by desjardins at 1:43 PM on October 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Split up what you can. My husband *always* rents the cars. I *always* book the hotels. We work on flights together.

One question I have: Is your husband good at serendipity? I've traveled with different people who are like your husband, and some are *never* good at finding that out of the way cool place to eat, though they insist that we don't need to plan. I have traveled with others who just have a knack for it, and find interesting things without (seemingly) trying. The first type drains you fast, as they don't really bring anything to the table and you miss out on the cool things that *are* in the guidebook--in this case, I'd suggest splitting up for a bit; let him wander while you visit the museum. With the second type, the guidebook doesn't matter.

Also, have "it gives us a good reason to come back" ready for when you don't get to do everything you want in one place. My husband and I do this. We tend to do short trips to places first to get a sense if we want to do a longer trip at some other point in time, so we say this line a lot. So, like, "Damn--we never got to see CERN while we were living in Germany. Well, that gives us a good reason to go to Geneva one day." While it may be that you won't make it back there, it takes the weight off your shoulders of seeing *everything* when you are only staying in a place for a few days. Makes things much less stressful.

When we went to Ireland and on a separate trip to Hamburg, I had only one thing on my list in each place that I wanted to see. I focused on that and considered the rest of the trip gravy. So maybe you could frame the locations that way: find one thing to focus your excitement on. Let your husband fill in around that.

Oh--and nthing making sure to work in some down time and be flexible with it. We usually go back to the hotel between museum-close time and dinner. My husband naps and I read (okay...and sometimes nap...). Then we are ready for dinner & drinks. For longer trips, we might plan a picnic afternoon or a slow morning (up late, long breakfast, etc.).

Sounds, though, like it will be a great time!
posted by chiefthe at 2:24 PM on October 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Something else occurs to me: if you are a planner, is it because you just like to know what's coming, or because you have needs (of whatever kind) that you'll be cranky if they aren't met? Like you need to eat every 4 hours or you turn into a low blood sugar monster, or you have to have a bed of at least a certain size or a non-shared bathroom?

If you do, then communicate those needs to your partner, and make it clear that "It's not a problem for me, so it's not a problem" is not an acceptable answer. He can freewheel it sometimes, but not if you end up miserable or cramped or starving or uncomfortable or feeling unsafe. It's only fun if everyone's having fun, after all. Ask him how he'd like to handle it if his lack of planning ends up compromising your enjoyment.
posted by KathrynT at 2:29 PM on October 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Have you traveled together in the past? Not necessarily long trips, but shorter vacations, weekend jaunts and the like? If so, what were the issues there? You can expect those issues to come up on a longer trip, too.

Also, I've found that even when I'm traveling with someone I enjoy, and who sees eye to eye with me about what activities to do on the road, I need alone time and my frustration at my traveling partner will start to build without it. You guys should absolutely have planned time apart.
posted by Sara C. at 4:09 PM on October 4, 2013

Best answer: But he is SO much against thinking/planning ahead, he thought the idea sounded daft and we should just figure things out as we go along. So this is what I'm working with.

Aha, I can see your dynamic brewing already...

For one thing, he is kind of right. When you're taking a trip that spans months rather than days, it absolutely is vital to figure things out as you go along. Not every single thing, of course. You'll need a flight out of your home country and a place to sleep the first few nights. There are some unmissable tourist attractions that need to be reserved months in advance. There may be some other travel plans that have to be made. But other than that, in terms of what you do day to day? Yeah, seriously, do NOT try to plan that stuff. You'll figure out which day to check out the history museum vs. which day to tour the spice market when you get there.

So you should definitely try to avoid assuming that your Plan In Advance ways are right, and his laid back approach is wrong. Also avoid reading his "figure it out later" mindset as him defaulting to you being the boss of the trip.

What I would do in your shoes (as someone else who is prone to planning) is to put your planner energy into planning the things that must be planned. Reserve tickets to Big Thing. Read hotel reviews for your first city and make that booking. Wrangle last minute packing and supply stuff, and how you're getting to the airport, and things you HAVE to plan or they'll fall apart.

Then just let it go. Let him be in charge of the spontaneous stuff. The first morning you wake up in your first destination, and there's nowhere you have to be, turn to him and say, "OK, what now?" Then you get to take a break from the planning* and just go.

*Seriously, you will get burnt out if you try to plan every little thing, and you'll have a miserable time if you spend the whole trip looking forward at the next place and not around you at the place you traveled so far to enjoy.
posted by Sara C. at 4:18 PM on October 4, 2013

When I travel I like to book the essentials (hotel, flight) ahead of time, do some rough research (places to go, how to get around) but pretty much leave everything else up to figuring it out when I'm there.

My wife likes more structure and planning, but I tend to be the one doing the actual organising so it doesn't really happen. I do try to accommodate her so when she asks "what will we be doing in Ljubljana for the 3rd day?" I have a rough idea (based on research, not having booked anything) but nowhere near exact idea.

My advice: Both sides should work on resolving issues that will pop up rather than trying to apportion blame - for example if a tour is fully booked its easy for you in hindsight to say "if we'd planned ahead then we wouldn't have this issue", just as it would be if you book and pay for a tour ahead of time and then you meet someone the night before who says its terrible, your husband might be able to say "if we'd played it by ear more then we wouldn't have this situation" - but really neither is helpful and will create friction that will wear you down after a while. You also both have to accommodate for the others preferred method as its not going to change.
posted by Admira at 9:49 PM on October 6, 2013

Response by poster: Sorry for the delayed marking of "best answers". As you might imagine life is super-hectic at the moment, as the start of our round-the-world adventure is imminent.

I've marked several "best answers", as each one has a nugget or two of ideas I'd like to hold on to (other answers had some of these same nuggets, but perhaps weren't the first to get the suggestion in).

Thanks, MetaFilter folks!
posted by Halo in reverse at 12:04 PM on October 13, 2013

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