With 500+ days of nomadic life under our travel belts it seems a good time to reflect on the journey. And, what better way to cover ground than by answering the questions we are asked most frequently. Every day this week, we’ll tackle a new topic.
And now, we’re jumping into fun territory…
Part III: Relationships
Q: After traveling together, nonstop, for 18+ months…do you still like each other?
For those new to LightTraveling, Matt and I were a couple for over fifteen years before we made this leap into nomadic life. We knew changing our lives would also change the nature of our relationship.
We knew some days would push us to the border of happy coupledom. We knew there would be challenges.
Our gamble was that the rewards would outweigh negatives and the foundation we had stacked up was strong enough to hold up lives in perpetual flux.
A relationship aspect I’m just beginning to grasp is the power of shared reference. Matt is the only person in the world who has experienced what I’ve experienced during this crazy journey. For him, I’m that only. While our takeaways from experiences are often different, being students together in this study of cultures and new ways of living is carving out a new layer of depth in the us.
Don’t think for one hot note that we don’t tickle each other’s exposed nerves and fight like heavy weight pros. We can go around, for rounds.
To stay on budget, we’ve shared some true tiny spaces, spaces where it’s simply not possible to move without brushing up against each other. Sometimes that’s romantic. Others, well…let’s just say, learning to give each other physical and emotional space, even while smushed-up together, is a process we continually refine.
We took a brief opportunity for separate space by agreeing to overlapping housesitting gigs a few months ago. Matt stayed to finish the first assignment, while I bussed to the new home in another city.
To put this in context, in our former lives, we frequently traveled independently for work and with friends; but in these past 18 months, we have had less than half a dozen overnights, or even dinners, apart before these duel housesits.
So, for two nights in England, we were “free” from each other. We dined in pubs alone and explored city streets alone. It was fine, but the revelation was, we missed each other. When Matt joined me in the new assignment, we were so happy to be together.
Somehow, someway…we do still like each other, very much.
Q: Is what you fight about now the same as when you lived a “more traditional” life?
Traveling together full-time is not a wedding-cakewalk. Not even close. I wrote about it extensively, earlier this year in “Tips for Traveling Together.”
As a couple when you are in “normal” life routine, you have issues, for sure – everyone does – but you know and can name those issues. Those issues are familiar and comfortable in their discomfort. You know each other’s trigger points.
Then you launch into an entirely different realm together and everything changes. When every factor in your world, almost daily is unexpected, the dynamics change. Highs are higher. Lows are lower.
Remember in the intro when I said we’d get back to transportation days? When a travel day comes, it pretty much means a fight is on the horizon. It’s clock work.
Why? Because of internal timing mechanisms, aka life patterns. Matt likes to be prepared and precise. He obsesses over phone alarms, pre-packing, leaving extra-early, considering all possible “what-if” scenarios, and allowing zero distractions along the way.
Me? I’m more of a “let’s see what happens” soul. I’m open, some might say, welcoming, to distractions along the way. In my ideal catching-a-train-world, feet hit the platform just as the train is signaling departure. If we happen to miss the train, my brain says, “Then, we must be meant to do something differently.”
For my business-minded husband, that, my friends, is pure crazy balls.
So we’re both trying to alter our ways to make the process easier on the other. I now pack my bag the night before and try my best to stick on schedule. He is learning to be more zen and relaxed.
We are each learning to compromise and exist within this new framework. It’s part of the journey and the very essence of what it means to grow together as a couple.
It’s exciting. At times, it’s maddening. And that, in it’s own way, makes it glorious.
Q: How has it changed your marriage?
To say we were independent in our former lives would be an understatement. We both worked 10-12 hours a day, had many separate hobbies, and groups of separate friends. There were days we only saw each other in passing.
Now, we are together just about every minute of every day with the exception of the time we devote to individual passions (primarily Matt’s cycling and running and writing for me.)
Those separate pursuits are more important now than ever. We have become each other’s biggest advocates when it comes to these activities that bring us joy. At first, the idea of lugging Matt’s bike (a custom travel bike,) on buses, trains, and flights was overwhelming. Now we both know it’s a necessity to his current happiness and health, as running is for mine.
We set off separately most days, then meet up in the afternoons. These individual explorations ensure there’s always something new to talk about…what we’ve seen that day, who we meet.
We are much more patient and flexible with each other now, frankly because we have to be. We’re easy to forgive and even easier to drop contentious subjects. After all, any time spent battling each other is time away from battling languages, directions, and cultural understanding. To keep this crazy train chugging along, we have to work together. Travel has transformed us into a killer team.
Q: Do you have any advice for other people to travel together?
Role play can significantly enhance travel. Not the kinky stuff (although that’s fun too,) no I mean tapping into each person’s unique strengths. This applies to friends who travel together too.
Designating tasks is a great way to engage more deeply while lessening some of the stress of travel. Having a chief navigator, exec of eats, or lodging guru takes the pressure off both people to debate every step. Trusting your travel partner(s) to lead the way in areas allows you to focus more attention on other areas.
Another tip for couples or friends traveling together is to build balance into an itinerary. Plan fun activities – hikes, wine tastings, city tours, etc – but also allow go-with-the-flow time. Participate, with enthusiasm, in one activity that lights up your partner, even if – especially if – it’s not normally your thing, and ask the same in return. Set aside at least morning or afternoon for solo activities to explore and discover separately.
We hope sharing our journey in detail serves as advice, in a way. Kind of a “what to do” and “what not to do,” in action!
Q: How easy is it to make friends along the way?
Forming friendships has been one of the most rewarding aspects. Because we tend to stay in one spot for weeks to months at a time, we have been incredibly fortunate to make friends around the world.
In every country, strangers have opened their homes to us and shared moments of their lives. So many people have cooked for us, some taking time to teach us how to make traditional dishes. We’ve been present for very personal occasions like graduations and funerals. We’ve fallen in friend-love, over and over.
When I think about the people who haven’t allowed a lack of shared language to stand in the way of communication, it makes me misty. Kind souls who (mostly) haven’t laughed at our brutalization of their language. Open and friendly people who have taken time to ask us about our lives and allow us a peek into theirs.
Particularly striking are the bonds formed with fellow travelers. As just one example, when we told our new friend Donald, (a WorkAway host who we lived with last year while working on his Italian property,) we would be in his hometown, London, he immediately assumed matchmaking.
Soon, we had a dinner invitation to his friend Roz’s home. This kickass woman, who’s traveled solo all over the world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, took it upon herself to gather other intrepid travelers in “our honor.” That tribal dinner went into the wee hours, we had found our people.
The downside, of course, is that we are always in a state of departure. How goes the Edie Brickell song?
“I haven’t learned to say goodbye. Hello itself is hard enough.”
For us, we don’t have any trouble with “hello.”
Goodbye is another story.
Q: What about family and friends at home? Do you keep in touch?
One of our great joys has been the number of friends and family who have chosen to meet us somewhere along the way, to the tune of a couple of dozen people! Many are looking for an excuse to travel and we’re more than happy to provide the nudge.
Those visits have certainly helped to keep us connected to home. Social media, of course, provides a real connection and amazing resource for keeping up with developments in the US as well as with new friends around the world.
There have certainly been surprises when it comes to friendships. A few we thought would remain close have gone radio silence. On the flip side, some long-term friendships have blossomed, particularly with people who know how it feels to make some type of big life change.
I definitely think we’ve learned more about the nature of friendship through this process and learned to let people be where they are. We don’t have to stay in touch with everyone, relationships evolve, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Q: Are there things you miss? Do you get lonely and homesick?
I miss having more than one change of shoes. I miss wearing high heels. (More on backpack living is coming in the next post.)
On a deeper level, we miss getting together with friends and family whenever the opportunity arises. Thanks to free WiFi calling (more coming on that subject too,) I talk to my mom and grandmother now more than ever.
If we talk “things,” not people, there is more we don’t miss than do. I don’t miss overpaying for bland, yet beautiful groceries in a boxy chain market. I don’t miss rushing around all the time to the point of daily frazzlement. I don’t miss accumulation. I don’t miss TV culture.
The southern US interpretation of Mexican food. I miss that, lots.
Q: Do you ever miss having a place to call home?
We have approached nomadic life in stages. Instead of selling the home we shared for twelve+ years in Birmingham, we rented it for a year – with all of our belongings intact. At the end of that rental, we put it on the market.
When a full price offer came in the first day, it truly took us by surprise. Two weeks later we rushed home from Croatia, sold almost everything we owned, closed on the house, and closed the door feeling like it was exactly the way things were supposed to happen.
We loved that house and having a home, but know we did everything we were supposed to do there. Someone asked us at the estate sale – as a lifetime of goods, paintings, rugs, books, and dishes went out the door to new homes – if it was bittersweet. My reply then and now is, “Nope, only sweet.”
I know it’s cliche but it’s true: one door had to close for another to open. Being untethered possession-wise allows us to fully embrace this new existence. Home has evolved from being about a structure to being wherever we are in this moment.
We are incredibly privileged to experience travel in this way. We are incredibly privileged to now claim many homes within the warm embrace of friends, new and old, all over the world. We are thankful, every day.
Coming up next, Part II – Life Lessons! Followed by Packing, Money, & more!
Is there something you would like to know about nomadic life? We’re happy to answer all questions, just leave a comment here.
Thanks for sharing the journey with us. Here’s wishing you a JOYOUS and ADVENTUROUS NEW YEAR!!!