Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Did a Vacation Ever Make or Break Your Relationship?

This column from the other day got me thinking about vacations with significant others and how, at least fairly early on, they have the power to make or break a relationship. The first significant trip I remember taking with Drew was when we went to China together in 2008. We’d been dating for over two years by then, and had lived together for almost a year, but other than a few little weekend getaways we had yet to travel-travel together. And this was a big trip! Two weeks traveling through China together where, if you aren’t careful, you can spend a significant time, um, in the bathroom. Fortunately, we were careful. We managed to avoid food poisoning and drinking contaminated water, but there was a little incident that, even years later, we simply have to utter one word about — “Pingyao” — to feel instantly relieved that, whatever crappy thing we may be dealing with, at least we are not there, in walled-in Pingyao, having simultaneous panic attacks on the floor of our ancient hotel room.


Us, hiking Mount Huashan in China, 2008.

It was shortly after China — after the trauma of Pingyao and the glamour of Beijing and the wonder of Xi’an — that we both realized we were in pretty deep together. A few months after we got home, I retrieved my great-grandmother’s engagement ring to give to Drew to propose to me, and a few weeks after that we were engaged. I guess things could have gone the other way. We could have realized we were terrible travel partners and, if we couldn’t handle a two-week trip together, how could we expect to handle marriage and potential parenthood and spending our lives living under the same roof. I’m curious: Have you had a vacation like that or like the LW from the other day? One that essentially ended your relationship? Or have you had a trip that resulted in cementing your status and maybe even leading to a step forward in your relationship?

23 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Bittergaymark September 14, 2017, 1:16 pm

    Not a relationship. But it killed off a friendship once. It was a newish friendship. Somebody who I somehow THOUGHT was cool and fun. But no… The person was a NIGHTMARE to travel with. And an utter ass to service people every step of the way — which is VERY oft putting to me.
    .
    Still, the friendship BLEW much later when I didn’t want to travel with him again. HE were offended. Oh well. Whatever. Begone high-drama-queen, begone!

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    • avatar

      bondgirl September 14, 2017, 4:26 pm

      I had a trip kill a friendship too. She just couldn’t decide on things to do but had no problem shooting down every single one of my ideas. She’d get super bossy and then got pissy with me when I wouldn’t cave in to her demands. I’ve kept my distance ever since.

      On the other hand though, my boyfriend and I have developed an even stronger relationship from traveling together. He loves going to places all over the globe and told me he always wanted a partner with the same passion. In everyday life we have a playful banter dynamic and when traveling it really helps ease the tension when trying to figure out how to get somewhere in an unfamiliar place.

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    • avatar

      Hannanas September 15, 2017, 4:39 am

      Me too! One of my best friends at that time and I went on a weekend city trip and it was awful. He used to be hilarious, but had just started studying philosophy and was now questioning every damn thought I had. “What is happiness to you?” or “Does luck even exist?”, like I just want to finish this soup. Furthermore he didn’t want us to hang out with other people we met at the hostel and didn’t want to go out late at night.
      Never saw him again after that. But I hear he’s still into pretending to be Socrates.

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    • avatar

      Janelle September 15, 2017, 2:57 pm

      My sister and I don’t travel well together. I don’t even know why, nothing is wrong, it’s jus fine always a disaster. I book travel constantly for work and without fail every time we go together every flight, hotel, etc is messed up. It maddening because hello I can book a hotel! We just gave up. It seems the universe doesn’t want us traveling. Fine relationship otherwise just perhaps better to avoid it.

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  • avatar

    Kate September 14, 2017, 1:29 pm

    Yes! When I met my husband on Match, I mentioned I had just been to Mexico (with Lianne, actually). He said he was going to Cabo at the end of the year, and that if he was dating someone at that time, he’d go with them, if not, he’d go with his guy friend.

    We met at a Mexican restaurant for our first date, where he had been a regular for many years, and we still go 2x a week, and had margaritas. After 3 months of dating, we planned the trip, then 3 months after that we were in Cabo for a week. And then we got engaged right after that. We ended up getting married there too, and go back each December.

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    • avatar

      Kate September 14, 2017, 1:32 pm

      I should mention too, it was literally his first vacation! They couldn’t afford trips like that when he was a kid, and as an adult he spent his $ and vacation time on his competitive sport. He did go to Japan and Croatia and Italy and other cool places, but not for leisure ever.

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    • Lianne

      Lianne September 14, 2017, 8:54 pm

      Kate’s wedding inspired my husband and I to get married in Cabo, too 🙂 I’m so glad you planned the first trip!

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  • avatar

    Vathena September 14, 2017, 1:48 pm

    My husband and I both love to travel. We went on our first “big” trip, to California, when we’d been dating for about 10 months. We set a pretty ambitious agenda – 10 days, San Fran/Yosemite/Napa/the Coast/Muir Woods. We didn’t live together yet, so we packed individually and met at the airport on a Friday afternoon. We had each, unbeknownst to the other, printed out every confirmation (flight, rental car, hotels) and put them in order in a file folder. So we ended up with two file folders with all of our trip info in chronological order. Needless to say, we travel well together!

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  • avatar

    wobster109 September 14, 2017, 1:49 pm

    I don’t think a vacation or trip can “make” a relationship, or the Bachelor(ette) would be all success stories. Having fun on a beach or touring historic cities is so different from sharing a home and life day-to-day. Two people can have great chemistry while traveling and just not be compatible day-to-day.

    But I definitely agree that a trip can break a relationship. I had an ex who did the “huffy-puffy” over something totally trivial (we had to go one metro station over to buy a metro pass). It was an indicator that he didn’t handle stress well, and instead I’d be looking for solutions alone while reassuring him. Now I know to pay attention to how someone handles stress.

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    • Copa

      Copa September 14, 2017, 2:20 pm

      I agree with this. I have a friend like this. She’s been married for four years. They’re not compatible on a day-to-day basis. They’ve been separated a couple times now. Their most recent separation lasted a year and a half during which time they were on opposite ends of the globe. She points to the fact that they have SUCH a great time together on extravagant vacations as a sign of compatibility. And I tell her vacation isn’t real life and it’s a huge problem that they only have fun when they’re, like, on a yacht in Nice.

      They just decided to give it another shot and are kicking off their fifth or sixth “another shot” in Portugal, Spain, and Greece. And in a few weeks I’ll be hearing from her about how terrible things are again.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros September 14, 2017, 5:23 pm

      I don’t think any one thing can “make” a relationship, but I think sometimes people effectively use trips as a way to test their compatibility (among other things). If you can get through a disastrous trip together, then that adds some points into the compatibility column! But having just had a fun trip is definitely not useful information.

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  • avatar

    Sara September 14, 2017, 2:14 pm

    Before my now-husband and I started dating, we went on a wilderness trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as friends – and our two other friends who were going to go with us backed out at the last minute (on purpose, we later learned – they were matchmaking) – and that trip essentially started our relationship. I mostly agree with the idea that a trip can’t “make” a relationship – but in our case, it started one.

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  • avatar

    Ale September 14, 2017, 3:16 pm

    My last relationship started when we both had to travel together for work. Those were short trips but we bonded a lot then.
    It ended this year after I took him to Chicago. He loved the trip but we were just not compatible. He wanted to shop all the time, I wanted to see everything. We fought about money and I was jealous he was buying things for his female friends.
    He ended it a week after that.

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  • Miel

    Miel September 14, 2017, 4:28 pm

    We met and fell in love on a trip, so in a way it “made” our relationship.

    We met on a train. We got lost walking from the train station to our hostel. We found our way back. We took turn paying for meals, starting from our very first dinner (we had met two hours earlier!).

    We paid about 50 euros each and took the train for about three hours to go to the top of a mountain in the Alps. It was so foggy up there we couldn’t see 4 feet in front of us (and we certainly couldn’t appreciate any of the “the view”).

    We ended up talking all alone in the cafeteria for about four hours. There was nothing to see, nothing to do, there was no one else around… That’s when we each started thinking “you know… this person is special… I wonder if…”

    Then we took a cable car on our way down. I don’t know how that’s possible but the cable car was full of tourists, and there wasn’t any handles left for me to hold on to, so I held on to him…

    This was a weekend trip. Met on the Friday night, kissed on Saturday, fell in love on Sunday. I think all we saw was fog, rain, clouds, and then suddenly on Sunday as we were leaving, beautiful sun and turquoise water from the stream coming down from the glacier.

    We’ve travelled a bunch since then, and it’s always been great. Every thing is less stressful and more fun when he’s around.

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    • avatar

      Taylor September 14, 2017, 7:01 pm

      Love this.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros September 14, 2017, 5:21 pm

    I worry about this. I travel almost exclusively alone. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve traveled with another person. I have my own airport routine and am pretty picky about choosing things to do on trips. I did travel with friends when I was studying abroad, but we were pretty similar in our interests, so the only issue was that she was kind of flaky, so I just kept track of all our important stuff (hostel key, etc.) and figured out transit. I can’t imagine trying to start planning and going on trips with another person!

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  • avatar

    ktfran September 14, 2017, 5:21 pm

    I decided the husband was “the one” when he went on a friend trip shortly after we started dating. One text he sent to me cemented the deal. Another trip I was on with friends, I sort of proposed to him via text. He proposed for real, IDK, six months later.

    We travel well together. We have the same ideas of the kind of travel we prefer and activities we enjoy. If we weren’t compatible in this area, I wouldn’t have married him.

    To bgm’s point, I have friends I know I’d never travel with and others that are good travel companions.

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  • avatar

    Ange September 14, 2017, 6:46 pm

    Husband and I have pretty different travel styles. I’m much more ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ than he is but without his constant researching we wouldn’t have done half the cool stuff we ended up doing in America last year (which, we were in New York this time last year *sigh*) so I do appreciate it. We didn’t do as much partying as I would have liked perhaps but it’s harder with those sort of trips because you have so much to do and you’re a bit wiped out by the end of the day. Plus the food kinda kills you, total carb coma by 7pm. Overall I think we strike a pretty good balance.

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  • avatar

    Anny21 September 15, 2017, 6:54 am

    Yep! A vacation broke my relationship- well it was broken before, but this just solidified it. They say you see peoples true colors in the worst times, and that is what I saw. We went on a trip to another country to meet his family for the first time and for them to meet our daughter who was 8 months at the time. Living conditions were very different and to adjust to with an infant, I wasn’t really forewarned, and I had no help from him, I was made to feel as if I was out of place because I just didn’t get their culture. Our daughter ended up getting sick, and not sleeping AT ALL for 5 days, I was basically confined to a small bedroom because it was the only place with air cond. where I would lay with her to try to get her to sleep and feel better. Finally, I told him I thought it was best I go home in case she is in need of a doctor, as they didn’t have much medical care there- I told him I would fly back with her by myself so that he could stay with his family, but he threw a fit, didn’t talk to me the whole way home, and for about a week after that because I ruined his time with his family, and becae I will just never understand how they live there. We seperated shortly after!

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  • avatar

    Lovelygirl September 15, 2017, 8:05 am

    We had been dating for 5 months before our first big trip. He was not into travel because he never really traveled before. For my 30th I wanted to do something awesome and outside the norm so I planned a trip to Cedar Point in Ohio (we live in FL). We had the BEST vacation and truly enjoyed traveling together. This was definitely a test to see if we could be a truly great match. We’ve now been together for 5.5 years, married for 4 years, and have had many travel adventures. The funniest part of that trip was getting on the plane in Orlando to go to Ohio and the flight attendant asking the entire plane if they had a good vacation in Orlando! Little did they know Ohio makes a great vacation spot for Floridians!!!

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  • Portia

    Portia September 15, 2017, 2:13 pm

    I’m not sure if it “made” our relationship, but I think a trip I took pretty early on with my now-husband cemented us. After just under a year of dating (when we were just about 20), we went on a 2-week trip around Europe, mostly staying in hostels along the way. If we weren’t as compatible as we are, I do think it would have broken us up, but we had an amazing time and it cemented our status as life-long travel companions, and we still mostly travel just the two of us. (I still can’t believe our parents were ok with this – we were practically still teenagers!)

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  • avatar

    Janelle September 15, 2017, 2:50 pm

    This is a fun one for me. My long term ex and I are the best travel partners. That may have been the most successful part of our relationship. We have similar styles as well as we both enjoy a combo of fun stuff and lying around on vacation. We still travel together for fun…although not if we are in a relationship with someone else as that would be odd.

    Also funny, we never did have sex on vacations. It just kind of happened that way and when a friend somehow asked us about it, in that nudge nudge “hey must’ve spent a lot of time in bed” way we laughed and said “we are on vacation from everything…EVERYTHING!” Ha. We had a perfectly fine sex life but for whatever reason we just didn’t really want to when on a vacation. Go figure.

    I think some people just travel well together and some don’t. That being said, you can be with someone you don’t travel well with, my grandma traveled with her brother all the time. My grandpa just didn’t enjoy it. It worked out just fine for them and she has traveled the world and continues to do so now that he has passed away.

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  • avatar

    K September 18, 2017, 1:05 pm

    My boyfriend and I took our first trip together 5 months into the relationship. We went to Colorado and Utah and spent time in some national parks. He said “I love you” when we were hiking a mountain in CO, so that trip made our relationship into something more serious, I guess! We travel really well together, and we’ve dealt with mishaps well also, like our rental car getting broken into while in San Francisco.

    Also, Janelle, that’s funny about the no sex on vacation. We also usually don’t have sex on vacation because our vacations are busy and we end up wanting to just go to sleep early!

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