7 unexpected things I learnt from travelling without my partner

By Anna Brech

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Choosing to travel without your partner is still considered controversial by some. One writer explains how it’s strengthened her relationship

I could have sailed the world four times over in the time I’ve been with my partner – and we’ve navigated almost as many stormy seas enroute (warning: more doubtful metaphors ahead). Like any good ocean voyage, we’ve steered the ship and drunk rum together; and we’ve battened down the hatches when a squall whips up overhead. But happily, neither of us has had to stay on the same boat that whole time, otherwise it definitely would have capsized by now.

So when Flash Pack research found that nearly half of Brits in relationships are thinking of travelling solo, I wasn’t surprised. For years, I’ve been using travel as a means of getting a little leg room in my long-term relationship. This habit started off with a lengthy backpacking trip in my 20s, then press trips in my job as a journalist took over – mixed up with the occasional adventure with friends and family members.

Whether by luck or circumstance, a certain amount of separate travel has always been part of the way my husband and I do things. Here’s why it works:

Travelling alone is a promise not a threat

A woman travelling

I’m always amazed by couples who see travelling separately as some kind of bad-blood endorsement. The implication being: if things were all good, why on earth would you choose to holiday apart?  In fact, travelling apart is a statement that speaks to all the attributes of a healthy relationship – including mutual trust, independence and the ability to support one another’s passions.

Say you routinely feel insecure or stifled by your partner’s actions. In this context, travelling solo would be tricky; but it’s the relationship, not the act of travelling alone, that raises a red flag. Travelling apart will test rocky relationships and strengthen the ones that are already rock-solid. So in that sense, it’s a good litmus test on where you stand together.

You get to focus on other relationships

Studies show that as we get older, whether or not we have a romantic partner becomes less relevant to how lonely we feel. Having friends, and feeling part of a community, however, is crucial to happiness and health (to the point that we live longer as a result).

It’s easy to get insular in a long-term relationship; you fall into the habit without even knowing it. But travelling minus my other half has allowed me to reinvest in other relationships in my life. It’s the equivalent of reframing my vision, having looked inwards for a while. And whether I’m with a childhood friend, my sister or new pals made on the road, that chance to readjust is both rare, and always a good thing.

It’s a deeply practical option

Boats on the Mekong

I don’t know about you, but my partner and I have quite different wish lists when it comes to travel. He’s more a big, open, rugged (often cold!) landscape kinda person. I’m more beach and tropical cities. Sometimes they coincide; and if so, great. But often they don’t. Coupled with the different amounts of annual leave and working schedules that we have, we’re left with two options.

Either we leave our dream destinations out of the equation. Or we make good on the moment and find different ways to fulfill them. Compromise in a relationship is a good thing but it shouldn’t mean leaving your bucket-list moment high and dry somewhere, just because your beloved doesn’t want to do it. That’s a one-way road to resentment.

Instead, by travelling alone I can have the best of both worlds; achieving what I want without missing out, or – worse – strong-arming my partner into squandering cash/time on an ambition that’s not really his.

The benefits work both ways

A street in Sweden

Travelling separately in a relationship is an indulgence that extends both ways. When I’m away, it’s a great excuse for my partner to play pinball at top volume, stink out the house with burgers (I’m a veggie) and generally let loose on habits he’d normally reign in for the sake of a peaceful life.

Meanwhile, I get to spend hours at a left-field photography exhibition or by a pool in 30°C sunshine without worrying that he’s bored/burnt. Everyone’s happy. Travelling alone doesn’t exclude the option of travelling together, either. We’re not doing one at the expense of the other; instead, we can take on both – and one makes the other better.

You put a lid on lazy reliance

A woman eating ice-cream

I always swore that I would never become dependent in a relationship. But the truth is, anyone who’s been together as long as we have will naturally become more reliant. I lean on my partner for all kinds of things that I don’t think twice about; someone to sound out with my work problems; to back me up when I’m feeling unsure; even to get me out of bed in the morning with a cup of tea. Mainly, though, I’m just used to him being there.

Going somewhere without him forces me to examine who I am outside the context of my significant other. I remember things I like to do that have nothing to do with him. But more importantly, I’m forced to rely on myself and just myself (you know, being an adult and all). Tapping these latent skills via solo travel pushes me out of relationship complacency.

Distance irons out the kinks

The happiness of travel

Contrary to what soap operas would have us believe, trouble in paradise doesn’t often come in the form of explosive issues like infidelity or fraud. Instead, it’s far more likely that your relationship will erode through a drip-drip effect of niggling problems and frustrations, that, over time, place you in two entirely different camps.

I truly believe that no couple was made to be together 24/7. Living in one another’s pockets breeds a neediness that spells a fast-track ticket to Splitsville (as my showbiz friends would say). So gaining distance by travelling apart is useful in itself.

More helpfully however, it gives me perspective on the things that my partner and I don’t see eye-to-eye on, before they threaten to overwhelm us. With a broader view, and head space, I can approach problems in a new light; often I come up with a solution, or realize that I’m overreacting. This is true of all issues in life, but particularly relationship ones.

Coming home is the best

Dinner for two

Call me superficial, but coming home – with all its elation, hugs and presents – may be the most underrated part of travelling alone in a relationship. I don’t mean this in the sense of a cheesy chalkboard quote. But simply, it takes the edge off post-holiday blues.

My partner and I have developed a bit of homecoming ritual now, whereby I bring gifts and he buys a bottle of bubbly. It’s not unlike a small-scale Christmas. Together, we go over everything that’s happened since we’ve been apart, rifle through photos and plot the next adventure we’ll do together.

It’s hard to put a name on what this routine adds, but it’s an entirely different dynamic from when we both come home from somewhere. It’s more fun and full of appreciation. Because when it comes down to it, (a bit of) absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

Images: Shutterstock, Vincenzo Landino on Unsplash



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