Travel is one of the biggest tests of a relationship. Living, travelling, and sometimes even working together 24/7 can be a challenge but it can also bring a couple closer and strengthen the relationship.
In 2006 Warren and Betsy Talbot were on the brink of divorce, living in the suburbs, and working in busy corporate jobs. They realised they needed to put their relationship first and made some drastic changes to their lives, and for the last four years have been travelling the world together.
Warren and Betsy blog at Married with Luggage and have written a number of books about saving for your dream, decluttering your life, and becoming more confident. Their new book is the most personal and revealing yet. Married with Luggage: What we learned about love by travelling the world is part travel memoir, part love story. It tells the story of how they turned their relationship around and ended up running a business together while exploring the world.
I found it a brutally honest, engaging and entertaining read and devoured it in two days. I loved reading about their funny, embarrassing and frightening adventures including storms in Antarctica, volcanoes in Ecuador, and living with Mongolians in a ger in the Gobi Desert. But the book is more than a travel tale. Along the way Warren and Betsy have examined the issues they experienced in their relationship and they share the lessons they learned that have made them closer and stronger.
Any couple, travelling or not, can learn from the tips in Married from Luggage, but prepared to be inspired to head off on a new adventure with your partner.
We first interviewed Warren and Betsy a few years ago about being digital nomads and self published authors, and we had the pleasure to interview them again about love on the road and the joys and challenges of a 24/7 relationship.
1) Did one of you have to convince the other to travel round the world, and if so how did you do it?
For us it was more of a mutual thing, but that came about mainly because of a “relationship reset” we had a few years prior. We made a conscious decision to put our relationship first, even moving cross-country and changing jobs to make it happen. So we were far more in tune with each other than ever before. When terrible illnesses happened to people we love, it was easy to make the leap together to seize the moment and chase our big dream of travel 25 years earlier than we expected.
2) What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced together?
It’s funny; we’ve been in hurricane-force winds on a ship, slept under the growling eruption of a waking volcano, and flew into a country in the midst of a political coup attempt, but the biggest challenge has always been being vulnerable to each other. Opening yourself up to another person is just about the scariest thing a human being can do. We’re lucky that our lifestyle sort of forces us to do this on a regular basis, which makes handling situations like I mentioned above a whole lot easier.
3) And your most memorable experience?
We are lucky to have had many, so it changes depending on mood. But right now I’m thinking of a month we spent in Mongolia, much of it with the herding families in their ger (yurt) camps. We spent a memorable night at a family reunion in the Gobi Desert where we were treated to the most beautiful night sky – millions of stars overhead in the pitch-black desert – while the elders of the family sang ancient songs together. Sometimes travel allows you to be part of intimate moments like that, and it is truly a gift.
One thing we’ve learned about love and relationships: it works better when you each have a role or a contribution. We split our duties completely and never work on anything together except for the planning and brainstorming. After that, we always have distinct roles and deadlines. For instance, after we come up with an idea for a book, we work out the general outline and content. Then I write it while Warren develops the marketing plan. After I finish writing, he takes over to manage the layout and conversion while I do the writing for the marketing. For things neither one of us is good at (like editing and design), we gladly hire experts to help. Life is much more enjoyable when you’re not nagging or being nagged, and having separate roles eliminates that….mostly!
5) What was your biggest fight on the road and how did you resolve it?
We’ve had a few doozies, but the worst was probably a fight we had at the start of a 12-mile walk in Scotland. We had no way back but on foot, and one of us had the food and water and the other had the money and keys. Because we needed each other to get through the day, we were forced to stay together and work it out. By the time we made it back to our apartment, we resolved our problem and came up with a more useful way of fighting in the future. We haven’t stopped fighting, but we’re good at it now, and it always results in an improvement in our relationship.
6) Do you have any strategies to avoid conflict while travelling and working together 24/7?
The best strategy is to realize you WILL have conflict and develop a plan to handle it. You can’t avoid fighting, especially in a lifestyle that requires so many daily decisions and challenges. Nothing is ever the same, and people handle that differently. But perhaps our greatest leap forward in partnership was learning to assume the best intentions. No need to go looking for a fight just because one of you said something wrong or forgot something. It’s hardly ever personal or vindictive, and learning that helped us let a lot of the stupid stuff go.
7) When you are travelling every day is special. How do you make birthdays and anniversaries extra special?
This year for our 10th anniversary, we are publishing a book and gearing up for a romantic book tour of 12 European cities by train. That’s going to be hard to top in years to come. But typically we aim to have 365 days of love and attention, appreciating each other in small ways every single day. We haven’t given each other physical gifts in years, but daily time and attention is a gift that’s hard to top.
8) You’ve just bought a house in Spain and plan to spend part of the year there. Has the process brought new challenges to your relationship?
The biggest challenge for me is that Warren has become the darling of all the older women in the village. They dote on him in the cafes, in the weekly market, and on the streets. He’s made an effort to get to know them all, and I have no doubt he’ll be mayor in a year. What it’s taught me is that for too many long I’ve pulled Warren into my way of living, which is more introverted and solitary. It’s been both a challenge and a joy to see him blossom in this environment and realize how much he needs it. It’s good to rediscover your partner this way.
9) What are your top tips for couples planning to travel together long term?
1) Assume the best intentions in your mate and don’t go looking for fights. Believe us, you’ll have plenty.
2) Take turns making decisions. If one person does it all, he/she will get tired and the other person will feel bossed around. Pull your weight and take turns making decisions and taking the lead.
3) When you fight, make it about one thing at a time. If you don’t, you’ll be fighting for days, and at the end you’ll forget why you started in the first place. Make your fights mean something.
10) What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about each other?
When Warren learned I was an introvert – really learned what that meant, how I needed to recharge, and why my alone time had nothing to do with him – it changed his perception of our entire relationship. It went from being a point of insecurity to a known fact about me, like a sleep habit or the foods I like to eat. That made it much easier for him to handle. My biggest lesson about Warren is how much he craves romance in his life in every single way. I’ve seen more sunrises and sunsets with him in these past 3+ years than I have in my entire 40 years prior. It’s important for him to feel these experiences, not just move through them, and I’ve learned to slow down and see this amazing journey through his eyes.
You can read fantastic travel stories and relationship advice from Warren and Betsy at Married with Luggage or on their Facebook page, and pick up a copy of the Married with Luggage book on Amazon and other online book stores. If you buy the book make sure you enter their contest for a chance to win two First Class Eurail train passes.
Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our guide to the 50 Best Gifts for Travelers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.