The Dos (and Definite Don’ts) of Travelling as a Couple for the First Time

“Our travel styles were so different, I worried this trip could shatter our relationship”

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A couple travelling for the first time together smiles in Varenna near the water. The woman is wearing a red dress and the man is wearing a white t-shirt and shorts. They look happy.

Natalie and Sean in Varenna (Photo: Natalie Nanowski)

I used to be that single friend with a whirlwind lifestyle—a full social calendar sprinkled with spontaneous surf trips. After several failed relationships and years alone, I was convinced I didn’t need anyone. I did whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and I loved it!

Then, I met a boy. Suddenly, I was sharing my time with someone else, and to my surprise my life didn’t implode, it got better. Fast forward a year and Sean and I were having serious conversations—kids, marriage, should we get a dog? Before making any big decisions, we decided a romantic getaway in Lake Como was more our speed.

While a vacation in Italy may not sound like as big a step as adopting a fur baby, it still felt like a significant leap. We had only gone on short trips together, and all of those were with friends. This would be the first time Sean and I would be together 24/7, and our travel styles were so different, I worried this trip could shatter our relationship. I fly by the seat of my pants, Sean prefers planning. I love exploring little towns, he’s into hiking. I savour visits to local wineries but I’m pretty sure you could replace Sean’s red wine with vinegar and he wouldn’t notice.

We were heading to one of the most romantic Italian hotspots and if that broke us, it would surely be a sign that we weren’t meant to be. Spoiler alert: After two weeks of travel, dozens of carbohydrate comas and countless bottles of wine, we decided to move in together—but that was in part thanks to these lessons I learned about successfully travelling with a partner.

Delegate and concur 

Day one: We flew into Zurich and picked up our car: a beautiful sky-blue BMW convertible. Even though Sean’s better behind the wheel, he had worked all day so I offered to drive the three hours to Lake Como. The trip was going fine, until we entered the Alps, the sun set and it began to pour. It took all my concentration not drive off a cliff. Sean suggested switching drivers, but I was stubborn. After 30 minutes, he convinced me that he was starving so I reluctantly pulled into a restaurant. The tension began to wear off the more pizza and jokes we shared. I realized I had been so tense while driving that I wasn’t enjoying myself, and I don’t think he was either.

For the rest of the time, Sean drove, I navigated.

Tip: Before jetting off, discuss your strengths to see who will take the reins when. If you hate driving, don’t. When each of you sticks to your strong suits, you’ll both feel like you’re contributing to the trip.

Discuss your expectations 

A couple travelling for the first time together sit on a balcony in Italy wearing robes and sipping coffee

Natalie and Sean at Villa d’Este (Photo: Natalie Nanowski)

Day four: The next couple of days were filled with adventure, boat rides and a Roman castle. We spent our evenings watching sunsets and sneaking kisses between spoonfuls of gelato. A few days into the trip, after a long hike, Sean asked what I wanted to do. “Whatever,” I shrugged. Boom! Argument! Why wasn’t I communicating what I wanted to do? And why was I derailing his plans with hour-long shopping sprees?

We skipped the sunset that night. As we walked to our room, we cut through the hotel’s back garden, stumbling right into a newlyweds’ joint wedding speech. I imaged what would happen if the bride cut off the groom, changing the entire direction mid-speech. It made me uncomfortable. Clearly these two had planned this together and we needed to as well. Mostly, I needed to stop blindsiding my boyfriend.

Tip: Laying out your needs can prevent arguments, and creating a rough plan together will help you figure out if solo time is necessary to check those must haves off your list.

Don’t let a bump in the road derail your vacay 

Day 10: The next few days I planned excursions—a spa, dinner made by a Michelin-starred chef. But what I was most excited about was visiting a renowned olive oil producer in the neighbouring town, said to be Jamie Oliver’s favourite. That morning, I went online to double check the address and—ugh—discovered that the shop was closed for the day.

I felt deflated. We ended up wandering the streets of Verenna. Sean stopped at a tiny stone doorway and smiled. I poked my head in—it was a traditional wine cellar! We were treated to a menu of the region’s best wine, cheese and cured meats, and by the time the wine was poured, I had forgotten all about Jamie Oliver’s fave olive oil.

Tip: Don’t dwell on the negative because it could derail your vacation—instead, appreciate all of the unplanned the gems that can and will pop up.

You’re a team, act like it 

A couple wearing summer clothes pose in front of a blue convertable. They look happy and chic

Natalie and Sean’s Bonnie and Clyde photo (Photo: Natalie Nanowski)

Day 11: Our final hotel in Bellagio could only be accessed by tiny cobblestone streets. We drove slowly with the top down, Sean maneuvering around frazzled tourists, while I navigated the twists and turns. We got tons of dirty looks and rude comments, but we kept our focus and tried not to sink to the bottom of our seats.

Those five minutes felt like hours, and we burst out laughing when the embarrassment was over. We needed a selfie to document our triumph. I stretched out my arm, trying to get the car in the background.

“Do you want me to take a picture?” An older woman said smiling. “I saw you guys driving through the village.”

She must think we’re ridiculous, I thought, handing her my phone.

“You two are so brave driving in this region, my husband and I could never do it” (click, click). “Oh I think I got the photo. You make a great pair and look adorable in that car.”

An hour later, I was by the pool, sipping an Aperol spritz, looking through photos and showing our car selfie to Sean. “That’s our Bonnie and Clyde photo,” he said, giving me a kiss. And it really was proof that we we were partners in crime, navigating a stressful situation and acting like a team.

Tip: On vacation, you’ll likely be thrown into tough situations, different from those at home. Remember to stay clam, so you can think clearly and act as a team when the pressure starts to rise.

As the sun set that evening, everything felt right. Sure there had been ups and downs during our first big trip, but we had tackled them together, and that was the real journey.

Related: 

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