Coping with Fights on the Road

A closeup of a couple fighting with angry faces on the roadThis is a guest post by Ant, one half of Positive World Travel.

Elise and I fight. A lot.

It’s usually about petty things that don’t really matter, but in the heat of the moment, sometimes even the smallest issues get blown out of proportion.

It’s the stupid stuff, like where we should go next or what we should see. We argue about food a lot, too. Elise is always hungry and needs to eat throughout the day, whereas I can last all day on one big meal. And our filming often causes disagreements. We don’t always share the same “vision.”

Spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with someone is bound to take its toll at some point or another. It’s normal. In all honesty, I would be more worried about our relationship if we didn’t fight after spending this much time together.

Our fights typically occur on travel days, when one of us is either tired, hungry (mostly Elise!), or fed up with the day. Travelling 18–24 hours on buses, trains, or planes hardly brings the best out in anyone. The snapping begins over something trivial (like what taxi to catch), and before you know it we’re fighting about how Elise never listens or how I never understand her feelings.

One classic fight that should have earned us a spot on Jerry Springer happened when we were travelling from Kathmandu to Chitwan in Nepal. Chitwan is only 150km away from Nepal’s capital, but the road conditions are really poor, so we were on a cramped mini bus for about eight hours.

As soon as we got off the bus, Elise started complaining about how she had a sore neck and just needed a sleep and a shower. I, on the other hand, was feeling pretty good. The motion sickness tablets I had taken knocked me out during the trip, and I had managed to grab some sleep on the bus.

That’s when the bickering started.

We snapped at each other about the best way to reach our guesthouse, what guest house we were going to stay at, and how long we would be staying there. We bickered the whole time until we found a place to stay. As soon as we were in our room, things got worse. The fighting eventually escalated until I went for a walk and Elise had a sleep.

When I came back from my walk, the fight started again. This time it was about how I never put my toothbrush or contact lens solution in the right spot and how Elise can never remember where she keeps things in her backpack.

Black and white of a very angry traveler

The fight continued for another several minutes, and we began to pick on issues totally unrelated to the original topic. When does a fight ever stay on topic anyway? You always end up fighting about irrelevant issues. You say things you’ll regret later and don’t even really mean in the first place.

With tears in Elise’s eyes and myself so exhausted by the whole argument, it was at that point we had to make a choice. Either continue fighting or come to our senses.

I told Elise we both needed to calm down and look at what we were fighting about. What was the root of the argument? Nothing but a bumpy bus ride.

I think Elise was just as relieved as I was to end the fight, and we ended up talking about ways we can resolve these conflicts and stop them from happening in the future.

How to Resolve Conflicts
The thing with fighting on the road is that the arguments take on a different form than the fights you have at home. At home, there are distractions like friends and work to keep your mind off the argument. When travelling, however, there’s no escape. You have to talk about how you feel or what’s bothering you and come to a resolution.

What works really well for us is having a “word.” One word that you can both use if you think the other person is picking a fight for the sake of it. You both have to like this agreement. You can’t abuse the word and say it whenever you want just to shut your partner up. It has to work for both of you.

This approach has really saved us and prevented a lot of fights from starting. For instance, if Elise is complaining about how long we’ve been walking or how hungry she is, it tends to get on my nerves. I’ll make comments back to her that can be a little heated, and Elise will simply use the word. It snaps me straight back into line. Even though it may sound silly to act so quickly on one little word, it really does help us to prevent situations from spiraling out of control. I realize that what I’m saying is unnecessary. Problem solved. Fight avoided. Happy days.

Honesty is another important part of a relationship that can help resolve conflicts. Not being afraid to express how you feel is so important during an argument. You have to be able to listen to each other’s point of view and take both criticism and advice to heart.

Kiss and make up after having a fight while traveling

Arguments are no different than a disease, and prevention is always better than a cure.

After 16 months on the road, we, as a couple, have pretty much figured out how to avoid the bigger arguments. We still bicker a lot, but it’s never anything as serious as the fight in Nepal. We are now conscious of what can set each other off and always try to minimize those actions before they escalate out of control.

Travelling lets us work together in stressful situations and solve problems, but it also allows us to learn how to prevent arguments. The latter is the most challenging thing about travelling as a couple by far, but I think we are slowly mastering it.

Anthony is one half of the dynamic duo at Positive World Travel. Both he and Elise will be writing about their experiences and thoughts on what long-term travel is like as a couple. You can also follow them on Facebook for more of their travel updates.

  1. Thank you so much for this honest article and the great lesson. We will be traveling as a couple from September until… and we will keep this article in mind :-).

    • This is the honest truth! We do fight and it no different to being at home, you fight over the smallest little things. Being together all the time escalates it somethings. Good luck with your travels in September :)

    • Elise is definitely the one that gets grumpy and tired when she hasn’t eaten. I can survive on one meal a day if needed. Elise needs her 8 hours sleep and 3 meals a day. This is when you need to comprise with each other. She now carries around snacks everyday, to keep her energy levels up. Being tired is the worse feeling and the first person you take it out on is your partner. I am sick at the moment and I have been a little snappy towards Elise the last couple of days.

  2. As great as travelling with your partner is, sometimes you just wish you were by yourself! It’s only normal that a couple fights, as you said – transportation, unforeseen circumstances or money issues are always nerve wracking. As is living in a tiny place with no personal space.

    I wrote about that a while ago and after reading this, I feel like it’s pretty much the same scenario for all couples, regardless of the individual dynamics.

    I’d be interested to see how you personally relate to it as a couple, because I definitely feel I am on the same page as you!

    • I can totally relate to your article and your comments. Sometimes it hard not having your own personal space, Elise wrote about the importance of ‘me’ time in last months article. Finding your own rhythm and flow to your relationship is what will make you last the distance. You need to find out what works and what doesn’t, because living out of each others pockets is much different to having a relationship at home.

  3. Sofia

    What great tips, we can so relate to this article Ant!

    Esp. now that we are traveling and filming nearly every day as well as running As We Travel. It really can become so stress-ful and we can get on each others nerves – but by remembering WHY we are doing this in the first place, and realizing what is REALLY going on will calm down most fights – like you said, many of ours also happen on travel days, and when one of us is hungry or tired :p

    • It think you make a great point Sofia about bringing it back to why you are travelling in the first place. You are sharing an amazing journey with your partner and it is sometimes good to take a step back and be grateful for the countries you are visiting together. Love your videos Sofia. Keep up the good work :)

  4. I’ve been there. Who hasn’t as a couple? If you’ve traveled with a partner for any period of time and haven’t fought you are either lying or delusional. We’re all different so we like different things. In my case, my spouse and I sometimes need a break and take time to do things on our own. However, I do like the idea of a word because when you are tired, hungry, or just irritable, things can escalate quickly.

    • That is so true Jeremy! I hate when I see articles on couples websites and they tell us they never fight! I Think is healthy to fight every now and again to tell the other person how you are really feeling. It is usually built up stress about something else and unrelated to the original argument. Taking a break is the best solution, but now Elise and I rarely fight as we try and come up with solutions before it escalates to something out of our control.

  5. “…when one of us is either tired, hungry (mostly Elise!) …”
    oh help me god, hunger is often the source of my anger! Glad to know that by now, so I can prevent myself from being angry just by having a stock of chocolate bar or something :))

    • Hey Vira, Elise has her stash of snacks with her at all times now, to keep her energy levels up. It is a life saver for her and for me too. Amazing what a little bit of sugar can do to change the mood. 😉

  6. I can definitely relate to a lot of this. I have travelled quite a lot with my now fiance and with us it is the same – we tend to fight over ridiculous things. Looking back it’s hard to even remember why we started fighting in most cases. For us it can also become a bit of a blame game. If something goes wrong one of us always seems to be at fault – “it was YOU who read the map” or “YOU picked this restaurant”. Definitely not fair and we usually admit to that right after, but it’s definitely not productive to blame anyone (but so hard to resist when you’re in a miserable situation AND hungry AND thirsty AND hot, etc…)

    • How many times have Elise and I been fighting about something and then we have forgotten what the original fight was about because it has turned into a blame game about something else. It is funny how a fight has a life of its own and before you know if you are fighting about the most petty things. The key is not to let it get that far, and come up with a resolution well before this occurs.

  7. My husband and I just started our rtw travels last week and have had a few close encounters already. I’m glad to hear we’re not the only ones. I agree with many of the other sentiments in the comments here– It seems impossible to avoid arguments all together, but having a tactic to stop the big fights is good advice. Thanks for the tips!

    • Congratulations on setting out on your new adventure around the world! The initial first couple of months on the road together are the hardest. You are both trying to see how you react under certain situations, and you are in many cases finding out about your partner all over again. Traveling together is a lot different to just living together at home. Learning each others strengths and weakness will help to stop fights occurring. Hope you enjoy your travels together. :)

  8. NomadicMatt

    I’d like to also point out that these tips can be used to avoid conflicts if you are traveling with friends for a long time too! After all, they can get on your nerves too! :)

    • Good point Matt! Prior to traveling with Elise, I have traveled extensively solo and with other friends. It is quite easy for your friends to get on your nerves. Communication between your friends is also the key. Whenever you travel with your partner or in a group, there is alway difference of opinion and we hope using some of these tips will help solo and group travellers too.

  9. The “word” thing is a great idea, and my boyfriend and I use that one at home. I’m unlucky enough to have both bipolar disorder and OCD, and they combine to give me a very short fuse. When either of us is beginning to get on the other’s nerves, the bothered person says “red” and the other one knows to back off. It works wonders.

    • We would have to agree with you there! Our word is banana and it works every time. Like I said in the article, It is important not to abuse the word and only use it when you really think the other person is out of line. Remember you do have disagreements on issues that DO matter and you want your voice to be heard when you have a concern. It is important to only use the word if you are arguing over irrelevant issues. i know it sounds a little child-like but it actually works for us when we start getting hot headed.

  10. Kudos to you and Elise for being so open and honest about your relationship and how travelling affects it! I also don’t know whether to believe other travelling couples when they say they never fight! 😉

    My first trip overseas was with my then-boyfriend and while in the end travelling together made our relationship stronger (until its unrelated eventual demise three years later lol) sometimes it was rough. You take petty irritations out on the person closest to you. I have to admit that socking him in the guts in France and using some appalling four letter words was not my finest moment – but happily we both cracked up laughing and from that day on the rest of the trip was almost picture perfect.

    It’s all about understanding that you’re going to be annoyed at each other sometimes and understanding why you’re really fighting (tiredness, hunger, even culture shock like my boyfriend had) is the key.

    • I think they are most probably lying about there relationship if they say that they never fight. It is healthy to have disagreements. It’s these peaks and trough’s that make you love each other more. I think that people that never fight would have a very boring relationship with no passion!

      Understanding each others emotions is the key to successfully travelling together and knowing if your partner is tired or hungry and maybe just lay low and not push their buttons. I’m a big culprit of that, knowing not to push Elise’s over the edge when she is tired is something that I have had to learn and deal with. It doesn’t help anyone in the end and the arguments end up being about nothing anyway.

      Knowing that you will be annoyed with each other sometimes, and just excepting as part of your time together. I guess we now just embrace disagreements and laugh about them later on.

  11. Hunger is basically at the root of 99% of my fights with my boyfriend. Our most epic blowout was over missing breakfast at Burger King when I was missing “American” food. Embarrassing.

  12. Never had the chance to travel with a boyfriend before but when I do, I’ll probably have to bear this in mind because I tend to bicker with people a lot. Haha! I’ll make sure to make him read this too. hahaha

  13. The word tip is something I wish I had read about a long time ago, it probably would have saved us many fights! Although when we’re traveling and if we do argue, we’re usually so tired by the end that we just both decide to drop it – there’s more important things sleep ha. I’ll have to pick a funny word because I’m usually the one who persists in fights and I know if I hear Yeison say something funny I’m sure I’d crack up instead. Also it helps that both of us know another language the other doesn’t – I just start venting in Mandarin 😛

  14. Great post.I am always horrible when i am hungry or tired and my boyfriend is horrid when he can not find wifi or someone wakes him up. But once you get through it you can see the funny side. A bit like the movie 2 days in Paris haha !

  15. We would have to agree with you there! Our word is banana and it works every time. Like I said in the article, It is important not to abuse the word and only use it when you really think the other person is out of line. Remember you do have disagreements on issues that DO matter and you want your voice to be heard when you have a concern. It is important to only use the word if you are arguing over irrelevant issues. i know it sounds a little child-like but it actually works for us when we start getting hot headed.

    Similar case happened to us when we trekked to Langtang(altitude sickness but). Thanks to the tour operator Global Holidays Adventure . They help us cope the situation. I still remember how hard was that phase and what a big support we receive from tour operator.

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