Traveling as a Couple: An Interview with Wandering Why

Sean and Dawn from Wandering WhyIt’s been awhile since I’ve posted an interview. In the past, I’ve interviewed guidebook writers, authors, movie producers, and other travel notables. But I thought to begin a new string of interviews, I’d focus more on regular travelers. My experience as a traveler is shaped by the fact I travel alone. My thoughts, my experiences, my interactions with people are different than other people’s because of that. People who travel with children travel differently. As do people who are married.

Dawn and Sean, the couple from WanderingWhy, have been on the road for over 18 months. I met them via the internet but had the fortune to travel with them in Thailand and Singapore. I was always interested in what their perception of travel was like. Traveling as a married couple is bound to be different than traveling as a single, young, male backpacker.

Nomadic Matt: Lots of married couples have conflict. It’s normal. How do you handle conflict while traveling?
Dawn: I think that we address conflict quicker on the road than we did at home. When you are traveling together like this, you cannot let things go on too long without dealing with them since you are always together. You have to work together as a team, so the conflict has to be resolved quickly.
Sean: A lesson learned for us on the road is the need to address problems faster. Life is more intense on the road and seemingly little things can cause disproportionate ill feelings. We’ve found the truth is the little things popping up are pointing to a larger issue below the surface. We’ve learned to dig up the problem and talk it out sooner.

Were you nervous about traveling as a married couple?
Dawn: No, not really. We were on the same page about this trip, and how we wanted to travel. I did worry that we may want to kill each other, but like I said you learn to resolve issues quickly and I think our communication is even better than when we left home.
Sean: Not so much. The idea of getting to spend more time together than we have since we started dating I thought was great. How many couples get to do that?

Do you ever get on each others nerves?
Dawn: I would be lying if I said we didn’t. Sean hates it when I talk to him when he is writing and I do that to him a lot. I can be grumpy when I am hungry or tired, and when I am, Sean gets on my nerves. But I think we have learned more about what drives each of us crazy on this trip, because it is magnified when it is just the two of you, and try to control it more.
Sean: Having traveled a little with us, is this a trick question Matt? Yes, of course. Your partner’s quirks, habits, pet peeves are amplified when traveling long term. You find a new rhythm to the dance you normally step to at home and things are fine.

What advice would you have for other married couples who want to travel long term?
Dawn: Recognize that traveling together is totally different than being at home. There is no work, no outside activities that you do not plan together. Make sure you have the same expectations of your trip, and plan for time alone, too. Reach out to other travelers as well for fun and conversation.
Sean: Plan, Plan, Plan and become highly organized if you are not. Most likely you are a bit older and don’t want to return home to move in with your parents. Long term travel is a bit different for a married couple then a fresh college graduate who can put a few boxes in the parents garage. Strip life down to the bare essentials. This helps to save for the big trip, get used to doing with less as you will when you travel, makes life at home easier to unplug from and plug back into when you return.

Did you find planning a trip as a married couple difficult?
Dawn: No. Again, we were on the same page with budget and places to see-we each made a list of our “must sees” separately and then came together to plan a route. That route changed a bunch of times, but did not sacrifice what was on our must see lists. Maybe the only planning problem that Sean would say is that I am Type A and over-planned at times before we left. I was still planning when we were supposed to be getting in the car for the airport! I think the trip itself has cured me a bit of that- the road can have its own plan for you.
Sean: Not at all. Long term travel is a dream come true. Dreaming of and listing the things we wanted to do and the places we wanted to go if there was more than 2 weeks vacation was not difficult. We are both fairly organized so the planning came relatively natural. The dream does become an obsession over time. If anything, it got to a point where I would say “Can we talk about something else besides the trip?” But, if not for this focus it may have remained just a dream.

Sometimes married couples need some space. How do you go about making some personal time when you are with someone all the time?
Dawn: We do most things together, but there are some times when we split apart for a day, an hour, etc. For example, Sean still dives and during that time I do my own thing. Or I will attend a yoga class while Sean is reading. We respect what the other person wants to do. Time alone really is refreshing, even if it is only an hour. At home, you are alone in the car driving to work, alone in your office, etc. On the road, you are always together with your spouse, sharing a bathroom in a hostel, sharing a bus seat with two other people. Taking that time to be alone is important, for my sanity anyway.

One of the things I like the most about solo travel is that you get to meet a lot of people. Do you find traveling as a couple hinders your ability to meet other travelers?
Dawn: I don’t think so, because we make an effort to meet other people. I am sure it is easier if you are in a dorm and not a double room but we hang out in the common areas versus always being locked in our room. We have traveled with single people as well as couples, but I would say as a married couple we most often end up hanging out with other couples.
Sean: No. We are fairly easy going and don’t care if we travel/converse with another couple or a single person. I think we’ve gone through phases where it seems we are always traveling with new friends and other times don’t have the energy to socialize and just carry on together.

What’s the greatest thing about traveling as a couple?
Dawn: The memories that you are making together, the things that we get to see for the first time together. You learn a lot about each other on a trip like this, and I think overall it makes you a stronger couple and team for every aspect of your life.
Sean: Living a life you may have never imagined possible and sharing it with your partner. Sharing an experience or seeing a sight—I call it a travel moment—and looking at each other with no need for words but having total communication. Creating memories together for the rocking chairs.

For more about Dawn, Sean and their travels, visit their website at Wandering Why.

  1. I totally agree with making time for yourself.!

    Noah and I even go so far as to take separate trips. He spent a week in the DR. I went to NYC for work. Etc etc. Because after more than two years traveling, time alone during which you’re not defined as part of a couple or as a parent are most definitely needed for sanity sake.

  2. There are problems that come up – especially when people get hungry and cranky. I know I just want to press on and see more things, do more things – taking that time to “eat” or spending the money to do it just seems like such a waste, at times.

  3. Great interview Matt, and great tips on traveling as a couple Dawn and Sean! I think J and I will travel well together as we already spend a lot of time together, we’ve talked out our expectations and we seem to naturally divide the jobs that need to be done. It might take a bit to get into the rythym but that’s expected too. Cheers!

  4. I agree with all the points Sean and Dawn made. When travelling as a couple, you need to resolve things quicker. I remember while backpacking through Asia with my husband, we got into a HUGE fight. But as I stormed out of the hotel room, I realize that at the end, I have to come back to that same person in that same hotel room!! Did I want to deal with him right there and then? After a quick walk around a new city, I came back to the hotel room with lots of stories from my short walk. And the only person I could think of sharing it with is…you guessed it…my husband.

  5. Cuckoo

    That was a wonderful interview. Got to know so much more about traveling as a couple.

    Going to their site now for a word of appreciation. Thanks again. :)

  6. Christina Viering

    Very informative. Make sure you get along before you leave on a long trip, try a couple short ones first!

  7. I had an incredible experience traveling for nine weeks with my boyfriend (now husband) and am looking forward to many more long-term trips in the future.

    We knew that we traveled well together from several smaller trips we took beforehand (surf camp in Costa Rica, exploring the ruins in the Yucatan, driving down the PCH in California), so that is important.

    And we also recognized the different strengths we brought to the trip – I had more experience backpacking in foreign cultures and did a lot of the trip planning, while he is a whiz at the money stuff and really played a big part in organizing our financials before, during, and after the trip.

    And when it came to life on the road, we fell into an easy routine, especially with the little things like repacking (I’d oversee the clothing and toiletries, he expertly made sure all of our photography/computer equipment was accounted for – especially all of the cords!).

    So in my experience, it’s important to remember that you are a team and to work with each other, not against.

  8. As part of another married couple on a long-term journey, i can completely relate! One thing that has been interesting traveling as a couple is the discussions we get into with local people about marriage, family, and children. With us, the latter topic tends to revolve around, “You’ve been married for eight years, how come you don’t have children?! Is everything OK?” The discussion can turn interesting…

  9. HI Everyone! Thanks for all the nice comments on our interview. Audrey, I totally agree-no one can understand how you can be married so long and not have kids. We have people all over the world saying prayers for us b/c we have no kids, and they expect us to return to their country with at least two of them.
    Thanks Matt for the opportunity to meet so many other travelers through your site! :)

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