Surviving a Vacation with Your Significant Other

Learn the Rules of Engagement before your next trip together.

Posted Apr 11, 2018

Vacations that are supposed to be fun and relaxing have a weird way of becoming awful and stressful. Some of this can be blamed on the usual suspects: lousy weather the whole time, a lost wallet, getting mugged in a sketchy neighborhood, eaten alive by bugs in the tropics, or food poisoning. But some of this stress can be traced back to the person you sit, eat, stand, and sleep about a foot away from for most of the trip.

If you’re not careful with your expectations, words, or actions, traveling with your spouse, partner, or Significant Other can go from invigorating (especially at the start), then turn tedious mid-trip, and then end on a silent treatment-driven note of what-a-disaster. As ABC News anchor and meditation podcaster Dan Harris has said so often, “Did you ever say something that ruins your relationship for the next 48 hours?” This is no fun at home and it really sucks on the road. These tips can save/salvage your relationship and the fun you are supposed to be having together on your next vacation:

Used by permission from vacationcom
Source: Used by permission from vacationcom

This starts with you and your traveling partner and goes all the way around the world to the Uber/Lyft or cab drivers, the people who work at the airport or cruise ship terminal, the rental car folks, the hotel staff, and the poolside cocktail waitress who forgot your martini olives and onions. Let it go. Let them off the hook. Be nice and polite to everyone, even if they aren’t to you. Be on vacation from over-thought expectations and mini-stressors.

You Can’t Change the Weather.

Travel to the tropics at certain times of the year means the threat of hurricanes, tropical depressions, cyclones, and monsoons. Europe can be roasting hot or surprisingly cold. Seas get stormy, flights get bumpy (always a better phrase than “turbulence”), and partly cloudy can become snow, sleet, hail, and ice. Pack and dress accordingly or buy a cheap version of what you need to wear when you get there and leave it behind.

Flight Delays Are Not Part of a Conspiracy to Ruin Your Life.

If you believe a butterfly flaps its wings in Asia and creates a tidal wave in Oregon, then you should already know the Law of Cause and Effect. Airlines schedule their flights, connections, and turnarounds between flights way, way, way too closely together. A 30-minute delay at 0600 five cities away can lead you to missing your connector at noon. Fly early, leave room for delays, and find pleasant ways to kill time in the airport. Have dinner in the nicest restaurant you can find, get a chair massage, or catch up on all the work you’ve been feeling guilty about. Stop blaming God, the pilots, King Neptune, and the CEO of your airline. There are not and will not ever be enough pilots, flight attendants, ramp agents, or actual planes to keep monstrous delays from happening. As my saintly Grandpa Jerry used to say during any delay in life’s movements, “It just gives us more time to talk and be together.”

Expect Uneven Customer Service.

American-born travelers often get a surprise when they discover not every service employee overseas is that thrilled with being informative, polite, or the opposite of rude. You can get great service at a beachside seafood shack and horrible service at a five-star steakhouse. Realize that many people in low-paid service jobs get burned out and start to take it out on their customers, even if that wasn’t their original intention. Don’t compound the issue by making a big scene or letting it ruin your day. Either speak quietly to a supervisor or chalk it up to someone behind the counter having a bad day (or a bad life) and forget about it.

Define What is “Fun” Before You Leave. 

If your partner is a thrillseeker and into zip lines, parasailing, and swimming naked with the sharks, and you aren’t, you might be in for a long and terrifying week. Don’t get dragged into doing those things if you are not a fan, or don’t be angry if your partner is or is not an adrenaline junkie. It should be okay to say, “I’ll be watching you enjoy yourself from the beach” without having to explain as to why. Pick compromise activities that look fun, without putting the other person at week-long risk of being scared or bored. Respect each other’s idea of amusement. Saying “You’re no fun!” the whole trip is a good way to create lots of resentment, now and later.

Don’t Try to Change Your Partner’s Personality.

Know now and forever that introverts are introverts and extroverts are extroverts and while each may be able to bend slightly toward their polar extreme (and only for awhile), people are who they are. Going to a loud party every night on the cruise ship will not ever be the favorite activity of your introverted companion. Sitting in the cabin each night with a good book will not ever be the desired goal of your extroverted mate. Compromise early and stick to that plan. Each person can do what the other wants, once and awhile.  

Go Easy on the Booze.

The phrase “drunk words, sober thoughts” was probably coined by a couple on vacation who spent too much time at the bar. All things in moderation goes double for alcohol, especially if you already know you’re not always skilled at handling yourself correctly, politely, and quietly after you’ve had a few. It’s perfectly fine to go hard on the cocktails as long as it’s safe to do so. A pounding hangover is tolerable maybe one or two nights on your trip, but give your liver and your relationship a break, stay hydrated, and curb your tongue.

Schedule Down Days.

Up at dawn, head off to a long laundry list of activities, stagger back to the hotel, and crash in an exhausted co-heap on the bed is a good recipe for a head cold when you get back home (low resistance and virus-filled plane flights). You and your partner need a rest day in between a long day to keep your health and sanity. Look through your itinerary and lop off a few extra activities that sound fun now but could really become draining once you’re onsite.

Schedule Time Apart.

It’s okay to be apart during your trip. If one of you is really into art museums and the other really wants to bike through the city, enjoy yourselves separately for the morning and meet for a nice lunch. Even honeymooners can benefit from a few hours away from each other.

The key to a vacation is not to set the world’s record for most emails handled while floating in the swimming pool or end up in the marriage therapist’s office. The process of a safe and sane trip starts with talking about what each of you expects and having patience with the internal and external forces that can make or break your collective good time. 

Dr. Steve Albrecht is a keynote speaker, author, podcaster, and trainer. He focuses on high-risk employee issues, threat assessments, and school and workplace violence prevention. In 1994, he co-wrote Ticking Bombs, one of the first business books on workplace violence. He holds a doctorate in Business Administration (DBA); an M.A. in Security Management; a B.S. in Psychology; and a B.A. in English. He is board certified in HR, security, coaching, and threat management. He worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years and has written 18 books on business, HR, and criminal justice subjects. He can be reached at or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht

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