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I was, for many years, an intrepid solo traveller; a die-hard independent woman who wandered the world alone, generally only with a small backpack and a tiny tent strapped to me.
And I loved it.
In fact, you might say, I relished it.
Yes, for 10 years, I relished the sense of my own independence, own self-reliance and my own freedom.
It was a key way I identified myself, labelled myself and defined my own success.
I was the boss of me and my life and no one was taking that away from me!
The image I projected to others, was also one of a strong, fearless stand-alone female, who took no shit and showed no weakness.
And for anyone that has travelled alone, it’s probably not difficult to understand this.
That feeling of freedom you get from long years of solo travel, that feeling that you don’t necessarily need others or many material possessions to make you happy, that feeling is intoxicating.
In fact, it can be addictive.
And I did very well, in my own cocoon like this.
Sure I made many friends and formed many connections around the world, but always, at the core, I was anchored to the idea of being a solo wanderer, of seeing the world alone – when I wanted and how I wanted.
Because those are the benefits of solo travel right.
You set the timeframe, the schedule and the route. You control it all and you can be as flexible or as inflexible as you decide.
You don’t necessarily need to compromise, coordinate or consider anyone else’s wishes or words. You are your own master.
And being a bit of a control freak. I loved this!
Loved the notion that I could manage myself just fine thank you!
… Becomes Duo Traveller
But then I met the boy and everything changed.
You can read more about how we met and why I’m still in Australia, but the upshot is that I was no longer a self-contained unit; the walls had to come down and I had to learn, among other things, to let go of a little bit of that control.
(I stress the word learning, over the notion of succeeding here, because this is still a hard area for me to excel in, but nevertheless, I’m trying!)
We’d seen a lot of the world as individual units, but now wanted to see parts of it as a pair.
I was about to go from solo traveller to duo traveller!
Plans materialised and our great budget 4wd drive trip around Australia took shape – this would be our first foray into couple travel!
We worked and saved very hard for over a year together in Noosa to be able to make our dreams a reality – ironically often at the expense of actually spending time together.
With me managing restaurants, largely working at night, and him managing supermarkets, largely working from early morning, our totally separate routines we meant we barely seeing one another.
And, as we were about to find out, this would be quite a difference from spending every waking moment next to each other in a Landrover Defender day in day out!
As so, in April 2016, we set off.
Having not travelled with partners before, we knew what lay before us would be a big challenge on both sides, but we were ready for it – ready to make memories with each other and ready to spend more time doing the things we loved with each other.
And let it first be said, that we still are very excited to be travelling together.
In fact, I think it’s an amazingly wonderful opportunity that we are able to do this. There are so many couples who would give anything to be in our position, so many single people in fact, that we feel very lucky.
We try to remind ourselves every day that there are probably few experiences that allow us to share and grow so much as partners … yet, still this doesn’t always make it easy!
For one, the ways we would have travelled solo are both very different from the way we travel as a couple.
While the boy generally likes to take the easy option, making money less of concern for him, my super strict budgeting habits are a way of life that I find hard to break.
This can sometimes be difficult for him to deal with, especially when I continually rebuff his ideas about going out for breakfast or dinner because we can’t afford them!
In a similar way, he has done far more organised travel than I have, having pretty much just winged it everywhere I’ve gone.
This means he is less good at doing the research than I am, less good at the independent travel thing and a bit less self-motivated.
This can be annoying some times to say the least!
Then, although we have many similar interests, there will of course, always be differences between us too.
Luckily an affirmed love of nature and the great outdoors glues us together and we both enjoy walking, camping and hitting up the beach – some of the travel greats!
Yet, with an arts degree under my belt, my interest in going to galleries and museums is far greater than his.
I miss the kind of discussion I would have with some of my friends around pieces of art, dance, music or theatre and I find it hard not sharing a fascination of a country’s history or political culture with someone I care about.
The boy has little time for this you see and often I feel sad he’s not so interested in coming on this journey of analysis or exploration with me.
No doubt, he also finds it hard that I have less time for sport than him!
The Dreaded Word
All of these differences of course, mean that there has to be more compromise now. A dreaded word for die-hard solo voyagers everywhere! Yes, travelling as a couple does involve more coordination and more consultation.
What I perhaps find most hard, is how this can often take the spontaneity out of travel and close down some of the doors of possibility.
For while I am an avid planner, I’m also a huge fan of letting things flow on the road.
I used to love letting the doors of possibility swing open when I was a solo traveller, but now I do find that travelling as a couple, things tend to be a bit more structured and the feeling of freedom is diminished slightly as a result.
There’s no denying it, you also meet less people when you travel as a couple, or at least I do.
Travelling isn’t such the social melting pot it was because, inevitably, it’s easier just to chat with the person you know, to shut the door and have a bit of comfort, a bit of familiarity and a cuddle.
Does this some times leave me feeling like I’m missing out?
Yes, If I’m being honest, I guess it does.
Yet I also think this has a lot to do with the sense that my strong independent woman act is being eroded, that the image I had set of myself is morphing and changing into something else.
Is it perhaps this that I really mourn for more rather than anything else?
Is it perhaps this that I have to let go of?
Because if you want to be in a relationship, and you want to be travelling as a couple, some things have to change from when you were single. At least that’s the way I see it.
Indeed, the travelling persona I built for myself is one of these things.
After all, it was only a persona – a formless idea that is always open to change at any time anywhere, regardless of relationships or not.
Travelling as a couple has shown me this, has shown me that even the perceived freedom I had as a solo traveller was curtailed by a label, a role I wanted to play.
Travelling as a couple has taught me I need to let go of this and not worry about the question of whom I am on the road.
One thing I do know is that as a couple we are still both outgoing and full of life.
We are not the sort of travelling duo that stays cut off and wholly self-contained. We still both talk and meet a lot of new people and we still allow these interactions to inform, change and evolve us.
Yet, one of the major benefits of travelling as a couple is the extended interaction you get.
So often with travelling companions, the time is short, fleeting and curtailed. Perhaps a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks, but in the end, one or other of you always has to go in a different direction.
When travelling as a couple this doesn’t happen.
The journey continues together and so do the memories, building them, piece by piece, as you adventure from one place to the next.
Travelling as a couple, you build a full journal of stories bound in one cover, not isolated chapters you share with just 1 or 2 others at a time.
Both the boy and I are also both happy working along the way as we travel, and both happy to rough it when we’re not.
This means we both have the goal of making travel a sustainable lifestyle.
I think this is pretty important when travelling as a couple, you have to have the same travel goals, otherwise, I imagine things can get pretty ugly, pretty fast!
As a couple, we still travel in a way I think of as real. This we both enjoy.
We try to support local business where we can, we definitely don’t go on any organised tours unless we have to and we make a real effort to get out and explore the landscape wherever we end up.
We are also both committed to budget travel – we have to be!
Generally, this means a lot of rice, a lot of walking and a lot of camping!
I’m still the great travelling economist I was as a solo voyager, except this time I’ve got someone to help me set up the tent, which I must admit, is really rather nice!
Because as I’ve crept over 30, my travel priorities have certainly started to change.
These days I’m far less interested in heading to the bar or the late night party and talking to strangers all night.
Now I’m actually happier creeping into bed with someone I know or lying under the stars to read a good book and hold someone’s hand.
It’s how life changes you I guess.
I’m still independent – very much so – but now I’m interdependent too. I guess it’s a new travelling me.
When I look back, I’m delighted that I travelled solo for so many years and that I did it when I was young – it really was the perfect combination.
Now, however, I actually rather enjoy having someone by my side as I continue to adventure.
After all, you can’t beat watching the sunset across the globe with someone you love.