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Can separate vacations make your relationship stronger?

by Mai Nguyen

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One of the convenient things my boyfriend and I have in common is that we like to travel. But even more convenient? We both prefer to travel alone.

It’s a brazen feeling to jet off without the comforts of a partner by your side and freely carve out your own version of adventure. Sure, there are moments when it would be nice to have someone listen to your running dialogue of the neat stuff you see or to have someone to split all the food with. But nothing beats the freedom of choice.

There are lots of reasons to go it alone. For me and my boyfriend, it’s not about getting away from each other but about getting away from ourselves. Solo travel yields a different kind of experience; you’re forced to make new friends and rely on your own sensibilities to take you safely from place to place. You’re not beholden to compromise and scheduling either.

Were we hurting our relationship by opting to strike out on our own?

Last year, I went to Japan for two weeks. For the first three days, I aimlessly walked through the shopping arcades of Osaka and ordered food for one. I later met up with a small group of fellow travelers, which allowed me to traverse the rest of the country in the safety of friendly strangers—an important consideration when you’re a five-foot-two woman traveling alone. We hiked an ancient pilgrimage trail, kayaked toward a floating Torii gate, hung out with some cute deer, and ate our weight in rice balls (onigiris) and savory grilled pancakes (okonomiyaki).

Meanwhile, my boyfriend was in Colombia. We texted each other every day and Skyped from opposite time zones, enduring through spotty reception. Staying in touch every day is a no-ifs-ands-or-buts rule we enforce when either one of us is abroad.

Sometimes this surprises people. After all, traveling to exotic terrain and sharing new experiences is a great ritual of togetherness. So it made me wonder, were we hurting our relationship by opting to strike out on our own? I asked Melissa Johari, a counselor known as the Couple Wellness Expert in Toronto, to weigh in.

Johari says that every couple is different, but if there is trust, openness, and communication in a relationship, then there’s no harm in taking separate vacations. In fact, if both parties have different ideas of how they want to spend their time off, separate trips might be the best way to pursue each person’s interests while avoiding the inevitable vacation fight.

“If the husband wants to go on a fishing trip with his buddies for a week and his wife may not be interested in that, then she is better off arranging a little getaway for herself,” says Johari.

It’s important to ask yourself why you want to travel alone, she adds. If you find yourself saying it’s to take a break from your partner, that’s a major red flag. Skipping town when there’s underlying relationship tension can do more harm than good. A retreat together, not apart, is the better antidote.

Johari also says if one person goes away, then the other person should be able to do the same or else resentment can creep up, especially if there are children involved. “Is it fair that the person left behind is responsible for the chores and childcare while the other gets to enjoy themselves and take a break? It’s only fair that both people get to have that same opportunity,” she says.

I related with this: two years ago, my boyfriend went to Turkey and texted me shots of delicious breakfast platters and a selfie against the backdrop of Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys. I was jealous but I didn’t resent him for being there because he was supportive of my traveling to Vietnam only a few months earlier.

Still, Johari advises couples to take at least one trip a year together, if only for a weekend.

As much as my boyfriend and I love traveling together, the itch to travel alone will always be there. Johari reassures me that it’s good for relationships since most people return from solo vacations more rejuvenated, easygoing, and patient. You also create a chance to miss and want each other, and I can’t think of a better feeling than seeing your significant other after some time apart.

Mai Nguyen

Mai Nguyen is a freelance writer living in Toronto whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, Wired, Marie Claire, and Vox, amongst others. Her specialties are business, finance, travel and whatever else interests her, which is a lot of things. Read her work at www.mainguyen.ca and connect with her on Twitter @_mainguyen