‘I want to travel but I’m in a relationship’ – ah, what a dilemma.
It’s something that I’ve dealt with myself, with my current partner, who is about as opposite to a backpacker as you can be.
‘I want to travel but my partner doesn’t,’ I’d say to my friends, hoping that they could somehow magically come up with a solution.
But what is the solution if you want to travel but you’re in a relationship?
How do you know if you’re making the right decision?
I am a member of several Facebook groups about travel, specifically solo female travel.
While most of the posts in the groups are about whether a destination is safe or what the best things to do there are, questions that I see time and time again are:
- How do you choose between a relationship and travel?
- What do I do if I want to travel but I’m in a relationship?
- My boyfriend doesn’t want to travel WITH me but ALSO, said boyfriend doesn’t want me to travel WITHOUT him – what do I do?
Usually these posts come from people slightly younger than myself who are finishing up with school and have been yearning to travel for as long as they can remember, but their high school sweetheart (or someone they just started dating) just point blank refuses.
And it’s a real dilemma.
As someone who grew up dreaming of travel, where my travel dreams bordered on obsession, I totally get how, for some people, travel is a need and not simply a want.
I’m also a hopeless romantic, and so I also understand the desire to find that one perfect person who you spend the rest of your life with, and not wanting to end things with somebody in case they are that person and you end up regretting it.
So, what do you do?
Well, there is no one-size-fits-all answer I’m afraid. Every relationship is different, every set of circumstances are different, and I can’t sit here and make your decisions for you.
With that being said, I can give you some possible solutions, compromises, and the kind of advice that I am much more able to give at age 29 then I would have been at 18 or 19.
I Want to Travel but I’m in a Relationship – What Should I Do?
One of the first things to address is whether you travelled before you met your partner, whether you have always dreamed about travel, or whether your wanderlust is a more recent thing.
The reason I say this is because I believe that these three scenarios are all very different.
For example, I have been travelling for over 4 years. I have not spent longer than a couple of months in my home country since I was a student, and have been what you would call ‘nomadic’ for most of my adult life.
When I met my current boyfriend, I was upfront right from the beginning.
I wanted him to know exactly what he was getting into and be aware of the fact that I have no intention of changing my lifestyle anytime soon. I told him that I understood if this was a deal breaker for him but that this is me and he can take it or leave it.
The point that I am making is that if you are already travelling and you meet somebody that wants you to stop for them, then you are entitled to politely tell them to F off and not to let the door hit them on the way out.
If, however, your travel dreams have always been just that – dreams – then unfortunately you do have to take your partner’s feelings into consideration.
It’s only polite after all.
What does travel mean to you?
The first thing you need to do is establish exactly what you mean by ‘travel.’
Do you want to embark on a 3 month backpacking trip around Southeast Asia and then return home to focus on your career?
Do you want to move to China for 12 months to teach English?
Do you want to buy a camper van and drive around Europe indefinitely?
Do you want to do multiple short trips that will allow you to balance work and travel?
Do you want to move to Italy and build a life as an expat?
All of these ways of travel are completely different and some of them will definitely have more of an effect on your relationship than others.
If you want to embark on one single backpacking trip somewhere, from anywhere between 3 – 6 months, then I don’t see why it has to spell the end of your relationship.
If you are planning to spend your entire life with this person then a few months should not matter.
Many, many people take a few months out of their ‘real lives’ to travel while their partner continues on as normal back at home. With the ever-improving technology that we have, long distance relationships are becoming easier and easier, and if your relationship is strong then it should be able to survive a few months apart.
If you’re sitting here reading this and thinking ‘but my boyfriend doesn’t want me to travel without him!’ then I’m sorry to break it to you, but you have bigger issues in your relationship then whether you should go travelling or not.
Anyone in a healthy, secure, non-controlling relationship should be able to go and travel for a couple of months without the relationship falling apart.
If your partner doesn’t want you to travel without him, I’d wager that this won’t be the last control issue that you’ll have in your relationship.
If you want to do long-term travel then this may post more of a challenge. If, like me, you want to backpack indefinitely and without restrictions, then having a partner who doesn’t want to travel at all will be an issue.
If the two of you can’t come to a compromise (you travelling in shorter bursts or him coming with you for some of the time), then it might be time to end things.
If you want to actually move to another country and create a life there then your partner has the choice to either come with you, be long distance indefinitely (not what I would recommend), or part ways.
If your idea of travel is going on short city breaks whenever you have the free time, but remaining based in the same city as your partner, then there is no issue at all!
If your partner doesn’t want to join you then you can go alone or with friends.
If your partner won’t ‘allow’ you to go on travel without him then as I mentioned earlier, you need to get another partner.
Travel vs. relationship – why not have both?
As I have tried to show, you don’t necessarily have to choose between travel and your relationship.
Travel and relationships are not mutually exclusive things.
You can have both.
It’s a hell of a cliché, but relationships really are about compromise, and if you partner is the one for you then they will be more than happy to discuss the ways in which you can still achieve your dreams without turning your back on the relationship.
It might not be an ideal situation, but ultimately you should be able to come to an agreement whereby both of you are happy. If your partner is the one for you then you will manage to make it work.
This may mean long distance. It may mean being flexible. It may mean you staying put a little longer than you’d like, and your partner travelling a little more often than they would like. But somehow it will work.
Alternatively, perhaps you are the right people who met at the wrong time.
There is nothing wrong with putting the relationship on hold for a little while and then coming back to each other in the future to try and make it work. Maybe too much time has passed and you no longer feel a connection, or maybe you will be able to be together fully with nobody having to adjust their life to make the other happy.
If your partner is not supportive of your dreams at all, or even gives you an ultimatum and asks you to choose between travel and the relationship, is that really someone that you want to be with?
I would say no.
Hell, if your partner sees themselves living a completely different lifestyle to you, is it not better to end things now?
From my experience, travellers (and people that want to travel) have similar traits. People who don’t like to travel also have similar traits.
While they like comfort and routine, you like adventure and unpredictability. While they like security, you like the unknown. While they prioritise their career, you prioritise travel. While they may be more financially motivated, you are all about creating memories.
None of the qualities that I have just mentioned are bad. In fact, you could definitely argue that the qualities a person without wanderlust has are ‘better’ than those that an avid traveller has!
However, while differences in a relationship are a given, if you are fundamentally different in so many ways, then perhaps you are not meant to be in the long run.
Perhaps the person for you is currently camping in the Sahara desert or teaching people to dive in Malaysia. Perhaps the person for your partner is actually in an office right now, or curled up on the sofa with a takeaway and a good Netflix series.
There are more than 7 billion people on the planet. There is a good chance that there is somebody out there whose lifestyle is more compatible with yours who is just waiting for you to find them and fall in love with them.
How my boyfriend and I worked it out
When I met my boyfriend, he was working an office job in Manchester and I was visiting home from where I’d been living in Sicily.
I told him, upfront, that I would not stop travelling for anyone, and so, after a few months together during lockdown in rainy Manchester, he said that he would give Sicily a go.
We went there, but he hated it more or less right away. Palermo is not for everyone, and I understand that.
We then spent about 6 weeks backpacking, but he wasn’t keen on that either.
I won’t lie, I worried a LOT about what this would mean for our relationship.
However, we eventually reached a compromise.
He wanted to base ourselves somewhere for at least a year, and I agreed, but said that wherever we were had to be outside of the UK, and with great weather.
We are now 7 months into our 12 month lease and we are both super happy here in Spain. He feels better having a base, and now that restrictions are loosening, he is enjoying flying back home frequently to see his family and work in the office from time to time.
We’ve spoken about what happens if I want to go travelling, and he said that if I wanted to go off travelling for a month at a time, it’s fine by him (as long as I still pay my share of the rent!). We’ve also talked about weekend trips and short city breaks that we can do together.
It might not be the usual way of doing things (he is currently in Ireland for a month working, and I am here alone), but it works for us, and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
I’m compromising by having a base and giving up my nomadic lifestyle, and he’s compromising by settling down in a place that he never imagined he would.
If you DO have to choose, choose travel
With all that being said, I know that for some couples, a compromise just can’t be reached.
I am a travel addict. I know that wanderlust is a hunger that will grow and grow until you feed it. I know that your yearning for travel will not cease to exist if you try and repress it.
It will do the opposite.
It will get to the point where you look at your partner with resentment.
You will blame them for you deciding not to travel and become bitter about your life together.
You will feel as though you are a character in their life rather than the protagonist of your own.
And that’s if you stay together.
What if you break up after a few years and you now have commitments that don’t allow you to travel? You have a car, a pet and a mortgage. You can’t just up and leave like you could have done 10 years ago when you initially wanted to travel. You will have to live with the regret of having not travelled when you were as free as a bird, when life wasn’t so complicated.
Unfortunately, the odds of you and your partner staying together forever are slim. This isn’t me being a pessimist – I meant it when I said I’m a hopeless romantic – this is me being real with you. While you might think that you and Brad from college are soulmates, you probably aren’t.
I thought my college boyfriend was my soulmate. We were crazy about each other and I couldn’t imagine my life without him. He told me that he felt the same and that we would get married and grow old together. Needless to say, I was single before I turned 19 and my GOD am I thankful for that.
Mr College Boyfriend was not the one for me, and I would have missed out on SO much life experience if I’d stayed with him. I wouldn’t have lived on a beach in Cambodia or backpacked through the Balkans. I wouldn’t have worked in hostels and met some of my best friends in the world. I wouldn’t have had travel romances that have been exciting and magical and fun.
“But won’t I be single forever if I travel?”
I think one of the main reasons people are afraid to travel is that they fear being single. They worry that a life on the road will prevent them from creating and maintaining fulfilling relationships and figure that staying with their current partner and missing out on travel is better than being perpetually single.
First of all, F. THAT.
Being single is the BEST. Everybody should be single for a prolonged period at some point in their life. Being single and travelling is even better. You can choose where to go, how long to spend there, what to do when you’re there and if you want to kiss a cute boy on a pub crawl then you can bloody well do so.
You don’t have to rush back to the hostel to call your boyfriend before he goes to bed, or fight about that dude that tagged you in an Instagram picture. You can be truly selfish in the best possible way, and trust me when I say that your heartbreak over Brad will disappear quicker than a bottle of Bintang on Khao San Road.
That being said, travel doesn’t prevent you from finding love.
I would go so far as to say that you are more likely to find somebody compatible with you when you’re travelling verses when you’re not. First of all, they are living the same lifestyle as you, so that’s a start.
Second, travel romances are so pure and beautiful. You know the butterflies and excitement that you used to get in high school before ghosting and mind games and situationships took over?
Welcome to the world of travel romance.
I know plenty of people who have fallen in love and formed successful relationships on the road. My best friend met a guy travelling and dated him for 3 years. I know people in Cambodia that met while backpacking and proceeded to open businesses, get married and have babies together (while still travelling!). I know other couples that embrace ‘van life’ culture and see the entire world together.
Travelling does not mean singledom. Travelling has never affected my romantic relationships. Romances that have fizzled due to distance are romances that were never going to work anyway. Travel just helped me find that out quicker.
I Want to Travel but I’m in a Relationship | Final thoughts
Ultimately, I can’t tell you what to do. I’m just a stranger on the internet who is incredibly biased towards travel. That said, I think the fact that you are thinking about this in the first place answers your question – if this person was truly the one for you, it would be a non-issue.
You would either forget about travelling entirely because you’ve found something that matters more to you, or you would make it work.
If you are already trying to decide between travel and your relationship, then unfortunately I think that says it all.
What do you think? Do you agree with me or do you think that saving the relationship is more important? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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