When couple travel becomes solo travel; breaking up on the road
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We broke up. We broke up in a stuffy, low-lit hostel room in León, Nicaragua, tearily telling each other it was going to be alright whilst internally grappling with the thought of a lonely, uncertain future. Of all the things we had expected for this 2-year trip, a break-up whilst travelling was not one of them.
But after 5 years of friendship and then 5 years in a relationship, we decided it just wasn’t working anymore, and that’s ok. Sad, but ok. While saying goodbye as I got into a taxi to Granada was one of the most heart-wrenchingly painful things I’ve ever had to do in my life, the decision to do so was totally mutual, totally amicable and totally not a surprise to either of us.
Why am I writing about this? Well, a few reasons. There are going to be some changes around here, and it feels kind of weird having a blog that is so filled with the two of us together to continue pretending like that’s still the case.
Selfishly, I find writing very therapeutic, and unselfishly, I hope that this can perhaps help someone who is considering or going through a break-up whilst travelling with their partner. I found great solace in reading Lost With Purpose’s post-travel-break-up piece when I first realised where my relationship was likely headed.
Maybe this can reach one person and give them hope that there is light at the end of the break-up whilst travelling tunnel. There is!
How did travel influence our break-up?
The truth is, long-term travel will make you, or it will break you. While it might seem like sunshine and rainbows, travel continuously puts you in high-stress situations that accentuate all your worst qualities, and this really puts your compatibility to the test. But yes, we still strongly believe that every couple should travel before committing to a life by each other’s side.
Travelling together as a couple isolates you in ways that solo travel ironically does not; lots of other travellers tend to steer clear of spending time with couples abroad, and it’s normal to spend days or weeks only in each other’s company. Even when you do find a wider group, being together 24/7 for over 2 years becomes a significant strain – think about it, even if you live with your partner back home in a settled life, how many waking hours a week do you actually spend together?!
When you have relationship problems on the road, you can’t nip to your friend’s for a distraction, or visit your mum for a rant and a hug. You have to rely on this one and only person for practically all your emotional needs, so when that breaks down things can get very lonely.
In hindsight, we realise that we were really bad at creating space for each other to alleviate some of this strain. If travelling long-term as a couple, space is crazy important for both your individual growth and the strength of your relationship.
Travel didn’t make us incompatible, but it accelerated the cycle of our relationship to make us realise quicker and more intensely that we weren’t the best person for one another. And yet…
Travel made us stay together too long
When you’ve spent all of your travels with someone else there to help you figure things out, keep you entertained and make you feel safer, the thought of going solo is painfully daunting. Pair this with the fact that our shared business made the finances of our travels so intertwined, and it’s a recipe for ‘let’s just make the best of what we have’. Now, after 3 weeks of solo travelling, we both see how amazing it can be, so for me it’s bittersweet to know how long we put off deciding on what was really best for us for fear of having to be alone in a new country.
When the reality finally hit that we would break up whilst travelling, for me it was important not to just wait out the last month of our trip and finish things after we got home, but to have a little slither of time to sort of reclaim the trip for myself. It’s been a really valuable part of my healing process, and now the thought of going back to wintery England feels a lot less depressing without the ultra-raw freshness of a break-up looming over my head.
What’s the best way to deal with a break-up whilst travelling?
Honestly, there is no single answer to this. At first, reading advice online, I thought the best thing for me would be to sail to the quiet lake island of Ometepe for a week of peace and reflection to clear my head and decide what I wanted for the future. But in reality, what Andy and I both found was that we were fine until we slowed down. Being alone – or being surrounded by people that we didn’t really feel much connection with – caused slumps in both of our emotional progress.
I made the point of trying to work through my feelings during the slumps rather than burying them to explode at a later date, but more than a day of feeling that way was really tough without friends and family around. I was therefore extremely grateful to be able to link back up with a friend I met in León, and we spent the next 2 weeks whizzing around Nicaragua together, picking up new mateys to form a merry crew along the way.
Pay close attention to how you’re feeling as you embark on your new solo life after a break-up whilst travelling, and address your needs as they pop up. This is going to feel like a weird, weird time for you if you’ve been travelling as a couple for long, so you need to give yourself credit for the small wins every day. Set yourself little challenges and surround yourself with the things or people that matter.
When they first found out we’d decided to break up whilst travelling, my family’s initial reaction was to urge me to come home, even offering to pay for a flight the next day if I needed it. But honestly, going home at that point in my life would have felt like a massive step back; almost like defeat.
As if I wouldn’t have to deal with the travel blues anyway, adding a new break-up to the mix would be depressing as shit. I wanted to rise to the challenge and create my own memories of this trip that I could have just for me. And hell, maybe I even wanted to find myself.
Um, did I really just write that?!
What does this mean for the blog?
Well, the blog has always been my baby, and that it shall remain. There will have to be a lot of changes to some of the core materials such as the website’s header photo (please bear with me!), but I’m not going to be changing the content of any pre-existing blog posts, nor will I be refusing to use photos of myself and Andy for any guides that are still in the draft stages (I haven’t really felt like writing for a few weeks so the backlog is pretty immense!).
I’m grateful for every experience we had together and do not regret embarking on this trip with Andy, so I see no reason to ever pretend he wasn’t a part of this epic adventure.
Andy is working on a final few travel vlogs for the YouTube account, but I’m still undecided as to how/if to continue with our @cuppa.to.copa.travels Instagram since I’m not going to be actively travelling for at least a few months now. However, I love the community I have around me there, so even if I’m not posting regularly I will still be admiring everyone’s escapades!
In all honesty, if I had the opportunity to start this stint of travel all over again, I would not have started a travel couple Instagram account at all. Upon reflection, I can’t deny the strain that the constant pressure to create a certain aesthetic (even when you’re trying to be ‘real’; #buzzword), to always look happily in love and the need to spend hours a day driving engagement put on our relationship.
At the time, I definitely needed a creative outlet to feel productive and work towards building something while I travelled, but in the end it became an all-consuming escape whenever I had real-world problems instead of being anything constructive. Besides, Instagram is difficult to monetise, the toiling work you put in doesn’t necessarily match the results you get, and it’s hard to truly help people with tips and advice when the main purpose is just to catch people’s fleeting attention with a single – usually heavily-edited – photo. Travel blogging is superior in every sense! Anyway, I digress…
How is couple travel different to solo travel?
Well, if you can make it work, couple travel can be an incredible bonding experience with your partner, as you learn, explore and create memories together that will last a lifetime. When I recall a funny flashback from our time on the road, I know I’ll always have someone I can text to reminisce with – someone who was there and shares the memory exactly. Much as they may try, it can be difficult for people back home to understand or find any interest in other people’s travel stories.
Travelling as a couple gives you a sense of security in sketchy situations, and there’s always someone there to double-check your flight times or look after your bag while you go for a wee. There are economies of scale, too; sometimes a private taxi for us can be cheaper than buying 2 bus tickets, and a double room is often the same or cheaper than 2 dorm bunks. You have more opportunities to try new foods (if your partner allows you to pinch off their plate, that is!), and someone to take photos of you in amazing places without lugging around a heavy tripod.
Plus, when you’re travelling as a couple, I’d say you’re less likely to suffer from homesickness, because you always have a little slice of home there with you.
You do, however, after a very long time of travelling as a couple, risk becoming too dependent on each other, and feeling like you can’t do things alone anymore, especially in a new destination. Stepping out solo has been a hard realisation of just how much of my old, independent self I lost during this trip.
As I mentioned previously, travel couples can find it quite difficult to strike up conversations that lead to forming strong friendships with other backpackers. That’s not to say that we haven’t met people along the road who we’ve instantly clicked with, but most tend to be other travel couples excluded from the singles’ party, and very few solos have felt it appropriate or appealing to ask to travel along with us for more than a day or two. We are great people though, honest!
Solo travelling is a completely different kettle of fish. I used to feel anxious at the thought of entering a room on my ones or even sitting in a corner to work alone, but 3 weeks of travelling solo has made me realise just how friendly everyone is towards me. And no, it’s not about being single – lots of the friends I’m making have partners back home – there’s just a new openness to making friends, and being alone is the best way to signal your mutual openness to it.
At the end of the day, humans are scared of rejection, and they are intimidated by travel couples who they assume might only want their own company to be romantic or whatever (but this is so incorrect for most backpacking couples!).
I’ve formed amazing friendships during my solo travels, and travelled extensively with people I met along the way. With this type of travel, you have the ability to essentially ditch and avoid anyone you don’t get on with, so you have the confidence that those around you actually appreciate your company.
Going solo after our break-up whilst travelling has made me less keen on getting off the beaten track and exploring the unknown, but perhaps over time I’ll get more confident with this. Solo travel gets less and less scary every day, but I accept that I’m in a fragile time and I need to give myself small challenges without completely diving into the deep end.
Much as I used to hate them, organised tours are actually fantastic for exploring places that would alone feel inaccessible and for meeting others in the same boat (sometimes literally). I’m enjoying the freedom of doing whatever makes me happy, without having to persuade someone else to come with me or make a compromise. That probably makes me selfish, but I’m happy to give myself permission to be selfish at this delicate stage in my life.
My Spanish has come along crazy amounts since my break-up whilst travelling, as I no longer have a fluent travel partner to lean back on if I didn’t communicate my point properly the first time. I actually have the confidence to tell people I speak Spanish now, whereas before I was always comparing my level (probably around B2) to Andy’s fluency.
I’m slowly but surely seeing my self-confidence beginning to shine again in many aspects of my life.
What’s exciting for the future?
At the time of writing (I’m probably gonna post this much later), I find myself home after more than 2 years in Latin America, ready to start my life completely from scratch. Completely. From. Scratch. I’ll have no job, no real idea of which direction to take my career, no house of my own to live in, no car, and now, no partner.
HOWEVER, instead of looking at this as a terribly depressing position to be in, I’m seeing it more positively as an opportunity to restart my life with only myself to think about. When applying for jobs or finding a home (whether in the UK or abroad, I haven’t decided yet), I don’t have to take anyone else’s situation into account, only what I want. Nothing else has influence on the direction my life takes but me and my own happiness.
With this, in the 3 weeks we’ve been apart, it makes me really happy to see how much both of us have grown. I now see an Andy that’s more enthusiastic about considering new countries in which to live over the next couple of years, and a man who’s not scared to be vulnerable in the face of a shit situation. Without the pressures of our relationship, I see him return to that fun-loving magnet of energy that had been hidden for a little while.
We spent 5 days together in Miami last week on our layover to get back to the UK, and while the first day was EFFING horrendous in terms of mixed emotions and not really knowing how to act around each other, the next 4 days really solidified the fact that we will always be there for each other as friends.
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