People often ask us how on earth we could stay together for so long before we were married. Our standard reply is that we are friends. Yet in addition to being friends, we have spent a fair amount of time on the proverbial road together: on foot, on bikes, in kayaks, on planes, on trains, in the back of trucks, on top of buses, in rickshaws, on boats, poling down an 8-inch-deep river on bamboo rafts, on elephants,
No camels yet, but we’ll get there.
When you travel with a friend, you often encounter aspects of that person that you didn’t necessarily plan to see. It’s hard to hide your irritability when you haven’t slept, showered, or eaten more than digestive biscuits in more than 72 hours. Or when you are afflicted with some sort of stomach virus that has things coming out of you with startling and sometimes terrifying force, in a small bathroom in a strange city in the middle of the night. No matter how strong you think you are, you give in to the love of a real friend — and a real friend is NOT going to abandon you in these hours of need, but will gamely feed you sips of Sprite and know that it is likely his or her turn next.
People have said to us, “Wow, I could never do that” (for “that”, insert travel for five months in Asia with two backpacks filled mostly with classic books we skipped over in high school, walk up a Himalayan mountain to volunteer at a school with no phone or email, endure an overnight bus ride with no A.C. and a drunken businessman-turned-monk chatting away all night, or sleep on the floor of a restaurant when there were no rooms to be found at 2 a.m. during a festival in India). We never thought we could either, but what else can you do when you are on a budget and off the beaten path? When you are with your best friend, truly anything is possible.
We need to mention, however, that it’s not just about the person who is your life partner. We dragged a classy, well-bred comrade along to visit another dear friend in a small town in El Salvador, not exactly a major tourist destination. Aside from a few emergency trips to the bathroom, he had a blast hitch-hiking in the back of a liquor truck, drinking fruit smoothies out of plastic bags, climbing a dusty, windy volcano escorted by armed guards (federal law due to too many ladrones), and swimming in an huge, clear crater lake next to an old lovely hotel, empty except for us.
Traveling with a friend means you can take advantage of strengths and balance out weaknesses. Dave has an amazing ability to create a mental map of wherever we are going, but won’t remember much more than the first letter of the name of the place. My sense of direction is abysmal, but I can easily recall the place name (correctly spelled) and several landmark names along the way. Dave reads the guidebook and makes a rough trip outline on the plane (and memorizes the maps in half a glance), while I prefer to catch up on pop culture via the scintillating airline magazine. When it’s my turn with the book, though, I pore over the tips, “what to watch out for”, and (my favorite) the first aid section… and I remember to pack the toothbrush. Between us, we make sure that we know where we are going, when we might arrive, the name of the best bakery, and what insects might bite us along the way (and what to do when they do).
So, our advice is: TRAVEL with each other. If you don’t have kids yet, spin the globe, buy the ticket and GO. You’ll be surprised at how easy it is once you get going and how inexpensive it can actually be with just a very little bit of planning. Travel teaches you to be flexible, dirty, and happy all at once. Kind of like being a parent. In our minds, then, traveling with kids is just the next step.