By Larissa Milne
Larissa Milne and her husband Michael have been full-time couple travelers since 2011, when, at the age of 50, they sold their house, quit their corporate jobs, gave away most of their belongings and took off to see the world. They are now award-winning travel writers and bloggers; follow their adventures on their blog, Changes in Longitude.
The streets of Singapore beckoned. From the window of our hotel room I could see the gleaming modern buildings interspersed with vestiges of the city-state’s colonial past. Women dressed in colorful saris bustled past gardens lush with tropical flowers. The aromas of food cooking in a nearby hawker stall made my mouth water. I was ready for a day of cultural immersion in this tropical paradise.
Then my husband said the (not) magic words: “I can’t wait to see all the World War II sights here.” My plans went “splat”. Not my idea of a fun day.
I’m a good wife (i.e. a good sport), and I can trudge through the occasional battlefield. But I knew a whole day of this would have me bored and cranky. To be fair, Michael (my other half) wasn’t too keen to smell the roses and look at fabric patterns.
Couple Travel: Our Solution
Our solution at times like these is to split up for the day. This may seem like a no-brainer at a resort destination when one of you wants to play golf and the other is keen to sit by the pool. However in a foreign city couples tend to stick together; often two heads are better than one when navigating confusing streets and foreign languages.
We’ve learned to do a bit of research and take a measure of a place before deciding to strike out on our own. We don’t want to put ourselves in unsafe situations, particularly if we’re alone. But if we feel comfortable with our ability to navigate the area and get by with our meager grasp of the language, we’ll each plan a “me” day.
Splitting up for the day provides us the luxury of pursuing our personal interests at leisure. I can stroll through gardens looking at each and every flower without feeling guilty dragging my totally bored husband along. He in turn can explore turrets and tanks happily for hours, since I’m not impatiently tapping my toe behind him.
By separating for a short time, couples can reach beyond their collective comfort zones. Exploring on your own takes you out of the insular couples “bubble” and encourages you to reach out to others, asking questions and striking up conversations. The ability to delve deeper into a particular interest provides a richer experience yielding fonder memories.
“Me” Days On Six Continents
In our many years of full-time couple travel, Michael and I have enjoyed “me” days on six continents. Besides to allowing us to pursue our own interests, we found these solo excursions made us more interesting to one another. Meeting up at the end of the day, we share our respective experiences, a travel equivalent of “how was your day, dear?”
Over a dinner of Singapore’s famous Chili Crab, Michael enthusiastically shared the absorbing story of the Fall of Singapore during World War II. I contributed what I had learned about how local families were affected based on my visit to the museum of Singaporean culture. We marveled at how this location at the tip of the Malay Peninsula made Singapore both a strategic military spot and an ideal place for the world’s largest orchid garden. The crab was spicy and delectable, but the conversation—and more importantly the company—was captivating.
Couple Travel Tips
Tips for couples with each considering a “me” day:
- Do some research about your destination(s) before you go. Identify which sights/activities you’d both like to see, versus those that only interests one of you. This will help you plan which days you’ll do your exploring together, and which days/destinations might be good candidates for splitting up.
- Consider your destination with respect to safety, convenience and comfort level for solo exploration. In major cities like London or Buenos Aires it’s easy to take a taxi or public transit to a specific museum or attraction; in remote locations such as the African plains or Asia’s Silk Road it might be best to arrange a tour.
- Look for tours or activities where transportation to/from is included. For examples, many cooking classes in Asia will pick you up at your hotel and return you at the end of the class. This adds a level of safety and convenience for a solo traveler.
- Coordinate a time and place to meet at the end of the day, even if it’s simply back at the hotel. It’s important to ensure that one of you isn’t sitting around twiddling their thumbs while the other is still out having an adventure.
- Pursue your separate interests, then reunite and swap tales of your adventures!
You may also find these packing tips for the traveling couple, of interest.