Last updated: 1st April 2018.
When I originally decided I wanted to travel after college, there was no question over who I would go with. I was in a long-term relationship at the time, so made plans for my boyfriend and I to pack our bags, snap up a one-way ticket, and get the hell out of there.
After sharing these plans with him, I was overjoyed when he confessed he’d always dreamed of seeing the world, and was totally down for doing so with me. We bought guidebooks, printed out maps, and began to put together an itinerary for a trip that was certain to change our lives.
And then we broke up.
Funnily enough, my boyfriend went travelling across the United States for three months, and a month into the trip, decided he no longer wanted to be with me. I moved out of our house and back in with my parents, attempted to piece my life back together again, and shelved my plans of travel.
I mean, it wasn’t like I could travel alone. Why would anybody choose to do that?
Unless they didn’t have any friends, of course.
No, I was going to study hard, work on building myself back up, and hopefully find somebody who was as into travel as I was at some point in the future.
Travel blogs were my saving grace.
As I was mindlessly googling yet another country I was desperate to visit, I stumbled across a travel blog written by a solo woman traveller. She’d been travelling across Southeast Asia for the past four months and was having the time of her life. As I read her blog posts and, through them, discovered even more fearless women who were travelling solo like it wasn’t a big deal, I was convinced.
I made the announcement immediately to friends and family: I was going to travel the world alone.
I was spellbound by the idea of solo travel, and I filled my days reading articles extolling the many benefits of throwing on a backpack and experiencing unlimited freedom. I started putting together my own itinerary that would see me going to the places I wanted to visit and doing the things I wanted to do most. Not having to worry about what anyone else wanted to do was liberating, although a little terrifying at the same time.
Of course, life had other plans, and while I was busy plotting my round-the-world adventure, I met someone new and began to fall in love.
I could have invited them to come with me on my trip. I could have compromised and shortened the length of it or added in destinations they wanted to visit. I could have skipped back to square one and begun planning a trip for two instead of one once more.
I didn’t want to.
I had become so enamoured by the idea of solo travel that I wanted to go it alone. I wanted to see the world on my own terms and hookup with hot strangers and build up my confidence and independence. I wanted to be selfish and throw myself wholeheartedly into my experiences around the world without having to worry about Skyping someone back home.
I broke up with him to see the world, and I count it as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Travelling solo changed my life.
I gained all I’d hoped for and more. I developed a sense of independence and levels of confidence I’d never had before. My anxiety disorder melted away and my panic attacks ceased. I fell in love with food, I fell in love with hostels, I fell in love in Southeast Asia.
I fell in love with a guy, too. A traveller who I’ve now been exploring the world with for seven wonderful years. He’s a guy who encourages me to see the places I want to, alone if necessary. He doesn’t try to clip my wings, and so we often travel separately. He understands why solo travel is my jam, but is only too happy to come along for the ride if I want him to. He’s the best possible fit for me, and that wouldn’t have been the case if I hadn’t travelled alone before meeting him.
So that’s my story.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of this post, though. Should you break up with someone to go travelling?
Maintaining a Long-Distance Relationship While Traveling
Let’s be honest: nobody thinks long-distance relationships are fantastic. They’re not. They’re hard work, stressful, exhausting, and require a lot of trust and commitment. You need a strong and stable relationship in order to make them work — especially if you’re planning on being away for a year or even two. But sometimes they’re a necessity, and if you’re desperate to head out into the world alone, you have to work out whether you can handle it.
You’re likely going to have to pull yourself out of your travel experience to spend time virtually with your partner on a regular basis, because as supportive as they may be, they’re not going to be thrilled about being neglected for months on end while you have the time of your life. That might mean skipping out on a tour with friends, avoiding a bar crawl, and saying no to an invitation in order to Skype with your partner.
The good news is that it’s easier than ever to keep in touch, so in 2018, you won’t need to write postcards, hunt down pay phones, and sweat in internet cafes — you’ll just need to bring your phone or laptop with you, and use Facebook/WhatsApp/Skype to keep in touch.
And there are some benefits to maintaining a relationship while you travel. In my experience, travel makes the heart grow fonder. Every time I take a solo travel adventure away from my boyfriend, I spend much of the trip missing him, realising how much I value his presence in my life, and seeing the relationship as a brighter star in my universe. There are times in our relationship where we spend so much time together that I’m desperate for a break, and as soon as I get one, I’m craving returning home with all my animosity forgotten.
I’ve written in depth before about how wonderful travel is for personal transformation, and developing into a better human by travelling is only going to improve your relationship. Setting off and gaining greater independence, confidence, life experience, and self-esteem is going to help you transform into a kickass person and the open-mindedness and patience you’ll likely obtain will help improve the relationship.
One huge benefit to travelling solo with a partner back home is having a tie to reality. Travelling long-term can be a bit of a Peter Pan existence. One where you drink beer for breakfast, laze on the beach all day, and party all night. It’s a lifestyle where you can do whatever you want wherever you want whenever you want and with whoever you want, and while that sounds incredible, it can make it tough to reintegrate with normal society after many months of freedom. Having a partner back home keeps you grounded, keeps your ties to everyday life, and talking to them will give you routine and habit in a life that typically has little.
Consider Opening up the Relationship
Skip this section if the mere thought of non-monogamy sends tsunamis of terror into your soul. Open relationships aren’t for everyone — they’re not for me — but neither is monogamy. For the people who do open relationships well, they do them well.
If you’re open to an open relationship, it can provide the perfect way to see the world without leaving your needs unmet. Read this article for a primer on non-monogamy, subscribe to Savage Love and everything Dan Savage writes, as well as the podcasts, Savage Lovecast and Guys We F*cked.
You’ll want to make sure your relationship is strong, that your partner is as open to the idea as you are, that you both trust each other, and have excellent communication skills. You’re going to want to ensure you’re both on the same page about what will and won’t be allowed, be willing to spend many hours coming up with ground rules, and decide how much information you’ll divulge to the other.
If You’re Not Sure, Maintain the Relationship to See
One of the big reasons why I wanted to break up with my partner to travel was because I didn’t want to meet someone on the road and feel as though I couldn’t pursue it. And yes, the fact that I did feel this way probably did show that they were not the person for me. If you’re feeling the same way, but not wanting to take such a huge step in case you later regret it, just delay making the decision.
Yes, it’s perhaps not the most ethical of decisions, to set off travelling to see if you meet someone better, but I know that if I was in the position of the person who was left behind at home, I’d much prefer my partner leave with an open mind, discover I’m the one for them, and come back to me after an amazing trip around the world, rather than just break up with me because they were hoping for something better.
There’s no harm in heading out to travel while in a relationship with the mindset that if you meet someone else or realise you don’t want to be with that person anymore you’ll end things from your dorm room. Give travelling solo while in a relationship a go and see how it works. It might be easier than you ever expected and you might leave to discover the person for you is the one waiting patiently for you at home.
So When is Breaking Up the Right Decision?
Statistically and realistically, your relationship is probably not going to survive.
It’s brutal, I know, but it’s also the reality. Why? Relationships have a poor success rate, people change, and you’re definitely going to change.
It’s a bit like seeing freshmen at college turn up at the start of the year. Each year, they arrive in their thousands, with many determined to maintain a relationship from back home. Predictably, these relationships die off one by one as people embrace the new experiences, and romantic “opportunities” open up to them. I should know — a previous partner of mine went to college, found someone else, and broke up with me within six months of starting class.
New experiences change people, and this changes relationships. When you travel, you’re relentlessly bombarded with new experiences. You’ll be constantly mixing it up with new cultures, people and situations. Your mind will be opened, you’ll change your life, and you won’t be sharing any of it with your partner. Don’t underestimate the effect this can have — volunteering projects, in particular, can be life-changing.
So you change and your partner back home basically stays the same. When this happens and you do manage to stay together, there’s often an awkward situation where you gets back home and you both realise things aren’t the same.
You’ve changed your life and they weren’t there to do the same, or really understand what you experienced.
On top of that, being young, free, single and on the backpacking trail is an experience that might only come around once in your lifetime. Do you want to throw that away by staying loyal to an unproven relationship? You don’t want to one day regret not throwing yourself wholeheartedly into the opportunities travelling brings.
Finding the Right Answer
As I said at the top of the post, the right answer depends on your own situation. If you’ve got something amazing and have a proven relationship, then staying together might be the right call. But if things are pretty casual, on the rocks, or your heart’s not really in it any more it might be best to head off with a clean slate and come back with no regrets — loyalty isn’t really the best primary reason to stick things out.
For me personally, it was best for me to break up with my partner before I set out to travel. I met some amazing people, had some incredible experiences, and met the perfect person for me four months into my trip. I’m so glad I didn’t have someone back home to agonise over when I met the love of my life in Thailand.