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The Road Less Travelled

By Mira Saraf

When my partner and I, rather impulsively, decided to go on an international trip together very early into our relationship, my parents reacted in a fairly predictable manner. “Shacking up?” asked my father, with my mother echoing his sentiments. I sighed in exasperation. We both live alone; if shacking up was what we wanted to do, we wouldn’t have to spend an exorbitant amount in air travel, I explained.

The truth was: we both wanted a vacation and were planning to take leave around the same time. We would also be meeting people in Europe, so it was more a group thing anyway. In addition, there was another unspoken benefit – it was an excellent way to get to know each other.

When you just meet for a few hours over a dinner, or drinks, or even have sleepovers, it takes much longer to understand the other person’s strengths and flaws because we all, consciously or unconsciously, are on our best behaviour. So, I always feel, short of living with someone, (everyone’s moral compulsions notwithstanding) this is the best way to evaluate your relationship.

Over the years, I have gained many insights (more practical than romantic) by travelling with partners. And yes, while these observations apply to friendships as well, at least, I am not usually looking at the same sort of long term intimacy or commitment. I have travelled with some people who are obsessively neat and clean. As someone whose organisational style resembles a tornado, I’m easily impressed.

There have been those that get extremely stingy while on the road, are ungenerous tippers, and calculate owed amounts to the penny, while others have had tastes so extravagant, that they are simply not in the same budget range as I am.

I have sometimes realised that there is no way I could share meals with the person sitting across from me: our tastes, or our eating restrictions and our approach to food differ vastly, and I have had to decide if it’s something I can deal with or not. Of course, in turn, they have to as well.

The same goes for moodiness and hang ups. I was once on a trip with a man who simply stopped speaking to me for the course of a few hours over an evening! I was going out of my mind trying to think what I could have done to upset him. Turns out, he was just moody.

On this particular trip, my current partner and I had only one goal: not to kill each other. Really romantic right? But somehow it worked. The “no killing” references, complete with emoji equivalents, became an on-going joke between us.

We found ourselves in all sorts of situations including, but not limited to: struggling with non-contextual Google translations in an Estonian grocery store (anyone care for “short sleeve” fish skewers?), cleaning bloody gravel off my knees on a tiny Finnish island, and wandering around Arlanda airport in Stockholm at 4:00 AM, in search of our departure terminal.

What resulted was us gaining much more comfort and understanding of each other. By finding ourselves in stressful situations, we were able to see how we problem-solved together and gain an understanding of how the other person might respond.

We were also able to experience each other’s behaviour in different scenarios. I liked that he did not nickel and dime when buying gifts for his family, and that he was willing to be adventurous.

When I had a meltdown of sorts on the side of a windy highway (this is a very long story), he was extremely patient with me. In turn, when I realised he got hungry way more often than I did, I was conscientious to check in for when he wanted to stop for food.

I learned a lot from him, as (I hope) he did from me. He suggested how I could develop mechanisms to better handle stress. I gave him feedback on how he gave feedback. (For the record, yes, he was right about the stress, but hey I was right about having to weigh the produce in the Estonian grocery store, so there!)

Spending this time with him, in completely new contexts, shifted something in our relationship. It’s not to say that this one trip together cements a future together – there are so many variables and so much hard work that goes into making a relationship work – but it gives us a better chance to work towards something. And what more could you want than that?

A marketing specialist by day and writer by night, Mira often describes herself as a globetrotting enthusiast. Having lived in the US, Canada and Italy, she is now based in Mumbai and enjoys her quiet evenings with a book as much as a night about town. When she’s not at work she’s usually reading, managing not to fall over in her yoga class, or writing to maintain her sanity. 

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