Lisa and I were together for five whole years before we went travelling. We met, fell in love, moved into an apartment and got married before we’d taken a single trip overseas together. Looking back now on all that time, it feels as though our relationship didn’t truly start until we stepped onto that plane. Taking a career break to travel the world together was a journey of liberation and discovery that breathed new life into our relationship. It was also the biggest challenge we’ve ever faced as a couple. Here’s an insight into the highs and lows of travelling together in our 30s, and how it was ultimately the best the best thing we’ve ever done.
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Why did we take a travel career break?
From the very beginning of our relationship, we knew we wanted to explore the world together, and very early on we made a decision that we would commit to it properly. We didn’t want to fall into a predictable pattern of working, earning and stressing just to take a couple of holidays a year. It had to be a longer, more meaningful experience that we could savour and learn from.
The sticking point was that we were both ambitious, career-driven people. Wouldn’t leaving our jobs for a year be damaging to our long-term prospects? It’s an easy assumption to make, but we figured it was a misleading one. We saw other people taking the leap and defying the stereotype.
My best friend and his long-term partner left their jobs for six months to travel. After they returned, they didn’t just pick up where they left off. They flourished in their work, and – most importantly – they seemed a lot happier. It made us think, why couldn’t we do the same?
Inspired by other people’s success stories, we decided to look upon travel as an opportunity, not a setback. It wouldn’t necessarily mean abandoning our careers; instead, it could help us reshape them. And as a couple, it would allow us to grow and learn together in the most incredible way, giving us shared memories to treasure.
Making stories together
Lisa and I were in our late 20s when we first got together. This meant we both had quite a lot of baggage from previous relationships. This is perfectly normal, of course, and something that most people have to work through at some point (except for the rare few people who marry their high school sweethearts).
There are many great things about beginning a relationship when you’re both a little older and wiser. But having past experiences can also create some awkwardness. For us, the hardest part was that for a long time, there was very little that we could completely own as a couple. The bands we went to see? Yes it was fun, but we’d been there and done that. We’d even both been engaged before. We wanted our own stories to tell.
Travelling together was the ultimate liberation from this baggage. We journeyed through four continents and 20 countries on our travel career break. It was like nothing either of us had ever done before, and experiencing it together was more special than I can describe in words. And it was purely, one-hundred-percent ours.
Time for real conversations
As we reached our early 30s, before travelling, our work–life balance fell increasingly into routine. Although we’d both always been passionate about our jobs, it’s only natural to lose a little energy as time passes by. Stuck in the monotony of 9-to-5 life, it sometimes felt like we went weeks without having a proper conversation. It was becoming a toxic cycle.
Escaping the mundaneness of this routine to travel long-term had a transformative effect on our relationship. Instead of being permanently tired and just complaining to each other about work, we had time and space to talk about deeper things, life’s bigger questions. We could wake up and do what we liked, and focus on getting to know each other better. Don’t cringe, but… it was like falling in love all over again.
Appreciating each other’s space
Many people say that moving in together is a relationship’s biggest test. They’ve got a point; you won’t know if you’re truly compatible with someone until you’re sharing the same living space. However, travelling as a couple takes this to another level entirely.
During our travel career break, Lisa and I spent almost every minute in each other’s pockets. We did absolutely everything together. While this was amazing in many ways, there were also moments when it took its toll. We had to learn to appreciate each other’s space.
World discovery, not self discovery
Lisa and I had both done a bit of travelling when we were younger. Back then, it was mostly about self-discovery. You hear clichés about people “finding themselves” on pre-university gap years. It sounds corny, but there’s a lot of truth in it. Travelling in the early stages of adulthood is a great way to learn about your wants and motivations.
We found travelling in our 30s to be a completely different experience. We’d had plenty of time to figure out our place in the world and what we wanted from life, and we were on clear career paths. It wasn’t about self-discovery any more. We wanted to learn more about the world around us.
What is it about turning 30 that makes you suddenly more interested in museums and galleries? One of the greatest things about our journey was that we could bounce off of each other’s curiosity. We were absorbing the culture and history of every new place we visited as a team.
And we had more money to enjoy it. As an 18-year-old, I had scraped by on a tiny budget as I backpacked across Europe, and much of the money I did have had been given to me as a gift by my family. This time around, Lisa and I had worked hard for five years to save enough that we could travel more comfortably. Knowing the sacrifices that had gone into building our travel fund made us appreciate spending it a lot more.
Shaking off stereotypes
Mid-way through a long bus journey across Argentina, Lisa and I were staring at the landscapes outside the window when we overheard a conversation between a much younger couple on the row in front of us. We didn’t catch it all, but we heard one of them say “I don’t want to still be travelling when I’m 34, like some loser”. We looked at each other and smiled.
This was one of many examples of micro-prejudice towards 30+ travellers that we encountered on the road. There’s still a stereotype that backpacking is something that younger people do, and that’s quite hard to shake off. I am sure it’ll only get worse as we get older, but who cares? There’s no reason why travel should be the sole remit of the young.
Attitudes are changing, too. The dynamics have already shifted a lot since that first trip as an 18-year-old. On our 30-something career break, we met a lot of people the same age or older. It’s becoming more and more common for people to travel at any stage of life, and that’s a good thing.
Making new friends
As a couple – and especially as a slightly older couple – it can be more difficult to meet people when you’re travelling. People often assume, incorrectly, that couples are boring and not interested in socialising. In our case, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We love meeting new people, but breaking the ice is hard!
An upside of travelling in your 30s is that a little more life experience gives you a much better idea of the kind of people you’ll get on with. This meant that when we did meet people on our journey, we tended to form very strong bonds. In Laos, we met an Irish couple about the same age as us; we knew straight away that they were our kind of people, and we clicked instantly. We ended up hanging out with them for a couple of weeks until they had to fly home. We’ve kept in touch and they’ll probably be friends for life.
To party or not to party?
Here’s the thing: being a bit older doesn’t mean you automatically have to stop having fun. While we don’t have the same desire to go out every night that we used to, we
still love a drink and a dance. (The hangovers are so much worse these days though…)
The difference now is that we’re a lot more conscious of balance. We know we can’t hack consecutive nights out, and so when we do get our party game on, we make sure we haven’t got anything strenuous planned the next day.
There were times at the beginning of our travel career break when we would feel a bit self-conscious if we were among a younger crowd. But we soon learned to let that go. What does it matter?
Facing adversity together
If you’re travelling for a long time, it’s inevitable that something will go wrong at some point. A defining moment of our journey was the day we were robbed in Buenos Aires. We had all of our valuables stolen in a distraction theft; our laptops, cameras, passports, cash, cards, gifts we’d bought, everything. We were very close to abandoning the whole trip and going back home.
The most important thing we did that day was to vow not to blame each other. It would have been easy to do, but it would almost certainly have broken us if we did. We weren’t going to let that happen.
Instead, we did our best to turn the incident and its aftermath into a positive. The circumstances meant we had to stay in Argentina while we waited for our new passports to arrive; so we used the opportunity to explore more slowly and absorb the culture while reformulating our plans. Once we got past the initial shock, the experience only made us stronger and closer.
Discovering new passions
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about our travels was the chance to try completely new things together for the first time. Whether it was astrophotography in Chile and New Zealand, multi-day trekking in Patagonia or traditional Vietnamese cooking, we gave it a go. This was also a great form of mutual bonding.
The absolute pinnacle for us was learning to scuba dive. We did an introductory dive on the Great Barrier Reef before taking our qualifications in Bali and Thailand. Since returning home we’ve done more diving in Europe, and I’m sure it will be something we share for many more years to come. There’s something very special about finding new passions with the person you love, and travelling opens so many doors for it. In your 30s, this can be a wonderful way of rejuvenating your relationship.
Life after our travel career break
We returned home to the UK a year older, a little exhausted but a completely new couple. Travelling has rewritten the rules of our relationship.
We are still ambitious, career-driven people. Travel hasn’t taken that away from us. But it has made us think differently about how we treat each other, and what a career means to us. It has allowed us to realise the full potential of our relationship. We understand each other so much better now, and we are so much happier for it.
We’re now committed to making travel a major part of our lives. It might not be in the form of a year away – Lisa is in a great new job, and I’m starting a new business – but we will make time for it whenever possible. We’re also making a much more conscious effort to explore the place we live and enjoy our lives at home.
To make a success of travelling as a couple in your 30s, you need to embrace the experience. There will probably be times when it becomes overwhelming, and you feel like giving in. Don’t. Give each other space when you need it. Listen to each other, challenge each other and make the most of the extended time together. You never know when it might be taken away from you.