Now, before people start jumping to conclusions and calling me a bad wife, let me say this: I love my husband and I love travelling with him. We wouldn't have made it through almost a decade of travelling the world together otherwise!
I recently took a trip to Fukuoka by myself and I felt compelled to share the reasons I still like to travel solo, despite being married for six and a half years.
So here they are:
1. Alone time is important
Firstly, taking some time out for yourself is important for a healthy lifestyle, whether you're in a relationship or not. Secondly, so is doing things that you enjoy. You don't have to share all the same interests as your partner. In saying that, I do think there is such a thing as being too different for one another to the point that you don't click at all. In my opinion, sharing core values on the type of life you want to lead and some interests is important. You still need to be wanting to head in the same direction and to spend time together (otherwise why are you in a relationship in the first place?).
But what I mean by this point is that there are always going to be things that I enjoy doing more than he does, and vice versa. And that's OK! I'd prefer we just enjoy doing these things by ourselves without needing to feel like we are inconveniencing the other.
I think one of the biggest problems that couples face (and lead to some people freaking out and making seemingly rash decisions AKA the mid-life crisis) is that many think that marriage means giving up individual interests and only having common ones. This isn't even necessarily a conscious decision or the result of couples trying to impose ideals on one another. The worst blowups are those that creep up over long periods of time, seemingly unnoticed. It's easy to not feel any loss of identity during the early stages of a relationship. You love that person, you enjoy every moment with them, life is wonderful and better when you're together. There will be changes and the need to adapt somewhat in a young relationship, but that's what happens whenever you embark on a new journey in any aspect of life, and that's what we often put any niggling issues down to. What we should be careful of is the general mentality that relationships are about compromise. To this I say yes and no.
Yes to things that don't matter. If there is something you do that you couldn't care less about but means something to your partner, then I don't see any problem with compromising, even changing that habit, for them if they mean that much to you. It's important to consider those around us and how our actions impact others. Plus nobody is perfect and being with someone who sees things differently can bring out a better version of ourselves. Relationships are about working your way through life together, so there are things that you'll inevitably need to work at.
But I would say no to compromise on things that mean sacrificing who we are or that relate to fundamental core values. You may convince yourself that this is part of marriage or a long-term relationship but doing this, in the end, serves no one. You should still be able to feel like yourself in a relationship. If not, it'll slowly wear away at you over time. Until one day, you wake up and barely recognise yourself in the mirror anymore and you wonder what on earth happened to all those dreams and interests you used to have, and suddenly have a panic attack about the state of your life, leading to the aforementioned mid-life crisis.
It's not necessarily anyone's fault. Your partner may be amazing and has never intentionally or otherwise led you to give up part of yourself, but you probably will end up blaming them for it. That's why it's so important to decide what you are willing to compromise on and the things you are not. If there is already tension about key topics in the beginning, they will most certainly come up again. Is it small fry that you're willing to compromise on, or will you be unhappy about giving up this part of yourself in one, ten or fifty years time?
Imagine if Hai liked to travel and I didn't? Or only he liked Japan and I didn't?
OK, so bringing this back to having alone time. You have interests and so does your partner and I believe for a lasting relationship at least some of these should overlap. For those that don't, then enjoy these activities alone (whether it's for an hour, a day, a weekend or longer). At the same time, I also think that being in a relationship with someone (and my other love: travel) challenges you to different ways of thinking and that's awesome. Perhaps you don't like something, or think you don't like something or didn't like it that time you went with someone else. There are some things that I never thought I would do before I met Hai and his influence has expanded my horizons in many ways. I don't think I ever would have bungy jumped or even tried ice skating (something I actually kind of fear) without him by my side. I probably wouldn't know much about Asian culture, or have come to Japan, or even know how to use chopsticks if it weren't for him.
In terms of hobbies, he likes cars and cameras. I have come to really like photography, but am not as interested in the technical elements. I still don't get cars. But I have been known to go to car and photography shows with him from time and time and it's always interesting to see how we view the same event differently and we can always get something out of an experience if we are open to it, even if only to confirm something we had previously thought. What I'm trying to say is that it's a balance between, hey, I'll give that a go and knowing when to sit things out and say, you go enjoy that, I'm going to go do something else.
2. I experience things differently when I'm alone
While Hai never stops me from doing anything I want to do, travelling with someone as opposed to solo is always going to be different. Firstly, it's difficult just to keep track of one another. Perhaps you see something interesting and want to stop and take photos but the other continues walking ahead, not hearing your calls in a loud marketplace or train station. As we travel without phones, sticking together and finding each other in crowds is actually an everyday consideration. Or sometimes it may be related to number 1, where you just have different interests in a destination and you'd prefer to visit that place alone. Whatever the reason, there is a sense of freedom in being able to wander wherever you like, taking as long as you want in places that interest you and less in ones that don't. We love our mini solo adventures!
3. People treat me differently when I'm alone
There's a certain wall that automatically pops up when you travel as a couple, and as a married one no less, that impacts how people relate to you. Hai and I spend a lot of time trying to overcome this by chatting with lots of people at hostels and the places we visit so that we are seen as approachable as anyone else. Much of the time many people don't even realize we're together because we are often socializing separately in the common room or just don't appear all lovey dovey (or just the mere fact that he is Asian and I'm not, but that's a story for a whole other post!).
But alas there are still occasions when it is just easier to be invited to share in certain experiences as a solo traveller. Sometimes gender does play a role in this too. I am unlikely to be invited to coffee with a group of local women or to go to the salon with them or engage in any other activity seen as part of the female domain in that culture, if I am travelling with my husband or they feel he is “waiting” for me. These experiences not only enrich me personally but also provide me with wonderful stories that inspire my writing. As writing is like breathing to me, Hai always encourages me to seek out these opportunities even if that means I go alone.
4. I love being independent
Hai will tell you that I am fiercely independent and perhaps annoyingly stubborn. I have a strong sense of who I am, I guess, and I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I achieve things for myself. We do have complementary skills in many ways, though. People often comment about that from the outset when they talk about our blog since I am the writer and he is the photographer. But it's also true in many other aspects of life. He doesn't mind cooking; I hate it. I don't mind doing laundry, while he doesn't know which buttons to press. He likes to take care of the nitty gritty details of our travels, while I prefer to plan anything other than which bus we're going to take.
When I travel alone though, I have to take care of everything for myself again, and I really love how it boosts my confidence when I do. Being the photographer, Hai is always charging batteries and backing up and clearing memory cards. When I'm alone, I have to remember to do the things that Hai usually does for us. I also have to travel differently as a solo female and it makes me less complacent. Overall, it's just refreshing to remind myself that I haven't lost my ability to travel by myself, even though I travel with my husband most of the time.
5. Getting to tell your partner about your adventures
The best part of being away is being able to come back home and tell your partner about all the crazy adventures you've had! I really enjoy my solo travels, but Hai is still the person I can't wait to relay all of my stories to the most. We have so much to catch up on even after only a day or two apart and will spend hours sharing photos and recounting what we've been up to.
Sometimes I hear people say that they don't have anything new to talk about with their partners anymore. I really do think that spending time apart helps with that. But I also think it only works if you are willing to engage in that conversation: ask genuine questions and be willing to share. Going off for a weekend and not telling your partner anything about it or, perhaps worse yet, not caring, is personally not the kind of relationship I want to be in.
Ultimately, I think marriage is like two intertwined trees. They balance and support each other while growing together. Each of the branches signifies your interests as individuals or things that you're willing to compromise on; as such, they go off in different directions based on your own innate passions or by choice. However, living branches are always connected to their trunks, the trunk being the core of the individual and, when intertwined, of the relationship. If you can't make things work at this fundamental level, then the other trunk is no longer a supporting double, it's just suffocating.
Every relationship is different, but these are the five reasons why I'm not going to give up solo travel even though I've been married for a while now.
By the way, this isn't a post about making it seem like Hai and I are the perfect couple or that we have all the answers. We aren't and we don't. We make mistakes just like anyone else. But many people ask us about how we survive on the road together for so long, and I guess this is partly in response to that.