Traveling together can lead some couples down the aisle, but it can make others go their separate ways. While everyone packs their bags with the best of intentions, that first trip as a couple can make or break a relationship.
“It was great, and we both instantly knew we wanted to see each other again,” said Heather Fowle, who has been dating Bruk Herbst for more than three months. She knew they were meant to be a couple after traveling together only four days after they had met.
“Actually, we had such a good time hanging out in the airport we almost ended up missing our connection. We had to sprint to our flight,” she said.
Charlotte Wood was not quite as lucky. She called it quits with her boyfriend of six months after a trip to Ireland.
“I was interested in seeing the historic things and the castles and he was just more interested in meeting the people of Ireland and visiting the pubs,” said Wood. “All in all, I had a great time on the trip, but in terms of a relationship builder, it definitely wasn’t that.”
There's a lot to keep in mind before you hop on a plane.
For that first trip, don't pick a destination that's a 14-hour flight away. Choose a place that's less than three hours away, by plane or car.
Then you need to choose a location. On the East coast, Miami Beach is a good first trip because it's not just about the beach. You have many options of what to do, and you definitely don't want to feel trapped only doing one activity.
In the Midwest, New Orleans is a great destination. There is plenty to do and see, both in the city and on the river. And on the West coast, there are beautiful and interesting driving trips along the coast to San Francisco or San Diego.
“I’m more of a planner,” said Wood. “We mapped out our trip according to the hot spots that we wanted to see.”
The key is to seek common ground, don't overschedule, and be willing to give ground. Try to do activities that you both enjoy. If she doesn't golf, don't go to a golf resort. If he doesn't like to hike or camp, leave the tent at home. Keep your options open, and remember the most important advice, or warning: People do not change their lifestyle when they change their location. They think they do, but they don't, and you need to honor the other person. That means if someone is addicted to their Blackberry, they just might bring it along, or if they like to jog at six in the morning, or watch their favorite sports team play on TV, it just might happen.
After the planning comes the packing.
“You’ve got to be careful,” said Melinda McLaughlin, a well-seasoned traveler. “You don't want to scare him away with 10 pieces of luggage for a two-day trip.”
The next potential landmine? The hotel. What kind of room are you going to get?
“A hotel room would have been lovely!” said Wood. “In a bed and breakfast in Ireland there is a European type bathroom. It has much closer quarters.”
Remember you’re going to be with this person 24/7 and, of course, the morning after.
And don't forget about bathroom design and etiquette. This is really the battlefield for most couples, and in many cases your own hotel bathroom may be the least used room on your trip. Many men and women admitted to me that they used other bathrooms in the hotel lobby, the health club, wherever they could find one. But one piece of advice for the bathroom, which should not be ignored — get a double sink, or you'll have double trouble.
After watching couples at his hotel for many years, pool attendant Chad Moskal has one piece of advice for couples on vacation.
“Invest in a nice pair of sunglasses, preferably shaded, tinted, mirrored so you don't get caught and you stay out of trouble,” he said.
But don't expect too much from the first trip as a couple, says relationship expert Dr. Michelle Callahan.
“I think a big mistake is couples have unrealistic and overly high expectations of their partner being the perfect dream person that they are on their fun dates, and of the trip being the romantic getaway of a lifetime,” Callahan said. “That’s so much pressure for a relationship to live up to.”
Taking some time apart is one way of keeping the peace.
“You don’t have to spend every single minute of the trip together,” said Callahan. “It’s not a problem if you spend a little time apart. The woman may want to go to the spa, while the other goes to the gym. It doesn’t mean you’re not still in love.”
The key is to remember why you went away in the first place.
“Laugh it off,” said Callahan. “You’re there with the person you love.”
That is something that Laura Hubber and her boyfriend of four months learned the hard way.
“I had a relatively brief but violent illness, and she got a chance to see me at about as ugly as I can get,” said Hubber’s boyfriend. “I think if she can make it through that, she can make it through anything.”
“Overall, I honestly feel that having gone through this experience was far better for our relationship,” he said. “Get it out of the way early on. See if it works out, see if it doesn’t.”