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122 days, 36K miles: What this man learned about long-term travel with a loved one

Deciding to take a road trip with someone you love is a leap of faith. After all, how many people would you want to spend hour after hour with in a small, enclosed space for days or even months on end?

Well, that's exactly what Greg Cayea, 32, did last year: He took that leap of faith with his on-and-off girlfriend of several years, Heather Thompson, 29. Cayea had planned to relocate to the East Coast — but couldn't leave without seeing her one last time. Then, she agreed to go on the road with him.

ON THE ROAD | Heather Thompson and Greg Cayea set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records for the longest road trip in a single country.

That relatively simple cross-country journey — which started in Tempe, Arizona, in July 2016 and ended in November — morphed into an epic road trip of a lifetime: The pair ended up trekking 36,124 miles over 122 days, and set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records for the longest road trip in a single country. The trip cost Cayea about $16,000 total, money he earned from a self-published book ("No Direction Home: The Drifter Chronicles: Volume One") and his job doing promotion for a fashion agency, at least until he was let go.

Over the course of the trip, Cayea tells TODAY that he and Thompson slept in the back of their Subaru Outback for about 95 days, setting up an air mattress and window curtains every night after moving their belongings to the front of the vehicle; the rest of their nights were spent at relatives' homes, camping or in hotels.

OPEN SKIES | Cayea and Thompson spent many nights in this Subaru Outback.

Unfortunately, three months after the journey ended, so did his relationship with Thompson — though it wasn't connected to the trip, he says. The issue was a familiar but personal one. "We live two different lifestyles," he said. "It's always been the same issue behind our breakups."

But what has stuck with him from the journey is a new perspective on the world and on relationships. "I cannot believe we did it," he said. "This trip really was all about personal growth — it had to do with accomplishing something with someone you really care about. We weren't a perfect couple going into this, and I never knew how to handle close-quartered conflict before the trip. My go-to was always: Hop in a car and drive away. I like to run away. But this, it was like, get in a box and stay there for 122 days and see how you do."

All of which makes Cayea something of an expert on handling long trips with loved ones — and he's shared five key tips on how to be mindful and maintain harmony during extensive travel.

LEGENDS OF THE FALL | The pair visited Twin Falls, Idaho.

1. Know your travel companion's needs, as well as your own.

If you're not aware of what your partner thinks is important, it's harder to "protect" that need, says Cayea. For example, eating healthy was important to Thompson, as was stopping at national parks. For Cayea, he needed time to work on his laptop to earn their travel money, so he required space. Also, any lake they drove by had to be a stop off so he could jump into it. "You have to know that things you do are going to drive each other crazy," he said. "But knowing that the other person needs those things ahead of time makes it easier to handle."

SNACK ATTACK | Eat when you're hungry!

2. Create habits and a routine.

Each morning, Cayea woke up around sunrise, did pushups and wrote in his journal or listened to podcasts. Thompson woke up later, requiring coffee and food — so after they got the car set up for the day, they'd have breakfast. Around 4 p.m. Cayea says he would get "cranky," so they would stop and get iced tea every day around then. "Once you know a person's needs, you just set up systems," he said. "Getting tea every day was our way of resetting the day and being able to keep going."

ROOM WITH A VIEW | Cayea and Thompson moved their belongings to front and put up window curtains in their Subaru Outback each night.

3. Don't go to bed mad.

This applies no matter where a couple is sleeping, but may take on greater importance when a twosome is snuggling up in the back seat of an Outback. "Arguments will come up," he said. "I always said 'sorry' at the end of every night for everything I'd done wrong, and kissed her. You have to let it go at night, and wake up with things fresh and new. We were pretty good at taking accountability — if you get in an argument, you can't go anywhere. You're in a car!"

4. Give the passenger control.

Cayea says the person riding shotgun gets to pick everything that comes out of the audio system: podcasts, music, silence. "Let them pick absolutely everything they want to do," he said. "The more you let the other person be the DJ, the better your trip is going to be. The more you sacrifice, the happier your partner is going to be at the end of the day — and that's what makes a good trip, anyway." It also makes for good relationship advice overall.

OFF THE BEATEN PATH | Cayea checks out a local attraction.

5. Serve each other by serving the adventure.

If someone needs to stop, just stop — for whatever reason. "If someone gets hungry, get food," he said. "If someone is done driving, let them be done driving. If someone wants to go to the insect museum or do some weird black bear safari — do it. You're only going to have the adventure once, so what will serve the adventure?"

These days, Cayea is planning his next steps (and next world record) on Long Island, New York; Thompson is moving to Delaware. In the end, he notes that taking a massive journey with a loved one is a bit like having a child together.

"Know that before you go into it," he said. "The baby is the adventure, and the adventure comes first. Cater to the adventure before you cater to yourself — that is, if you want to get it done."

Follow Randee Dawn on Twitter.

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