Maybe because my husband Barry and I met in a country neither of us had grown up in — Canada — we have traveled from the earliest days of our relationship. But unlike most couples we know, we’re still traveling almost 50 years later. Whether we’re in Northern California — roaming around in our camper van; in Mexico, where we also live, visiting pueblos magicos and ruins; or somewhere further afield — travel is not a sometime thing, it’s interwoven into our everyday lives, and it’s never far from our minds. Not only is it fun, but we also find that travel stimulates and invigorates our marriage.
1. We Laugh More
At home, Barry and I don’t necessarily share the same sense of humor — often he’ll laugh uproariously at a cartoon that leaves me saying “Huh?” But something about being in a new environment seems to encourage our mutual sense of humor and silliness.
For example, in Mexican museums and gardens, signs direct visitors on which way to go. We find it funny that if you ignore the sign and head the “wrong” way, watch out! The guides will gently steer you right.
We also chuckle in Mexico at how we have to watch our step. Occasionally we’re walking along a sidewalk, when we reach an abrupt drop-off of several feet, with no rail or sign (we’ve never seen anyone fall, though). Somehow we can’t imagine similar drop-offs in the U.S., with its liability culture.
2. We Make Friends Together
At home, Barry and I tend to have different friends. However, when we’re traveling, we make friends together. These people continue to enrich our lives even after we’ve returned home. We maintain contact with them and try to incorporate them into our lives. When we went to Cuba in 2002, for example, we met a Dutch couple whom we’ve since met up with in multiple places. They visited us in Mexico and California, where they borrowed our van while we house-sat at their home in Amsterdam.
In 2011, we met our close British friend Hasnah while hiking the Coast-to-Coast trail across northern England. We go to England once a year to see Barry’s British family and we always meet up with Hasnah. She has also visited us in Mexico.
Even briefer connections have proved meaningful. During our first visit to Guanajuato in 1999, we met a fellow Spanish student who had walked the 500-mile Camino de Santiago the previous year. We had vaguely heard of the Camino but knew very little about it. Thanks to a man whose name I can’t even remember, six months later, we walked it too.
3. We’re More Spontaneous
I’m a great fan of routines, but we find it’s also healthy to mix things up. This seems to happen naturally when we travel. We go to different places and are stimulated by different things. Last week, for example, we went to thermal baths in the town of Aguascalientes, a city in central Mexico. We don’t do that often! Afterward, we lay on the grounds of the baths, under a tree, staring up at an odd feature we couldn’t identify, which was embedded in the branches. Simple things like lying on the grass simply don’t happen at home as much.
Another way we’re spontaneous is by inviting people we meet to have coffee or a drink with us. Last year, for example, while visiting Mendocino County, California, we started chatting with two women in a parking lot near a trailhead. Before long, we were drinking tea in our camper van and exchanging stories about how we had all moved to California’s North Coast.
Sometimes our spontaneity can backfire, though. In 2017, we ended a trip of several months to Europe by visiting Symi, a small Greek island near Rhodes. After a couple of days there, we decided to take the ferry to the island of Kos for a night, with our folding bikes. On the ferry, we met a couple who recommended we go a bit further, to the island of Kalymnos. The only trouble was, the ferry only sailed there every other day, so we’d have to spend two nights there.
“But we’ve already booked in Symi,” I said. “We’re paying double.” Foolishly, I allowed myself to be convinced. To this day I don’t think it was worth it.
4. We Do ‘Writes’ More Often
One way Barry and I connect is through what we call “writes.” One of us offers a prompt and we each write for about 10 minutes, starting with the theme, but going in whatever direction our writing takes us. Then we read aloud. We do writes at home as well, but more often when we’re away.
Our writes help us be honest. Recently we arrived in Alamos, one of Mexico’s pueblos mágicos, after a long, tiring day of travel. On first impression, we weren’t that taken with the town. The next morning over breakfast, our prompt was, “Um, what are we doing here?” Happily, things got better!
Another time, overlooking the Pacific Ocean in our van, after discussing a recent political event and feeling discouraged by the state of the world, we wrote on the theme, “Why do I read the news?”
We have fun writing with our teenage grandsons, who enjoy it, too. Our last write with them was a month ago when they visited us in Guanajuato during their Christmas break. Riley, 17, offered the prompt, ”What I plan for 2023.”
5. We Fulfill Our Love Of Exploring
We gain great joy in exploring new places, whether they’re urban alleys, neighborhoods, or natural sites. When I discover something on my own, I can’t wait to share my new “find” with Barry.
6. We Seek Challenges
A few years ago, while visiting a small beach town on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, we discovered a children’s library in the village, where we each offered a mini workshop.
Barry, a science writer, gave a presentation on dinosaurs. Judging by the grins on the kids’ faces as they eagerly pored over his iPad slides, the illustrated talk was a huge success.
The next day, I led a writing workshop. “Describe everything you did today from the moment you woke up until you went to school,” I said to the kids in Spanish. One eight-year-old took the assignment seriously, writing about getting dressed and what she ate for breakfast.
We also regularly volunteer for a federal program called Farmer to Farmer (F2F), which sends consultants to farming communities abroad for 2-3 weeks to offer their expertise. Originally they used only agricultural consultants, but they now send professionals in a wide range of fields, such as technical writing, organizational development, marketing, accounting, grant writing, and web design.
In 2017, we landed a joint assignment in Nicaragua, helping young adults figure out their entrepreneurial future in a country where career options are limited. It was a great experience, but collaborating with your partner or spouse isn’t for everyone. It requires teamwork, compromise, and flexibility.
7. We Make Important Decisions
Something about being away from home, far from the day-to-day, enables us to make better decisions — whether practical or profound. While we were bicycling through Wales in 1994, for example, we decided to remodel our garage into an office, so I could avoid paying monthly rent for a separate space. This ultimately led to paying off our mortgage faster.
Sometimes our decisions are life-changing, like discovering Guanajuato on our sabbatical, which led us a few years later to buy a home in this beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city. Also on our sabbatical, we decided to buy a camper van when we returned to the States, a vehicle that has become an intrinsic, joyous part of our lives and which we now call our third home.
Without a doubt, our biggest decision took place on a road trip through New England in the summer of 1978. One afternoon in Maine, while tinkering on the MGB Barry had just bought, we agreed — after months of indecision — to get married. Five days later, still on our road trip and by then in Montpelier, Vermont, we got up and did it. Talk about spontaneity! Later we had a ceremony with our families, in place of a formal wedding.
Of course, travel is fun, but in our case, it’s more than that. It’s a way of cementing our bonds and deepening our enjoyment of each other through the magic of shared experiences.