Marriage Lessons From The Road

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Marriage Lessons From The Road

Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck & Jeff Cruz
The ritual begins with the placing of headphones and the exaggerated slouch in the seat, legs outstretched. After many years of travel, Pete knows the routine. Train travel is me time. There are few things I love more than just staring out the window with my fave songs blaring through my headphones. I block out all other noise and just focus on the view. Beside me Pete usually works away on the laptop and knows well enough not to disturb me unless absolutely necessary.We were pulling away from Prague after a few stellar weeks. It was not somewhere we chose to go, our readers deciding our path for us, and we came in with low expectations. It only took a few days for the city to win us over with all its lovely quirkiness, but after our hecktic schedule through Finland, we had a lot to catch up on. Many days were spent just working and we left still wanting more.

So it was bitter to be pulling away from a place we both quickly adored and felt very comfortable in. I was sad to leave, yet still did so with a huge smile on my face. A new journey was upon us, and I was ready for six hours of blissful alone time with my thoughts, my music, and a rolling variety of scenery.

As we reached the outer limits of the city I could feel Pete staring at me, and glanced over to find him grinning. Rather than risk my wrath by asking me to take off my headphones so he could relay his thoughts, he instead typed them on his phone and reached over to show me.

“You look happy.”

Rather than risk my wrath by asking me to take off my headphones so he could relay his thoughts, Pete instead typed them on his phone and reached over to show me.

Dalene in Train Mode

I think our marriage is extraordinary. Although I hope it’s not, I hope it is actually quite ordinary and regular for people to be as in love as we are for so long. We are coming up on our six year vagabondaversary and we’ve been married for over thirteen. We’re almost at the point where we’ve been traveling for half of our marriage, and for almost every moment of every waking hour, I still only think of Pete with pure adoration.

We know couples who haven’t made it a year on the road. We have other friends back home who have said that a two week vacation together is stressful enough, that anything longer would surely end them.

At first, it wasn’t easy for us either. We went from our more traditional marriage roles of he mows the grass and I do the laundry to squabbling over where we’d go next and who’d be responsible for how we’d get there. And then eventually, when this blog started, we fought over the choice of fonts and who would handle the Twitter account. So many parts of our relationship had to be completely redefined.

Never mind that we also went from only spending a few hours a day together – the best of which was during our hourly commute to and from work – to being side by side around the clock. As the only physical constant in each others lives, it means being exposed to every emotion the other feels and bearing the brunt of every manifestation of stress, lack of sleep, or pang of hunger. He has to be my best girlfriend and listen to me whine about the frizziness of my hair, and I have to help him pick his fantasy football line-up (my sole criteria usually being how good looking they are). We have no close friends readily available to shoulder some of this essential chatter.

Traveling together can be a severe make-or-break situation and in our first year on the road it was a struggle. Thankfully now, many years in, we’ve gone from frequent screamfests to minor skirmishes. We’ve faced some difficult situations where we knew that the only way to get through it was to get through it. Together. There’s no more dramatic way to test and grow a relationship than repeated trial by fire.

I think there are few topics that we could call ourselves definitively knowledgable in, but this is one of them (if anyone can be of marriage). Because with so much time spent together with this life on the road, ours is probably equivalent to thirteen years going on fifty relative to most. And we like each other. Love each other. Are smitten with, respect, and admire each other.

(Most days anyways.)

So we have some nuggets of wisdom to share, lessons we’ve often learned the hard way, and some that I am sure we wouldn’t have fully grasped by now had we not taken our lives in such an unorthodox direction.

There’s no more dramatic way to test and grow a relationship than repeated trial by fire.

Efes Selfie

Take a breather

Yes, we can barely stand to be apart, but there are also times when we can barely stand to be together. And that’s absolutely okay. Time apart to nurture our individual selves is necessary every few days.

This was a sticking point in our first year of travel – even if we knew we needed time apart, we couldn’t say it to each other. At least not without the other taking severe offense. But now, we know. Often if I say: “I need time to write,” then that is Pete’s cue to depart. If he grabs the camera and heads out unscheduled, he’s creating his own space. Whether I write a word or he even takes one photo, that doesn’t matter. We’ve each forged the time we need to turn inward, and there is no longer any judgment in asking for it. It is simply understood that it is a basic need.

Respect each other’s limits, and don’t limit each other

No, I had no desire to hike five days through the Colombian jungle, sleep in hammocks every night and wake up to scorpions in my shoe. So he went on his own. And Pete loathed the idea of pushing his way through the mob to get a glimpse of Mona Lisa at the Louvre. So I went on my own.

Yes, maybe these examples seem trite, but I hope you get my point – many decisions in relationships are best arrived at by landing somewhere in the middle, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. Let your partner fulfill individual desires, stifling them may only manifest in some other way that’s ugly. The key is to nurture, not dissuade. We may be “one”, but we can’t forget that we are also individuals.

Dalene Louvre Selfie
Pete in Colombia

Have some perspective, please

Drop the small stuff, and I mean it, really drop the small stuff. Don’t let it linger. I’m embarrassed to think of some of the fights we had early on in our marriage that endured when they really meant nothing.

Especially now that we are also running businesses together, potential for disagreement can arise dozens of times in a day. I consider us both quite masterful at being able to turn around from a tiff in mere minutes. Basically because we don’t have time to fight before we’re onto the next task or problem to be solved.

But you know what? No one has time to fight. Why waste a mere second of time with a loved one bitter about something insignificant? Why let it become bigger than it really is?

After everything Pete and I have been through together, and given this crazy amazing life that we’ve built, there are very very few things that warrant any sort of idle negativity between us. It’s just not worth it.

Keep the romance alive, even when it’s difficult

Any article with lessons about marriage has to include a point about having a “date night”. So yes, do that.

But, c’mon, let’s get creative people. We’ve done it because we’ve had to.

Typically we are hand holders and unabashed public smoochers, but there are some places in the world where this just isn’t acceptable. And when in those places we will keep our respectable distance, and have learned to come up with a clever way to still show our affection.

It’s a toe tap. When either of us is feeling the urge to make out, we’ll just tap the other’s shoe instead. After a couple of days out and about, that can result in some seriously scuffed up loafers. Which, I assure you, even if it doesn’t sound like it, is hella romantic.


Strive to understand the intent

So there is one thing Pete does that drives me nuts, and this has only come about after spending so much time together.

He gets me, dammit. He understands me too well and can often figure out the source of my discontent before I can.

Well yes, I probably am cranky and snapping at him because I’m hungry, but I often won’t realize it myself until after he’s escorted me into a cafe and orders us a snack (and then I’m even further perturbed at being coddled). But I suppose I also do it to him in the reverse, when he’s suddenly cursing at me from behind his laptop screen, it’s usually time to suggest that we get outside and go for a walk.

Um, we sound like toddlers. But more often than not we can temper each case of the grumpies by just meeting some basic needs. Food. Rest. Space. (Alcohol.)

And problems can of course run deeper than the odd bad mood, but the same lesson applies: take the other side. Try to understand where the anger is coming from. The source is sometimes not indicative at all of how it emerges. Maybe I am truly enraged at him for not completing a task on time, or maybe some of that anger is built up from the political situation in Indiana. Yes, it happens. It’s not always an easy task to get to the root of a problem, but patience and understanding will help to get you there.

Just be awesome to each other

Bring her coffee in bed. Write him love notes on shower doors. Hold hands. Make dinner and do the dishes. Let her enjoy quiet time on the train. Save a bite. Forever have each others’ back. Do things without needing to be asked.

Just be awesome to each other. End of advice.

Jumpin Tiles

They say that the best jobs shouldn’t feel like work, and I think that applies to relationships. Yes, they do require work to survive, but it really shouldn’t feel like it.

And that’s where I believe Pete and I are. Most days are peaceful and blissful, but we’re not perfect. We fight, we get ugly with each other, we curse, there is the odd instance of nasty name-calling.

But we simply forget it, because most issues really aren’t worth remembering. Or we talk and learn from it, because we ultimately just want to be awesome-er to each other. Or we let it manifest, blow up about it, and go back to step one until we get it right.

But we always, always make up (even if just with a toe tap). And we take on the world again the next day.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this, Dalene and Pete. We know couples who say the same: that spending more than a week’s vacation together would be stressful, and it makes me really sad. Spending every minute of the day together surely is a challenge and you really need to learn how to give each other space. But when you get there you’ll have a solid foundation. I think of my own marriage as a flower that has to be nourished and nurtured every day. That’s what has kept us going for 6 years now.

  2. My husband and I are up to month 18 of everyday-together-travel and can’t believe how amazing it’s been for our relationship. We’re due home in a few months and we’re not sure how we’re going to cope going back to work and not seeing each other 24/7!

    1. That’s exactly how we feel. I am not sure there is any going back for us after this long now! Will be interesting to see how you transition, at least you know you are very adaptable!

  3. Love your site and love this article. My husband and I are together 24/7 travelling, at home, wherever, and everything you are saying rings true. Don’t sweat the small stuff, look for the underlying issue, be awesome to each other. Thanks for the insights.

  4. How timely this comes as we are about to depart on our own adventure. We know our usual suspects – tired, hungry(hangry), yet it’s so dang tough to just not take things personally.Why is being mean and defensive so much easier than handing over a granola bar?

    Your piece here is such a helpful reminder of the importance of letting go of the little things and moving on. This will be a great tool to have in my back pannier during our trip. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. The worst is when Pete says: “I think you’re just hungry,” and I’m all like “NO I AM NOT JUST HUNGRY YOU JERK.” But yeah, I was just hungry. We’re crazy emotional creatures sometimes! 🙂

  5. Tony & I have definitely had some rip roaring fights since starting our long-term travels—that transition to 24/7 togetherness is tough on even the most compatible couples, I think—but ultimately I do believe that our travels have strengthened our relationship in the best possible ways. It’s taught me patience and we’ve definitely learned how to fight more effectively: air our grievances and get our points across without hurting the other person or making mountains out of molehills. At the end of the day, we feel like we’re a team taking on the world together and really, there’s no one I’d rather do it with. (So long as he doesn’t forget to pack snacks! 😀 )

  6. Great advice! Mike and I learned so much about each other and our relationship from traveling together the first 4 years of our relationship. A lot of that has carried over now that we are living in Seattle (we have a really high tolerance for spending a lot of time together for example).
    My additional tip would be to have the courage/wherewithal to re-evaluate when the situation isn’t working for you. There have been several times we have had to totally re-arrange our living situation because we were just. not. happy. That’s also a part of why we did decide to give fixed location life a try- we didn’t feel like we were getting everything we needed from just each other- we wanted socialization and hobbies and separate friends. That was a hard thing to admit, but it’s definitely been good for us long term.

    1. That is a really good point Steph, and thanks especially for sharing that last part, as that would be a really hard thing to admit. We’ve had to do the same thing several times as well to re-evaluate our situation – well, deciding to give up our stable life and travel in the first place, and then going from moving quick to slow, even just changing locations sometimes. Like everything in life, it is a constant evolution.

  7. I said it a few times before and won’t get tired to say it again and again: you two are my absolute role models! I love the way you two respect each other, work with each other, travel together, spend nearly every single day of your marriage together and still keep the look of love, the glow, the magic! I am at a completely different stage in my life, having a family soon with someone I only met less than a year ago and who I adore a lot. I will take your advice on a happy marrage, even though we are not married and not living a life on the road but all you said makes so much sense. Thanks for sharing this blog post with us. Love it!

    1. We adore you Juliane. 🙂 Thank you so much for your comment and good luck with the babe on the way! Can’t wait to hear all about him or her! xo

  8. Love this post. My husband and I have been pretty much side-by-side 24/7 for the past 4 years, traveling or living abroad. It definitely causes plenty of opportunity for clashes, but we love traveling and working together, as you do. Thanks as always for sharing your story.

  9. Love your blogs..we have been married for fifty four years and now spend most of our time together and it works so well!
    I would love to know what is the make of your camera. I am off to Paris soon and would love to try and take pictures like yours. They are always so wonderful.

  10. I appreciate this post so much, and will take your nuggets of advice with me even after 22 years of marriage! For us- living abroad the last few years has had it’s own moments of wonderful adventure and crazy frustrating times as we’ve struggled to navigate culture and language changes and keep the family emotionally afloat. I’m amazed at your story and continue to be inspired by your adventures together. Thank you!

  11. OK, this is focusing on a random comment, but I am with you on the Mona Lisa, lol! There are other Da Vinci’s mere steps from La Gioconda that get ignored while that one painting gets soo much attention, I find it obnoxious.

    As for your comments about spending time together, thank you, thank you, thank you. I think my wife is astonished that I like to be with her so much, and that we are such good traveling companions. But when you are comfortable in your own skin(s), you can be great with others. Congrats to you for finding that equilibrium, and many many more years of traveling and coupling!

  12. We only were able to live the 24/7 together couple lifestyle for a year and can say these are the kind of tips that really need to be practiced to make it through. Thanks for putting this together, and to be put it simply, be as awesome to each other as much as possible. 🙂

  13. Great post, I think my favorite because I can totally relate.We’ve been on the road now going on 10 months and being separated even 15 minutes feels weird. It really is 24/7 and has only brought us closer.Sometimes I wonder if it’s healthy 🙂
    Sure we fight at times but that’s rare. If there’s anything it would be your point about respecting limits and not being limited – Spanky’s not the hiker I am and I’ve learned that I can’t drag her everywhere. Now in Croatia where there’s some great hiking we’ll be practicing what you say about sometimes just doing your own thing…
    Really enjoyed the post.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  14. So much of this can be applied to expat life too! My husband and I suddenly found out we were moving to Germany about a year ago, and have been here for about 8 months now. We packed up our house, sold it, and moved, leaving our friends, family and life in the States behind. We have definitely had to learn how to spend so much time around each other, and many of these tips you post we had to learn the hard way.

    Thankfully though, we both have full time jobs that do give us some time away from each other, but we still miss the escape that our hobbies and friends back in the States provided as well.

  15. This post just damned near made me cry. It’s awesome to know that someone else somewhere is going through the exact motions that we do every day.Every single couple that travel together no matter how infrequently should read this, heck every couple even if they don’t travel. Your marriage is extraordinary! You two keep holding on to each other and we are so happy to see you both thriving at life. <3

  16. Love this piece! I think the point about being each other’s only constant resonated particularly with me – it can be a lot of pressure to take on all of a sudden if you are used to busy lives full of lots of other people and activities.
    I’ve been married nearly 2 years (together for 10!) and I think I’ve learned more in the last 8 months of travel about my relationship and about how to be a good partner than ever before. Nothing teaches you to communicate like the realization that if you nurture that silly sulk, there is no one else to talk to 🙂
    That said, I look across to my husband several times a day and think “there is no one I’d rather be doing this with than you”.
    Happy travels!

  17. Such a great post. There is no better feeling than experiencing the highs and lows of travel as a team. We just finished 9 months of travelling together and while not everyday is filled with butterflies and rainbows, you learn patience, acceptance, and how to always make the best out of everything together. Love reading your posts! 🙂

  18. I’m certainly impressed. I’m too much of an individual to handle that sort of long-term thing, though. I’ve had a couple of live-in girlfriends over my life and it never works. I just can’t handle the whole “sharing” thing. I don’t mind traveling with people – I’ve spent months traveling with girlfriends (one of whom became live-in afterwards) and traveling together is much easier. Even traveling with friends. It’s the boring between-trip intervals that ruin it for me. 🙂

  19. Haha, this is so true. Touches on many of the same feelings we have day in day out. And the same solutions! We are still on the road together after 13 months and somehow it feels so normal! I never could have imagined sharing so much space with someone else non-stop and even after months together we have only really spent about 3 evenings apart. It’s funny how before we left for the trip, my partner kept saying, “if we need to spend some time apart, it is absolutely ok. Even if we have to meet again after a few weeks in another place.” Somehow that never happened and we are happier than ever. Sounds cheesy, but it really is. Travelling with someone who will remember the things you forget makes it extra special to me, hopefully for a long time still! Good luck guys and congrats on making it this far! Extraordinarily and Ordinary 🙂

  20. Ah, I love this. It echoes so many of the things we learned on the road, even if our journey was only 1/6 of yours. 🙂 We’re somewhat still in the same frame of mind these days living in a different city without the immediate support group (and distractions) that we used to have in Portland and facing new jobs and a new life. But those lessons about just being kind to each other, trying to listen and not just talk and really appreciating all our time together, even the tough parts, have kept us close as ever. Having actually met you both in person, it’s so clear how truly in love you are. It just emanates from you both.

  21. Ah, I love this. It echoes so many of the things we learned on the road, even if our journey was only 1/6 of yours. 🙂 We’re somewhat still in the same frame of mind these days living in a different city without the immediate support group (and distractions) that we used to have in Portland and facing new jobs and a new life. But those lessons about just being kind to each other, trying to listen and not just talk and really appreciating all our time together, even the tough parts, have kept us close as ever. Having actually met you both in person, it’s so clear how truly in love you are. It just emanates from you both.

  22. What a great article! Traveling really is a great way to get to know your partner! My fiance and I have also been traveling for years together now. It is just so amazing and fun! It is really nice to see that travel has also done this for you guys 🙂 Keep up the great work 🙂

  23. I’ve recently started following your blog. This is such a great post and provides motivation of what it takes to be successful in a relationship. Yes, no two relationships are exactly the same seems that you’ve guys have grown together to learn what works and doesn’t. Look forward to future post.

  24. I travel with my boyfriend, now going on 11 years together (eek!) We can be complete opposites when it comes to travel styles – he’s a history buff and I’m all about anything but! We make a point to have our own travel days, go our separate ways alone and do our own thing. He’ll spend an entire day at museums while I’ll be weaving through markets or at a cooking class. We set a time to meet later for dinner and talk about our day. It actually makes us feel soo much more connected. We enjoy our independence but we also can’t wait to see each other again.

    I love the shoe tap. Cute and so romantic!

  25. Love this post! My husband and I have been together now for 30 years, and we’re hoping for at least 30 more. We love to travel together, although it’s not 24/7. But each time we do take a trip, it just makes us that much closer. It’s awesome to learn and explore together, and it does so much towards reminding us just how much we love being together!

  26. After 29 (!) years of marriage, the last 4 of which have been on the road as global nomads, I definitely agree with your tips, particularly the need for “alone” time sometimes. Keep doing what you’re doing.

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