Winter tends to be a time of year when couples book a lot of travel—think trips to see in-laws for the holidays, a long weekend spent skiing, or a romantic Valentine’s Day getaway. And while hitting the slopes or holing up in an intimate hotel are all just plain fun, relationship experts say that travel may actually have more long-lasting benefits than sharing a memorable experience.
In 2013, a survey conducted by the U.S. Travel Association found that travel strengthens partnerships, ignites romance and intimacy, and leads to healthier, happier relationships. According to the survey, “couples who travel together report higher levels of satisfaction with their relationships.” Those surveyed were asked to rate their relationships based on various factors (like keeping romance alive, feeling emotionally close to a partner, and how much quality time couples spend together). Those who had traveled as a couple rated their relationship higher on every single factor. On top of that, the survey indicated that couples who take on trips together actually see long-term improvements in different elements of the relationship, like communication styles and their sex lives.
“Something is happening when two people travel together,” explains relationship expert and strategist Elizabeth Overstreet, author of Love You and He Will Too: The Smart Woman’s Roadmap for Happy, Healthy Relationships. “They are spending time with one another, learning how to navigate and enjoy these new surroundings, and creating new and fresh experiences with one another.” She notes that the beginning of a relationship often comes with intentionality around spending quality time with a significant other—it’s all about exploration, shared experiences, and a desire to simply become closer. After those first few months, though, relationships can hit the “autopilot” phase. Everything that once seemed so sparkly and new can feel like it’s lost its shine. That’s where packing your bags—together!—comes in. “Travel helps break up the monotony, allows you to bond with your partner even more, and gives you the downtime to remember and reminisce on what brought you two together and continue strengthening your bond with one another,” Overstreet says.
Meet the Expert
Elizabeth Overstreet is a relationship and love strategist based in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the author of Love You and He Will Too: The Smart Woman’s Roadmap for Happy, Healthy Relationships.
Similar to the way couples are very intentional about the time they spend together in those initial months (we call this the honeymoon phase), Overstreet explains that exploring a new place together creates an opportunity for intentionality in other parts of your relationship. “[Travel] creates an opportunity for quality time, intimacy, and a recalibration for couples. We run fast on a daily basis between household, professional, and parental responsibilities,” she notes. “Travel is a way to get a break in, have committed downtime with one another, and reconnect to your relationship.”
In a paper titled “The Contribution of Vacationing Together to Couple Functioning,” which was published in the Journal of Travel Research in 2019, authors Mojtaba Shahvali, Deborah L. Kerstetter, and Jasmine N. Townsend found even more evidence pointing to the benefits of travel for couples. “As couples vacation together, their need for stability and emotional bonding as well as their need for change and novelty are better met, resulting in higher levels of relationship cohesion and flexibility,” the study notes.
While much of what was found in these studies focuses on couples’ travel (meaning, just the two partners), Overstreet points out that people can also benefit from traveling as a family. “It's important for couples to have trips that are solely for them and also family trips,” she says. “The couple is the foundation of the family. And in order to keep building that foundation, it's important that you carve out time with one another, independent of your kids. It helps you to come back as a better parent along with the other responsibilities you carry on a daily basis.” It’s also possible that travel can impact creating lasting romantic bonds before you’ve entered a partnership. A survey conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Exodus Travels polled 2,000 Americans who traveled internationally and found that 23 percent of respondents married someone they met while on vacation.
Between reconnecting through shared experiences away from home to making space for emotional and physical intimacy that may be hard to create during a couple’s typical day-to-day, here’s how taking time to plan travel together can help strengthen a long-term partnership.
Rediscovering Your Partner’s Attributes
“Travel really is an amplifier of highlighting your partner's attributes,” explains Overstreet. By this, she means that in relationships, one partner may be good at planning and organizing the logistics of a trip, whereas the other partner may want to focus on booking activities and brainstorming fun things to do.“When there is a division of tasks related to travel, it can open you up to learn more about your partner and highlight what you share in common or how you complement one another,” she says. In addition to being reminded of your partner’s strengths, getting outside of your typical day-to-day means fewer distractions and more time for both physical and emotional intimacy.
Breaking the Routine
Humans are creatures of habit. Overstreet explains that since we’re so routine-oriented, the disruption in our typical schedules is where incremental growth happens. Oftentimes, she says, relationships experiencing turmoil have gone on autopilot—that routine where things become static, or partners lose interest or deep connection. “Couples who can break away from the routine help to disrupt their relationship in a positive way,” she adds. “And that can be a good thing for keeping things interesting in a relationship with one another.”
Alternatives to Traditional Travel
It’s easy to fall into the thinking that a romantic trip or long vacation with your partner may help resolve existing problems—and, in some cases, that can be true—but given financial constraints, and the pressures that come with work and raising children, travel can’t just be booked at the drop of a hat. Overstreet emphasizes that a shared new experience doesn’t have to be a huge, bucket-list trip. “People may get lost in thinking they have to do something grandiose when they think of travel. But, there is often a lot in your backyard, meaning in close proximity, that you two can explore inexpensively, but still be immensely joyful,” she says. Her recommendation? Take a road trip, explore a local state or national park, discover something new in your hometown together, or book a one- or two-night staycation at a local hotel. Find things to do of mutual interest that give you and your partner the space to carve out intentional one-on-one time. “Sometimes the mini-getaways can be what is needed if you can't do something that is for a longer time period.”
The Importance of Trying New Things
What really sets travel apart as a unique bonding activity is an opportunity to simply try something new together. “Relationships aren't linear. There will be ups and downs. The couples that succeed at meeting the challenge are willing to explore, try different things, and brave new territories with one another,” explains Overstreet. “It's how a couple grows, discovers one another, and creates a long-lasting, healthy bond.”