It was a hot, muggy day. Rain came in short bursts before the clouds were burnt off by the sun. Frogs croaked in the garden. A light breeze waved the palm tree fronds back and forth peacefully and was a welcome relief from the heat. Every now and then I peeked through the window, over the grass, at the little white chapel on the beach.
Though I was shaky and overwhelmed, I had absolute certainty in what I was about to do. I was about to walk into that chapel and marry the love of my life.
On Friday, that moment will officially be five years ago. Five years doesn’t seem that long ago. But then again, it feels like it was a month ago. I look around at the life we’ve built and, well… a lot can change in five years. A whole lot.
I look back on who I was when I got married (I’d just turned 25) and I think… “gee, you were just a baby!” In five years we’ve been married, traveled, bought a house, had two kids, endured career crises and I’ve done a whole degree. The person I was when I got married almost feels like a stranger.
So in honour of my husband, I thought I’d post this. I’m so excited to be flying out for a grownups-only weekend with on Friday, and I got to thinking. What has living with this man, and traveling with him around the world, taught me?
(PS If you want to have a stickybeak at our wedding in Fiji, you can do so here)
How to be loved unconditionally
We’ll get the soppy one out of the way first.
Until I married my husband, I lived life within certain parameters. I believed that I would be loved as long as I did certain things. Love would come to me if I looked good. It would come if I pleased others and put their needs first. If I was just a bit smarter or more wise or helpful. I did a lot of dumb shit for “love” (don’t many girls in their teens and twenties?). And I mean that in every sense: with men, with family, with friends.
When I pictured my honeymoon, I pictured the typical scene. Room service in bed, sunsets, cocktails by the pool, rose petals, romantic gazes. I didn’t picture a crippling stomach parasite that would have me vomiting, shitting, shivering and hallucinating. (If you really need to know more about this awful event, read this.)
So there I was, completely struck down by this grotesque illness. But I was so tenderly looked after by my husband every day as we tried to make it through the trip. He shook up cans of lemonade to make them flat for me to drink. He delicately discussed the situation with drivers and guides to make me more comfortable. And he navigated me through customs and immigration at various airports because I wasn’t with it enough to do it myself. And when flight crew assumed I was pregnant because my stomach was so distended, he assured me I was beautiful.
Don’t push him to propose… he will when he’s ready
When we were in Thailand in 2012, I just couldn’t believe he was wasting this gorgeous setting and not getting down on that knee. Was he for real?!
There were gem shops and jewellery stores everywhere we looked. There were beautiful beaches or skyline bars or fancy restaurants. So many opportunities!
But I wasted time in Thailand. I wasted time thinking that any minute I’d turn around and he’d be there, about to propose. He wasn’t. He didn’t. In fact, he didn’t propose for another four months.
While constantly preoccupied thinking he’d pop the question, I failed to be present in the moment. When I think about that trip now, it’s the biggest thing I remember. Not the incredible food or amazing scenery or how lovely the hotels were.
Know your limits with booze
I know I talk a big game and make jokes about drinking all the time, but we don’t really drink to excess. We both enjoy a tipple but we usually know our limits (my tolerance has gone waaaay down since having kids). Sometimes on holiday, though, we’ve been known to overdo it.
From befriending Bolivian mining tycoons at the pool bar in Hua Hin to starting a party on a yacht in Mauritius… Well, these experiences are a laugh at the time but cringe-worthy the next day if you’ve made a fool of yourself.
It’s easy to get overexcited when you’re abroad. It’s also easy to have a sense of bravado around other tourists (especially as Aussies with our appalling drinking culture). Through a few interesting experiences, we’ve learned our limits. And we’ve learned to identify them in each other. It’s a wonderful thing to have your spouse looking out for you with no judgment, but still being able to say “it’s time to slow down”.
We also learned to say NO to foreign rum.
Communicate with each other
Okay, so this one’s a work in progress… though isn’t it with every couple?
Before I met my husband, I did a lot of solo travel. I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I didn’t have to take anyone into account when planning my itineraries. Yep, I just did whatever I felt like doing.
Obviously, traveling as a couple is very different. You both have ideas of what you want to do. Sometimes my husband and I run into strife because we assume the other knows what we want. I’m a known history buff so doing a guided tour around a heritage site is perfect for me. He’s a nature lover so he wants to get out and encounter animals (preferably aquatic). I’m a nervous bookworm; he’s an adrenaline junkie. Sometimes I read a whole bunch of blogs on a destination before we go and assume I’ve communicated what I want to do. We get there, and he spends hours poring over brochures from the hotel lobby figuring out the day’s schedule while I go quietly insane.
The truth is, had we sat down and booked some stuff in earlier, we wouldn’t be in this predicament.
I know as well as you do that there will be arguments and at times you’ll get irritated with each other. You’ll be tired and overly sensitive, or something will go wrong, or you’ll just get cabin fever from spending time together. It’s par for the course.
But remembering that you’re both only human goes a long way.
Sometimes it’s easy to go nuts when the other makes a mistake. It happens to me all the time. In fact, I can think of a time in Penang when we ran out of money at a food court and one of us had to haul ass in a Grab to find an ATM. It was a bit of a drama, frankly. But we all do dumb shit like counting the money wrong (him) or just expecting the other has it sorted and taking no ownership (me). Looking back on that moment, I wish I’d laughed it off. I wish I’d said to him “haha, whoops, I’ll go get more cash.” And I wish he’d said to me “take extra out and make sure you keep some.” The evening could have had a happier feel if we’d been more patient with one another.
But I did go get cash, by the way. And he did thank me profusely for doing it.
In the same vein…
Say NO to mansplaining
As a stay-at-home-mum, I’m admittedly a bit sensitive to this one. And as a high-level manager, sometimes I think my husband forgets he’s not at work. The result? On our last holiday, there were a lot of accusations of mansplaining.
I mean, I kid you not I walked into an elevator and he told me how to use it!
He always means well and he’s always trying to help. But sometimes I feel like everyone’s forgotten I was an avid solo traveler (who worked in the travel industry) before I got married and had kids. Yes, in my desire to keep my own identity I sometimes get snippy if I feel like I’m being told something obvious. But sometimes you also need to make a stand.
And sometimes, well… sometimes a man just needs to keep his mouth shut.
In travel as in life, it always pays to be flexible. I can be a pretty rigid person and I hate it when plans go awry. But that’s life on the road – they always go awry.
Mr. Winter is cool as a cucumber in every situation. His attitude is: “Has shit gone wrong? Yes. Can I change it? No. Can I fix it? I can try.” And that’s that. No panicking, no stewing in anger, no anxiety. Sometimes this attitude rubs me the wrong way, but when he really lays it out for me like that, it helps so much. It gets me out of my own head and back to the present moment, and we can start to deal with the problem together.
When traveling with someone else, their interests are likely to be different to yours, too. I feel like, even though we’re married, sometimes my husband and I have nothing in common. But traveling is one thing we both really, really enjoy. We can enjoy new places together, try new food together, and be adventurous together. Being flexible means we can be open to whatever opportunities come our way. I’m so thankful traveling with my husband has taught me this mindset.
It’s okay to do your own thing
Lately, at home, our social lives have diverged. He has a monthly “Lads Night” where they eat ribs or whatever, and I have dessert nights with my girlfriends. I’ve also joined the gym, and that 40 minutes or so a few times a week is my special alone time.
Travel should be the same way.
One of the absolute highlights of our most recent trip was getting to explore the Cheong Fatt Tze/Blue Mansion in Penang (I talk about it here). It would have been impossible with the kids so the husband took them back to the hotel for a snooze. I was able to take the guided tour and immerse myself in my interest area without any distractions.
I offered to take the kids while he toured the Tiger Beer factory in Singapore but it didn’t end up happening. Next time I’ll force him to go. Because I can think of about a thousand other factories I’ll be forced to tour otherwise!
So there you go. A little insight into my marriage that you didn’t really ask for. If you have a partner, what are some things you’ve learned about life through traveling with them? Tell me below!
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