The Couple Conundrum – Travelling Together
Selling everything you own to travel the globe with the person you love; it’s a romantic notion many loved-up, travel-hungry minds only ever dream about.
They say opposites attract; I guess that’s how I ended up on top of a karst mountain in Xingping, China, yelling at my moronic boyfriend to stop doing his best karate kid impression immediately next to the edge.
“Just take the photo and I’ll get down,” Pete yells across at me.
I’ve known this boy for fifteen years; I’ve been stupid enough to have been his girlfriend for about six of them. ‘Girlfriend’ is a loose term. ‘Parent’ or ‘guardian’ may be more apt. Our home life in Australia was constantly marred by 2am trips to the hospital after Pete had drunkenly severed an artery in his hand or split his head open walking into a slot machine. For the record my hospital tally is zero. Pete’s is nearing double figures.
When we left Australia over two years ago to work and travel around the world, our friends and family thought we were crazy. Our best friends began to place bets on how early we would give up and come home. Safe to say, we are owed quite a few beers upon our return at the end of the year.
But who can blame them? Pete, the notoriously lazy procrastinator and Kate, the anxious over-planner; we aren’t exactly a great match in life, let alone long-term travel companions. Before we left Australia we hadn’t so much as lived together and now we were embarking on an adventure that would require us to spend every waking (and sleeping) moment together.
With two very different approaches to life, Pete’s ‘she’ll be right’ vs. my ‘she’ll be right because I’ll plan every last step and then rehearse it for two weeks prior,’ working together to tackle the world proved to be more of a challenge then we had expected. The morning of our departure from Australia, after packing my backpack in the way I’d practised for the previous four weeks, I stood under a cold shower sobbing in a state of panic. Pete installed the lights his mother had been pestering him to do for the last seven months and casually threw random articles of clothing into his bag.
Twenty-six months and twenty-eight countries later, we’ve managed to devise a system to prevent ourselves from killing each other.
“Kate does the planning, logistics and budget, and tells me where I need to be. I do the talking,” Pete explains to our new Scottish friends over dinner and Efes beers. “It’s a system.”
Hearing this system verbalised, I realised I had somehow managed to get the raw end of the deal…
"Certainly, there have been days where I thought our story would end with Pete locked up in an Indian prison cell for murdering me after I dragged him halfway around New Delhi in search of a shawl with the perfect shade of turquoise"
That was until we got to China, the land of squat toilets with no doors, chicken feet in vacuum seal bags, and where virtually no one speaks English. After countless hours spent fine-tuning our itinerary, searching for the cheapest flights, and fretting over whether our Chinese visas would be approved in time for our flight the following day, watching Pete mime ‘toilet’ to a girl in a supermarket made all my hard work seem worth it.
Much of our first year of travel was spent bickering about how many Euros Pete had spent on weissbeer at a Berlin nightclub the night before or whose turn it was to be the annoying tourist asking random strangers where the nearest metro entrance was. By the time we reached Portugal, seven months into our trip, to meet up with an Australian friend, our romantic world adventure had become anything but romantic. It was bordering on all out war.
“I never wanted children, yet somehow I ended up travelling the world with a six-foot-five child and his drunken mate.” I tell our seven new best friends around a table covered in beers in party town Lagos, Portugal. “I’ve become a walking, talking Lonely Planet guidebook. I’m ready to leave them both.” They all laugh. I’m not joking.
After farewelling our friend in Florence, as he travelled north to Germany (led by Cupid’s firm grip) the pressure pot that had become our relationship finally exploded. Where better to have a lover’s quarrel than the city of love itself, Venice.
“The hotel must be that way.” Pete points in the wrong direction.
“It’s not that bloody way. Here, look.” I thrust the upside down map at him. “There’s San Marco Square,” I point with more force than necessary, “so it must be down that way.”
“Just chill out, ok? I’m just trying to help. You don’t need to speak to me like I’m a four year old.” He turns on me as a loved up couple stroll past openly staring.
The romance that oozed from the city did little to quell our blatant loathing of each other. We eventually reached our costly Venetian hotel and Pete immediately left to find an Irish bar playing the Tottenham game. I was so glad to have planned our trip to coincide with the football, at his request. At least I had the luxurious room to myself. Italian TV and a slice of pizza in bed was all the romance I wanted at that point.
Had Pete taken this trip alone he likely would have flown to England, blown all his money in the first weeks on beer, burgers and football tickets and would have returned to Australia within 3 months. Vanity would have me think that I could have done it all alone. In reality, however, I would probably never have marched myself from under that cold shower and taken the flight in the first place. When he returned an hour and a half later, it was that notion that had us both disarming our weapons and waving our white flags.
Hence, our system was born.
Long term travelling is no holiday. It’s frustrating, humbling, confronting and at times, exhausting. It’s buses at five in the morning, directions written in English when the street signs are all written in Cyrillic, it’s seeing small sari-clad girls pooping in the streets, it’s getting food-poisoning in Kashmir and vomiting rice for the next twenty-four hours.
We had just arrived in Luxor, Egypt, after a short journey north from Aswan, where I had endured two hours of cat-calling and leering from two men in the seats across from me. Pete had been dozing unaware in the chair behind me and although I was dressed in a long-sleeve tunic and jeans that covered my flesh in the forty-eight degree heat, I had become their entertainment for the ride.
I’d been warned by guidebooks and other tourists simply to ignore such behaviours or risk making the situation worse. I simply continued to read my book, as the pit in my stomach grew larger. When Pete began to rouse, their leering seemed to ease. I explained briefly what had happened. He spent the rest of the trip leaned forward with his arm on my chair ready to send a warning stare right back to any more that came my way.
“I know it’s frustrating, but you’re OK. You just need a nice long shower and a good dinner.” He looks at me sternly and says this as though it is fact. I’m not so sure; I’m fast approaching my culture shock threshold and I just want to give up and go home.
But, as is often the case with Pete (just ask him), he was right. After searching out a decent restaurant serving western food and summoning the comforts of home by settling in with me to watch Harry Potter on our laptop, my frustration at having to bite my tongue in such situations began to ease, and my world became a little brighter. As night fell, I knew that I could never have done this without him, nor would I have wanted to.
Certainly there have been days where I thought our story would end with Pete locked up in an Indian prison cell for murdering me after I dragged him halfway around New Delhi in search of a shawl with the perfect shade of turquoise. Sometimes I wonder what would have played out if I had gone it alone in my own rendition of Eat, Pray, Love. But mostly, looking back with rose coloured glasses, I see that our story was indeed a romance; we were falling in love with the world, and each other.
The memories which our minds share are now like an invisible thread that weaves our lives together. No-one else remembers that time we followed a junkie down a Bucharest alleyway at midnight in search of a hostel after missing a connecting train. No-one else can re-live our relief when he actually took us to a hostel and only demanded the equivalent of $2 as a tip. No-one else can savour the taste of the pancakes we were given the next morning by the hostel owner. It is our memory; and ours alone.
Equally, no-one else can share in my annoyance at watching Pete do karate moves on the edge of a cliff…