“Are you not going together?” The downside and upside of travelling alone when you have a partner

“Are you going with Robin?”

This is usually the first question I get when I tell  my friends or family that I am off to a visit a new place. Which is fine, because since we are a couple, people expect us to travel together. After all, our relationship started when we went on a three-week adventure together and fell in-love while on an island with only 4 hours of electricity a day and both intoxicated with local vodka and rum.

But  after a while these kinds of questions get into you and at one point you start to question yourself .

“Should I feel bad that I am away from my husband almost every month and even on occasions like Christmas, Valentine’s Day and even our anniversary?”

Our first travel together in Palawan, Philippines 2007

Our first travel together in Palawan, Philippines 2007

We started out as two people gripped with wanderlust.

Robin lived in the Philippines for more than two years, as a student exploring the mountains of Isabela for bats as part of his Master’s degree and as an amateur photographer hoping to make a career out of it in a foreign land. He had back packed throughout Europe and visited several Asian countries before settling in Manila.

I met him in 2007 on an interview that involves a lot of coffee and a lot of vodka. He was looking for a writer for a travel assignment to Palawan – three weeks of paid vacation and a good per/article rate. At that time I just came back from a weekend sojourn in Pagudpud where I decided to stop all the nonsense in my life and pursue happiness. Needless to say I was also job less, having just left a lucrative marketing position.

The Palawan getaway was a perfect gig but it came with a catch – I need to spend Christmas and New Year away from my family.

In the tradition of strong Filipino family-ties, these two occasions must always be spent with the family. But I told him that for all my 24 years, I had spent it with my family and it wouldn’t hurt if I skip one Christmas away from them so I follow my dreams to travel.

Fast forward to two years after, I moved to the Netherlands to be with him and start a life together. And although we still have that wanderlust, life caught up on us.

We got full time jobs, bought a house and began a life of a normal Dutch couple – a life that involves taxes, bills, immigration processes and assimilating to my new country.

Summer of 2009 visiting my friend in Madrid

Summer of 2009 visiting my friend in Madrid

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A weekend trip in Berlin

I got lucky with my job which allows me to travel Europe for free. On the same year, I began to travel again with my first salary. I went to Madrid in the summer and slept at the airport on the eve of my birthday – the trip that began my yearly birthday pilgrimage and revived my desire to travel. And I haven’t stopped since. I am away at least once month, sometimes spending two weeks away from my husband – both for work and leisure.

While Robin’s job is also flexible, he decided to venture deeper into his passion and made it into a business. Robin Kuijs photography is slowly building a reputation and he spends his vacation days photographing weddings, editing hundreds of photos and working on his website. Sometimes he also travels out of the country for work or to go to a photo trip alone.

Table for one please

Always a table for one.

To make the story short, we don’t have enough time to travel together and since in this country, more work means higher taxes and more travel means a lot of expenses, our budgets don’t meet either. Two people who are crazy about good food, loves good alcohol (even in a Muslim country) and who prefers to be pampered while travelling definitely needs more than sufficient funds to travel together.

So for the last two years, I had been travelling alone most of the time – I went to Morocco, Istanbul, Italy, Nantes, Tallinn, Greece, Russia and the Philippines without him and we spent two Christmases and two anniversaries thousands of miles away from each other. And just last week I booked a  weekend trip to Dresden without realizing that I am leaving on Valentine’s Day until he saw the ticket and blurted, “You are leaving on the 14th?! I was already planning something.”

A weekend retreat in the High Atlas Mountain, Morocco

A weekend retreat in the High Atlas Mountain, Morocco

One of our mirror shots in Luxembourg

One of our mirror shots in Luxembourg

 

Yes we still do travel together, like our  weekend in Geneva meeting with Perps, road tripping in Portugal for a week and when I brought him back to Morocco with me where we stayed in a mountain and watched the stars brighten the North African sky.

But whenever I am overwhelmed with the beauty of a place that I have recently discovered, I wish that he would see the same and I can share the same feeling with him. That desire to drag him along to all the beautiful places that I have seen made me cry a lot and caused  plenty of  intense arguments.

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Last year in Russia, at the beautiful Pavlovsk Park just outside Saint Petersburg

I wish he was with me while I was enjoying the pleasures of travelling. 

I wish he was with me in Russia while I wonder in amazement at the opulence of the Czarist’s palaces and the immaculately, white gardens which provides for endless leisure walks. I am sure he would have photographed them beautifully.

I wish he was celebrating with me and my family during Christmas of 2011. We could have had the same feast of roasted pork knuckles, boiled crabs, tiger shrimps, chicken curry and leche flan that my family cooks very well.

I wish he had seen the monks of Theotokos Monastery in Paleokastrista and their dogs and probably hundreds of cats living with them. He loves cats.

I wish he had visited the mosques of Istanbul with me and see for himself that the inside of a mosque can be as rich and amazing as the grandest Catholic churches. We only saw the facade of mosques in Morocco and really didn’t t really bother to enter one back then.

And most of all, I wish he was with me during all those nights that I spent alone in a strange hotel room, lying awake throughout the night, waiting for ghosts or a serial killer to scare or bludgeon me to death. I am one scaredy cat. And God knows how many sleepless nights I had because of this.

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Girls who travel – my travel companions in Morocco.

Making new friends in Istanbul

Making new friends in Istanbul.

But I must admit that while we could have had a lot of fun  travelling together, there are also many things that I enjoy doing alone. 

I think Russia would have not been as meaningful if he was with me. Part of the reason why I went there was Dostoevsky and he does not have patience for philosphy books. I would have had a hard time explaining it to him.

I would not have made new friends on my first time in Morocco, Sardinia and Istanbul.

I would not have experienced the inconvenience of getting lost all the time, travelling on a rickety train and getting fined €50 for not stamping my ticket to Milan or sit at the back of a Vespa and being driven to the bus station by a charming, old Italian man because I was too drunk to understand directions.

And don’t even let me start on how annoying shopping in Venice, Milan, Tallinn and Madrid would have been if he was with me. We all know how men hate shopping.

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Our shadow shot (since there is no mirror) in Luz, Portugal, autumn of 2012.

Yes there are guilty moments and lonely times whenever I travel without my husband. But through these years I have learned that not only travelling together enriches a couples’ relationship, travelling apart also allows you to become a better person for the one waiting for you at home. 


1 Comment
  • Bart Wijnberg
    February 3, 2013

    Nice story! Will tell you some as well one day.

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