I’ve partied in a pink toga in Greece with a college friend, skied in the Arctic Circle with a group of close classmates, and biked through rice paddies in Vietnam by my lonesome, but never had I ever traveled with a significant other. Until now. My boyfriend of a little over a year, Kasey, and I planned our winter vacation to El Nido in the province of Palawan, Philippines. I consider myself to have a certain braveness when it comes to travel. After all, it takes a bold personality to go hiking alone in the Turkish mountains or to stay in the home of an Italian Kurt Cobain look-alike who you just met, but traveling with another strong personality can be a huge challenge in itself. Especially when you love that person and will be sharing a thatched hut with them for over a week.
Karst limestone formations loomed over our heads, as Kasey and I clung to our boat that was skipping over the crashing waves. Island tours are one of the most popular things to do in El Nido, so we had joined a tour to some of the most impressive beaches and caves. Our group consisted of almost all “couples”. I use quotes because there was a European man, most likely in his 50’s, and a young Filipina woman, who looked to be about 20 years old. They never spoke to each other, except through caresses and I’m almost certain she was an escort. Otherwise, there was a Spanish couple who constantly yelled at the crew to take photos of them when they weren’t utilizing their selfie stick, a large man with a ponytail and man-boobs with his tiny Asian girlfriend, a couple from New Zealand who we assumed were normal, and a solo guy from Finland. Our boat was SILENT. This was relaxing for the first hour and awkward for the next five. People seemed content in their couple cocoons; murmuring and snuggling up against each other. I started to worry that I was expected to only speak to Kasey for this entire trip. The Finnish guy ended up making conversation with us, but mostly directed his questions to Kasey and after a while, I wasn’t really part of the conversation. It seemed as though Finnish man wanted to pretend that Kasey was also a part of the solo travel club. I sighed and looked out at the ocean. I was having a great time with Kasey, but I had to wonder if traveling as a couple would make us pariahs. In my travels alone and with friends, I have met some quirky individuals, but it looked like many other travelers found couples to be annoying/intimidating/boring and being approached wasn’t going to be as easy. Getting to know other travelers turned out to be the biggest challenge and difference of traveling as a couple, but there were other differences.
When I traveled Europe in my early 20’s, the backpacker crowd was all about taking shots and finding sex, as they still are now. A large part of their trip is to experience other cultures, but also to try and sleep with people from those cultures, if they are lucky. My friends and I used to smear make-up on our sunburnt faces and head out to the bars in our wrinkled dresses, hoping to meet a cute boy from another land and have at least an entertaining, flirty chat. Traveling with your boyfriend, this is a total non-issue. We’re at the bar to drink and hang-out, not flirt, and I could be there in my pajamas, without a drop of make-up on my face, and I’m probably going to get lucky. Instead of using the common pick-up line, “Where are you from?” or “How long are you traveling here for?” in order to lure someone sexy back to your hostel bunk bed, couples ask these questions because they actually want to get to know other travelers. Many times during our trip, Kasey and I would order a beer from the bar and then take it out on the beach and drink it there. We’d laugh and talk about silly things under the twinkling stars, while under the flashing neon lights, drunk, tan guys in tank tops would slur charming come-ons to pretty and tipsy girls sitting at a table with their friends. I watched them and wistfully missed the bar games, but it passed quickly as I took Kasey’s hand and we walked back to our hut, stopping for a Nutella crepe to share along the way.
Two days before the end of our vacation, I wrote this blog as a draft in my travel quote plastered journal. I initially triumphantly wrote that we had survived the week without many arguments except one about whether Gatorade or water is better for you and we had a moment where Kasey snapped because I was trying to take too many photos of us (is there such a thing?!). But I suppose, our vacation went two days, too long, because on the last day, sitting in a shitty pizza joint in Puerto Princesa waiting for our flight, it happened. I ordered spaghetti and Kasey ordered a garlic cheese pizza. My spaghetti turned out to be horrendous and tasted like Chef Boy-ar-dee. I moaned about it and Kasey refused to give me any of his pizza saying “I’ve always known that you should never order pasta at a fast food restaurant. ”
My brain exploded from the pressure of dealing with each other in close quarters for almost eleven days.
“WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THIS BEFORE I ORDERED THE SPAGHETTI? WHY WOULD YOU TELL ME THIS NOW? YOU ALWAYS DO THIS!”
The manager of the pizza place stared at us and the foreigners sitting at the table next to us looked uncomfortable. I was yelling, but also crazily smiling, because I possibly was having a mental break-down.
“TELL ME THIS BEFORE I ORDER SHITTY SPAGHETTI!”
Kasey looked confused, but was calm.
“Well, sorry, hindsight is 20/20. I realize these things later.”
I grabbed the edge of the table growling like the Hulk, but somehow we both started laughing and it was over. The rest of the day was full of illogical, tiny fights like this one, mostly because we may have mentally gone off the deep end from too many long bus rides. Lucky for me, I am dating a fairly rational and caring guy and we never ended up having a serious vacation fight or blow-out. We did, however, zip line across islands, made our way to secret beaches, and swam through turquoise blue lagoons. This trip to El Nido has been one of my favorite adventures and I like to think, there are many more adventures like it to come because we’re not just a couple. We’re a couple of travelers.