This is yet another secret mission I’ve been working on behind the scenes for the past several months ;).
In the two years we’ve been together, Lauren and I have become truly inseparable, so it was tricky to set up a surprise proposal. Not only were we travelling together, but we were also working full time together on the blog, creating a new series of language guides, and Lauren has been busily learning Russian. I’ll let you know how I pulled it off in a moment…
But before I tell you the full story of our engagement, I thought this would be a good opportunity to write a personal post about the differences between this time period in my life travelling with Lauren and the ten years prior to that, when I travelled on my own.
I’ve read a lot articles on the pros and cons of travelling alone versus as a couple, and I feel like they barely scratch the surface of what it’s really like. As well as that, the authors seem to only have experienced one lifestyle or the other – they’ve either always traveled single travel or always as a couple – but not both. Most of my travels (in fact an entire decade), were spent solo. But the last two years have given me lots of experience on the other side of the coin as well.
I’d like to offer a more balanced look at single travel life followed by couple travel life. But I’ll tell you up front that neither is necessarily better than the other. It’s simply that travelling as a couple is the natural next step in my own life journey.
I consider myself very lucky, since I see my first decade of travel as an education. The lessons I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life. As such, I see single and then couple travel to be a wonderful natural evolution.
Meeting New People
When I met Lauren, I had just reached my ten year travel anniversary. A decade of travel taught me so much about the world that it was only possible for me to learn by travelling alone.
One of those lessons involves interaction with others. When you’re travelling alone, you have no choice in the matter; you have to learn to reach out others, or else you’ll miss basic human interaction.
Years of starting over every time I arrived in a new place, with no ties built or established friends to lean on, meant that I learned to rely on my wits and remain open minded. It also broke me out of the bounds of inhibiting shyness.
Since I’ve started travelling with Lauren, there is nothing to stop us from meeting new people, but the pressure to do so has been removed. We can rely on one another for company.
That said, as a couple, it’s still very easy for us to meet new people – potentially even easier than it is travelling alone. We can pool our resources and expand our social circles through our own separate interests.
This is much easier to do, though, when we live somewhere for several months. When we zoom through a place quickly, I will be more likely to stay with Lauren than venture out and try to meet as many people as possible.
I’ll admit that now, after doing it for so many years, I have gotten tired of having my entire social circle reset each time I get off a plane, but I’m glad I had a period of my life where I was pushed to learn with this challenge. I had to adapt, become more social, be more flexible with people, and make friends based on the merit of how I present myself on the first interactions.
After having to start over dozens of times from scratch, I definitely welcome knowing that my best friend is with me everywhere I go. She knows me, and I don't have to prove anything or go through awkward small talk to be able to spend time with her. I’ve met a lot of people, but now I’m ready for quality and depth after having focused on range of friendships for my solo years.
Experiences and Memories
As you can imagine, with ten years alone on the road I have plenty of stories that I can share. I’ve climbed Mount Sinai and sailed across the Nile. I’ve windsurfed in lagoons in Brazil. I’ve hiked the Inca trail. All of these experiences, both the amazing and the tough ones, helped me grow and expand my horizons. I personally needed to do these things alone. And I wouldn’t give them up for anything. But when I tell them, it’s only my voice that I use. I tell them from my perspective.
Stories from my solo travels are great, but there is something to be said for telling a story that Lauren can continue telling. We can be a tag-team of sorts and give two perspectives on the same event. When she tells one of our stories, she remembers details that I would have left out, or otherwise forgotten. And when Lauren’s in the hotseat, I can relive the memory while she shares the story.
Even better, whenever either of us wants to relive a special moment, we have someone to share the story with. When I talk about my experience, say, walking the Great Wall of China, and look at a photograph that another tourist took for me, that’s not quite the same as the proposal photo you see at the end of the article, which is a moment that we can talk about for hours as we share our different perspectives.
Shared memories make for bigger smiles!
Finding Out Who You Are
One of the top reasons I'd give for grabbing a bag and hitting the road on your own is that it will challenge you, push you and expose you to experiences you would never get back home. In essence, you find out what you're made of.
I could essentially re-invent my entire personality when I began travel. Hell, I even effectively changed my name! I went with the nickname Benny instead of Brendan as I began my travels, and decided to see what this new person was made of (since Brendan was just nothing more than a computer nerd). If I had a negative experience in one place, I could go somewhere else and start with a clean slate.
That’s only half the story, however. Who you are when you are alone is different to who you are when you’re with people you care about.
For example, when I’m on my own and meeting new people, they tend to want to talk mostly about travel or language learning – both of which I love – because those are the big elephants in the room. But I do have other interests, like science and technology, that I don’t often to get to talk about unless I’m with someone who knows me well.
Now I have the best of both worlds, since I can be social when I need to, but I can also feel complete with another person. I can come home and relax, and truly “be myself”, since meeting new people all the time is exhausting, no matter how extroverted you may be.
Dealing with Personal Problems
There are some unexpected side effects of travelling as a team that make a big difference to some of your basic, day-to-day needs. For example, for an entire decade, every time I needed to use a public restroom at a train station or airport or a restaurant just after arriving, I had to take my heavy bag (since it has everything I own in the world in it) with me into the bathroom. Do you know how big of a pain in the ass that is?
It's so simple, but now Lauren and I take turns watching our stuff while the other one goes off. Little things like that, which you get help with all the time make travel much less stressful.
I’m also a vegetarian who happens to be allergic to nuts, which is an annoying combination. Not all countries tend to list all ingredients on their menus, so in the past I have bitten into a big bite of sandwich only to discover a peanut sauce that leaves me scratching my throat with my tongue for two hours. But Lauren isn’t allergic to nuts, and isn’t vegetarian, so now I travel with my own personal taste-tester for whenever I’m in doubt!
Along the same vein, though, we each have some personal restrictions that we inflict on each other. As a single traveler, you only need to deal with your own problems. You don’t need to accommodate for anyone else’s. In our case, because Lauren is really allergic to dust, I now only rent accommodation that doesn’t have carpets (when I can). And this isn’t something I ever had to think about before. On the flip side, because of me, Lauren always has to eat at restaurants that offer vegetarian options. If she were travelling alone, this isn’t a sacrifice she would need to make.
When you are a single traveller, you dictate where you go at all times. I had this full flexibility, and it meant that I could decide to hop on a train at the last minute or say “yes” to any opportunity.
Sounds like heaven, right? Do whatever you want, all time time!
Well, you can always get too much of a good thing. Not having any kind of filter when you’re making decisions means that it's harder to have enough focus to stick with things until they become more worthwhile experiences. It’s harder to truly enjoy something when at the slightest hint of it not being wonderful, you can just walk away.
The paradox of choice means that you feel paralised because you don’t end up doing anything for long enough, since there are always reasons to feel FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), get up and go somewhere else. I’d feel antsy if I was ever at a party or event, talking to someone and wondering if maybe something more exciting was happening somewhere else. It actually was quite infuriating, since I felt this pretty much all the time.
As a couple, I have a new policy. When I look into things to do I always ask, would we like to do this? This I-to-we change means that I never see opportunities as lost, because my partner's happiness is my happiness. It's opened me up to new things that I never would have tried. And as a bonus, I’ve gotten great pleasure out of seeing Lauren enjoy these experiences.
For instance, I'm not a drinker, but I took Lauren and a friend to some vineyards in Australia as the designated driver. Seeing how much she enjoyed it made me instantly happier, and I got to see beautiful vineyards, which is normally not something I would have taken the time to investigate. I care about Lauren so much that I'd actually be a little sad to do something that would be simplistically just for me, like going to another Star Trek convention. I’d know that she'd either not be enjoying it, or not with me.
We’ve also been able to sway each other into trying new things we otherwise wouldn’t have thought to try. Without me, Lauren never would have discovered the wonders of the SciShow Youtube channel or Esperanto events, and without her, I never would have tasted butter beer or discovered the joys of the Renaissance Festival.
As I see it, it’s all part of growing up. It's nice to go through a “rebellious” time (although I had nobody in particular to rebel against) where I could do what I want, but I’m really happy now to do things that we like. And of course, Lauren is just as happy to watch me geek out in a Gibert Jeune language book shop, or joining me at the Polyglot Gathering, or watching science Youtube videos with me!
Sharing joys is what life is all about!
Being Together Forever
I’m always much happier doing something that I know Lauren enjoys too. I’ve come to a place where I feel something would be missing if I was to try to do something that’s only for me. That's why I knew I had to spend the rest of my life with her.
And that's what brought about my proposal. Now for the story…
One catch of being so close is that we spend pretty much every minute of every day together! We work together, live together, travel together, eat together, and take breaks together. So I had to be inventive to surprise her with a proposal.
All logistical research on my computer had to do be done whenever she had a shower. To get the ring I had to invent an interview for my blog. Then on the big day, it took so much energy to stay calm, but I acted very casual and worked hard to steer the conversation towards making Lauren think that she suggested everything in terms of where we'd go and what we'd do.
I really wanted to capture the moment itself with a professional photographer, so we could remember it forever. So, last week in Paris, when we went to a café near the Eiffel tower, I pretended that I kind of recognized someone outside the window, but then I acted reluctant to talk to them. Lauren, then of course suggested that I should go say hi.
This “friend of an old coworker” (who I had told long in advance to be in the café at exactly that time) told Lauren he was waiting there for his clients who wanted a family photo shoot in front of the Eiffel Tower. Then he offered to take a photo of us in front of the Eiffel tower while he waited. Lauren thought that would be cool, and of course I agreed.
A few minutes later we were in position, and as he was snapping away I got down on one knee and popped the question.
She said yes 🙂
She was also shocked and confused, but figured out that he was a professional photographer who I’d hired to be there for the occasion and lure her there unexpectedly.
We spent the next hour snapping photos in front of the Eiffel Tower and around Paris. Lauren was dying to know how on earth I managed to orchestrate all this while we've been working full time all year.
Then I finally sat down with my new fiancée and told her all this.
This travel experience, and many others before it and to come would really not be the same if I couldn't be with the person I share the experience every day. Travelling solo was fun, but travelling as a couple is rewarding to the deepest level.
Thank you Lauren, for making me the happiest I’ve ever been. This traveller is glad to see his solo travel days behind him!
Okay, so I've shared my stories of a solo traveler and a plus one traveler with you, now shares yours with me! Click the comments below to join the discussion on Facebook.