After our college graduation, my girlfriend and I planned to move from the East Coast to California in pursuit of graduate school (for her) and my first real, full-time job. We drove (I drove, she rode) a fully-packed Honda Civic coupe 2,944.4 miles—roughly 40 hours of travel—one way over a five day period. Ten months later, we drove all that way back to the East Coast, a whopping 2,478.8 miles (this time with a 12-week old kitten), and our relationship didn't implode.
Here are 9 tips and tricks for how to survive the stresses of cross-country traveling without tanking your relationship—or even just surviving the drive home for the holidays.
1. Plan ahead
Let’s be real: traveling sucks, and it can be even messier with a partner. Try to make your trip as stress-free as possible. Know where you’re passing through and when, and try to pick out hotels and food options in advance. Make sure you have a back up plan in case you get off-track at all, since you never know what kind of traffic you may run into, or you may knock out more miles in a day than anticipated.
P.S. If you’re traveling with a pet, make sure the hotel allows it or the fee isn’t through the roof. (Also, free breakfast is clutch.)
2. Make some damn good playlists
Whether your trip is 6 hours or 36 hours, I can promise you that you don’t want to be riding in silence. Make sure your playlists contain music that you BOTH enjoy. Throwbacks were really a hit for our 40-hour drive (and kept us from murdering each other, or falling asleep at the wheel).
3. Be honest
When it’s time to eat and the two of you are trying to decide where to go, don’t say "I don’t care." Of course you care! You’ve been in the car all day. Be honest about your wants and needs. The same goes for hotels, coffee refills, and any other stops you may make along the way. Speak. Up.
4. Ask questions
Get to know each other better than you already do. Ask questions and be prepared to answer the same one in return. You’ll be surprised at the things you don’t know about your significant other. Side note: there are tons of lists online that we used, like "27 questions to ask before you get married," or "99 fun questions to ask your partner." It may sound silly, but you’ll be thankful when you’re in the middle of nowhere in Utah and you need a distraction.
5. Keep a stash of snacks
There’s nothing more worse than being hangry and trapped in a car. Keep a few snacks that’ll hold you both over until you’re planning to stop so that you aren’t adding any additional time to your trip. The best revelation we had on our cross-country trip was to take a Dominos pizza with us.
6. Use the bathroom every chance you get
Every time the two of you stop somewhere, go to the bathroom. Just do it. This is not a fight worth having. Whether the stop is for lunch, coffee, gas, or to stretch, relieve yourself so that you aren’t stopping again 30 minutes down the road. (From personal experience, it’s usually the passenger that doesn’t follow this rule...)
7. Pick a topic and share stories
Want to know everything? My partner did. Having your partner trapped in a car for 10+ hours is the best chance you’ll get for asking them any and everything you’ve ever wanted to know—and believe me, mine asked every thought she’s ever had. Take a phrase and run with it: say "Tell me about your relationship with alcohol," or "Tell me about 5th grade," or "Tell me about your most embarrassing moment." Trust me, you’ll get some good stuff out of this.
8. Find an outlet for frustration
The longer your trip, the more frustrated you’re likely to get along the way. Find a way to take out your frustration (other than on your partner.) For me, working out is my outlet, so finding gyms or hotels with gyms along the way was absolutely necessary.
9. Be spontaneous
If you see a beautiful field of sunflowers on the side of the road, pull over for a photo-op. If you see signs for "Fountain of Youth" on the next exit, or an attraction for the world’s largest whatever (light bulb, frying pan, Santa), stop, no matter how tired you are. It could be a once in a lifetime opportunity!