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Traveling with your significant other? Well-Mannered Traveler columnist Harriet Baskas says couples trips can be great fun, but it pays to plan ahead and know what you're in for.
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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/14/2008 9:17:54 AM ET 2008-02-14T14:17:54

Roses are red,
Violets are blue;
You're really cute ...
But that's doesn't mean I'll go on vacation with you.

Divorce crossed my mind recently when my (otherwise perfect) husband insisted we take a “shortcut” that deposited us far away from a museum I'd crossed an ocean to see.

On this Valentine's Day, I'm happy to report that the marriage was saved. All it took was a few deep breaths and repeated reassurances that those shrunken heads probably weren't going anywhere without me. Oh, and a reminder of how, years earlier, I'd marched us through Paris on a cold, rainy day in search of the Museum of Bread, which may not actually exist.

Perhaps you've been there. Not to the Museum of Bread (although if you have, please tell me — I still have a bet riding on it.) But at that point on a trip with a new or long-time partner that has you wondering if you're not on vacation but on the road to relationship ruin.

How can a well-mannered traveler avoid that mess? Here are 10 ways to leave — and come home still talking to — your lover.

1.  Where to?
Before you jump in the car or head to the airport with your sweetie, take some time to talk about your dream trips, your most memorable trips, the places you like to stay and the things you like to do. Compare notes before you plan your vacation.

2.  Take a personality test
What sort of travelers are you? Do you pine for lazy days on sunny beaches or action-packed adventures that include climbing mountains, chasing bulls or making your way through every art museum a city has to offer? Do you like to have every detail of your trip planned out before you leave home or do you enjoy just showing up in a city and wandering around?  It's important to know each other's style before you hit the road.

3. Divide and conquer
A couple who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary have great stories about happily traveling the world together. What's their secret? “She does all the research; I make all the reservations,” the husband told me. “By now, we know to trust that the other one knows what they're doing.”

If it works for them it may work for you. Consider viewing the vacation as a project that needs managing: divvy up responsibilities and try not to second-guess your partner.

4.  Agree on the non-negotiables:  No beans for dinner
Most of us have a few travel details that can make or break a trip. For example, you may rule out hotels where the bathroom is down the hall. Your partner may insist that heating up a can of beans in the hotel room does not count as “eating out.” Declare your non-negotiable items in the trip planning process, not once you're on the road.

5. Agree on the ‘must-dos’
You can't do everything on every trip, but make sure you and your partner are clear about the “must-do” items on each of your lists. What good is spending a week dining at the fine Parisian restaurants your partner really wanted to visit if you never get to fulfill your dream of visiting the Eiffel Tower?

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6.  Respect the routines
Travel is about experiencing new things, but there are often small routines we take along with us to feel comfortable on the road. Neurologist and world traveler Chris O'Brien says for his wife Nancy, it's the morning ritual of making and drinking coffee. “We have coffee pots and plugs that will work anywhere in the world and I've learned not to schedule morning activities that might interfere with that routine.”

6.  Travel together, but pack carry-ons separately
It's a good idea for couples traveling together to mix their belongings when checking luggage. That way if one bag gets lost, both of you will have something to wear. But because we have our own comfort levels during delays or detours, each person should pack their own carry-on bag and fill it with travel items they consider essential.

7. Let some downs be ups
Sometimes it's not about what you do on a trip that makes it memorable, it's what happens on the way there. Alyne Ellis remembers when she and her husband set out to meet a long, lost relative. “I thought it was in Rome, Georgia, so I planned our entire trip around that. When we got to Rome, I pulled out the address and realized we should have been in Athens, Georgia, on the other side of the state. We laugh about it now, but at the time it was rough.”

8. Remember where you are — and aren't
Lizzie Post says once you're away from home together, “you have only that amount of time to have fun and enjoy each other.” She says it's important to leave “home” issues at home. Post, an author, etiquette expert and the great-great-granddaughter of etiquette-icon Emily Post, works with many members of her family. “I often talk with my boyfriend about what happens at work. On vacation once he held both my hands in his across the table and said to me, ‘This is our time relax. Let's focus on where we are and what we're doing here.’ And he was right.”

9.  How can I miss you if you won't go away?
Some couples feel that if they're going to take a vacation together, they should spend all their time together. Forget that. Scheduling alone time and heading out for daily or occasional separate activities will keep you from getting on each others nerves.

It also gives you something to talk about. For example, writer Lisa Wogan and her husband start their trips by booking separate seats on the airplane. “That way we have fresh stories to share as soon as we arrive.”

10. How can I miss you if I don't go away?
It may turn out that you and your partner don't travel well together. You don't have to. Plenty of couples take regular or occasional separate vacations — alone or with friends — and do just fine. If you do choose that option, make sure you come home with lots of fresh stories and some great souvenirs.

And if you think you're up for a trip to the Museum of Bread, please give me a call.

Harriet Baskas, The Well-Mannered Traveler, also writes about airports and air travel for USATODAY.com and is the author of “Stuck at the Airport.”

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