Are You Ready For A Road Trip?

Can you and your sweetie handle time together, cooped up in a car? Sure you can… Rev up your relationship with this advice.

By Erika Rasmusson Janes

arly in our dating days, my husband and I took a road trip from New York City to Minneapolis. I knew the 21-hour trip could make or break our relationship—after all, being confined to a car for so many hours was sure to bring out annoying, er, interesting quirks in both of us (like my frequent need for bathroom breaks and his fondness for Broadway show tunes). But despite the stops and the songs — or maybe even because of them — we emerged from that trip with our affection for each other more than intact.

If you and your honey are planning a road trip this summer, know that a successful excursion means more than a well-tuned vehicle and good directions.
Manage each other’s expectations before you buckle your seat belt.
It also means learning how to navigate the often-rocky road of traveling as a twosome. “Road trips can be the best possible way to spend time with someone, but they can also be incredibly stressful,” says Mark Sedenquist, publisher of, a web site that offers advice and routes for road-trippers. “There are going to be moments of frustration brought on by traffic, weather delays, and the occasional mechanical problem.” Not to mention whatever issues you and your partner bring along for the ride.

While there’s no one right way to take a road trip, the following tips can help prep your relationship for the rigors of the road.

1. Talk about the trip before you take it
“People have wildly different underlying reasons to take trips, even when they seem to match up perfectly on the surface,” says editor Megan Edwards. So discuss some key questions before you leave.
  • First, why are you taking the trip? Are you trying to quickly get to your cousin’s wedding or are you undertaking a joint quest for adventure? Know the goal before you begin.
  • Second, what are your expectations? You might view a road trip as an opportunity to splurge on a romantic inn, while your partner may equate a road trip with Motel 6. You don’t want to discover that after a long day of driving.
  • Third, how far do you plan to drive in a day? Fights can arise when one person has a “get-there-fast” mentality while the other wants to take frequent pit stops. For women, bathroom breaks are non-negotiable, but other stops — like whether to check out the world’s largest ball of twine might require some compromise. When Scott Baker and his girlfriend took a cross-country road trip from Philadelphia to Utah, they laid out what each day was going to hold before getting started. Then, if they were ahead of schedule, they’d stop for tourist destinations; if they were behind, they’d barrel through. “Know where you want to be at the end of the day,” he advises.
2. Don’t be afraid of silence
It’s almost inevitable that one of you will want to tune out at times. And that’s fine. “Quiet time is totally appropriate on a road trip,” says psychologist Terri Orbuch, Ph.D. “Part of being comfortable with each other is recognizing that silence is OK, and it doesn’t signal that there’s any problem with you or the relationship.” As part of your “expectations” conversation, bring up the fact that there might be times when you’ll want to pull out a book or put on your headphones.

Still, you can’t spend an entire trip tuned in to your own iPod. Long stretches in the car are an opportunity to learn more about your mate, so have some conversation-starters in mind. Ask about a favorite vacation or what her childhood summers were like. Avoid taboo topics like religion, politics, or past relationships, Dr. Orbuch says. “You’re confined to a small area with few distractions and no way out for a long period of time.”

3. Let the music play
When it comes to tunes, learn to share. That’s how Baker and his girlfriend survived their road trip. Their rule was simple: The driver ruled the radio (which often meant NPR when she was driving and baseball games when he was driving). If one of you absolutely can’t stand the other’s selections, Dr. Orbuch says it’s a good idea to let each person veto a selection or two. Or agree beforehand that you won’t listen to anything the other person despises. But don’t get hung up on
No surprises at the gas station: Plan how to split costs in advance.
differences. “It’s important to recognize that you won’t always love the same music,” she says. “People shouldn’t read into this; it’s not meaningful.”

4. Determine who’s driving
My car-loving husband claims my night-driving almost killed us once, and I’m happy to let him hog the wheel. But if you both love (or hate) driving, agree to an equal split. And if you’re not driving, be a good passenger. For years, New Yorker Kara Perrin’s husband, Jesse, didn’t have a license. To make up for his inability to drive, “he did things like pump the gas, rub my head and neck, and play the music I liked,” she says. “He also always thanked me, and he never slept—no matter how tired he was.”

If your partner’s driving skills make being a good passenger difficult, broach your discomfort tactfully, Dr. Orbuch says. Use “I” statements (such as, “I’m getting a little carsick, so would you mind slowing down?”) rather than “you” statements (like, “You drive too fast!”) And if you’re the driver, be considerate of your passenger’s feelings, says Lizzie Post, author of How Do You Work This Life Thing? Advice for the Newly Independent on Roommates, Jobs, Sex, and Everything That Counts. “Some people can’t handle being driven 90 miles per hour down the highway, and there’s no reason to make them uncomfortable.”

5. Figure out finances
“It’s important to decide things like how expenses are going to be handled in advance,” says Edwards. “Talk about things like speeding tickets, even though they might seem unlikely.” There’s no one right way to deal with finances, she adds. “What works is what you agree on.” For Post and her boyfriend, that meant using a gas card during a road trip from Vermont to North Carolina and then splitting costs down the middle, but not haggling over every dime. For Baker and his girlfriend, it meant alternating fill-ups “with the understanding that it would all come out in the wash.”

6. Make food a priority
It’s hard to eat right on the road. Regardless, most women (and plenty of men) aren’t happy eating fast food three times a day. Don’t be afraid to assert your desire to eat at a real restaurant with healthy fare one night if you’ve been relying on burgers and fries most of the time, says Dr. Orbuch. Indeed, part of the fun of road-tripping for me and my husband is finding quirky, local eateries. But sometimes, such choices are hard to find, so Dr. Orbuch also recommends packing a cooler with your favorite snacks. That way you’ll always have an alternative to fast food.

Of course, gorging on greasy burgers and milkshakes can be part of the fun of a road trip—one more element that sets it apart from your everyday experiences. When New Jersey resident Elena Mauer and her now-husband took a 17-hour road trip from State College, PA, to New Orleans, she says, “We ate bad fast food, stayed in a total dive, and had one big blowout argument. But we made it and still tell stories.”

Which brings us to:

7. Road trips do make great stories
Mauer and her husband still laugh over the fact that she was so concerned about the cleanliness of the sheets in that dive they stayed in that she wouldn’t take her clothes off—in part because working through issues like getting lost or getting a flat can really help a couple connect. So no matter where you’re going or how long you take getting there, be open to a trip’s risk and rewards. “It’s a bonding experience,” Mauer says of road-tripping, “because it’s you and your companion against the world—or the gross sheets.”

Erika Rasmusson Janes is a freelance writer in New York City. She and her husband are planning a road trip to Vermont this summer.
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