We set out to understand the truth behind the age-old saying, “travel is the best test of a relationship” and provide some useful advice for people taking the relationship-adventure leap.
To do this we talked with adventure veterans Sarah Murphy and Stefaan duPont – a couple who had been together for 11 years when they put down their successful New York City design careers and took a year-and-a-half adventure around the world. In the end they experienced new places and cultures, tested their courage and adventurer’s spirit, and challenged the strength of their bond.
We interviewed them separately for both perspectives about life on the road as a couple. This is a two part series. Part one features the photography of, and an interview with, Sarah Murphy, one half of Miles & Miles.
Traveling wasn’t something I always wanted to do. It evolved into this idea at random. I was sitting with my boyfriend Stefaan on a beach in Block Island, Rhode Island trying to ﬁgure out a way to elongate that feeling you get from an amazing adventure weekend. I sat there on the beach, looked out on the ocean and daydreamed about traveling for an extended period of time and then said…
“Why donʼt we take a whole year off and travel?” Stefaan turned to me and said, “Okay. ”I thought, “Woah really? Okay, wait really? Yeah? Alright, weʼre gonna do this!”
Duration: 15 months
Countries visited: U.S., Canada, Iceland, France, Italy, Croatia, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand.
Adventure mobile: Modified 1996 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck
Avg pace: 4 days in each place
Preferred latitude: 65 N (Iceland)
Preferred season: Summer
Website: Miles & Miles
Share realistic goals
We didn’t take the idea of leaving everything to travel too seriously at ﬁrst. But the more we talked about it, the more we wanted to make it happen. It was daunting and exciting and completely overwhelming. We saved as much as we could by working our full time jobs, putting our apartment on Airbnb and doing random side jobs to reach our goal of leaving with $20,000 each. I never thought we’d reach it, but there was also this compulsion that we had to do this thing. Putting our mind to that goal and accomplishing it, showed us we could do it. In a way, setting and achieving financial goals leading up to the trip, built our confidence to go on the adventure itself. There is a lot of rewarding emotion in getting to a place you’ve been talking about and planning for.
Be spontaneous, challenge yourself and accept the tough times
Going into it, I deﬁnitely thought about how this adventure was going to be a serious test of our relationship. But Stefaan and I have been together for so long that even though we would probably see the best and the worst versions of ourselves, it was going to be a blast. You can’t really prepare for the difficult times – so we just went with it and had confidence in our relationship that we were going to be fine.
In a way, the adventure is a mirror of that. We left for the trip in March 2012 and had a rough idea of where we wanted to go but mostly let it be spontaneous. My favorite thing about any size adventure is not knowing whatʼs in store. Theyʼre all amazing in their own way and you can’t prepare for twists and turns. All you can do is be confident that you’ll make it through the bad moments and in the end those will be the best stories. But you have to live through them ﬁrst.
Climbing Kilimanjaro was for sure that moment for me. We were dirty, cold, sick, vulnerable and unable to hide anything, but it was also completely epic. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be combative when things aren’t going my way, but in this most challenging instance Stefaan and I supported one another. Maybe because we were so vulnerable – on a mountain, nowhere else to go, sharing misery – that staying open and positive was the only option. We found a way.
Embrace your role and hold up your end of the bargain…until you can’t, then ask for help
Iʼm more of the planner in the relationship. We worked together to choose destinations we wanted to visit, but logistically I was in charge of booking things, ﬁnances and ﬂights. Generally, I like to have control but can also be indecisive. Stefaan is so easygoing that it tends to balance out between the two of us. Sometimes the roles changed when one of us was homesick or physically sick and we knew when it was time to swap positions. Problem solving together is crucial so one person doesn’t feel over-burdened. Understand that traveling can be really taxing and youʼll both need each otherʼs support at different times.
Expect to see new sides of your partner and accept them
Like I said, Stefaan is typically really easygoing, but adventuring with him I saw he got stressed out about things I wouldn’t have expected. Normally I look to him to keep me calm and grounded so this was a new experience for both of us. Heʼs a creature of habit and we were both thrown into this adventure where neither of us knew what to expect. There were moments I could see the stress in his eyes – and without being obvious – it changed how I treated him. This is where it gets really cool because in those situations after some time on the road I found myself naturally stepping in to help without even realizing it. He didn’t have to say anything for me to know he needed support, I just knew. It’s kinda like a relationship intuition that develops with time and after you’ve made it through some difficult moments together.
Stop, look around and appreciate what you’re doing together
Waking up next to your favorite person and literally having the world at your ﬁngertips to do what you want with…thatʼs really what adventure is all about! I look up to people who travel alone, but I love having that person to share and experience everything with.