Traveling with your partner can teach you a lot about yourself, your partner, and your relationship. So for Valentines Day, we are sharing some relationships tips for traveling and how to live in a camper full time with your significant other. Now, we’ve only been together for 5 years, and married a year and a half. So we are not exactly relationship experts. If you talk to older couples with 30- 40 years, they are the experts. But living in a tiny camper is definitely like relationship bootcamp. So here is relationship advice for traveling with your partner…learned living in an RV.
*this post contains affiliate links to books we recommend for relationship advice
1. Be ready to know everything about each other.
No matter how long you’ve been in your relationship: if you are living in an RV or traveling with your partner…get ready to be REALLY comfortable with each other. When we first moved in together, we lived in a studio apartment, and it was hard not having a door between the living room and bedroom…so we often took long baths by ourselves to have space. This is not an option living in a 15ft camper. One time we lived without a door to our master bathroom and we thought THIS had prepared us to live tiny- we were wrong. There is literally no place to hide in such a small space. So get ready for the farts, and the tears, and everything in between.
Living in a small space means you have to get to know your partner…both because you can’t help it, and because its survival! Learning what makes your partner happy, and what makes them upset can really help things go well.
2. Know each other’s Love Languages
A book that has been really helpful for us is the 5 Love Languages*. Different people experience and express love in different ways but understanding the way your partner gives and receives love, and how you give and feel loved is important to communicating your affection for each other.
1. Words of Affirmation
Jessi always jokes “will work for compliments,” but its true. For Jessi, words of appreciation and praise mean a lot to her. She will go the extra mile to feel respected and appreciated. It took months of unraveling communication issues to realize, that a few words of affirmation go a long way to feeling cared for in the relationship.
2. Giving & Receiving Gifts
For many couples, little gifts can be a way of expressing love for each other. When we had different schedules, surprising each other with flowers or even grabbing groceries on the way home was often ways of expressing that we cared for each other. In fact, when we were downsizing and getting rid of pretty much everything we owned, the hardest part was getting rid of those cards of kindness from each other. While lavish gifts can be lovely, sometimes something small and thoughtful like a note can send the message: I am thinking of you, even when you are not with me.
3. Acts of kindness /service
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to express that you are thinking of someone. When you are on a budget, or like us, don’t want to own many things, acts of service can mean more than gifts. Sometimes a little gesture of kindness can communicate how much you care.
When Valerie cooks, Jessi feels like the luckiest woman in the world. When Jessi makes coffee in the morning, Valerie feels cared for and loved. In fact, when only one person can stand up in your house at a time, we end up doing a lot of favors for each other. “Honey, while your up, will you pass me the __[fill in the blank]” is said multiple times a day. Instead of getting annoyed, we just have to run with the punches and embrace serving each other.
Same thing with chores. It’s important to be able to communicate if one person is feeling like they are doing more than their fair share of chores. Once you figure out the right balance, there will still be times when you can do a little extra. Taking out the trash, making coffee, buying groceries…all these things are little love letters to your partner. If you notice your partner doing something nice, express how much you like it: the positive cycle just continues.
Make it a game:
At one point we both felt we were doing a lot without feeling appreciated. Then we realized it was because we were both doing things that the other person wasn’t aware of. So we started playing a game each evening where we:
- Acknowledged the nice things we noticed the other person did that day
- We shared things we did that the other person didn’t notice
- We mentioned times where we felt extra cared for during the day
Even though it was silly at first, by doing this ritual, we started learning the other person’s love languages, and daily expressed words of affirmation by acknowledging each other’s act of service.
4. Quality Time
Another key love language is quality time. Until really learning each other’s love languages, this was a huge source of conflict for us. With our busy schedules and long commutes, all the kind words, acts of service, and hugs still often left us feeling empty and distant from each other. We then realized that we were often so busy doing things for each other, and everybody else, that we were missing the simple ingredient of time. Time together–not together in front of the TV, or together working on projects. Just time. Time exploring, time eating at at a table looking into each other’s eyes, time riding in a car, time dreaming about the future. Just time.
Now we have a lot of time together. A lot. A lot. So much!
Moving into a camper and traveling full-time was a big life change. It meant giving up a lot: our life in San Francisco, our house, our belongings, our debt, a lot of stress, and the biggest thing we gained: was time. More time to sleep, more time to dream, and definitely more time with each other. Perhaps our life change was a bit extreme, but sometimes you have to do something big to realize the answer was there all along: which for us was time.
5. Physical Touch
Ok, here is the obvious one: touch. Hugs, kisses, cuddles…and everything else…are super important to feeling close with each other. For some people, physical touch is one of the biggest ways of feeling loved. It’s important to know what communicates love to the other person.
In our camper, we can touch both walls with our arms outstretched, so it’s very easy for us to be close to each other. In fact, we are not sure if it’s possible to have two people in this camper, and have them not touch each other. Still understanding how we are showing up in this space…the physical energy we are communicating to each other..this can speak louder than words.
3. Be aware of your energy
Traveling together or living in a small space also forces you to become hyper aware of your body. You have to learn the physical energy you are exuding: both good and bad. If you move or flail in anyway, you will hit your head or arm or knee on the closest wall. Sudden movements made in frustration literally take up the entire room and can feel very intimidating to the other person. Living tiny can be a rude awakening in body self awareness because it both hurts a lot to bang your head, and it also hurts to see how the aggressive energy can impact your partner. If you feel upset, you only have two options: sit quietly until it passes, or go for a walk outside.
Being aware of your energy also relates to tone of voice. We often don’t realize when the tone of our voice may be communicating something much more negative than we are intending. Tone of voice can conjure emotions in the other person far beyond the words that we speak.
4. Ask about the other person’s experience
Something that has helped us work on our tone is realizing that there are often 3 conversations that happen:
- The one you hear and say
- The one the other person hears and says
- What “actually” happened (if there was a transcript)
We will often have a conversation or experience an event, and then argue about the details or who said what. Part of this is because we don’t realize how our tone or energy is conveying things that may be hurtful to the other person. Another game we play to help us understand the other person is by asking them what they experienced or felt during a conversation. This moves us away from the she said/she said game of attack and defense into a place of empathy for each other’s feelings. It is much easier to be present to the other person’s feelings if they are in a place of vulnerability vs. blame or accusation.
5. Always deescalate
Whether stuck in a car on a long road trip, long plane ride, or simply hashing out the details of life, humans annoy each other. It can be very easy to react to what the other person is saying because you feel ignited. This can lead to escalating arguments, where each person feels justified raising the temperature in the room a little because the other person “made” them do it. This can lead to a room of triggered, righteous anger, and it’s rough on a relationship. Even if you feel justified, it can be more powerful to do whatever you can to deescalate the situation. Feel like you can’t speak without shouting? Stay quiet or go for a walk. Or learn to communicate in a more productive ways.
6. Communication is Key.
Ok, yes, communication is the cliche answer that you hear anytime you ask people about the secret to relationships. Really. We meet a lot of elderly couples while living in RV parks. And whenever we ask couples married for 50 + years about the secret they usually answer communication. But what does it actually mean to communicate well?
There are a lot of communication frameworks out there, many of which center around the fact that communicating is more about listening, understanding and translating versus broadcasting. One popular framework we are trying to get better at is Non-Violent Communication.*
Non Violent Communication
Following this template is hard for us, but it’s a great framework to strive for. The more we practice it, it’s amazing how these 4 things improve our effectiveness at communicating.
The magical sentence is:
When you do _______, I feel _______. I’d like (or need) to feel ______, so would you consider doing _______ instead?
1. State Observations
Stating concerns or things that upset you as an observation rather than an accusation can help the other person respond in a compassionate empathetic way, rather than feeling on the defensive. You can start conversations with “What/when I observe (hear, see, imagine)….”
2. Use I Feel Statements
Using sentences that start with “I feel” can be more powerful than statements that start with “You are…” Starting phrases with sensations or feelings rather than thoughts or accusations can feel less threatening. After all, we can argue over what was said or done. We can argue over what we thought the other person was thinking, but we can’t argue about how the other person was feeling during a situation. Your own experience is the authority on what you are feeling.
3. Discuss your needs
Everybody has needs in a relationship and in life. Ultimately you are responsible for your own needs and getting them met. But sometimes your partner can help you out. State things as “what I need or value (rather than specific action).” Instead of “I need you to take out the trash,” you might say, “I’d like to feel like we are a team when it comes to doing the chores.” Taking out the trash, would be the request to help you achieve those needs.
4. Make requests, not demands
Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between a request or a demand. A request gives the other person the option to say no, without negative repercussions. Requests can be clear action statements that the other person can do that will enrich your life and may help you meet your needs. What does this look like? Instead of saying “You are late again for our plans! You obviously don’t care about me. Don’t be a jerk,” you could rephrase: “When you are late, I feel like you don’t care about me or respect my time. I’d love to feel more loved and respected in our relationship. Would you be willing to be more timely when we have plans together?” It’s much easier as a listener to be eager to please the speaker of the second sentence rather than the first.
In conclusion, there is no secret pill to communicating. But there are things we can learn to get better at. Even when you are mad or hurt by your partner, you can still treat them with love and respect. A motto in our relationship is: You can disagree without being disagreeable. Understanding how to gracefully and kindly express observations, feelings, needs, and requests can help work through conflicts in way that actually bring you closer as a couple in the process.
7. Have Fun, and laugh
At the end of the day, it’s really powerful to just laugh it all out. You can’t live with another person in a small space without having days of farts, fur, mishaps, and mayhem. The best medicine is laughter. Being happy seems to be more about how much you laugh rather how much stuff you own.
If you’re not getting along before you live in an RV or travel a lot together, those issues will follow you and magnify once you hit the road. Traveling or living tiny can also be relationship bootcamp and can be an opportunity for you and your partner to grow closer because of everything you are learning. You learn that you must be kind to your partner in order to survive. Traveling together is also a great way of just having fun and blowing off steam, and fueling a playful and spontaneous relationship.
Ultimately, living in an RV and traveling full time is a lesson in not taking life too seriously. You just learn to laugh at the good times and the bad. You learn to embrace the ups and the downs of the trip and your relationship. Learning how to be happy isn’t an automatic, it’s a journey.
Happy Travels Everyone!