Love travels: What it’s like falling in love abroad and travelling as a couple

February 12, 2018

She had just started a job bartending at Sharkeys Sports Bar after moving from Canada to Bournemouth, England. He had just returned home to Bournemouth after a two-month trip to Australia and went out to Sharkeys to catch up with friends. They met, they chatted, and the rest, well… you know how it goes. Over four years later Matt, now 26, and Ally, now 24, are still together and just as much in love with each other as they’ve always been with travelling. They’ve explored Europe and Canada and are currently in Australia, where they’re documenting their travels on Instagram and their blog.

We caught up with the duo to find out what it’s like when you fall in love with someone from another country, and what it’s like travelling and staying in hostels as a couple. We asked them the same questions independently (no peeking!) and the result, well, it kinda makes you want to fall in love and hit the road.

What’s the hardest part about travelling as a couple?

MATT:  It’s got to be the way everyone else treats you. When I was single and backpacking around Australia, I was at the centre of everything social. Random people would start up conversations with me, and I with them. Now that we’re travelling as a couple, we get treated completely differently. Hardly anyone approaches us if we’re sat together, and even when we make the effort to speak to other people, they often aren’t very engaging when they find out we are a couple.

ALLY:  The hardest part about travelling as a couple is the lack of privacy. While backpacking and living in hostels, there will always be other people around and it feels like we’re constantly being watched! Matt and I are both very social, but sometimes it would be nice to have a quiet dinner together, or a night in watching a film with a pizza on the sofa, like we used to at home.

What’s the best part about travelling as a couple?

MATT:  The best part is having someone to share the experience with. There’s so many ‘you had to be there’ moments when you’re travelling, and having someone there to experience them with is the best thing ever. Ally really gets it, and we reminisce about our travels on a daily basis. The memories feel more vivid because you have two sides to each story.

ALLY:  The best part about travelling with Matt, for me, is watching the experiences through Matt’s facial expressions and his eyes. I know that sounds silly, but catching that cheeky grin when we stumble upon a hidden burger joint, or laughing so hard his face turns red, and especially when he become speechless and stares in wonder at another sunset... that is what makes this all worth it!

What’s your favourite memory from your travels together?

MATT:  Last October, Ally and I were travelling from Vancouver to Jasper and back, over eight days on a bus. We got to Lake Louise on the third day of our tour. Mountains all around us and snow covered trees surrounding the turquoise lake, it was paradise (and bloody cold). I had really wanted to go canoeing on the lake but learned it had stopped after Thanksgiving, so we had missed it by a few days.

There’s so many ‘you had to be there’ moments when you’re travelling, and having someone there to experience them with is the best thing ever.

We were walking around the lake and spotted someone in a bright red canoe. He pulled over to the rocks about 100 feet from us, so we walked over and asked him where he got it from. He explained that he was at uni in Calgary, and had driven all the way with his own canoe to do a photoshoot for his photography class. We asked him how much money we could give him to borrow it for a quick paddle, and the guy was so nice and didn’t want anything, but we gave him $40. (Canoe hire alone would’ve cost us $105 an hour anyway.) I gave him my camera, and he took some photos of us out on the water—turns out he was actually a pro photographer with thousands of social media followers.

It was so peaceful out on the lake, so quiet and crisp, and it was just us. After hours on a bus full of people and sharing dorms with other travellers, we finally had a few minutes to ourselves, and it was amazing. The water was incredible, bright turquoise-blue from the glacial flour, with the best view of the mountains from the centre of the lake. The 15 minutes or so that we were out there felt like hours. That was without a doubt my favourite moment… so far.

ALLY:  We spent one night in the Grampians in Australia with a friend from Canada, and the hostel recommended heading up to Reeds Lookout to catch the sunset at 8:40. We left at 8:00, and along the way, we spotted a kangaroo in the park. Having never seen one in the wild before, we raced out of the car to get a photo. We followed the little ‘roo as it hopped along, and noticed there were plenty more in the field behind the park. All in all, we spotted 29 kangaroos, from fully grown adults to joeys!

I could have easily spent my evening watching them, but we headed back to the car to catch the sunset. The sun was setting so quickly and I was worried we might miss it. Thankfully, we made it with 10 minutes to spare. The hostel staff recommended a viewing spot that tourists often miss and it was breathtaking. The sun was setting in the distance, and we watched while overlooking the rainforest. The sky was changing colours, and we saw beautiful shades of red, orange and purple. It was an outstanding moment, and I’ll never forget it.

What are your top 3 tips for couples travelling long-term?

MATT:  

  1. If one of you has a bad feeling about something, you both bail. Don’t pressure the other person to do something; respect their decision. 
  2. Don’t spend every second of the day together. We try to sit away from each other when we’re in bigger groups, which really helps us get treated as individuals rather than just ‘that backpacker couple.’
  3. Communicate. This is probably the most important thing to do as a couple anyway, and twice as important when you are travelling together.

ALLY:

  1. Interact with other people. It can be intimidating to approach a couple, so make sure you’re open to meeting other people.
  2. Share the responsibilities. While you may divide these based on your personal strengths, make sure to take turns, and share the responsibilities to work better as a team.
  3. Jetlag can be very unkind. Be aware of the effects jetlag will have on you, physically and emotionally. The first few days will set the mood for the type of trip you’ll share together.

How do you keep the romance alive when you’re travelling
on a budget?

MATT:  Ally and I don’t tend to spend money to create a romantic evening. We usually think a bit outside the box and let mother nature help set the mood. In Canada, some of our most romantic moments were things like playing in the snow together, canoeing across Lake Louise, telling stories around a campfire in the wilderness or laying in the grass on a clear night and gazing at the stars. In Australia, we take walks along the beach, swim in the sea or take a shower under a waterfall, but our favourite thing to do is watch the sunset together. We never celebrate Valentine’s day, however, on the 14th of February this year, we’ll be skydiving over Mission Beach, Queensland.

ALLY:  We don’t need to spend money on an expensive dinner or get dressed up and share a bottle of champagne at a fancy bar to enjoy a night for the two of us. We haven’t done this in a while, but sometimes, Matt and I head down to the beach at night and have a picnic. We pack a blanket, some snacks, a bottle of wine, candles and a speaker to play music. The beach is quiet at night, and we usually have the place to ourselves. It’s romantic, but it’s also a very “us” thing to do, and I love it.

How do you work through disagreements when you’re together?

MATT:  We only really have funny arguments about things like: how to correctly pronounce certain words (‘yoghurt’ is a recurring disagreement), what we should have for dinner (aka what flavour noodles we’re having), who gets bottom bunk or the window seat, who needs to change their clothes when our outfits accidentally match and who’s turn it is to make tea/coffee in the morning. If we continue to argue about the same thing for a while, we’ll have a ‘twerk off’—one of us will start twerking and won’t stop until the other person starts. It sounds ridiculous, but you can’t help laughing, and then you realize how silly the argument was.

ALLY:  Only ever on the small stuff: when to wake up in the morning (I hate setting an alarm), what to have for dinner (not tuna pasta again) or who has to work on the slow iPad (we take turns). Whether you’re on the road or at home, any disagreement is resolved by talking it through and compromising! If we feel the issue cannot be resolved, we have a dance-off. One of us starts, and the other has to repeat the move. The laughter helps to lighten the mood, and we’re able to talk more openly, realizing the argument was never that important.

Have there been any new personality traits or pet peeves you’ve discovered in each other as you’ve travelled?

MATT:  When we go food shopping to make a meal, Ally will want to buy random one-off ingredients that will just go to waste because we have no way to carry them (i.e. maple syrup, where we’d either have to finish the whole bottle in 24 hours, or end up wasting most of the $8 bottle by leaving for another backpacker who has just struck a maple-mine).

When we pack our day bags, Ally will say, “Oh, I don’t need a hoodie/coat because it’s warm outside,” but will forget that it gets cool at night and will end up borrowing the hoodie that I had sensibly packed for myself. This happens a few nights a week.

If we continue to argue about the same thing for a while, we’ll have a ‘twerk off’

ALLY:  Matt recently developed a new personality trait that we call Matt-Nav. Like a Sat-Nav or GPS, he is always taking charge of directions and finding a way to reach our destination. He’s really good at it, and while I like to help, Matt will usually take over and always manages to find a quicker or more direct route.

“Sharing” a towel has been my only pet peeve on this trip, so far… Matt often likes to borrow mine, as his is always conveniently stuck at the bottom of his bag. And when we go to the beach, he always leaves it behind at the hostel. I end up sharing half my towel and get covered in sand because I can’t lay out in the sun properly. Matt even has two towels; I don’t understand the fascination he has with mine!

Do you get to spend time alone when you’re travelling?

MATT:  We do most things together, but it’s important to have some time apart each day, even just half an hour to wander off and do your own thing, or chat to other backpackers in the hostel. At the moment we aren’t working, but when we’ve completed our journey up the East Coast of Oz, we’ll get jobs which will give us a good amount of time apart each day, and will mean we have more to catch up on when we see each other.

Is it harder to meet other people when travelling as a couple?

ALLY: Matt and I always make a conscious effort to appear open and available, by not acting like a couple. We often sit away from one another, or on opposite sides of the table/sofa, and try to talk to others who are nearby, and not just amongst ourselves. When playing card games or drinking games, we invite everyone around to join in. I’m known for always making small talk in the hostel kitchen, the dorm room, public transit and even on the beach, and people aren’t always prepared for it! I feel, once they get to know Matt and I, we spend lots of time together, but we almost always make the first move.

My advice for couples backpacking together, is to minimise PDA and be friendly! You may have to make the first move more than once, but don’t be put off by it, and keep trying. Take part in group activities and get to know people individually, not always as a couple.

What have you learned about each other’s home country that you didn’t know before?

MATT:  The national animal is a beaver. The national sport is lacrosse. They don’t just get snow all year round, in fact, I’ve never even seen snow in Ontario. Not only that, the temperatures reached a scorching 35°C on our trip to Quebec City. 

I think most Canadians would lay down their lives for a box of Timbits.

I actually had a better tan in Canada than I do now in Australia. Tim Horton’s is basically a religion, I think most Canadians would lay down their lives for a box of Timbits. The only disappointment was the lack of moose. I was under the impression they were everywhere in Canada, but in fact, they’re a pretty rare find. I’ve only ever seen a female moose, never a male with antlers. It’s still on my bucket list.

ALLY:  I’m not a coffee drinker, and only started drinking tea after my first visit to England in 2011. While I enjoyed my version of it at the time, Matt taught me how to make a proper English cup of tea. I had been making it wrong my whole life and didn’t even know! There’s a whole process to it, an order in which you add things. Don’t leave the teabag in, or the whole cup is wasted. I found it really funny at first, but now these are rules I live by. My mom is no longer allowed to make my tea (sorry, Mom).

Fun Fact: Only upon returning to Canada did I realise how cramped England made me feel. Here’s why: you can fit the United Kingdom in Canada 41 TIMES!

The UK and Canada are similar in a lot of ways, but have you discovered any surprising cultural differences?

MATT:

  • When you’re in a store in the UK and you pick up an item and check the price tag, you know that it’s not going to be a penny more. When you’re in Canada, they add the tax on at the till, and the percentage is different for each province.
  • Tipping in the UK is for exceptional service and is not mandatory. In Canada, it’s normal to tip 15% for a standard meal, and up to 20/25% if it’s outstanding. If you had a really bad experience, they still usually expect a 10% tip, and will automatically add it on for big groups.
  • In Canada people literally go for one drink, but in the UK you need to go for at least four or it’s not worth leaving the house. Unless you live right in the heart of a major city in Canada, you’re probably going to have to drive to your nearest pub/bar, which means you’re limited to one drink so that you can safely drive home.

ALLY:  I think the most obvious cultural difference is our accents, and the way we pronounce/use certain words. Water bottle has become a family favourite, but other common words like vitamins, status and data still give us a laugh when we catch it.

What’ll happen when the travelling ends?

ALLY:  We’ve only just packed up our lives for this RTW trip, so Matt and I could be backpacking for the next five years. I would continue to travel the world with Matt forever, if it were an option! 

I would continue to travel the world with Matt forever, if it were an option!

Matt still has the opportunity to get a working holiday visa for Canada, and that will be the last place we go before we decide where to live permanently and maybe start a family of our own.  Matt will have to decide if he enjoys living in Canada, what he thinks of our cold winter, and if he can live in another country far from his family. The most important thing is to be together.

MATT:  Due to visa restrictions, we’re not sure which country we’ll settle down in. We’re planning on travelling for the foreseeable future. After that, it’s my turn to do the two-year working visa in Canada, and we’ll do some more travelling around areas of Canada we have yet to explore.

I don’t think the travelling will ever really stop entirely, because we’re both from different sides of the world, and so are our families. We’ll keep moving around until we run out of options, and we’ll decide on somewhere that we think is best to settle and raise a family when the time comes. But for now my home isn’t a place, it’s a person.

Follow along Matt and Ally’s travels on their website, Borderline Backpackers, and on Instagram.

This article is part of the
Issue 3

Committed

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