Since the publication of Once Around the Fountain, the book in which I tell how successive travels together helped romance bloom between my future wife and me, I have been interviewed in the media and queried in private on how to travel and love can mix. Only a fool will claim omniscience or even mere brilliance in the ways of the heart, yet I have, over the years, across many time zones, latched hold of a few ideas, which I here provide as ten easy-to-follow tips.
1. Perfect is exactly what life and each of you is not. Learn to live without it and love may yet bloom.
Despite the best-laid plans of men and women, things go wrong while traveling. A little bit of storm activity in the Midwest is causing "slight delays" throughout the system, requiring you and two-hundred strangers to turn gate 37A into a dormitory for the night; but not to worry, because you are going to the Opera Ball in Vienna and the airline has already hauled your tailcoat and ball gown to a cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, on their way to a beach party in Bora-Bora; which is not to say you will have much need for your dancing clothes, since once your arrive in Vienna, one of you slips on a carelessly dropped Sachertorte, resulting in a limp worthy of Richard III and some blunt long-distance words with your HMO.
It is absolutely possible still to have a good time even on this trip-if you pull together and work as a team. But suppose all of this really did start when one of you insisted on taking the "budget" airline. Stow the blame until you get back home. Find something you can do together that doesn't require much walking, and make the best of it.
The secret to traveling together is to double your daily allotments of generosity, acceptance and forgiveness. And patience. Whenever you travel as a couple, pack an extra suitcase of patience, in the event none is readily available once you get there.
2. It's about listening to each other and accommodating each other.
I know: your couples therapist keeps going on about that point, and if you won't at least pretend to listen to what he says, he will cut off your Prozac allotment, but it's all the truer on the road: Inevitably, you're going to want to go out of your way to see one particular thing and your partner will want to go see something altogether different. It's always best to plan in advance. He really wants to see the arms-and-armor collection? She really wants to see the costume exhibit? Neither cares all that much for the underwear-through-the-ages exhibition, but will go if there is time? (I'm not making this up; not only did I go, but I have the poster to prove it.) Before you head into the museum, agree that you will see the suits of armor and the dresses first, and only take in the undies only if there is time enough. It is better to do one thing that is important to each of you than even a dozen things both of you could live without. And unless it is something that truly doesn't interest one of you, it is always nicest when you go together.
3. Divide roles by aptitude.
You would think that, as a travel writer, I come fully prepared for the trip by, for example, reading about the history of my destination, studying guidebooks and learning the local words for yes, no, please, thank you and What kind of an idiot do you take me for? In the main, I show up wherever I'm going in a state that lies somewhere between modestly informed to wholly ignorant. Luckily, I travel with Julie, who routinely packs a small library from which she reads whole passages at each important stop. In a complimentary way, I've shown modest competence at reading maps and compasses-the latter yet remaining little but a curiosity to Julie-and do nearly all the driving. So I get us where we aim to go, and once at our destination, Julie explains why it is we ever should want to be there. What a team.
4. Food and wine are the mother's milk of romance.
There are few things more romantic than sharing a good, long meal. Liquor can sometimes be romantic, but wine almost always is. If you want a trip to be a romantic experience, leave plenty of time for enjoying meals together, and don't stint on the wine-if neither of you is driving. And don't forget dessert. In fact, just to be sure, start with dessert.
5. Seek out novel places and events.
Rolling hills are romantic, as is pounding surf, as are snow-capped mountains and country lanes and the moon in June and-there are few things that kill romance quicker than convention. If you go to the lake every year and you want to keep romance alive, go somewhere dry. And don't limit yourself to the countryside. There are few things more romantic than bounding together through New York streets, the crowds rushing everywhere, the two of you a part of it but somehow, wonderfully, alone together. Surprise activities are also romantic: Cruising the Rhine, punting on the Cam-even a shared jaunt through a red-light district has a naughty charm that can be romantic. In short, an imagination is the most romantic facility you possess; use it well and the rest of you will surely follow, unless you are a perfectly matched couple because you are both hopelessly dull human beings, in which case go immediately back to your hotel, order in pizza and pray that the local cable channel carries reruns of The Brady Bunch.
6. Traveling with other couples can be romantic.
Two couples sharing a trip together can often help spark a double romance. Love grows in proximity to love, and traveling couples can quickly end up inspiring each other to greater romantic heights. Besides, under most circumstances, most people are at least superficially more accommodating to those they merely like than to those they truly love, so if you have other people always at hand, you are less likely to start bickering over some junk you'll barely remember by morning. So travel as a foursome. But don't all share a room-unless you are going for an experience that perhaps falls outside the boundaries of this piece, in which case do send me an e-mail and share the memories.
7. Shop for something you can enjoy together.
It is fine when she buys something for him, and even better when he buys something for her. It is usually best when they both buy something they can share-a vase made by the local potter, a watercolor of the view from your hotel, that marble-topped, mahogany-veneered Louis XVI secretaire that my wife bought on impulse in Rouen (while I was nonchalantly shopping for a pocket comb) and which I had to negotiate to have carted across the ocean-never mind the bilingual squabbles with the dealer and his shipping agent in Paris, which is a whole separate report-and then finally get into our apartment months late, only for my wife to see, the moment it was uncrated, that it was totally the wrong thing, and, "Honey, would you get hold of Sotheby's and tell them to auction it off, please?" Something you can share. Nothing can be more romantic.
8. Decide on the decision maker.
It may be him for the wine and her for the restaurant, or him for how large a car to rent and her for whether to watch The Brady Bunch or Swedish Nurses in Love VII in your hotel room-but for each thing of consequence, by acclimation, delegation or seizure of raw power, one of you should have final say. Or you'll be arguing about it the rest of your lives.
9. Spend extra.
On the ideal journey, it is possible to be romantic and cheap. The Hubble Space Telescope is seeking out the planet on which such a journey is possible, and NASA remains cautiously optimistic. Unless and until that discovery is announced, spend a little more on those special things that make for romance on the road, and you won't be disappointed. Just don't go into debt to finance a vacation. Debt is a very, very unromantic thing.
10. When all else fails, do something silly together.
You think I'm kidding? When our trips have gone awry, Julie and I have eaten out whole ice cream shops, gone skinny dipping, snuck into overpriced museums and bogus tourist attractions, bought kitschy junk, sat outside in the cold and drunk hot mulled wine. The next time you get into a jam thousands of miles from home, do something stupid together, something no two people in their right minds would do with each other. That's how you'll know you're still in love.