I have a friend. He has a cool mustache, a beautiful Land Rover, and a wonderful girlfriend. Together they recently returned from a three-month overland journey from Florida to Alaska and back and I have to admit that I initially feared for their relationship, as I do for all couples heading out for the first time. As far as I know they had never traveled together for such a long period in such cramped quarters and I have been witness time and again to married couples divorcing and young lovers fleeing each other at the end of a big journey.
I partially blame Instagram and travelers like me who feed the world a highlight reel of beautiful moments, camps, landscapes, beaches, and experiences. It’s a false reality, the way Disney princess movies show an unrealistic view of relationships. We help create the illusion that our lives are perfect and you too can live this perfect life. You never see the negative moments, and the bar is set too high.
But life on the road is not only magical hikes and campfires—it’s more typically a daily exercise in patience, dirty dishes, laundry, extremes of heat and cold, dust, driving, and disorganization. At home, in the real world, you and your lover may only spend a few hours a day and the weekends together. Your home is equipped with facilities and distractions and, most importantly, indoor plumbing. On the road, you will be together 24/7 and the personality traits that bug you but you’re usually able to ignore will be amplified to an eight on the relationship Richter scale. No one likes to be told that they’re annoying. Words will be said, words that can never be taken back and that will be catalogued in the arsenal of past infractions to be dusted off for future combat. You suddenly hate each other but are stranded together in a car, hike, or campsite. You have to work together and live together; if you quit and leave the relationship is over, so you are forced to work it out. Or not.
A mechanical failure in a remote area, with the sun setting, ice on the ground and no mobile signal is one of the greatest tests of a relationship. All the bluff and bull will fly out the window and you will get to see what your partner is really made of. If he or she throws a tantrum, storms off in a huff, screams, performs, cries or shoots blames at you like bullets, it may be time to start planning your exit. If he or she makes you a cup of coffee while planning a repair or extraction you are in good hands, this is the kind of person who you want to hold hands with through life.
The building blocks of a great relationship on the road are the same as a great relationship at home—it’s just that fault lines are exposed. And maybe, in a way, being on the road is a great test for compatibility. Do you continue to respect one another, even when you see each other at their worst? Do you continue to communicate well, to set aside the petty differences because you can see the bigger picture? Can you understand that the trials of the road are just problems to be solved together?
Those couples whose affections survive a long-term, long-distance overland journey will have done so through compromise, their relationship will be the rock upon which they can build a beautiful life together. They may marry or eventually drift apart but they will know each other truly, deeply, and honestly.
Overlandia is the art, science, and romance of driving in the dirt. To see more, visit the Overlandia channel page.