The True Relationship Test: Can You Travel Abroad Together?

Despite being a couple for years, Tony and I had never traveled abroad together.  If you know anything about me, you’d find this insane.  While many women spend their hard earned dollars on jewels, clothes, shoes and gadgets, I have always spent my dough on plane tickets abroad. Every time I would see a woman wearing something that was of value to her, I’d quickly translate it into the cost of international airfare to a destination on my growing list.  I’d much rather make memories than wear them.

Those were the days. But Tony entered the picture and he was sweet, smart and had the most alarming blue eyes. I have no idea what he said during the first eight minutes of our first date because I was so puzzled by how they had this extraordinary lightness to them but were rooted in the most incredible dark blue ring around them.

I digress.

The True Relationship Test: Can You Travel Abroad Together?

The True Relationship Test: Can You Travel Abroad Together?

As we courted, he told me about his experiences abroad in Western Europe.  They were more traditional vacations, often designed to experience his passion for electronic dance music, and no longer than a week in duration, but he seemed to embrace the mystique of travel abroad.

How could my desire to explore be shared by my husband, a linear computer geek?

We fell in love and life quickly made it challenging to jump on planes the way I once did.  I fell horribly ill with a chronic condition that was caused by mold poisoning.  I lay in bed many times during those years, writhing in pain and daydreaming about my past self; the one who could jump on a plane without much of a plan and just go, be, immerse, and explore.  That aspect of my identity was forced to lay dormant as my body failed.  Tony was there for it all and was patient and loving when many men would have walked out the door.

We eventually married. Actually, we eloped because we are seriously not into paperwork. We drove to the beautiful mountains of Asheville, North Carolina in the dead of winter and wed in front of a little stream in forty-something degree weather.  It was perfect.

And then I took a solo honeymoon because my beloved worked for a horrific company that he could only negotiate ten days “PTO” (paid time off) from each year.  We married on a Wednesday and he returned to work the next day. I stewed a bit, trying to shrug off the fact that we couldn’t even take a long weekend to enjoy our nuptials.

I then got itchy feet.  If he couldn’t travel abroad, I’d just have to abroad alone to celebrate our love.

So I did.

To Ecuador.

An obvious choice.

The True Relationship Test: Can You Travel Abroad Together?

Tony, knowing my passion and my health challenges, encouraged me to go.  After all, if someone told you that you must lock up the key to your primary passion in life for years because of your health, you too would go a bit insane.  I was on the brink and it was time to get the passport out.

I spent two weeks in Ecuador – just me, myself and I.  It was liberating, joyful, challenging and inspiring. Yet, I wondered how Tony and I could experience another culture together next time.  How could my desire to explore be shared by my husband, a linear computer geek?  Would he even want to dive into another country’s culture and language as I live to do?

I got home and tried to explain my solo honeymoon to him.  He nodded, told me how happy he was for me and he moved on.  My stories about the breathtaking Guayasamin Museum and the art full of rage, despair, and destruction – how could he understand them?

In fact, my experience staying in a cement home with an indigenous family near Otavalo in the northern part of Ecuador – what could it really mean to him?  My ability to “manage” in broken Spanish after twenty something years away from a language class – how would he really understand how empowering that was?

He couldn’t.

There were no words to describe it all and no framework for him to relate to it.

Then the best worst news happened in October 2014.  The sucky company that he worked for decided to “go in another direction” with the web project he was part of – and he was laid off.  That travel window I had been waiting on suddenly opened and I intended to climb through it, dragging Tony along with me.

My ability to “manage” in broken Spanish after twenty something years away from a language class – how would he really understand how empowering that was?

I had planted the seed for compulsive international travel over the nearly nine years of our relationship. It was now time to ask Tony to water and nurture that seed with me. Due to the way my travel-oriented mind works, I immediately translated the cost of two months of US health insurance to plane tickets.  One month of the healthcare coverage would easily cover two round trip tickets to Quito.  We could score super cheap flights to Cuenca from there.  The gears were spinning!

How on earth would I get Tony to buy into the idea of departing the US to work from abroad while exploring a new country, culture and language?  I had to think like him – linear.  Ultimately, it came down to the logic of the finances coupled with a sweet dash of him wanting to please me after seeing me grounded because of my health for so many years.

The math was easy.  Knocking out US housing expenses and US healthcare meant we were actually SAVING money, even with two round trip tickets.  Spanish lessons ranged from $4-$8 per hour, so we could easily take classes to enhance our immersion experience.

We had friends in the area who were willing to help us with logistics. I agreed to be responsible for the housing issues – which meant finding a tenant to take over our lease, finding housing in a new city two hours away (in preparation for our return)  and securing an apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Piece. Of. Cake.

Any issue raised by Tony forced me to have an answer that sounded reasonable enough to combat his concerns. I was surprised by the amount of tap dancing I did.  Eventually, he ran out of excuses, let go, and reluctantly gave in.

The True Relationship Test: Can You Travel Abroad Together?

Now the big question we’d face was whether we could travel abroad together.  After all, I was used to traveling solo and doing things MY way.  I have very firm opinions about how to immerse in the local culture and how not to schedule and plan your way through a country. My approach requires a lot of flexibility.  I’m talking Olympic gymnastics, gold medal amounts of elasticity.

To complicate matters, Tony didn’t speak Spanish.  I was afraid that the love of my life, who I normally enjoy having in close proximity, would drive me absolutely batty because I’d have to navigate the language for the both of us while dealing with his concerns about the transition.

How on earth would I get Tony to buy into the idea of departing the US to work from abroad while exploring a new country, culture and language?

Those first few days in Quito were tough.  We both had altitude sickness and Tony couldn’t say a word to anyone beyond a very gringo, yet enthusiastic, “gracias.” His efforts to roll the “r” in this word sounded like he was attempting to spit out his tongue. It wasn’t pretty.

His first crack at Spanish without my help involved relying on Google Translate, an obvious fix for a tech geek.  He proudly pulled out a sentence to share with the hotel staff, without my knowledge.  We were in the hotel room and I had mentioned that we’d need more toilet paper at some point. Tony took it upon himself to ask for toilet paper “for his wife” instead of for the room.  We had a good laugh about that one!

We walked the enormous, UNESCO city of Quito and I spoke basic phrases in Spanish to him, constantly.  I thought my mouth was going to slowly melt off my face; it was oral calisthenics and I wasn’t feeling especially patient by day three of this exercise in Tony’s Spanish survival.

And then we headed to the artist Oswaldo Guayasamin’s Museum, the same one that I tried to explain with such emotion to Tony after I returned from my solo honeymoon.  Something clicked.  Tony had that light bulb moment. It turns out he was punched in the gut with the incredibly passionate work of this legendary Ecuadorian artist.

He was engaged and wanted to learn more. He asked questions. And, he was expressive.

He was engaged and wanted to learn more. He asked questions. And, he was expressive. In fact, he took endless numbers of photos. He wanted more and began to wonder what else would be out there during the next two months.

Fast forward.  We are living in Cuenca and Tony is taking Spanish lessons with our skilled teacher, Maria Elena.  We have rented an apartment, made some friends.

Tony is now able to venture out on his own without being glued to my hip.  Despite working virtually, we both feel free of the stress of the “work ethic” of the US, the pressure to consume, the obligation to have shopped excessively during the holidays. We miss aspects of home, but are both drowning in gratitude for this time abroad.

I was afraid that the love of my life, who I normally enjoy having in close proximity, would drive me absolutely batty because I’d have to navigate the language for the both of us while dealing with his concerns about the transition.

I knew we’d be okay for the next few weeks in Cuenca when I overheard Tony talking in very broken, but commendable Spanish for a guy who has only studied it for three weeks, to some of the staff at the local emergency room.  Additionally, I was having some altitude related breathing issues that we thought should be checked out and Tony was patiently waiting for me as I rested in the ER bed.

And in a dream-like way, as I was half asleep on the gurney, I heard my husband ask the staff if people were hurt by the fireworks that we heard almost daily during this holiday season.  (Granted, it was more like “gente aqui – boom boom” – accidentes?” but they understood what he was asking!)  They answered him and he sort of understood.  And he followed up with more questions using words I had taught him and that he had learned from Maria Elena, our teacher.

Then the music started.  (Yes, you heard me correctly – it was the major holiday week between Christmas and New Year in Ecuador.) We all got up to see the latest holiday parade passing by the ER entrance.  The nurses, the radiologist, the administrator, Tony and I – watching as the children dressed as angels and Biblical characters passed by on floats, horses and foot.  We smiled and laughed, pointed and chattered in variations of Spanish, English and Spanglish.

We could laugh at our mistakes, make friends abroad and get on local buses to explore the region – and then we could return to our Cuencan home and feel “at home” in a new city abroad, together.

I looked at my husband and knew that we had passed a major test of our relationship.  Not only could we travel abroad together, we could embrace the experience during the most challenging of times.  He could break out of his US identity as a hard working digital strategist and take some time to smell the roses, without guilt.

We could laugh at our mistakes, make friends abroad and get on local buses to explore the region – and then we could return to our Cuencan home and feel “at home” in a new city abroad, together.

We have since returned to the US and reflected upon many of the remarkable moments we experienced in Ecuador.  I know there will be more experiences abroad, together, ahead.  We have also adopted the most precious little boy since our return.  We named him Hudson, to honor the river in New York where we met and have countless memories of our love story, and to give him the name of an explorer and traveler.

As we enter this new phase of our relationship, I am eager to begin writing about our adventures as a family of three.   I can only hope that Hudson is as easily adaptable and open minded to the joy of learning about other peoples, nations, and cultures as his Daddy is.

The True Relationship Test: Can You Travel Abroad Together? top photo credit Missy Gluckman

About Missy Gluckmann

Missy GluckmannMissy Gluckmann is the founder of Melibee Global where she trains, career coaches, and books intercultural speakers. She travels to learn about the world (and herself), and she loves to write and share stories of her cross-cultural a-ha moments. She’s lived abroad three times and can’t wait to coerce her family into another experience outside the US. Missy is a bit obsessed with experiential education and the exploration of culture, identity and perspective. She currently resides in the breathtaking mountains of Western North Carolina, but hails from New York City (go Yankees!) and can often be found playing tourist and foodie back in her city of birth.

2 thoughts on “The True Relationship Test: Can You Travel Abroad Together?

  1. Missy Gluckmann, Founder of Melibee Global and Better Abroad

    Awwww, thanks Mary! We are so happy to know you and Rich. Thanks for all the support. Hugs!

  2. Avatar
    Mary Ross
    July 11, 2015
    Reply

    Excellent depiction of a true love story and now family. Thank you for allowing Rich and I to share in your incredible journey as you became a family. We have been super happy for you both. We eargerly await the next chapters in your journey. Love you guys!

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