When Tom Wilmes and Ashley Dye started planning a scuba diving trip right after they started dating, they ignored the raised eyebrows and questioning family members.
"Ashley and I took a way-too-early and probably inappropriately romantic trip to St. John in the Virgin Islands after dating just a few months," said Wilmes, an editor at American Cowboy magazine who had been friends with environmental attorney Dye for years before they started dating. "More than a few people asked if we were on our honeymoon."
"It could have been awkwardly disastrous, but instead, we fell in love over mudslides in the moonlight every night on a deserted beach. I told her I loved her for the first time, and now we're married five years with a beautiful son and another on the way in two months!"
Having been on less successful trips with previous girlfriends, Wilmes knew that it mattered that they enjoyed traveling together.
They scuba dived in the morning, played on the beach in the afternoon and had drinks on the deserted beach at night. "We just really meshed," he said. "We're both real low key, and we're not going to get bent out of shape if things don't go exactly to plan. We're compatible in that way."
It's the make or break travel experience.
Whether it's your first trip together or the highly anticipated, much-romanticized honeymoon, travel ramps up the pressure and can tell you what you need to know about another person and how (or if) you'll have fun and solve problems together. One high-stress trip can result in a relationship flameout or the discovery of true love.
"Your first trip will not only reveal your compatibility as a dating couple, but ultimately how you will relate as a married couple," said Allison Pescosolido, co-founder of counseling service Divorce Detox in Santa Monica, Calif. "Traveling can be seen as a mini-test to see how your relationship works when you are together 24-7 and dealing with unpredictable circumstances."'
Lack of shared interests or willingness to explore each other's interests can surface early, and it matters, said Pescosolido.
When traveling early in the relationship, she suggests a few key questions to ask yourself: Does your partner want to do the same things you do or trade off your choices with his choices? Does she roll with unexpected delays or does she complain when your plans go awry? Does he treat hotel and restaurant staff with respect or does he have temper tantrums? Does he spend more time saving money than having fun?
People who crumble under the pressure of a vacation may exhibit that same behavior at home.
Allow yourself to grow
If that first trip to St. John hadn't gone well, the Wilmeses could have simply parted ways. That wouldn't have been as easy for Pamela Skjolsvik of Bedford, Texas. She had already married the guy.
Skjolsvik met her future husband while bartending in San Francisco, and they started dating and married nearly two years after they met. They had taken short trips around the Bay Area before getting married, but they had never taken long trips.
When her fiance proposed that their honeymoon be a three-week road trip in his cargo van, she said yes to not spoil his vision of her "so soon in our marriage." Truthfully, she dreaded driving in a van without air-conditioning, bathrooms or a hair dryer for her frizzy hair and feared bugs -- and possibly serial killers -- attacking their van.
The turning point came a few days into the trip, when they found a campground at Carlsbad Caverns, a National Park in New Mexico with many bats. "I just realized as I watched the bats, 'this is fun,' " she said. "I wasn't worrying about what I looked like, in the moment. After that, it was a lot more fun. I work myself up so much."
She also got to see her husband in a new light and allowed herself to get even closer to him.
"He was capable of doing things I didn't know anything about, like building a fire," she said. "Here's a guy who knows how to get places and knows how to adapt to his surroundings," she says. "I really did get to know him and appreciate him as a person. It was probably a turning point for me."
That's a significant benefit of traveling together. "Traveling can be a lot of fun because you get to spend a lot more time with your partner," said Dr. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist, neuroscientist and co-author of "Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find -- and Keep -- Love."
"Take it as an opportunity to learn how to really be there for one another. That's what a good relationship is all about, the give and take. And it's an opportunity to get closer."