Jennifer Ruiz never anticipated that her birthday trip to the Mediterranean with her partner would end in a breakup.

The Florida-based travel writer and her partner had planned the January 2023 cruise around destinations like Greece and Turkey for six months. 

That wasn’t their first trip. The pair had previously traveled together and sometimes argued, but that didn’t deter her excitement. As a seasoned traveler, Ruiz was used to navigating airports, but her partner struggled with flying. “We saw air travel as a tense thing because of his preferences and my preferences,” she said. Suffering from tinnitus, he didn’t like flying and would want to “isolate” while she was more relaxed. “They didn’t necessarily mesh with the way we traveled, especially because you’re stuck in a tube for however long.” 

Ruiz felt like the disunity between her and her partner’s travel styles escalated other issues they had in the relationship. “They’re aggravated by the setting,” she said, despite no one really being right or wrong. He had a strict diet, and felt uncomfortable asking for specific requests, while she just wanted to enjoy all the food onboard. 

Onboard the cruise ship together, Ruiz said the lack of space – “that element of being stuck (in a cabin) and being on the water – continued to add to the tension throughout the trip. It was her partner’s first time on a cruise, and as someone who liked to stick to his routine, he ended up being “edgy,” which, in turn, made her “defensive.”

Breakups are hard enough at home. Add hundreds or thousands of miles and a time difference, and they get even more complicated. For some couples, it may have been a long time coming, while for others the travel itself can play a role.

The small things began to add up and finally, in Santorini, the couple had a big argument and she said her partner took off and “disappeared in the middle of Santorini.” Ruiz remembered feeling “resentful” because this was how the two were spending their one day in “the most romantic place on earth.” 

Back on the ship, Ruiz learned her Facebook profile – vital for her job as a content creator – was hacked. Instead of consoling her during the crisis, her partner took space outside on the balcony with the door closed. “It was a really horrible birthday,” she said.

They broke up shortly after that and had to spend the last two days of the cruise together. “It was really tough,” she said. He went home and she went to Egypt, as pre-planned. 

From the experience, Ruiz realizes that she should have let the relationship go sooner and she was “forcing things” through this trip. “It’s like trying to fit a square into a peg hole.”

“Travel is definitely a test of your compatibility,” she said. “It’s important to know the other person and really not think you can just bypass certain things. They’re not going to get better just because you’re in a vacation setting.”

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Tips for navigating travel during and after breakups

Kiaundra Jackson, a licensed marriage and family therapist, said breakups are often caused by a build-up or combination of factors. However, travel can add new variables and stressors.

Even before the trip begins, some travelers are planners while others “need a little bit more assistance with that,” Jackson said.

“I think that that can be frustrating for some couples where there is a mismatch in … getting tasks done,” Jackson added. “And that could cause friction.”

Travelers may also have more time on their hands and fewer responsibilities when they’re away from daily life. “And sometimes that can get you in trouble,” she said. “You might be drinking or you might be hanging out with people that you’ve met there, and there may be some attraction or some cheating or a breach of trust.”

She recommended that couples thinking about traveling together do a lower-stakes test run, like a staycation or road trip somewhere close to home. Consider talking about your vacation styles, as well.

“‘Do you want to be lazy and just lie in the bed all day and be by the pool, or do you want to do something more adventurous?’” she recommended asking. “And just have those conversations so you can at least get an idea of what they would be like on an actual vacation versus you being completely surprised when you’re in the thick of it.”

If couples decide to go, Jackson recommends making sure they have access to their own money in case something happens and they need to get separate accommodations or book new transportation home. It’s also a good idea to have a “support person” who is familiar with their relationship.

“You just want to at least have one person who knows where you are, knows that you’re safe, and not just physically safe, but emotionally safe,” she said.

When it comes to traveling with an ex, Jackson said it’s important to prioritize your mental and emotional health. “If going on this trip is going to send you in a downward spiral and make things worse, and now you’re completely away from all of your loved ones, it’s probably not the best idea to go on that trip,” she added. Though some couples may be able to depending on the circumstances of their split.

Alyssa Meza’s ex-boyfriend Nick asked her to go to Thailand with him on their first date. It started as a joke, but less than a month later, she flew to Bangkok where Nick was working to visit.

The Nashville-based pair bonded over their love of travel. So even after they broke up their nearly five-year relationship last June, they decided not to cancel a planned trip to Europe for her birthday.

They were still living together while Nick looked for his own place by the time the August vacation rolled around, and the breakup was amicable, with Meza feeling like the relationship had simply run its course. They also still co-parent their Mini Bernedoodle, Pavlov. “And then I was like, ‘Let’s just go on (the trip),’” the 33-year-old said. “‘We travel really well together. It wouldn’t be weird.’” (Plus, their plane tickets were nonrefundable.)

It wasn’t weird. 

If anything, Meza said, it was freeing. “We can be very different types of people on vacation,” she said. While Meza said Nick enjoys sightseeing and snapping lots of photos, she likes to move slower – perhaps ducking into a coffee shop where she can “feel like a local.”

Now that they’re broken up, Meza, who works in brand marketing, said there’s less pressure to do everything together or do what the other person wants.

“Now it’s like, ‘OK, can we compromise? Like, is there a way that we could do both?’” she said, even if that means splitting up for stretches of time. “It’s just a different dynamic, but it still works.”

They also meet at the airport rather than going together, and have scrubbed romantic dinners from the itinerary. “And you know, we don’t hook up, so there’s also that,” she said.

Meza said she feels “lucky” that there is no bad blood, and they have since taken another trip to Canada.

Meza echoed that. “I have exes I definitely would never go on vacation with,” she said.

She encouraged travelers to adjust any expectations they might have had when traveling as a couple and respect their companion’s boundaries. “It wasn’t like when we showed up (in Croatia) there was gonna be rose petals and Champagne waiting for us,” she said.

They are both single at the moment, but Meza said they understand they’d have to be respectful of future partners, too.

“It truly is just like going on vacation with my best friend,” she said.

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