Home Travel
| Register

Q: How can I combat jet lag?
Click here for the answer
Ask 2 Experts
Advertise With Us!
The Fine Art of the Compromise Vacation You say Bermuda. I say Nevada. Let’s call the whole thing off. Or not… Travelling with his partner has not always been the most harmonious thing for writer David Leach—but he thinks he’s finally mastered it.

Photo of two dogs fighting over a piece of fabric.

Vacation: Impossible
After all the tears had dried, the first trip we took together produced at least one happy result: My girlfriend and I added a useful new word to our shared vocabulary. Now, whenever we need to describe one of those high-decibel arguments that, let’s be honest, every couple occasionally has, we call it a “Manitoba.”

“Sure, I left the toilet seat up,” I might say, “but don’t have a Manitoba about it!” Or, “Did you see how they glared at each other? I bet they’ll have a huge Manitoba.”

Why so much heartache over Canada’s “friendly” province? Like most relationship woes, crossed wires set this house ablaze. It was our first summer together, and I had promised to attend a cousin’s wedding. “You can come along if you want,” I told Jenny, “but don’t feel obligated to.” I meant: We can make a fun vacation out of it, or you can save your Air Miles for a more ro­mantic getaway. She heard: He’s not even sure if he wants me along. Result: ambiguity, a nearly cancelled plane ticket, hurt feelings all around.

Finally, in a motel room in Boissevain, Man. (a.k.a. Turtle Racing Capital of the World), we made up and came to laugh about our apocalyptic misunderstanding. But we also learned that just because you’re made for each other, it doesn’t mean you’re made to travel together.

Most couples, of course, look forward to ditching the nine-to-five and hitting the road as a pair. The tourism industry is lubricated with images of Holly­wood body doubles frolicking together in exotic locales: Hawaii, Manhattan, Banff, Venice. (Left on the cutting-room floor are scenes of the bitter half holding her hub­by’s head in the bidet and wailing, “How could you forget to pack the hairdryer?!?”) There’s a reason that “honeymoon” is both the name for your first trip after getting hitched and a metaphor for the health of your relationship. Holidays matter. If you don’t agree, then your honeymoon really is over.

Yes, there are couples who manage to travel the globe in harmony, joined at the fanny packs as they merrily tick off sights and sites in their Michelin Guides. But for every perfect twosome, there is another cou­ple (“David and Jenny, come on down!”) who must tiptoe across a mine­field of Man­itobas whenever they discuss the dreaded V-word: the annual vacation.

Manitoba #1: Scheduling Conflicts
At some point in history, it must have been easier for couples to organize a holiday. Once the hunting and gathering were done, they just packed up the family mastodon and rode across the savannah together. Now, couples have a million de­mands that can make matching vacation schedules as likely as a nine-way convergence of the planets.

It doesn’t help, of course, if you also believe there are certain times of year when no sane couple should travel: holiday week­ends (too busy), July and August (too sweaty), hockey playoffs (do they get CBC in Vanuatu?).

At first, Jenny and I joked about our perpetually postponed plans as we juggled overtime hours and other engagements. “Have your people call my people,” we’d say, “and set a date.” A year later, we realized glumly that we didn’t have people. And we didn’t have a vacation either.

Manitoba #2: Great Expectations
For modern couples, it doesn’t help that buoyant holiday expectations can rise to altitudes greater than the Mile High Club. Like many newly-mets, Jenny and I had pasted our passports with stamps before we hooked up and had become as fussy as wine snobs about our travel tastes—so now, we were tight-assed about being relaxed.

There were places we each hoped to go and others we refused. Jenny wanted to do the classics together: Paris, London, the Greek Islands. But I was adamant about only travelling where few couples had gone before: Iceland, Morocco, Transyl­vania.

Unlike Euro pairs or our Baby Boomer parents, young Canadian couples don’t get six weeks to fritter away on his and hers trips. So, even when our schedules aligned, Jenny and I refused to budge our opposing holiday picks. If one of us floated a suggestion, the other would shoot it down like a clay pigeon. Soon, we couldn’t even agree on where to go on a Satur­day night.

Manitoba #3: This is Not a Test
Like many guys, during my cash-strapped single years I’d developed a fondness for shoestring trips and camping expeditions. You know, don’t-shave-for-a-month, man­ly-man type of travel. (Full disclosure: I have been known to pack a fondue kit and peppermint foot lotion.)

Still, I was sensitive enough to invite any new girlfriend on my trips—which had one inevitable effect: I became single again very, very quickly. I eventually realized that a camping trip had become less a holiday than a relationship litmus test for me. If two people can live together in a cold nylon cocoon, eat dry food that a dog wouldn’t touch, let all pretence to hygiene slide and still feel any romantic interest in each other...well, that must be love, non?

Another plus about camping is that, like me, it’s cheap. With this appeal to economics, I coaxed Jenny along three times. Each trip, the heavens opened so torrentially that Noah himself would have checked into a Motel Six. Not us, though. In the end, Jenny proved she could haul more oatmeal than a Sherpa and refused to scratch a “Dear Idiot” note in the mud the next morning. (True amour, at last!) Still, as a cold rain performed a drum solo on our tent, she declared, “This is not a vacation.” I finally had to agree.

Manitoba #4: Flights, Camera, More Action!
As part of her job, Jenny already hopscotches across the continent, eating dubious room-service cuisine and fending off handsy guards at airport security. For her holidays, she’s ready to bid bon voyage to travel-related stress and enjoy some genuine relaxation.

The last three years, I worked at a travel magazine, which might sound like a dream gig, with paid jaunts to exotic destinations. It wasn’t.

Instead, I sat in a cubicle and shuffled commas for other people who had gone on paid jaunts to exotic destinations. (This should qualify as psychological torture.) Af­ter months of such tedium, I needed some serious stimulation.

The gap between holiday relaxation and stimulation, as any travel agent will tell you, can be as broad as the one that separates, say, a mai tai on the beach from an afternoon of naked bungee jumping. (And, no, a mai tai while bungee jumping doesn’t count as middle ground.) So, even when we could find the free time to travel, even when we agreed where to go, and even when we could afford to do more than just camp, we would still argue about what to do when we got there.

The Compromise Vacation
Finally, Jenny tried to solve our holiday impasse. One autumn, she announced that we would go (no vetos allowed) on a road trip through Arizona. For most people, a road trip conjures repressed me­m­­ories of an obnoxious sibling playing Punch Buggy against your shoulder in an odorous family station wagon. But a road trip, it turned out, makes the perfect vacation for couples who don’t know how to vacation.

Too busy to book a holiday? Just hop in the car whenever the opportunity arises. Can’t decide on one destination? You can hit many when you’re mobile. Still want to play Boy Scouts and Girl Guides? Car camping lets you bail out if the weather gets woolly. Can’t agree on what to do once you’re there? You can hike the Grand Can­yon one day and—zoom, zoom—get a hot-rock massage the next.

For our follow-up trip, Jenny did one better: an oceanside resort in Costa Rica. Normally, I consider cruise ships and all-in­clusive resorts the unimaginative preserve of noisy families, randy swingers and couples who leave their teeth in a jar at night. But my objections were countered with three indisputable appeals: free booze, monkeys, and the fact that (for just 30 bucks) we could extend our plane tickets and travel another week on our own. With a cervesa in hand, I was as happy to chill out as the next gringo, while a week of beach life rejuvenated Jenny for seven days of monkey-filled backpacking. The resort-trip compromise proved an ideal balance bet­ween the wild and the civilized, be­tween living large and pinching pesos.

That’s why we returned for last New Year’s. As we swigged champagne under a coconut tree and smooched at midnight, fireworks lit up the Pacific surf. “Let’s do this again soon,” we agreed. Vacations, it now seemed, were as easy as closing our eyes and dreaming. Maybe one day we’ll even go back to Manitoba.