September 3rd is a special day for the Shens. It is our fifth year anniversary! We’ve been dating each other since high school. Neither of us could drive back then so we took public transportation to go on dates. More than ten years later we’re traveling abroad and back to using public transportation. We’ve come full circle.
Our life together has been an amazing journey full of laughter, discovery, and surprises. The best part is that it’s far from over. Let’s take a look at how traveling has strengthened our marriage:
It’s important that we recognize and play to our strengths. I like researching each city’s attractions, so I’ll choose which sights to see. I’ll figure out our accommodations and plan out each day’s itinerary. Jerry is better at navigation, so once I’ve decided what to do, it’s Jerry’s responsibility to figure out how we’ll get there. That’s just one example of divide and conquer. While it’s nice to do things together and work as a couple, we don’t have to do everything together. By delegating responsibilities and trusting each other to fulfill them, we’re still working as a team towards a common goal and can accomplish even more. This works at home and works while we’re traveling too.
We trust each other to get things done, but hiccups occur. The museum I want to see ends up being closed for renovation, but we’ve already spent the time and money to get there. Or we’re late for a dinner reservation because we took the wrong bus line. It’s easy to get upset and blame each other in these circumstances–and we have…many times. Yet, I will never forget what happened on my birthday in Munich. Jerry made a dinner reservation for a nice restaurant and I wanted to arrive early to make sure we weren’t late. Jerry assured me that he knew where it was and that we had enough time. We arrived in the area but couldn’t find the restaurant. We walked all over and asked shopkeepers whether they knew where the restaurant was. No one could tell us the exact location. I was fuming. I knew we should have left earlier. I started yelling and complaining while Jerry calmly apologized and kept looking for the restaurant. When we finally found it, we sat down and I glared at him. He just smiled back at me. I felt terrible. Why didn’t he yell back at me? Couldn’t he have blamed me for not leaving earlier or looking up the location myself? Why was he being so patient?? He told me, “It’s your birthday and I want you to be happy.” It’s amazing how huge conflicts can be avoided if even one person remains calm. We just need to be mindful that special occasions aren’t the only times to use extra doses of patience.
We have no cell phones at the moment. We have no easy solution of calling each other up if we get separated. This means we really have to be clear of when and where we meet whenever we split up. We also have a Plan B and Plan C in case we can’t find each other. Fortunately we’ve never had to resort to those plans, but you never know when you’re in a foreign country and don’t speak the language. Our communication has also improved since we get to bypass questions like “What’d you do today?” and go straight into “What’d you think about ___?”. It requires a lot more creativity to keep a conversation going when you spend so much time together, but we have fun with it.
We love being able to share so many vivid memories together, like driving 275 kph on the autobahn or getting lost inside a national park and finding our way back before it gets completely dark. It helps that we’re completely comfortable with each other. There’s nothing to hide or be embarrassed about. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We tease each other and laugh about it. We will definitely grow old laughing with and at each other. If laughter is the best medicine, then we’re the healthiest couple.
5. Our Future
I’ve heard that if your marriage survives the first five years, then the chances of staying married dramatically increases. I am happy to report that Jerry and I have hit the five year mark and we’re having as much fun together as ever. Some people discover that they can’t marry a person after travelling one week with him/her. Try traveling for months at a time without a break! It hasn’t been easy and we’ve had many fights. We’ve been tempted to book another room or cut our trip short because we couldn’t stand being with each other any longer. A nomadic lifestyle without steady family and friends around you for support can really take its toll. Yet, we’ve weathered the storms. I know this is only possible for us because of prayer and dependence on God. We’re no more patient or understanding than any other person. We’re not special. God has taught us a lot about each other, our relationship, and ourselves. Instead of letting our anger and frustration fester into something greater, we’ve been able to go to God and find peace instead.
So that is a (rather long) summary of how our travels have strengthened our marriage. This date however, is also the fifth month anniversary of our ShenVenture. So what have we learned from traveling?
1. Less is More
We’ve been traveling the world with one carry-on luggage each. We could travel like this indefinitely. In fact, there are even items that we don’t need and could get rid of. Having less stuff is quite liberating.
2. Stay Open-Minded and Meet New People
Be bold, ask questions, listen actively, and learn new things. We’ve hung out with seven different people in Budapest (three Hungarians and four other travelers) and have learned a lot from each one of them! We’ve had so many rewarding experiences in other countries as well.
3. A Smile Goes a Long Way
We might not speak the same language, but you’d be surprised at how much can be communicated with a simple smile and hand gestures. It’s not hard to travel through major cities if you speak English though. When all else fails, use Google translate. It’s helped us a few times during our ShenVenture.
We’ve learned much more than this, but I have a confession to make:
We’re cutting our ShenVenture short.
Originally it was going to be an entire year. Then we cut it down to nine months to return to America in time for Jerry’s best friend’s wedding. Now we’ve cut it down to seven and a half months. Why?
There are many reasons. Mainly, we miss our family and friends. We want to be back in time to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with our family. We miss our dog! Long-term travel is fun and exciting, but it’s not for us.
So what does this mean for ShenVenture?
We’re ending this particular trip earlier, but we definitely plan to travel again in the future. There is still South America, South East Asia, and much more to explore. I still plan to blog, but have had other things on my mind lately and know that I’m far behind on posts. I will probably change the nature of my posts in an effort to catch up with our location.
Thanks to everyone for your emails, comments, support and encouragement! Traveling the world has been fantastic, but we wouldn’t have made it this far without all your moral support. It has truly meant the world to us.
Best wishes to you all from the Shens!