Travel Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: 21 Lessons from 21 Countries

Edna and Joe in Seattle - Expat Edna

If there’s one thing every travel blogger loves to talk about on the internet, it’s that solo travel is marvelous and made of puppy tears and will cure your long-standing eczema.

In principle, I support solo travel. It’s definitely something I think everyone should try at least once. But personally, it’s not for me.

As I’ve written about previously, I’m an emphatic extrovert. I’ve tried solo travel, and it made me want to punch a Teletubby.

Sunset in Salthill, Ireland by Expat Edna

The sunset in question.

The last time was in Galway, five years ago: I was watching one of the most beautiful sunsets going down over the Atlantic, completely alone, and all I remember was feeling angry. I was so overwhelmed with anger and frustration that here I was, seeing this majestic work of nature, and I had zero people around with which to share it.

Since then, I’ve made sure to always travel with someone else: whether a friend I know or a stranger from CouchSurfing, someone I just met in a hostel or even by making plans to meet people from the internet (do you know how many of my real-life friendships started on twitter?) — I always share the experience.

Venice on Valentine's Day by Expat Edna

Valentine’s Day in Venice

More recently, that someone has been my partner-in-crime, Joe. In just two years together (both as friends and as a couple) we’ve traveled to 21 countries across three continents and lived abroad in Paris, Shanghai, and as backpacking nomads.

It’s said that travel tests a relationship; that you shouldn’t marry someone until you’ve traveled with them. On this, I totally agree. For me, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder: travel does.

***

To celebrate our recent milestone of 20 countries together, I wanted to compile a list of things I’ve learned over the past two years.

However, this is not your standard “Why you should travel with your partner” post. There are toooons of those out there already and I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I’m making this a bit more personal (and hopefully useful), and sharing a lesson from each country we’ve visited that anyone — couple or not — can use in travel.

(*This post was meant to be in celebration of our 20th country together, which I thought was Japan…but then I realized I had forgotten to count our home country of the US! So you get 21 lessons instead. Who doesn’t love a bonus, right?)

In chronological order, what I’ve learned in…

Brussels, Belgium by Expat Edna

Literally the only photo I have of us together from this trip, along with our friend Andy.

BelgiumOur first trip together. I learned Brussels is only a three-hour drive from Paris, making it the perfect weekend road trip!

And that any good beer fan needs this game plan: rent a car, enjoy Belgium for a couple days, then stop by a grocery store on the way home and fill up the trunk — you can get 50 amazing beers for around 80 euros. Spend the rest of your summer at home in Belgian beer bliss.

Bastille Day 2013 by Expat Edna

Our first Bastille Day

France: Picnics along the Seine are truly the way to any girl’s heart. Fête de la Musique and Bastille Day are the best holidays of the whole year, and the best cocktails and Thanksgiving potlucks in Paris are at Red House.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid - Expat Edna

SpainThe four-day weekend for Assumption, which falls in mid-August, may be the best time to visit Madrid — it’s even more fun if you rent with a large apartment and go with about six friends. For this religious festival, Madrileños throw a weekend-long sreet party that goes till dawn and makes you excited to be alive.

London pub by Expat Edna

Our first trip to London — the start of many

EnglandSummer, winter, rain or shine: London is always a good idea. For a relaxing afternoon, pack a picnic and head to Regent’s Canal. Or go see if Master’s really is the best fish & chips in town.

Montreux, Switzerland by Expat Edna

Switzerland: If ever road-tripping to Italy, swing through Switzerland first and make sure to spend a night by stunning Lake Geneva. Montreux is especially beautiful and has a very well-known jazz festival (plus that famous castle, which hopefully no longer has scaffolding on it).

Moving to Italy by Expat Edna

ItalyWhen moving to Italy, do not pack everything you own because you’ll end up throwing half of it out anyway (and then you’ll feel bad for making your BFF lug six heavy boxes of utter crap across three countries). Plus, a packed car means you can’t pick up those nice-looking hitchhikers on the side of the road!

Also, possibly the greatest gelato in Italy lies in the tiny town of Verbania.

Oktoberfest, Munich by Expat Edna

GermanyOktoberfest is really, really worth it. Surprisingly not as overrated as it seems.

But don’t hand your flat keys to your friend and then split up halfway through the day, because you WILL find yourself riding back and forth on the U-Bahn all night to stay warm until the third musketeer gets home.

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh by Expat Edna

ScotlandEdinburgh is just darling, Arthur’s Seat is a manageable climb even if you’re terribly out of shape, and haggis isn’t bad. We could live here.

Brains beer, Wales by Expat Edna

Wales: We were only in Wales one night to catch the ferry to Ireland, but it seems incredibly charming in that down-to-earth kind of way — and we learned there’s a Welsh beer calls Braaaains! (I dare you to drink it without saying the name in a zombie voice.)

Christmas roadtrip, Ireland by Expat Edna

IrelandThe whole country shuts down over the holidays — but this makes it perfect for a Christmas Day road trip! Rent a car and marvel at how many shades of green can exist in one country while counting how many sheep you see on the empty, empty roads.

Steakhouse, Copenhagen by Expat Edna

4 am steak: definitely trumps sleeping on a layover

Denmark: When on a long overnight layover, it’s actually possible (and more fun than a hotel!) to pull an all-nighter bar/restaurant crawl in Copenhagen. If you hit the 3 am slump, your best bet is Rio Bravo: a steakhouse that stays open until 5.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland by Expat Edna

Iceland: If you go to the Blue Lagoon around the holidays, and arrive just before sunset (so…3:30 pm), you’ll practically have the whole place to yourself.

7 Edna and Joe in Amsterdam by Expat Edna

The NetherlandsFour days is not enough to explore this gorgeous city. Also, I learned I’m a huge sucker for canal towns, La Trappe is actually a Dutch beer (not Belgian, oops), and it’s possible to love Amsterdam even if you don’t like marijuana (though the smell was a bit pervasive throughout the city).

Boat Quay, Singapore by Expat Edna

SingaporeIf you don’t feel like paying $20 for a cocktail, buy a bottle of your favorite spirit at airport duty free, get a bag of ice and mixers from 7-11, and make your own while sitting along the riverside.

And remember: no matter how fancy the cuisine may get in Singapore, no meal can beat the simple, classic local breakfast: soft-boiled eggs, kaya toast, and kopi (Singaporean coffee).

Penang, Malaysia by Expat Edna

No photo of us together in Penang because most of the time my insides were attempting mutiny

MalaysiaPenang is a food-lover’s dream and a gem of Southeast Asia. While I can’t say I’m a fan of much of Malaysia, I could live in Penang (Joe could too, if it weren’t for the humidity).

Here I also learned it’s okay to cancel plans and stay longer in one place, especially if you like it — but especially if you’re clearly being beaten down by some sort of virus. Don’t be a hero. Go ahead and scratch Koh Phi Phi.

8 Edna, Joe, Steph and Tony from 20YH in Bangkok by Expat Edna

The only photo of us in Thailand (with Steph & Tony) because we were still sick on that trip, too

Thailand: Songkran is not for me. While a city-wide waterfight seems like fun, those kids can be relentless with their ambushes and terrifying when you see them on patrol, eyeing you with their water guns from across the street. (This is even less fun when you’re already sick and trying not to lose your guts in the streets of Bangkok.)

9 25th birthday in Shanghai by Expat Edna

Celebrating my 25th birthday

ChinaI’ve learned so much from our year living in Shanghai I don’t even know where to start. But travel-advice wise, I’d maybe advise you to bring a spare liver.

Shanghai is the City That Never Sleeps 2.0 and you’ll never lack for a birthday party, leaving party, theme party, pub quiz, theatre show, open mic, restaurant opening, industry night, or free shots just because… It’s New York on crack. Relatedly: the best cocktails are at Union Trading Company.

17 Edna & Joe in LA by Expat Edna

United States: It took us 18 countries to reach our home one together, and I was so very surprised to learn that holy crap — I actually like Los Angeles. Joe lived here for nine years and thanks to his excellent tour guiding skills, this East Coast girl actually can’t wait to spend more time in the city of traffic jams and great Mexican food (that’s the proper takeaway of LA, yes?).

I think the key was renting a car: it made all the difference and helped us get the most out of our two days there.

Tokar Estate vineyards - Yarra Valley Wine Tour Melbourne by Expat Edna

AustraliaDon’t go to Melbourne over the holidays if you’re expecting to sample the cafe culture (you’d think I’d have learned my lesson from Ireland, but no). But if you’re in it for the wine, by all means go ahead!

And New Year’s Eve is Sydney absolutely kills it every year: this is the party bucket lists are made of.

Tagaytay, Philippines by Expat Edna

Philippines: Everyone talks a big game about the beauty of the Philippines, how cheap the country is, how ridiculously friendly the Filipino people are … because it’s all entirely true. Also, I learned Tagaytay is home to a volcano within a lake within a volcano, and is a beautiful place to attend a destination French wedding.

Sushi in Osaka by Expat Edna

JapanLove means going into the rotating sushi joint, even if you’ve just finished lunch, and trying nearly every plate in there just because your partner wanted a “snack”.

It also means not judging them when they have the lightning bulb realization that all they want to do as a traveler is eat and drink and not care less about seeing another castle.

I’ll always be so grateful that you get me, Joe.

What have you learned from traveling with a loved one?

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Comments

  1. Twenty one countries together?! Incredible!

    I LOVE the Germany lesson. Oktoberfest always seems to end with moments like that hahaha

    • Oh, that was night ONE. We made sure to keep the keys for the rest of the weekend!

  2. This is the cutest. Also, I love this line “[I was] completely alone, and all I remember was feeling angry” because it demonstrates how we’re polar opposites, something I really value in our friendship :)

    Waiting for you and Joe to come back to eat all the seafood and drink all the beer with me!

  3. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool solo traveller but this is so sweet!

  4. Congrats on 21 countries together!! This is such a cute post! I love the photo of you two lugging your belongings in the car to Italy. I also feel like this should be subtitled as the many hairstyles of Joe – I like the London pic look! Wishing you two many more countries worth of travel together :-)

    • Thanks Sara! And to be clear, those were MY boxes :/ Joe was just helping me move, poor guy. He still never lets me forget that he dragged my stuff all over Europe, multiple times — and then I ended up not needing most of it and threw it all out a few months later when we went backpacking full time!

      And yes I thought of the hair thing too! I miss the Edinburgh days most, personally (Ari hated it and called him a sheep and tried to shear him at any available opportunity)

  5. I absolutely love your blog and congrats on 21 countries together… what a cool couple milestone! And agreed about travelling with someone else… I definitely like to share an experience with someone :)

  6. I’ve definitely learned the lesson to turf as much as possible when making a move!

    The biggest thing I’ve learned from my partner in crime as far as travel goes is that we don’t have to rush rush rush everywhere – when we attempt that there is only a slim chance we’ll end up being happy.

    • For sure. I’ve actually found that both of us working while traveling has been a positive, since it forces us to carve out time to stay in the apartment and stay in cities longer to make sure our work gets done, and then we don’t feel the need to rush as much!

  7. Wow 21 countries together is a lot! Congrats! My bf and I are only at country number 6 (country number 7 soon to come) and it feels like we are totally amateur compared to you pro guys!

    • I’m not entirely sure how we got to 21, it happened so fast! But of course traveling in Europe and SE Asia, where all the countries are in such close proximity and so cheap to travel between, definitely helped.

  8. This is a wonderful post – best of luck and happiness to you and your partner. Hope you get to double the countries you visited!

  9. I absolutely love these photos! Every one of them made me smile xx

  10. I love this!! You two are the cutest.

  11. … and now I feel bad that Steffen and I only made it to nine countries in our eight years of being together! Very cute post though! :)

  12. Awww, this is so cute!! At the end of the day, everyone is different – I quite enjoy a mixture of solo & with loved ones!

    • Thanks Emma! Yes to each their own, I would never tell anyone not to travel solo, so long as you find and do what makes you happy!

  13. Cute photos! Tony & I are actually the worst at taking pictures of the two of us together, so kudos to you for being able to pull a photo of you & Joe (and one with your two favorite fellow world travelers…) for every country you guys have been to save for Penang (No great loss there, since you probably don’t need to memorialize that time the two of you had stomach bugs…).

    • Haha we wouldn’t have any if it were up to Joe, he takes very few photos while we’re traveling and I always have to wrangle him over for a photo. Copenhagen we didn’t have one either since we were pulling that all-nighter and it was dark, don’t think I could’ve managed a selfie in that steakhouse…

  14. Well now I want to try Brains! Lovely write up, Edna!

  15. 21 countries? Very nice!
    Love the advice for a spare liver in China, so true! (and to rent a car and buy beer in Belgium, I can only agree!)
    I’ve been travelling solo before meeting my other half but since we’re together I think I just love the fact that we understand each other and that sometimes, just for that day, we’ll just stay in and eat and don’t do any visits and not feel guilty for a bit.
    Wishing you guys many more countries together!

    • Yes, exactly! We definitely have our stay-in days too. It’s nice to be able to relax sometimes and not always be on the go!

  16. 21 countries together. Amazing. I love that you pointed out Brains. It’s brewed in Cardiff – right behind the main train station so, sometimes, when you’re heading out of there, the smell in the air is like walking into a wall of VOM. Ergh. It’s gross. Haha

  17. This post was particularly fun to read because I loved seeing all the photos of you guys together! Too cute!

  18. I’m going to incorporate the phrase “punch a teletubby” into my daily lexicon.

    I see both sides of the spectrum. I’ve always been so staunchly independent that I don’t like to travel on other people’s terms or timelines, so in that respect I dig solo travel. It’s all about what I want all the time, ha (can I sound more Millennial there?!). Then again, I’ve been with Scott for 10 years so I get the sads when I go on an influencer campaign or magazine assignment somewhere without him and don’t have him to experience a new place with.

  19. I agree with you on solo travel in that I don’t prefer it either. I love to meet people when I travel and one would think traveling alone puts you out there more (which I guess it does in a way) but I always found it infinitely easier to meet people when traveling with someone else. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like people mostly think I want to be left alone when I’m traveling solo, so I have to put in extra effort to meet people.
    Great post overall! Although, I’ll say, I always want to punch a teletubby. They creep me out haha

  20. Great read! I totally agree with you that travel makes the heart grow fonder. My husband (then boyfriend) and I worked and traveled together for 4 years before settling down in Taiwan 2 years ago. And even with a 2-year old, we are still on the look out for adventure. I just did a quick count in my head, we probably traveled to 13 countries together, and the little one has been to 4.q