Hey there! I have a primary and a secondary partner who I love very dearly. I see them actively multiple times a week, and I live with my primary full time. My birthday is coming up soon, and I would love to plan a weekend trip that involves all of us going somewhere. We have regular family dinners and coffee dates, so we're used to hanging out together in the same space. So my question is: How does one go traveling with multiple partners while keeping the trip enjoyable for everyone?
Many Loves in Minneapolis
1. Discuss your individual travel styles ASAP. In my personal life I’m rarely alone, so part of what I typically enjoy about traveling are the opportunities for solace and isolation. I also have a much lower tolerance for organizational errors - like a hotel accidentally giving me the wrong room - than I do for food-related errors, like a server accidentally delivering undercooked meat. I need at least seven hours of sleep a night to function, and I don’t do well around large, condensed groups of people, like you’d find at a festival or concert. It’s really important for my partners to have all this information about me, and I encourage them to tell me everything and anything they can think of around how they like to travel.
2. Delegate, delegate, delegate. You want to simultaneously make sure that everyone’s wants and needs are being addressed while also tasking each individual with responsibilities based on their strengths. Trust me; as a Type A personality, I often try to take care of ALL of the logistics of an impending trip myself. As a woman, I also can fall into the role of “emotional baggage handler” all too easily, and to my detriment. To avoid any one individual feeling stretched thin, burned out, or underappreciated, task task task! Is one person fluent in the language of the foreign country you’re visiting? Make them the translator. Does one individual have a better sense of orientation? Make them in charge of maps and directions. Is one person in the group a definitively better driver? Put them in charge of booking and piloting any rental vehicles. That way everyone feels important, as well as confident in their ability to carry out their task(s).
3. Make extensive emergency contingency plans specific to the location(s) you’re visiting. First, make a comprehensive list of everyone’s allergies, illnesses, medications, chronic pain needs, etc. Then map where the closest hospitals, police stations, pharmacies, veterinary clinics, and/or embassies are to wherever you will all be staying. Finally, talk out plans for specific hypothetical occurrences. What do you all do if someone gets food poisoning? If the dog runs away? If someone loses their passport? The more prepared you all feel as a unified group for potential crisis, the more confident and relaxed you’ll be.
4. Let the budget of the lowest-income partner be your guide. More likely than not, the folks in your polycule have differing incomes, and budgeting a trip with people from different socioeconomic classes can be a challenge. One partner may be feeling financially secure and is suggesting you stay in a five star hotel, while another may have just lost their job and is feeling like they can’t contribute; you want to make your experiences feel as accessible and non-judgmental as possible. Finally, create a daily budget for the group. The daily budget should cover food, lodgings, travel, and group excursions; it should NOT cover optional expenses such as any souvenirs one or more people want to purchase. Even if you go a little over the daily budget sometimes, having a set spending amount as a goal will significantly increase the chances that you don’t spend more than you were planning to.
5. Negotiate sleeping arrangements BEFORE booking your lodgings. Who is sharing whose bed? Is anyone an insomniac? How will you re-negotiate shared space if two or more folks want to be intimate with each other? Also, make sure to agree on protocol should one person in the unit have an intense day and desire company when none is scheduled. For example, if Beth was supposed to sleep with Charles tonight, but Travis just received word that his grandmother died and could use some bed company, is that a “legitimate” reason for the sleeping order to be rearranged?
6. If possible, “test drive” your travel ahead of time. Are you gearing up for a big cross-country roadtrip with your whole polycule next month? If you all aren’t already accustomed to traveling with one another, plan a short weekend getaway for all of you PRIOR to the bigger trip. That way you can work out the kinks in a low pressure environment where the end is easily in sight. Christmas with the family? Not an ideal first trip away. Neither is a destination wedding where you’re all invited or an extensive international backpacking adventure. Try two or three nights at a bed and breakfast, rent an AirBnB by the beach, or jump on a flight to Vegas and try your hands at the slots together!
7. Try and pack comparably. As a unit, you want to try and proactively eliminate any opportunity for resentment to flourish. For example, if three folks in your flight party have restricted themselves to carry-on luggage only, and you all are forced to spend an extra hour at the airport after you’ve landed to accommodate the retrieval of your fourth person’s checked baggage, there may be some hostility around perceived “wasted time”.
8. Get on the same page about how you'll be introducing yourselves to new people. Depending on where you're traveling to, some destinations are more accepting of non-monogamous configurations than others. If you unanimously decide on a "cover story", make sure you each have it down pat!
9. If you haven’t already, cultivate the ability to compromise. Traveling with one other person means that you’ll each be making a few sacrifices to ensure the other’s happiness, so adding MORE folks to the equation means even more sacrifice. Go into the trip in question knowing that you’ll be trying new things - some of which you hadn’t planned on trying - and accept the fact that you will sometimes be uncomfortable for the benefit of others. Staunch stances, rigid routines, and superficial preferences disguised as “needs” can all become problematic.
10. Take care of your bodies while you travel. This tip isn’t necessarily poly-specific, but it’s still important. Often when we’re going on vacation, we give ourselves permission to “go crazy!”, and that can extend to how we treat our bodies, and THAT can extend to how we treat those around us. For example, if I generally eat healthily, drink a lot of water, and exercise 3-4 times per week, and then I leave for a two-week trip where I’m eating copious amounts of junk food, going to bed drunk every night, and barely moving my body, I’m probably going to feel like shit after a while. And if I feel like shit, I’ll be less inclined to enjoy myself, be interested in my surroundings, or be pleasant company for my partners. My recommendation? Allow yourself some small “cheats”, but don’t pull a complete 180 on your routine.
11. Make sure every person in your travel unit schedules themselves regular alone time. No matter how much you care for one another, or how copacetic you are as travel companions, you WILL need time away from one another. Think about how you most like to spend time alone - listening to podcasts, exercising, reading, exploring a new place solo, etc - and know that you don’t need anyone’s permission but your own to take a mental health break.
12. Make a list of “controversial” topics that are off limits for the duration of the trip. Identify recurring arguments in your polycule and commit to setting them to the side temporarily. For instance, if Mike is a heavy snorer, and his snoring is famously obnoxious and disruptive in your polycule, AND you know that being privy to Mike’s snoring during your trip is unavoidable, you may want to set a boundary where discussion of said snoring is off limits for the duration of the trip. Set yourselves up for success.
13. Take ALL THE PICTURES. Seriously. I say this as someone who hates taking photos, and therefore has made many amazing memories that sadly have gone undocumented. I’m sure I’ll regret saying this, but selfie sticks are kind of amazing. Whether one person in the group wants to take charge of the photography, or whether you switch back and forth depending on the day or excursion, photos are the simplest way to secure heartfelt, financially-accessible souvenirs from your trip. That being said, moderation is key, so you’ll also want to....
14...Have a code/safe word within the group that means “disconnect from your device, STAT!”. We’ve all traveled with the person who is WAY more wrapped up in how their trip LOOKS - to their Facebook friends, Instagram followers, etc - than how it FEELS. It can be frustrating to find yourself wanting to engage and/or connect with your travel partners only to have to physically tear their phone out of their hands to do so. Now, the next time your girlfriend pulls her tablet out at the Argentinian restaurant you’ve all been dying to try, all you have to say is, “Sheep testicle!”, and away goes the device!
15. Don’t forget that you love one another. Go out on dates while traveling, reestablish connection with nonverbal affection like hand-holding, shoulder-rubbing, and cuddling, and for the love of everything holy, don’t forget to FUCK!