It’s tough enough to plan a vacation with another couple. Here’s what happened when we did with our boyfriend and girlfriend—and how we’ll (maybe) do it better in the future.
It was 2 a.m. in that deep quiet you enjoy only at night in the country. My partner and I had finally fallen asleep in our West Virginia Airbnb after hours of rehashing the abrupt departure of our boyfriend and girlfriend. We’re polyamorous and they’d been our primary relationship for about six months. I was bleary and exhausted from the drama when I abruptly awoke. Something was in our house. “Paul, wake up!” I hissed. “Paul! There’s something in the house.” We were both leaning over the balcony of the upstairs loft bedroom, squinting into the dark, when The Something flew at my head. It seemed a fitting conclusion to a truly implosive vacation: dive-bombed by a vengeful bat in the middle of the COVID panic.
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The bat—which met an untimely demise at the business end of a badminton racket—symbolized a trip beset by group travel pitfalls. I don’t know if poly travel routinely includes these complications. The Delta variant and romantic reluctance have kept us from a reattempt. But I do know that, if we do try it again, we’re much better prepared for the potential hazards.
Communicate Continuously and Call out B.S.
Initially, this trip was planned as a beach frolic to Portugal. The other couple, let’s call them John and Cathy, told us they were so excited to go. Before we could make hotel reservations, though, the world slammed shut and we all went into Quarantine Times. We had to scale way, way back. This is how we shifted from Portuguese beach to West Virginian off-season ski cabin.
But we could still do a week together! And it would be so much fun! We found a place and sent it to them for approval. But then they weren’t sure about kenneling their dogs because of virus exposure. So we found a dog-friendly place. Surely now all would be smooth sailing. Except, wait–right before the trip, Cathy couldn’t get a whole week off from work. So John and Cathy would come for four days. Um, okay. No, the four days wouldn’t be possible either. It would be three, they announced. No, two. They’d come for a weekend, arriving late Saturday and leaving early Monday.
Paul and I were confused, to put it mildly. But we hadn’t kept an ongoing communication, beyond texts and casual conversations, so we were left scratching our heads. Hadn’t we agreed to those dates? Hadn’t we made those plans together? Gaslighting is real, friends. Keep easily accessible documentation of your trip, including who’s paying for what (more on that in a bit). If you’re traveling with someone and they start blowing up the plans without regard, it’s probably time to rethink the trip.
No Matter How Much You Like Someone, Everyone Needs a Financial Stake
This trip was our idea, so we did the legwork and we put down the money. John and Cathy initially said they wanted to split the trip and the cost 50-50, especially since we had to put down a pet deposit for their dogs. We also planned to shop for the week and then cook while we were there–the place had a lovely kitchen and they both went to culinary school–which sounded both romantic and practical. We wouldn’t have to venture out, risking a climbing viral infection count, and we could just relax and enjoy ourselves.
Paul and I brought a bunch of alcohol, groceries, citronella candles for the deck, sunscreen–you get the idea. John and Cathy brought a bottle of wine because, as they put it, they weren’t staying very long. To be fair, they also ordered in Domino’s one night. We never got any money for the rental, at least in part because it felt uncomfortable and miserly to insist.
Everyone Also Needs to Have (and Perform) House Tasks
Paul and I arrived on the day the rental started and did all the usual first-day-rental things, plus the new first-day-rental-during COVID things: wiping down all the surfaces, running towels through the laundry to be sure they were clean, attending to the less-than-sparkling grill before making dinner, etc. After our friends’ unexpectedly early departure, we also did all the end-of-rental things: dishes, laundry, garbage removal, emptying the fridge, cleaning up from the dogs, etc. We wound up doing at least 90% of the work for all involved. If you’ve ever been left doing party cleanup at a less-than-delightful party, multiply that and you’ll get the resentment felt if you’re doing this at the end of a group trip.
In the future, I’m not traveling without a clear expectation (and maybe a chore chart) delineating who is doing what and when it’s getting done. That may be less fun and spontaneous, but it will also keep me from having to dispose of someone else’s dog’s poo on my last day of vacation.
Set Reasonable Expectations—Including Respect
This last one? Totally on us. We didn’t see warning signs for what they were and clung to our belief that this trip would be a romantic escape, just as we envisioned it. We needed to recognize that our partners had trouble committing to plans and often failed to communicate; if that didn’t work for us, we needed to rethink the travel idea.
Should we do this again, we’ll do it differently: putting everything in writing, checking in frequently, setting up a damn Venmo schedule. But we’ll also go into it with fewer puffy pink clouds in our eyes about both people and places. You can have a great time in any location, but don’t think West Virginia will become Portugal, or that people will become someone they’re not. It never happens. And while traveling with other people is complicated, and relationships make planning even more complicated, we’ll know, next time, to account for those likely complications. And to check really carefully for bats.