Travel provides an escape from the daily grind and allows for relaxation, adventure, and personal growth, sure. But what can it do to fan the flames of romance?
Studies suggest that it can do quite a lot. One survey of British married couples found that 67 percent reported not arguing at all while they travelled together, even though 54 percent of them reported arguing every day before they’d left! (Brown, 2010).
Why could this be? Perhaps by breaking out of their daily roles and routines, vacationing couples can see one another in a different and more romantic light; not as co-parents or financial partners, but as footloose, fancy-free, sexy partners-in-adventure. Indeed, 90 percent of American couples embarking on a cruise reported that sex was the top activity on their itinerary. Perhaps not surprisingly, 80 percent returned home feeling more connected to their partners, while 67 percent reported feeling more in love (Sierra, 2012). Another study revealed that couples reported being intimate more on a one-week vacation than they did during two months at home. That's essentially eight times more often!
Less exciting but just as important is the fact that travel may also diffuse or neutralize everyday conflict, allowing couples to come at their deeper issues from a calmer state. A survey of over 2000 British adults found that most believed that a vacation provided an ideal opportunity to discuss major life decisions. And, although these discussions take place far from home and could reasonably be more fantastical than practical, most of them actually inspired real change once the couple resumed ordinary life (Durko & Petrick, 2013).
Of course, one could argue that couples who opt to take a romantic vacation together are probably not the ones struggling with deep dissatisfaction. And while causal conclusions are hard to draw here (meaning, does a romantic vacation CAUSE increased satisfaction, connection, and fireworks?), several studies provide strong suggestive evidence. Aron’s (2000) experimental research on the inner workings of love, passion, and commitment has found that couples, even those married for a long time, show reignited passion when doing a novel activity together. And, really, what is more novel than the stuff of vacations—say, exploring a foreign city, trying exotic cuisine, or learning to scuba dive?
Another study suggested that it’s not only the already-happy couples who can benefit from traveling together. The “Second Honeymoon Program,” which began in 2010 and is funded by the Malaysian government, provides free vacations to Malaysian couples on the verge of divorce. These vacations, spent on a tropical island resort with access to counselors, appear to be highly effective, with all participants in the program reporting still being married. Improved communication between spouses is thought to be a key reason for the program’s success. The escape from daily stressors allows the couples to reconnect as well as identifying and working on their problems (Chen, 2012).
In short, images of happy couples walking hand-in-hand on the beach and gazing into each other’s eyes over cocktails is more than just clever marketing. Breaking away from everyday life, with all of its stresses and expectations, allowing time for connection, and sharing in novel, exciting experiences may be just the ticket to rejuvenating a romance.