Traveling as a couple is a glorious concept: You imagine waking up in a crisp white bed (optional: rose petals), sipping cocktails into the evening by the sea (optional: gazing into one another's eyes), or perhaps trekking through a mountainous wilderness together (necessary: bug repellant). But traveling together isn't just a perk of being in a relationship — it's a crucial part of it.
"It's really important to take a trip together as a couple, especially before you're engaged," says , LMFT, a relationship counselor based in New York City. "The vacation is ironically a microcosm of life, because it's a journey that you plan together but don't have complete control over. It involves decisions about money, feelings and interests, so it can really show how your relationship functions and if it has long-term potential."
Even more, choose the wrong place at the wrong time in your relationship, and it may spur unnecessary arguments or create conflict that wasn't there before.
Intimidated? Don't be. Read on for a handy guide to picking the perfect destinations for every stage of your romance.
If you're taking a solo trip and want to mingle (wink) along the way, consider bustling Berlin. "The top place I've been to as a single person is Berlin, because the nightlife is very lively but not pretentious at all," says MaSovaida Morgan, a single destination editor at . "Everybody parties, but it's very laid-back. So if you meet a new person, there's not that extra pressure to dress a certain way just to go out."
Tip: If you use Tinder, keep the feature in mind. This allows you to swipe in a city before you even get there — meaning you can have a fun date lined up by the time you arrive. Just keep it safe, folks (you know the drill: meet in public spaces, etc.).
As you and your new sweetheart are getting to know each other, opt for a wine tasting at a low-cost winery, such as in Finger Lakes, New York.
"Every state in the country has wineries, so it doesn't have to be crazy expensive like Napa or Sonoma," says Pauline Frommer, the editorial director of . "Let's face it, you're still very nervous at the very beginning. This can be a trip to taste wine together and loosen up, it's a congenial romantic atmosphere where there are always beautiful landscapes."
In other words, it's a nature-filled , but you won't be roughing it.
In the first six months of dating, stick with short trips to cities you can cover in a weekend. "Pace yourself and don't test the relationship too much at the beginning," says Mandel. "Go to cities before you do an adventure trip, because in cities, there are more distractions around you. A city won't put a spotlight on the relationship as much as a remote adventure in the wilderness would."
A good city to start with? Nashville. From the to incredible nightlife and museums, the Southern city has a little bit of everything for everyone's tastes, says Frommer.
Once you get to know each other a little better, venture into the politics playground of our country. "Washington D.C. is a great place to go early on because most of the attractions are free, so you can see these great museums in the National Mall without paying extra," says Frommer. "But if you go too early on, you could get into some horrific political arguments. Politics is divisive nowadays, but if you're on the same side of issues, it can bring you together in a powerful way."
Dating someone with opposite political views? Skip this city for now.
In the first few months of dating, you're usually in a romantic bubble of couple's bliss. After six months, however, you can start to focus on the outside world a bit more with a volunteer vacation. "At six months, it's either going to get serious or it isn't, so it's time to test your teamwork," says Frommer. "Bring the wider world into your relationship and get to know your partner's values better with a weekend of volunteering somewhere."
The and the both take volunteers into national parks to help rebuild trails or pick up trash. Alternatively, consider a project in a nearby city.
Like Nashville, New York City has a little bit of everything for everyone. However, it can be more stressful to navigate than smaller cities, making it a good destination after many months of dating.
"New York City is definitely a test of how someone travels, because it's hectic and can be intimidating depending on how comfortable you are in a metropolis like that," says Morgan. "However, when I was dating someone, I felt like I was really getting to know that person in the city." With its endless museums, parks and restaurants, you won't run out of things to do — or talk about.
Congratulations! You made it to a year, which is no small feat. "If you've made it a year, it's a huge milestone and it's time to celebrate with a bucket list destination," says Frommer. "Make a commitment to take a longer flight to a place like New Zealand, which is spectacularly beautiful and has plenty of adventurous things to do. By a year you're out of the couple bubble, and you'll want to brag to your friends on Facebook about the insane things you're doing together." Go bungee-jumping, sky diving or kayaking to test each other's courage in an exciting, fun way.
After two years together, you can handle being on a ship together for an extended period of time. "Don't go on a cruise together until after a year," says Mandel. "You want to know each other really well before you're stuck on a ship together, otherwise it may be too anxiety-provoking."
While at the beginning of the relationship you want to give yourself some wiggle room to control your environment, by two years, you and your Snookums have probably been through enough to handle anything being stuck at sea might throw at you (even seasickness).
When it comes to the proposal, keep three things in mind: Views, views and views.
"You really want a place that's going to have a spectacular backdrop," says Frommers, joking that this is also nice for a post-engagement selfie. "This is the time to go to a spectacularly beautiful place like Rio de Janeiro, to the top of a mountain or to other parts of the world where any place you take a photo it'll be beautiful." Barcelona and Paris are also good options.
As you prepare to tie the knot, don't forget that there are always opportunities to get to know your partner better by going on a longer adventure. "My fiancé loves history and museums, and I like to go to cultural hotspots and cool restaurants," says Bailey Johnson, an engaged destination editor for Lonely Planet. "It's good to step out of what would normally do, and do what they want instead, because you may find something you both really like." Her suggestion: Antigua, Guatemala. The city has a rich history with plenty of colonial buildings and the natural beauty of a volcanic backdrop.
By now you've traveled to plenty of places together, so it's no wonder you want a destination wedding. But don't just hop on the plane to anywhere: Many countries require you to establish residency before you can get married there (take Italy, for example). A region that makes it easy: The Caribbean.
"Many resorts in the Caribbean have wedding concierges that will plan everything from the meal to the minister," says Frommer. "Jamaica is an example. Destination weddings are such a big business for the Carribbean that they make it as simple as possible."
The perfect honeymoon certainly depends on the couple's taste, but one destination that is underrated, or at least little-known: Belize. "It has a great mix of elements, from wonderful little islands where you can experience extraordinary snorkeling and scuba diving to dense jungles with incredible Mayan ruins," says Frommer.
You've settled in after the big day and honeymoon, but that doesn't mean you can't keep things exciting. Even if you're trying to budget at this point (saving for a new house, planning for children, perhaps?), medium-sized cities such as Asheville, North Carolina offer a range of activities for any wallet size.
"Asheville is a great, culturally energetic city surrounded by mountains," says Rebecca Warren, a married destination editor at Lonely Planet. "It has an amazing craft beverage scene, its own symphony and plenty of things to do outdoors." If you're watching your finances, stick to compact cities — another good example is Boston — where you can do a lot in a day or two.
After you've been together this long, you can throw planning out the window, if you so please.
"Four years after my husband and I were married, we drove around aimlessly for five weeks without planning," says Warren. "Even though we had known each other for a while then, when you leave everything that's familiar to both of you behind and have no boundaries, it can be enlightening. You learn more about what you both enjoy in travel and what makes you anxious."
It's time to celebrate how far you've come, but keep adventuring.
"For a milestone anniversary, do something that's unique and an adventure for both of you," says Warren. "Explore something together." Trek to a landmark that's just as momentous as your milestone, like the Grand Canyon — the vast space will be indicative of how far you've come, and all the adventures that lie ahead. (Aww-ing yet?)