Vacations: Yours, mine, and ours

Every vacation begins as an idea filled with hope and anticipation. That idea involves a destination, a calendar, maps, and guidebooks. It also includes decisions about traveling companions.

For married couples, that decision is usually obvious: "We'll go together." But increasingly, married travelers are going it alone.

Call them "solo-marrieds" and think of them as taking a "yours, mine, and ours" approach to leisure travel. While these couples still take vacations together, they also take trips that indulge individual interests and preferences. It's a way of acknowledging that saying "I do" doesn't necessarily mean saying "we do" everything in lock step.

For most couples in earlier generations, the idea of separate vacation destinations probably never crossed their minds. Of course, husbands took business trips, and wives packed suitcases and headed off to help grown children whenever a new grandchild was born. But travel separately on vacation? Unthinkable. Couples who did so might have been subjected to the raised eyebrows of onlookers who wondered, "What's wrong with their marriage?" (In most cases, probably nothing.)

Until the early 1970s, couples could even carry a joint passport, a sure sign that they always traveled Noah's Ark style, two by two.

By contrast, today's solo-marrieds are finding that occasional independence on the road can forge new bonds of togetherness when they reconnect.

It's a freedom built on trust.

It's also a way for globetrotters and homebodies to coexist peacefully. A way for two-career couples to accommodate out-of-sync vacation schedules or retirement patterns. A way to maintain family responsibilities if both can't be away at the same time. And a way to accommodate different travel styles. For example, when one spouse likes the structure of tours and cruises while the other craves flexibility and independence.

One of my favorite vacation activities involves long-distance walking. My husband prefers tennis. So once a year, I join a group of two dozen friends in the Lake District of England for five days of book discussions and walks in the beautiful hills. A few weeks later, he heads for five days of tennis with an Elderhostel program. We each return home eager to tell our stories, share our photos - and then plan a summertime trip together.

One long-married friend with a keen sense of adventure celebrated her 50th birthday by climbing in the Everest foothills. She slept outdoors in zero-degree temperatures, enjoyed the gentle melodies of yak bells, and developed a taste for lentils and rice.

All the while her husband remained happily at home, sleeping in a comfortable bed, walking the dog, and maintaining his usual routines. Nor did he mind when she took rugged solo trips to Mongolia, Bhutan, Malawi, and Brazil.

Leaving a spouse at home has its downside, to be sure - moments of loneliness and missing the other person, moments of wanting to share a view, a museum, a meal, a conversation. Yet it can also teach new lessons in independence, forcing a solo-married to reach out to others in ways that might not happen when traveling as a couple.

Sometimes a solo-married's enthusiasm for a trip can produce unexpected consequences. This year, a Dutch friend faced a dilemma: Her husband wanted to come with her to our Lake District group. She weighed the pros and cons. Then she explained, gently, that this was "girl time," an annual chance to reconnect with other women, some of whom had also left husbands at home. He understood. They've already planned other walking trips together.

Given the complexities of 21st-century life and baby boomers' sense of adventure and independence, solo-married travelers will probably increase. Like others before them, many will be glad they went but be happy to return home. They'll also be eager to take their next trip together, when the welcome operative pronoun will be "we" instead of "me."

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