The first date, the first kiss, the first fight, the first trip – these rites of passage form the foundations of an early relationship. Travelling together is especially telling. Does one person want to surf at dawn and the other prefer to laze? Does one perk up and the other shrink back at the prospect of wild camping? Adventure travel in particular can alter a relationship for better or worse.

Lonely Planet Trailblazers Kia and Peter from Atlas & Boots have travelled together since 2014. Here they share how adventure travel has changed and challenged their relationship.

Peter Watson washing dishes in the sea in Fiji © Atlas and Boots
Peter doing the washing up, Fiji camping-style © Atlas and Boots

First-time camping on a Fiji beach

Taveuni on Fiji is a Pacific paradise perfect for camping. With open canvas beneath night-time skies and the gentle hush of a peaceful sea, Beverly Beach was the perfect opportunity to introduce Kia to camping. Alas, it did not go as planned.

Kia: Camping on a beach sounds lovely, but I thoroughly hated it. There were wild dogs in the area that wouldn’t leave us alone, droves of mosquitoes, awful facilities and even a roach or two from the dwellings next door. On the second night, while in the toilet, in the dark, something wet and heavy landed on my foot – too big to be a bug, too small to be a cat. I ran out, horrified, later discovering that it was a massive toad. I enjoy adventure travel, but this wasn’t my idea of fun and I’ve resisted camping ever since.

Peter: I am happiest under canvas and was keen to initiate Kia into the pleasures of camping.

Sadly, she hated it and to my dismay still hates it to this day. The experience taught us to meet in the middle. Now, we limit camping trips to a maximum of three days. I get my fix and she keeps her cool.

Kia and Peter from Atlas and Boots take a selfie in the sea while diving © Atlas and Boots
Forget the diving skills, these two have strong selfie game © Atlas and Boots

Out of our depth on a Vanuatu dive

After a month on the Pacific islands of Vanuatu, we had four days left with nothing to do. Over sunset drinks, we spotted a fellow backpacker studying for the PADI Open Water Diver course and decided we had just enough time to get certified too.

Kia: I was born and raised in London and seldom had the chance to swim, so I severely struggled with my PADI certification. Peter, on the other hand, grew up by the sea and found it extremely easy. I’m highly competitive and had a hard time accepting that I was weak at this. I had to learn to let go of control and allow Peter to teach me.

Peter: Kia is a bit of a nerd and is used to being good at things. Diving, however, was a clear shortcoming. Learning to dive together was great because it taught us how to teach and learn from each other, to leave our egos on the boat, to be patient, and to trust and rely on each other underwater. Adventure travel and diving in particular is a genuinely enriching experience for couples.

Erta Ale volcano, Ethiopia © Mikhail Cheremkin / Getty Images
A little more than sparks could fly at Erta Ale © Mikhail Cheremkin / Getty Images

The ‘hike from hell’ in Ethiopia

Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia has been dubbed the ‘hike from hell’. Two nights with no running water, no toilets and no privacy in searing temperatures and under armed guard are testing circumstances for any couple.

Kia: This hike really underlined how past adventures have toughened me up and brought us closer together. There was no privacy and we had to venture far from camp to find a tree or ditch for a shared toilet break (and not just the ladylike variety). This trip taught me that being able to laugh together is worth a thousand luxuries.

Peter: Despite an obvious lack of comfort, Erta Ale was one of the best things we’ve done together. Travelling to an incredible natural sight in one of the least accessible places on my bucket list was utterly thrilling. People talk about the ‘seven year itch’, but if you continue to do exciting things, you will continue to be excited.

Kia and Peter pose for a photo in Salar de Uyuni © Atlas and Boots
Quick, while there's no one around... © Atlas and Boots

Language barrier at the Bolivian border

After eight months on the road, we found ourselves fast waning. Bolivia was a test in more ways than one.

Kia: Crossing overland from Bolivia to Chile was unexpectedly complicated. There was tortured wrangling in Spanish, an overnight stay in a hovel and lavish fees on exit and entry. I speak some Spanish and had therefore been the de facto leader through the last four countries of our trip and found myself quickly tiring. The experience taught me that I had to buck up and be the strong one when the situation called for it.

Peter: South America was frustrating because I had to watch Kia struggle with the language barrier and could do nothing to help. On one occasion, she was demanding a refund for a room that had no water, but the proprietor only agreed to a dollar. Normally, I’d get confrontational, but had to let Kia handle it. It taught us to play to our strengths and ease each other’s weaknesses.

The northern lights, seen in Norway © Atlas and Boots
Even the anti-romantics out there will struggle not to swoon over the northern lights © Atlas and Boots

True romance under Northern Lights

It was our second night in a freezing cold Norway. Buffeted by icy winds, we prayed that this would be the night we’d finally see the lights.

Kia: I didn’t have high hopes. A few years earlier, we had spent a freezing night in Iceland, fruitlessly waiting for the lights to appear just as we had in Norway the night before. Not a glimmer. This night, however, our guide was sure: the lights would finally appear. He was right and they were utterly jaw-dropping. I held Peter’s hand and, for a moment, we were no longer wry Brits or seen-it-all travellers; we weren’t cynical Londoners, or a writer and a photographer angling for a story. We were just two people in love experiencing something extraordinary.

Peter: Seeing the Northern Lights in Norway was one of the best things I’ve done. It was worth the biting cold and crushing disappointment of prior attempts. That moment, under those lights, taught us to enjoy extraordinary moments without sullying them with a silly joke or sly aside; to enjoy romantic moments purely for what they are.

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