The relationship benefits of traveling and four tips to do it well.

by Theresa E. DiDonato Ph.D.


  • Relationship partners often establish routines that define their day-to-day, week-by-week interactions.
  • Self-expansion theory suggests that a break from the routine might benefit romantic couples.
  • New research found that self-expanding vacations predicted higher post-vacation relationship quality.
  • Tips for vacation planning include traveling together and focusing on quality, not number, of vacations.

Does a getaway sound appealing? A week away could be just the escape we all need from the day-to-day drudgery. Think of the possibilities: You could sleep in, take a break from your commute, or forgo cooking for a few days; you might try snowboarding, see a stunning vista, indulge in fine cuisine, or soak some sun. No matter the destination, the goal is generally the same: Restoration and revitalization.

Not surprisingly, vacations can improve your personal health and well-being (De Bloom and colleagues, 2009). We might readily think of the many personal benefits of a vacation, but there are other reasons to take a break. Scientists have identified the critical ways in which travel can benefit your romantic relationship (Coffey and colleagues, 2024).

Vacations Break Relationship Routines

Routines help us move easily and smoothly from day to day. For romantic partners, routines include how partners divvy up responsibilities (for example, who does the planning or who does the chores), how they manage children or pets, and how they organize their week. For partners who live together, routines define the rhythm of a household. No doubt routines are beneficial, creating helpful expectations for what gets done and when. This is important when juggling the pressures of work, family, kids, and everything else that life might throw at you.

Yet, routines can also quietly become problematic. If we don’t keep them in check, routines can become so entrenched that they strip away novelty from daily life. Partners who once sparkled in each others’ presence can find it difficult to maintain passion when routines define their every interaction. Habituation makes for dullness and dullness tends to make unhappy relationships.

One way to disrupt these routines is to take a vacation. Whether it’s soaking in the sun, exploring a new city, or cruising on the open sea, time vacationing is time spent outside of typical routine. Might this serve as a booster shot for relationship health?

Vacations May Trigger Self-Expansion

It can be new! It can be exciting! A vacation is a shift away from the typical. The power of such newness may work to revitalize our relationships.

The idea is anchored to self-expansion theory. Self-expansion theory suggests that people are innately motivated to grow and that we can grow through our relationships, gaining new skills, ideas, and perspectives (Aron and colleagues, 2022). And it’s not just individuals who can change, it’s relationships as well. A strong body of evidence suggests that when couples jointly engage in self-expanding activities, doing so leads to many positive outcomes, including greater relationship satisfaction, passion, and sexual desire (Aron and colleagues, 2001; Muise and colleagues, 2019). Prior research focused on non-vacation activities. The question then, is how vacations might fit into this picture.

Vacations As a Pathway to Better Relationships

Can vacationing benefit relationships? Researchers investigated this question across two studies, the first with 234 individuals and the second with 204 couples (Coffey and colleagues, 2024). Study 1 compared vacationing alone versus with a partner, and in both studies, the extent to which people engaged in self-expanding activities while vacationing was assessed. Vacationing was linked to:

  • Higher Relationship Satisfaction. When partners vacation together (not alone), their relationship may experience a boost in relationship satisfaction. In Study 1, engaging in self-expanding activities while vacationing with a partner predicted higher post-vacation relationship satisfaction (Coffey and colleagues, 2024).
  • Higher Romantic Passion. Looking to keep the spark alive? Evidence showed that a vacation with a partner, including self-expanding activities, predicted higher post-vacation romantic passion (Coffey and colleagues, 2024).
  • More Physical Intimacy. Affection might change day to day and this new research suggests stepping away from routines might encourage physical connection. Evidence from Study 2 showed that romantic partners who shared more self-expanding activities while vacationing together reported more post-vacation physical intimacy (Coffey and colleagues, 2024).

The Keys to a Relationship-Benefiting Vacation

Forget about personal benefits, vacationing may offer ways to improve your relationship. Consider these important tips for planning a relationship-benefiting vacation, drawn from recent research (Coffey and colleagues, 2024).

  1. Anyone can benefit. The links between vacationing and relationship quality were present regardless of participants’ relationship length (Coffey and colleagues, 2024). This suggests that whether partners have been together for three months or 30 years, their relationship might benefit from vacationing together.
  2. More vacations aren’t the answer. It’s not the number, but the quality of the vacation that appears critical to encouraging relationship health. The researchers (Coffey and colleagues, 2024) showed that what people did during vacations (that is, the extent of self-expansion) mattered more than how often they took them.
  3. Take vacations together, not alone. While solo vacations might help you grow personally, solo vacations are unlikely to help your relationship. The link between self-expanding vacations and relationship quality was limited to vacationing with a romantic partner (Coffey and colleagues, 2024).
  4. Focus on novelty and excitement. There are so many different types of vacations, how do you decide what to do? The current research suggests prioritizing vacations that offer self-expanding activities. Try something new together. Happily, this suggests that budget-friendly vacations can be just as relationship-rewarding as budget-breaking vacations; what matters is doing something interesting and new with your partner.

Relationship well-being doesn’t happen by itself, it takes work to maintain a healthy and satisfying relationship. The current research suggests that the work of relationship maintenance can include taking a vacation.

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