I can attribute my happy marriage to a disastrous train ride in France. Or the time we sank our rental car in a muddy river in Costa Rica. Or that flight on a Mexican airline that went out of business while we were in the air, stranding us in Acapulco.
These weren’t failures—they were experiences. Traveling with a partner can lead to some great memories, many with an R rating—or at least a rom-com glow. This isn’t misty-eyed conjecture. A U.S. Travel Association survey con-firms that vacations can strengthen relationships, help couples communicate, and reduce the odds of divorce. Escaping from work, laundry, and kids is liberating. Add in mountain views ors alt air, and new sensations help “bring you into your body,” says relationship coach Celeste Hirschman. It all aids sexual arousal.
Your brain loves to travel. “Variety, surprise, and adventure open up the dopamine response in the brain,” says sex coach PattiBritton. That flow of feel-good hormones brings a sense of excitement. “Most couples lose that over time,” she says.
These trips stand out for me and Nate. No need to copy them exactly; use them as inspiration. With a little planning and imagination, you won’t need a lot of money—or, in some cases, clothes.
1) The Island Escape
I know, I know: cliché alert! But the connection between beaches, sex, and romance should come as no surprise. For one thing, ocean environments make us feel good. Research from 2017 suggests that exposure to such “blue spaces”may have mental and physical benefits. And then there’s all that skin. That’s probably why Hawaii is such a popular honeymoon destination—it’s straight-up paradise. On a recent trip to Kauai, Nate surprised me by renting a convertible, something I never imagined us driving in our “real” life. Our top-down exploration included roadside coconuts, poke picnics, shave ice, and cool-ing swims. We even took a surfing lesson. By evening, we drank wine on the lanai and googled real-estate we couldn’t afford.
Sensory overload. As beautiful as Hawaii looks, it smells and sounds are equally astounding. “Changing your sensory input can be quite stimulating,” Britton says, especially if your home base is a city like, say, Chicago. Flowers, salty ocean air, and crashing surf combine to create pure bliss. As for visual stimuli, watching water droplets tracing her curves on the beach can make your mind wander to the fun times you will have back at the hotel room, says psychologist Benna Strober, Psy.D.
DO IT YOURSELF
Visit Bermuda for its fine beaches and easy access from the East Coast. There’s also Florida, Cabo San Lucas, and Big Sur. To travel in style, splurge at the car rental agency or use a longer-term service such as Swapalease, which lets you lease a fancy car (BMW, Maserati, Ferrari, Porsche) for as little as four months at rates as low as $450 a month. Or get two other couples to split the cost of a small private jet from PrivateJet Services (starting at $5,000 or so per hour of air time).
2) The Sex Sequel
Nate and I spent our honeymoon at a Mexican resort, swilling Tecate and applying moisturizer to each other’s sun-seared skin. When we returned years later, not much had changed—but we had. I brought the same bikini (still fit!) and Nate packed his beloved Royals visor so we could redo some photographs. But we realized that time had made us more in tune with each other. We took naps, read books, swam in our private pool, and spent hours reminiscing at dinner. It was more romantic than our honeymoon. And no sunburn.
New appreciation. Visiting a faraway place, especially on a honeymoon, can be stressful. When you go back, many of the stresses are gone. “You know your way around,” says Art Markman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “Plus, you get to share the joy of thinking about how young and clueless you were the first time.”
DO IT YOURSELF
Can’t swing a return trip? Try a low-cost alternative, like the hotel you stayed in on your wedding night. If you went toMexico, try a Mexican restaurant. France? Watch a French movie with a nice Bordeaux and good cheese. It’s about memories, men.
3) The New Identity
Most weekdays Nate and I are in bed by 10 p.m.—after Jeopardy! and Family Feud. Hot, right? The rules changed when we lost our Vegas virginity. Research shows that couples who share novel and arousing activities—as opposed to mundane pursuits like watching game shows—see a boost in relationship quality. We stayed at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, in a room overlooking the fountains and the Strip. Our suite had a velvet sofa and a Japanese soaking tub for two. Tempting. But Vegas has a way of pulling you out of your comfort zone and your fancy hotel. We drank cocktails at breakfast and umbrella drinks in a cabana by the pool. I wore short dresses and a skimpy bikini and we danced until dawn. The next day, we slept past Wheel of Fortune.
A new you. One cure for monotony: “Give yourself permission to let loose and fantasize about being someone else,” says Strober. Role-playing shows that you trust your partner with your deepest fantasies, she says. That vulnerability can boost your relationship—and sex life.
DO IT YOURSELF
Slip on a sport coat and play James Bond in San Juan, Puerto Rico, home to a sophisticated cocktail scene, nightlife, and gambling—no pass-port required. Affordable alternatives? Reno and Atlantic City. Or role-play locally: Talk about your turn-ons and settle on a scenario. (Into taboos? Pretend you’re cheating lovers.) Agree on a signal to alert each other if one of you needs a break, says Hirschman.
4) Timeless Travel
The average iPhone user unlocks the device 80 times a day. In 2016, according to one report, Android users clicked, swiped, or tapped a screen 2,600-plus times a day. (Touch your partner that often?) In Cuba, Internet access is scarce.But trust me: In Havana you don’t need Instagram. With the music, the cocktails, and the steamy heat, this city radiates sexiness. Nate and I spent our mornings in bed, our afternoons sipping mojitos in leafy courtyards, and our evenings dancing until we were soaked in sweat. My lingering mental gif: zipping around in the backseat of a classic car, my hair blowing in the warm wind, and my husband looking at me with a big smile. Didn’t need a photo.
Focused connection. Put down the phone to solidify your relationship:
“Technoference” is a term from a study that found that seven in 10people see phones as interrupting or getting in the way of interactions with their mate (like texting while talking). When it happens often, relationship satisfaction drops. Without your phone, you relax into your partner’s company and reconnect, says therapist Rachel Sussman, L.C.S.W. You’ll be reminded of the early days, when you two were young, carefree, and getting to know each other.
DO IT YOURSELF
Go camping far from cellphone reach; seek out a digital detox program or a hotel like Rancho La Puerta in Baja, California, which doesn’t allow cellphone use in public areas. Or, you know, leave your phones in your hotel safe.
5) The Road Trip
When our planned anniversary trip fell through because of a last-minute flight cancellation, it was too late and too pricey to rebook. So we packed a bag and hit the trail—specifically, theMississippi Blues Trail. We started at the beautiful beaches of Bay St.Louis, Mississippi, and drove up to Jackson. But one of the coolest towns was Clarksdale, home of the blues—and the Delta Blues Museum. We ducked into Red’s juke joint, a hole in the wall where locals and tourists sip bourbon from plastic cups and listen to live bands. My music-geek husband was in heaven. While I’m more of aBeyoncé gal, nothing thrilled me more than hitting the road with no expectations.
Adventure, conversation, the unknown. “Being spontaneous with your partner and hitting the road at a moment’s notice can bring out your playful side,” Strober says. A road trip is authentic and can be full of surprises. Plus, music cities are made for dancing: “That wild side of yours might be just what the doctor ordered to spice up your relationship and make her look at you in a different light.”
DO IT YOURSELF
New Orleans,Nashville, Austin, and Seattle. Want a private dance? Back at the hotel, let her pick a song and take turns slowly unbuttoning or slipping off each other’s clothes as you dance together, says Perry. “Tell her you love the way she dances,” suggests Hirschman. Then enjoy the view.
6) The Eye-Opener
I’ll never erase the image of my husband rubbing aloe on 70-year-old Phyllis’s shoulders during a seven-day cruise to Mexico. Sure, he’s in the medical field, but it was the sweet gesture that turned my insides to mush. Now, we’re not into cruises. But this was different: a small ship (less than 100 people, not thousands) that could reach nooks and crannies in the Sea of Cortés. No dressing up for dinner, lots of drinking and talking. We snorkeled, paddle boarded, and swam with sea lions. Every one else was over 65, but check your prejudices: We learned tons about life and love—and ourselves—chatting with them. Every one of those couples stressed that traveling together improved their marriage. The best part? Teaching them to play Cards Against Humanity. They may have taught us about lasting relation-ships (laughing together helps),but only we could explain the “assless chaps” card.
An open mind. New settings can reveal sides of your partner you never noticed before, says Markman. And lose your bias against group travel. Sure, it’s not your usual crowd, but there’s a good chance you’ll make unexpected friends too.
“Meeting new people and getting to know them is almost always an overwhelmingly positive experience,” Markman says. “That good feeling then expands to the relationship itself as couples build new memories together that strengthen their foundation.”
DO IT YOURSELF
Island Wind-jammers, Star Clippers, Mississippi cruises with American Cruise Lines, an evening sunset cruise near your hometown. To book a cruise like the one we went on, go to uncruise.com.