by Annabel Fenwick Elliott, The Telegraph, November 3, 2017
The three scariest words to utter during the fledgling stages of a relationship are not "I love you" but "fancy a holiday?"
It's a tricky one. Taking a trip with someone you don't know very well - be that a new beau, friend, or even colleague for that matter - is a sure-fire way to accelerate the familiarisation process. Many a promising union has been left in tatters by the end of a well-intentioned weekend away.
And if you are jetting off with your other half soon, what does your choice in destination say about the stage of your relationship, if anything?
In a quest for answers, or at least clues, as to the when, where and whys of such a prickly topic, Telegraph Travel spoke to psychologists, travel experts, number crunchers, and each other, and here's what we unearthed.
How soon is too soon?
Or how long is a piece of string, you might say. Every situation is different of course, but behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings suggests the "1:1 ratio" approach.
"If you’ve been going out for a month, have one night away. Two months, two nights away – or a weekend – and so on, so that by the time you've reached the seven-month mark, that’s time to take a whole week away together."
Relationship coach Jo Barnett reckons you should have "at least five to seven dates under your belt" before taking your first sojourn, and make it a weekend - no longer.
Travel expert Gilbert Ott, author of God Save The Points, however, stands behind the "sooner the better" position.
"Taking a trip early on is a time-saver and a partner-sifter. It unlifts the mask of politeness and forced charm," he says.
"See what happens when your flight gets cancelled or your hotel is overbooked. It's a priceless look into your future together."
Early into one relationship, Ott took his new love interest to a festival on the Isle of Wight.
"It rained relentlessly. The bus broke down. We had to walk five miles in the storm," he grumbles. "I will never go camping at a festival again, but I did end up marrying her. She never once lost her temper."
What pitfalls should I watch out for?
Statistically, according to a poll conducted last year on 2,000 adults by Holiday Autos, 40 per cent of couples quarrel at least once a day while on holiday, with a quarter arguing in the first 24 hours.
One in ten couples, says the car hire firm, actually broke up before even getting home, with the top three triggers being "too much time spent together", "spending too much money" and "getting drunk" (in that order).
Hemmings backs this up.
"Seeing someone's true colours on holiday - jet-lagged, grumpy, stubborn, bored - is often a wake-up call," she says.
"One partner might be a lark while the other is a night owl, one turns out to be a heavy drinker while the other is more a 'one glass at dinner' sort; one gets fidgety and restless while the other feels relaxed and carefree doing nothing – these are the top contenders."
In short, it's worth sussing out these habits and preferences before booking any tickets.
Can a holiday save a struggling relationship?
A resounding no.
"This may sound unromantic but my first advice for a last ditch attempt is couples counselling," Barnett says.
"The problems in a relationship don't go away if you take off for a sunny island, they come with you, and even if they don't they'll be there when you get back."
Hemmings agrees. "If your relationship is already on tricky ground, a holiday will very likely polarise the situation. The reverse is better. Take a break without each other, and see how you feel when you get back."
I've been invited on holiday by a new partner, but I'm not ready. What do I do?
This is undoubtedly an awkward situation. Making excuses would be one approach ("I can't get the time off work"; "I'm busy that weekend"; "My dog ate my passport") - but these inevitably expire.
The brave would be better off telling the truth, say our psychologists.
"Be honest with your partner, and explain gently and lovingly why it does not feel the right time yet," advises Barnett. "If you're with the right person they will understand and respect you more for it."
One the other side, never pressurise a new partner into taking a holiday, says Hemmings.
"For some people it could be simply that they are used to taking trips with family or friends, and just aren't quite ready to give up that precious time. Don’t take a knock back personally – it’s like moving in together or even announcing that you’re in a relationship on Facebook – some just take more time to feel ready to make that move."
Where to then?
We've learned by now that shorter is probably safer for new relationships, which for Britons leaves us with UK city breaks or a trip to the Continent.
The honeymoon period
Tamara Heber-Percy, founder of luxury travel agency Mr and Mrs Smith, reveals: "Newly dating couples tend to book short weekends away in the UK. They’re still in that wooing phase so they want to impress - and romantic country retreats hit the perfect mark. The Cotswolds is an incredibly popular destination with couples looking for that ultimate first-weekend-away."
She adds: "New couples are also looking for boutique experiences – something to ease any awkwardness. A short cookery class, foraging expedition or wine tasting can break up the weekend and give you plenty to talk about."
Jack Sheldon, professional fare hacker and the man behind Jack’s Flight Club, weighs in: "From our experience, brand new couples are much more likely to take a short city-break trip to Europe for a weekend - somewhere lively like Barcelona, Berlin or Ibiza. You wouldn't often see someone using up their precious time off on someone they've just met much further afield than that."
The comfortable months
From the travel agencies we spoke to, Scandinavia kept cropping up as a popular spot for more established couples still within the first year.
Sheldon says: "Couples who've been together for a few months are often more comfortable taking a slightly longer, active holiday to destinations like Iceland and Norway. We've just heard from an Edinburgh couple who booked their first trip away together after dating for four months to trek through Iceland for five days and see the Northern Lights - something they realised was on both their bucket lists."
A rep from tour company Best Served Scandinavia agreed: "More than 50 per cent of our bookings are couples and from what we can glean from anecdotes from sales consultants – Northern Lights, Ice hotels and glass igloos are very much holidays to take once the relationship is established.
"We also have lots of male clients looking for our help on where to pop the question - with an 100 per cent 'yes' success rate so far."
Heber-Percy from Mr and Mrs Smith reports: "At six months, people tend to get a bit more adventurous and explore. Long-weekend city breaks in Europe, mostly – Paris, Rome and Lisbon - are key destinations for us. We’ve seen an uplift in demand for planned experiences here, too: things that couples can do together."
The fully committed
"Fully established couples go further afield and plan longer trips," Heber-Percy says, unsurprisingly. "It’s at this time, before you have children, that you can travel to more adventurous places which are harder to navigate. Sri Lanka, India or South America are popular, as are road-trips across the US."
Sheldon lists two or three-week trips to destinations including Bali and Thailand as being a common choice for newly-engaged couples in particular.
"We’ve also had many couples pick Japan to celebrate their anniversaries," he says.
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