Long-Distance Marriage: Travel and Advice

This is the fourth installment of our series on financially navigating a long-distance marriage.  Please read and comment on the first, second, and third installments as well!


Our final post in this series on the impact of long-distance marriage on finances covers visits and advice.  It made sense combine these two categories since much of the advice was on travel itself!


open roadMany of the couples emphasized the importance of regular visits, even at the expense of other financial goals.


“[Travel] is one of the things we think it’s worth “splurging” on, though we’re able to keep the costs down pretty easily.”


“Our main principle has been to prioritize visiting each other as much as we can, and try to be frugal within that framework.”


“I guess [he] could have traveled less, but it was important that we got to see each other.”


I wanted to establish how often these couples visited one another and what it cost them to do so.


Frequency: The general pattern was that the couples who lived across the US from one another visited about once every one to two months.  The couples who lived a shorter flight or driving distance from one another saw one another anywhere from once per month to every weekend, mostly dependent on the flexibility of their work.


Cost: The only couples that mentioned the cost factor were those who flew to see on another, with flights anywhere from about $150 for the shorter distances up to $600 for cross-country holiday weekends.  However, several of the couples used alternate means for paying for these flights, like travel for work and credit card/frequent flyer rewards.


One spouse who moved because of accepting a new, higher-paying job, was able to negotiate for his company to pay for several flights as part of his signing bonus.  “[The] company is amazing and part of their incentive to get him to start there before I defend is that they agreed to buy $2000 worth of plane tickets home for him (a trip every 3-4 months or so, by their estimates). He also worked so much overtime on one of their projects in the fall that as part of his bonus his boss added on another two trips. [He] hasn’t had to pay for any of his flights home.”  Other couples cited local conferences and such as reasons that their trips were paid for by their work.


Another couple went into detail about how they used credit card signup bonuses to pay for nearly all of their travel.  “We each got 50,000 free points for Southwest via signing up for credit cards and getting bonus miles. I got the Chase Sapphire and he got a Southwest Chase. A one-way flight on sale is 2,800 points so that is a ton of free flights! He occasionally was able to get his flights paid for due to professional reasons (consulting, conferences, etc.). I think we will have spent less than $500 on flights/travel the entire 10-month stretch, including the [credit card] fee. It isn’t sustainable forever, but it is a great strategy for a year.”


I also asked for the best advice they could give a married couple facing a period of living apart, financially related or not – and they did not disappoint!


First, we must begin with the end in mind and know that this period will not last forever.


“Know approximately how long it will last, and think of the end result.”


“It seemed like forever when we were apart, but now looking back it wasn’t that long.”


Secondly, you should continue to work toward improving your marriage through this period.


“My biggest advice would be to not get complacent.”


Not surprisingly, almost everyone had something to say about committing to communicating frequently!


“Make sure that no matter how busy you are you find some time to talk every day, even if it’s just 5 minutes before one of you is going to bed as the other one is getting dinner!”


“Communicate. Make time to talk every single day, even if it is short. FaceTime / Skype! Be honest with your feelings, and tell each other when you don’t feel very connected, even if you can’t do anything. Respect each other’s time when one of you has a deadline. When we live together, we can both be independently working yet still feel like we are together. When we are apart, this doesn’t work. Send texts/e-­mails to let him/her know you are thinking of him/her.”


“Don’t forget to schedule phone calls and Skype dates! It’s good to catch each other on the phone whenever you can, but sometimes life and work get busy and you really have to plan ahead. Also, being able to look forward to, say, watching a favorite TV show “together” can help a lot in getting through the day.”


“Timezones are more difficult to navigate day-to-day than you might think. 3 hours doesn’t seem like a lot, but it makes a big difference, particularly on work days that are pretty packed with activities. It helped up to have a set time to talk everyday, and we both tried to adapt our schedules around that.”


One couple emphasized the importance of having longer visits (one half of this couple was able to work remotely).


“Try to plan stretches of time together that are a week or longer. I realize this is not possible for everyone, but whenever it is possible, do it. Do “normal” boring things when you are together (at least some of the time)… The longer stretches together have been really important to helping us to feel like we still have a normal marriage. It isn’t the same as being together every single day forever, but it helps us stay connected.”


It’s also important for the leaving-spouse to become invested in his/her new community.


“Stay busy so you don’t have time to miss each other so much!… I also think it’s important to introduce your spouse to the friends you have in the area -­ that way your spouse will have a frame of reference when you talk about so-and-so.”


“Try to build your own life wherever you are. It’s very, very easy to get lonely and homesick, especially if you do a lot of your work alone, so try to spend time with people you’ve met, get involved in a church, etc. ­ just find things to do to keep yourself from feeling like you’re just waiting for time to go by until you get back home. This is easier said than done because settling in to new places tends to take at least a year. Still, that means that if you’re trying hard and still not feeling at home six months in, that’s pretty normal, and it would probably be worse if you weren’t trying.”


One respondent also covered the vitality of finding roommates (many of the individuals had roommates).


“Look for roommates. I sublet a room near my research site in the house of a friend of a friend, for half the cost of a studio or one­bedroom apartment in the area. My [spouse] also found a subletter to help share the cost of our apartment for a few months while I’m gone. It’s weird to go from having your own place to sharing as an adult, but you can put up with a lot for a short time, and if you’re the partner who’s far away, having a roommate can help relieve feelings of isolation.”


Several of the couples hustled for some extra income (through work or finding rewards) to enable them to travel to see one another more often.


“Try to bring in extra income to meet the cost of paying two rents, bills, and spending a lot more on travel.”


“Get yourself some credit card points and buy plane tickets early enough to grab a sale. (On Southwest, you can always cancel later and get the points back. When in doubt, book it!)”


And finally, some couples offered explanations for why living apart has been, while perhaps not easy, at least a financially manageable time in their lives.  This isn’t advice exactly, but perhaps you are blessed like they are!


“We are very fortunate that my husband’s salary affords us a very comfortable lifestyle, so money was not a huge issue while we were apart.”


“Unfortunately, I can’t really give much advice since we haven’t had many problems ourselves. I attribute that to having a partner with an almost­identical, thrifty, approach to personal finances. Of course, not everyone can be so lucky!”


This concludes our series on long-distance marriage!  I hope you found it valuable to hear from couples who are or have been “in the trenches” if living apart is something you are considering or practicing.  Thank you so so much to everyone who participated!


How often do you think you would visit your spouse if you lived apart?  What advice do you think is most valuable for married couples living apart and do you have any to add?  Are you strategic about communicating and spending time with your spouse, even if you live together?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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22 Responses to "Long-Distance Marriage: Travel and Advice"

  1. […] This is the second installment of our series on financially navigating a long-distance marriage.  Check out the first installment and come back on subsequent Wednesdays for the third and fourth! […]

  2. […] a long-distance marriage.  Please return on subsequent Wednesdays for the second, third, and fourth […]

  3. When my wife and I were doing the long-distance portion of our dating, we actually only saw each other twice over the course of a year. One of those times was actually when I proposed. Neither of us really likes flying. Instead, as I mentioned in one of your earlier posts, we spent a lot of time together on the phone. Not necessarily talking during all of that time, but doing our best to simulate being together.
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    1. Emily says:

      Twice in a year! That is really not much at all. The longest Kyle and I went without seeing one another while we were dating was 4 months.

      1. I can’t imagine a marriage being of any quality if it you didn’t see each other at least once a week. Even that should only last for a short time. It is amazing what people can do, but you wonder what stress it puts on them.
        Free Money Minute recently posted..Don’t Waste Your Life Away

        1. Emily says:

          Yes, I’m sure it is stressful to be apart. But, since I know most of the couples in this study personally, I can attest that they do have quality marriages – even the ones who go months between visits! A long-distance marriage is certainly challenging and I wouldn’t recommend anyone undertake it at a weak point in his marriage. But there are all kinds of reasons that LDM becomes necessary or preferable and I want this series to be encouraging to people who are facing that prospect.

        2. I’m in a long distance marriage (cross-country) and my husband and I try to see each other once a month (sometimes twice if we are feeling extravagant and the timing works out). I think we have a marriage of quality.. or at least quality enough that it’s worth staying married! 😉 In all seriousness, long distance isn’t for everyone and it’s not ideal, but it’s the best situation right now. We’ve handled it pretty well.
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          1. Emily says:

            Hear, hear!

  4. Mr PoP and I were long distance for about 80% of the 5 years we dated before getting married, and it was definitely expensive, but we made seeing each other a priority. When we were on separate continents, we saw each other once every 2-3 months, and when we were on opposite sides of the same state, we saw each other about twice/month. In all scenarios we tried to make it so that we both took equal turns traveling so no one person had to bear the brunt of the travel expenses (both time and money).
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    1. Emily says:

      Wow, that’s a lot of long distance – were you living in the same city in the first year, the last year, or some time in the middle? Do you think you would see one another more often if you live apart now in comparison with when you were dating? I think we would probably double the visiting frequency from our year of long-distance dating.

  5. krantcents says:

    I experienced this early (1st year) in our marriage because I was drafted. During training we were apart for 4 months. I was lucky that my wife joined me in my permanent duty station stateside. It was during the Vietnam War and phone calls and letters were our only communication. Finding solutions is not easy, but you find what works for you.
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    1. Emily says:

      I realized when I was compiling answers from these couples that military couples do this all the time and their input would have been nice for a few of these questions – though I assume they rarely set up two separate households in the sense that we will. Four months is not so bad but that’s rough that it came in your first year of marriage! I’m glad your wife was able to move to where you were quickly.

  6. It would be really hard not to want to see my wife every couple of weeks if we lived apart. I think a lot would just come down to the cost and how it fits into the budget.
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    1. Emily says:

      I think I would get lonely pretty fast! I haven’t even handled Kyle going to longer conferences well. I’m not sure which would be more difficult – cost or travel time/time away from work. For me the situation would be that the faster I finish my PhD (i.e. the more time/work I put in) the sooner we can live together again.

  7. Pauline says:

    I had a LDR Spain-Spain then UK-Spain. I became a pro at booking flights early, our agendas were set months in advance and we managed a flight (with a great booking it was under $100) each every 6 weeks so we would see each other every 3 weeks. Then I had more time so I visited more. It may be cheaper to travel west to east coast on weekends than the other way around, so one may visit more than the other, or the one who has more time off so that you can see each other longer.
    Pauline recently posted..4 Mistakes I Made When I First Started Investing

    1. Emily says:

      Wow, that is very frequent! Your relationship would be an outlier in comparison with the marriages in this study. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. SarahN says:

    I would DEFINITELY visit my spouse (or less than spouse) if they were working somewhere else!! As to frequency would depend on location – the two nearest cities to mine, I’d say a frequency of seeing each other twice a month would be fair, with each taking turns. Naturally somewhere further or overseas would lessen the count. I lived in France for a year, and my bf of the time planned a 3 week trip to see me (it sadly ended on this trip, but we’re still friends).

    I’m very ‘strategic’ about having time together, as we talk better face to face (or in each others arms!) than on the phone/email/texts. More background info – like work, stress, hopes etc. Therefore I’m always looking to maximise this ‘quality’ time at the expense (sometimes) of fun/date time – I’m ok with not spending the evening together if we get that 30mins of proper talking last thing at night.
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    1. Emily says:

      It’s a stereotype that women prefer face-to-face talking and men prefer side-by-side talking (like while engaging in an activity together), but I think it’s true for me and Kyle. Being long-distance definitely transitions the communication to the former.

  9. I would think you’d want to try to be together at least every couple of months,and call or text every day. I really don’t have much advice because I’ve never done it, but I think some couples who are apart for a long time tend to get used to being apart and it’s hard when you end up back in the same place. I would hope to avoid that at all costs.
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    1. Emily says:

      I hadn’t thought about that – it’s the same thing people say about marrying later in life, though. I can definitely see how it would happen, though. I fantasize about having a very regular daily routine, which of course gets thrown out of whack because I have to accommodate another human! I can see how I would be a little disturbed if I had that routine set and then we moved back together and it was disturbed again. But I hooooope that the joy of being close again would make up for those inconveniences!

  10. eemusings says:

    When we were long distance (early in the relationship) we could really only communicate via letter (military training), and the odd phone call/visit. Quite romantic though.

    I’m not sure how we would cope in an LDR now we’re married and used to being together. I’d definitely be open to it if it was a good move career wise/financially but it would take a lot of work. Great series!
    eemusings recently posted..Things we loved in Koh Lanta

    1. Emily says:

      That does sound romantic! Do you still have the letters?

      Thank you!

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