My wife and I got married in August last year and decided to spend our first year of marriage travelling. While we are only at the beginning of our journey together, both in this marriage and on our travels, it has been a period in which I have learnt a great deal.
Through this article, I hope to share a few tips and also some lessons I have learned from our journey so far. Hopefully, this may inspire other newly and ‘longly’ married couples to set off and explore the world together. ?
Saying goodbye to Dad at train station in the UK
We set off from our home in the UK In October 2017, embarking on a year-long journey. We initially headed South in the hope that we could escape the cold, wet English winter. We travelled overland via Calais, Paris, Barcelona and Tangier before finally arriving in Fes, Morocco, where we based ourselves for the next two months. We have since moved onto Cairo, where we will be based for another two months before we head onto Turkey and then make our way back to the UK travelling across Europe, in sha Allah.
1. Travelling gives you opportunities for reflection.
The first lesson that immediately stands out when thinking of our journey so far is how travel allows people to become more reflective. As with all aspects of life, through our experiences we can learn a great deal, but only when we are reflective.
Allah repeatedly draws on the importance of reflection in the Quran and how it is only the people of reflection of Tafakkur, who will be able to understand his signs. Travel facilitates this reflection in many ways. First and foremost, it provides us with an escape from of our everyday routines, giving us the time and space we need to reflect on Allah’s creation. As Allah states, “In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed Signs for those with understanding” (3:190).
The freedom travel has provided me and my wife in this early stage of our relationship has also allowed us to develop a deeper understanding of each other and our relationship.
Travelling exposes you to different environments and experiences, allowing you to see different sides of each other. As your journey develops, your relationship will develop alongside it.
2. Travelling with a base helps you see the world from a different perspective.
A view I’ve held for a long time, which has been strengthened during this trip, is the advantages of basing yourself somewhere during your travels. Having a base allows you to experience a country in a deeper way than is possible when passing through town after town.
While both experiences are unique, I have always favoured being based somewhere for a while. This allows you to experience the day to day life of a particular town or city, becoming part of the fabric of everyday life.
For those travelling over long periods, having a base also allow you to unload for a little bit and obtain a feeling of stillness that can often be lost when being on the move constantly. For those with big backpacks, it is also a welcome relief to be able to put your bags down for longer than a five-hour bus journey!
The best aspect of being settled for an extended period is that it allows you to really engage with a local community; me and my wife for example loved our two months living in the old city in Fes as it gave us the time to learn the intricacies of how this wonderful and unique city worked.
Having a base also doesn’t deny you from travelling extensively throughout a country; me and my wife were able to visit all corners of Morocco from our base in Fes and were able to save a great deal of time, energy and money during our weekend trips as we had more time to research and plan our journeys.
Of course, many people do not have the luxury of time on their trips and want to see as much as they can in the short space of time they are given. For those who do have more time though, I would recommend basing yourself somewhere for a while. This will undoubtedly give you a better impression of a country and a deeper understanding of the people who define it.
3. Organize memorable date nights during your travels.
One piece of advice I was given from a friend before we left on our travels was to ensure me and my wife set aside some time each week to do something special. While my friend recommended setting a specific day of the week aside for this time, me and my wife have done this on a more impromptu basis, taking a night or an afternoon out as much as possible to just enjoy each other’s company in a unique way.
The beauty of travelling is that you have the opportunity to enjoy some truly unique date nights and those lucky enough to be travelling with their spouses should take advantage of the romantic settings they are likely to encounter. We have been lucky enough to have nights under the stars in the desert, boat trips along the Nile and many other trips that will remain some of my favourite memories for years to come.
Date night In the Sahara Desert!
Being a newlywed makes these dates extra special as they are likely to be some of the first memories you create together, so my advice would be to ensure you set aside the time and the money to make the most of the opportunities you will encounter on your travels!
4. Patience, patience and patience.
Patience (Sabr) is a key virtue in the Islamic tradition, as the Prophet said, “Whoever remains patient, Allah will make him patient and nobody can be given a greater blessing than patience.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari).
Patience is certainly a virtue tested during any traveller’s journey. From crazy cab drivers to relentless street sellers, travellers will face situations in which their patience will reach its limits (just ask anyone who has been to Marrakesh!).
When travelling alone we only have to deal with our own emotions in these situations. However, when married, you are dealing with two sets of emotions in any given situation. Remaining calm is essential if you wish to have a pleasant journey, and also a long-lasting marriage. ?
This is a virtue and practice that takes time to master. Travel gives you both the environment and the challenges in which to practise and perfect the virtue of patience.
5. Letting the small things go allows you to focus on the big things.
Tied to the virtue of patience is being able to let things go, which has been an important lesson I have learnt on my travels so far.
Newlyweds have to adjust to what it means to share a life together, which gives you a new lens through which to see the world and make decisions. When we are single, most of our decisions can be made without consultation, as they are primarily personal decisions. However, after getting married, you have to consider both your own and your spouse’s feelings when making decisions.
When travelling, there will be times when your wants and desires will not match up with your spouse's. In such scenarios being able to let go of your own desires is difficult. However, it is also an important step in your relationship, as learning to compromise is a key aspect of any healthy relationship.
This ‘letting go’ has both literal and metaphysical meanings and implications. Not only do we strengthen our relationship with our spouse by prioritising their wants and desires above our own, but we also strengthen our relationship with Allah.
By choosing to let go of our desires we undermine our nafs (ego) and in doing so we lessen our attachment to this world, which in reality means that we are actually drawing closer to the next world and Allah. As the Prophet said, "The struggler is the one who strives against his soul/self in obedience to God, the Mighty and Majestic." (At-Tirmidhi)
Any desires we have that is rooted in this world will inevitably let us down as it is ephemeral. The next world is eternal and is therefore worthier of our attention and efforts. Both marriage and travel offer important lessons which help us realise this truth in practice.
6. By relying and trusting in each other, you will grow closer.
Letting go of things is also linked to the idea of trusting in each other. Marriage will inevitably lead to scenarios in which you have to trust your partner, and this is also true of travel, which often increases and intensifies those scenarios. In all likelihood, you will spend some (or a lot of) time in a state of confusion during your travels due to being physically, linguistically or culturally lost ?
This disorientation is however useful. As the old proverbial wisdom goes, we have to be lost in order to be found. At a deeper level this disorientation eventually leads to greater orientation, as we become accustomed to re-orientating ourselves.
When travelling with someone else you also learn to trust your fellow traveller. In our journey so far, there has been a lot of scenarios in which my wife and I have had to put our trust in each other in difficult situations. This becomes an infectious habit, as the more you learn to trust each other, the more you rely on each other and in turn, the closer to each other you grow. This is a valuable lesson and one that has been proven again and again on our journey so far.
7. You will gain experiences that money can’t buy.
Travelling can offer you the chance to experience a whole new way of life without the everyday responsibilities we face back home. It also gives you one of life’s greatest resources - time!
How we use our time here on earth is perhaps one of the most important questions we must answer for. In Surah Al-Asr, Allah himself swears by time that “Verily! Man is in loss, except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and command one another to the truth and command one another to patience”.
Here, Allah is giving us the recipe for living a fulfilling and worthwhile life. With regards to how we can apply these lessons in practice on our travels, I would say: take the opportunity to travel for more than personal gratification. Travel itself should not only be an end in itself, but rather a means through which we develop our souls, this inner dimension of travelling should not be overlooked.
One way you can ensure that your travels aid you in this self-development is by studying on your travels. Seeking knowledge has always been a fundamental part of the Islamic tradition and for those with the time and resources it is important to take advantage of the time you are given to study the deen of Allah. Another way you can take heed of the words of Allah is to give back during your travels by either working or volunteering.
Outside the Help Refugees Warehouse we worked at in Calais
There are many fantastic volunteering opportunities and an abundance of online resources to help you find an organisation that would fit your skill set. Volunteering is a two-way streak, by giving your time and energy to a noble cause you are sure to be given an experience far more valuable than anything that can be bought. As the Messenger of Allah S.A.W. said: ‘The most beloved of people to Allah are those most beneficial to people. (Al-Albaani)
: Try out some of these websites to find opportunities to volunteer or work during your travels:
8. Happiness is best shared.
The final and perhaps most important lesson you will learn on your travels is the simple joy of sharing your journey together. There are so many amazing things to see in the world and experiences to be had. Whether it is sharing new food, conversations, sunrises or sunsets, being able to share these experiences with our spouse is a precious gift.
You will find that the emotions, feelings and understandings you have of those experiences are validated and enhanced through the mutual acceptance and appreciation offered by your spouse. This is part of the wisdom of marriage, which calms and comforts the soul, as Allah indicates in Surah Ar-Rum, “Among His Signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect." (30:21)
One of our last mornings in Morocco
Travel itself is a great metaphor for our lives here on earth. As the Prophet himself said, ‘Be in the world as if you were a stranger or a traveller along the path.” (al-Bukhari) A traveller is defined by their journey, which itself is defined by its destination. This is also true of our lives here on earth, for what is our life but a journey back to our ultimate destination, Allah? Having someone to share this journey with is a precious gift, one given to us by Allah out of his limitless mercy and it is one that we should make the most of during our time here on earth.
These have just been a few reflections from my travels during my first year of marriage so far. The beauty of travel is that it is always a unique experience for each individual and couple. The lessons we learn are therefore bound to be unique and each of us will be changed in different ways on our journey.
This is also true for couples whose relationships are likely to develop in different ways as a result of their journeys together. There is only one way to find out how that will be - set off and explore the world together. I guarantee you won’t regret it ?