The oft-married Zsa Zsa Gabor once said that you never really know a man until you've divorced him. I disagree. A far more pleasant (and less litigious) way to figure out whether or not you and your beliked are compatible is to hit the road.
Together, I mean.
Whether it's a five-star holiday in Kuala Lumpur or a backpacking trek through the Blue Ridge Mountains, traveling à deux is the quickest way to get to know somebody. There's no room for pretense after she's heard you screech over a sand snake, and politesse quickly falls to the wayside after one of you gets hit with Montezuma's revenge on a romantic getaway. Traveling together can be a dealbreaker or a dealmaker.
When Jessica Reinhart and her best friend from college decided to celebrate their graduation by backpacking through Europe she thought she'd come home with a commemorative T-shirt and maybe a shot glass. But once they hit the dark and narrow streets of Venice, the two tossed the guise of just-friends into the nearest canal and became a couple.
"Romance was in the air one night as we strolled the streets, walking hand-in-hand, enjoying gelato after an unbelievable Italian feast," says Reinhart. "All of a sudden we heard this beautiful music and walked to San Marco Square where Julio Iglesias was giving a concert. I remember looking at Jeff and thinking what we had was very special that he was someone very special. It all seemed so natural, and it was definitely love." Ten years, two rings and one daughter later, she swears that there's no better boyfriend barometer. (See 10 things to do in Rome.)
"You have to go somewhere on a plane not a two-hour ride up north. And you have to be away for at least a week," Reinhart says. "People can keep their guard up for three or four days, but after that, your guard goes down. That's when someone's true colors fly through."
Kristin Fraser Cotte and her then boyfriend (now husband) took that idea to the extreme when they embarked on a two-year sailing trip through the Caribbean. They were already boat enthusiasts, but nothing could have prepared them for two years spent on a 30-foot boat. "We learned everything about each other both the good and the bad," Cotte laughs. "I learned that Pete is a zombie before his morning espresso he literally has no recollection of conversation before coffee."
Therapist Rob Dobrenski agrees that a holiday can be the thing that makes or break a couple. "I've seen couples who break up the day they get back from vacation," he says. "That even happened to me personally." Despite what people may think, a relaxing week in an exotic locale isn't necessarily the antidote for a faltering relationship. "There's so much pressure to have a good time, and most people aren't used to spending 24 hours a day with their partner," Dobrenski points out.
Some of us have trouble getting there in the first place. My dream vacation would begin in Venice (gondola ride, please!). My man and I would slowly eat, drink and explore our way down the boot, ending up in Palermo. My fantasy trip would last about a month and we'd fly back to the States, fat and sassy, speaking just enough Italian to impress the sommeliers at my favorite little East Village wine bar, In Vino. (See 10 things to do in New York City.)
My boyfriend, on the other hand, desires two things in a holiday: "all-inclusive" and "beach." Also, since he can't bear to be away from the office for more than a day, his fantasy jaunt would take place over a long weekend and wouldn't require more than two hours' travel time. There would be Wi-Fi everywhere and everyone would speak English.
Needless to say, we don't get around much.
But I'm starting to rethink that. Travel writer Tim Leffel and his girlfriend set out on a year-long 'round-the-globe trot in 1993 having similar destination-based differences. "I had not wanted to go to India at all," he says. "I thought it would be hot, dirty and depressing. Now I'm really glad I went." India was hot, dirty and depressing. But Leffel's girlfriend is now his wife.
Notice a common denominator here? Most of these couples sealed the deal only after taking on vacation together. Hm. Maybe there's something to be said for sipping pre-paid fruity cocktails on the beach at Club Med.(See TIME'S 50 Authentic American Experiences.)