Make no mistake, there is a right way to honeymoon and a wrong way to honeymoon. I'm not talking about spending a ton of money or taking egregious amounts of time off from work, or whether you're staying in a five-star hotel on stilts in the Maldives or a bathroom-less hut on the side of a mountain.
The one thing that will make or break a honeymoon is your attitude.
I learned this the hard way. Though my new husband and I had no time and even less money to take a honeymoon right after our wedding last summer, we succumbed to peer pressure and booked a last-minute getaway. We went to Mexico and lay on a beach, even though neither of us is wild about beaches.
Was it the greatest vacation of our lives? Definitely not. And so last month, six months after we got married, we invested the right amount of time and planning into a proper African safari.
But the scenic, dreamy, faraway locale had little to do with it being the best trip we've ever taken together. It was all about our attitude before and during the trip and how we plotted out the perfect honeymoon together, as a married couple.
I've had a mediocre honeymoon and the greatest honeymoon of all time, and we made mistakes doing both. These are the things I wish I’d known you should never say on a honeymoon.
1. “We don’t need to sleep.” Shuteye is important. The biggest mistake ambitious honeymooners make is thinking they can do it all. They think, “Let’s pack 10 cities into 10 days or three activities into an afternoon. This is our honeymoon. It has to be epic!” We fell prey to it too. When we were booking our flights to Nairobi, we saved a couple hundred bucks by taking a double red eye through Amsterdam, which meant staying awake for 48 hours. Nothing makes you more miserable than not getting enough sleep. We should have planned our flights better.
2. “We don’t need to buy that souvenir.” Yes you do. Buy it. Let me tell you about the time I didn’t buy the greatest and tackiest apron, the one with a French cat on it, in Paris, and then I never let my husband hear the end of it. Pick up the little things, the adorable tiny statues, the wall hangings, the oddly shaped teapot. I’m not saying you should overdo it or need to purchase a new suitcase for your trinkets, but six months from now you will delight in telling people, “Oh, of course. We got this on our honeymoon,” and each time you look at that funny little hand-painted box, or apron with an angry French cat on it, you’ll remember your wonderful trip.
3. “Everything has to be perfect!” No it doesn’t. We stayed in an incredibly beautiful safari camp, the Rekero Camp, in the Maasai Mara. Everything was perfect until just past midnight, when we discovered our tent was right on the hippo highway. That meant hippo rumps were rubbing against our tent as they left the river to graze all night. Hippos also talk to each other in a language that can best be described as angry wookie. This made for some sleepless nights – and one of the best stories of our trip.
4. “Do I look fat in this?” Don’t ask. Your honeymoon is a time to let your insecurities go. You probably also want to avoid saying things like, “I’m on a diet,” or “I’m detoxing.” Let your belly hang loose. Indulge a bit.
5. “I’m just writing one more email.” Really? Just one? It doesn’t matter how much you unplug on your honeymoon, what matters is that you’re on the same page about it. Maybe you both want a complete digital detox, or maybe you’re the kind of people who need to check their email at least once a day. I need to clear my inbox in the morning and at night before I go to bed in order to be a functional and spontaneous human being for the rest of the day.
Set the rules of engagement before you go and make sure you agree.
“If there are different points of view, it’s really powerful to negotiate, trade off and compromise,” says clinical psychologist Laurie Sanford. “It's also important to know what's crucial for each of you and what isn't. You need to be able to let go of what isn’t crucial during the trip.”
6. “Let’s just see what happens.” Let’s not. Even though you’ve planned an entire wedding and don’t want to plan anything else, do not leave the honeymoon up to serendipity and chance. I assure you … Some planning is nice unless you want to find yourselves stranded at the whim of foreign public transit or airline schedules. At the least, plot out a rough itinerary, your transit and your lodging. From there you can allow everything else to fall into place.
7. “This street meat probably won’t make me sick.” Or maybe it will. Your honeymoon is not the time to eat the green meat barbecued on the side of the road by that guy with one eye. I learned this the hard way and ended up curled into a ball in the corner of the Entebbe airport in Uganda, crying and running to the bathroom every few minutes. Be adventurous, but be smart. There is no special fairy dust that protects you from the normal laws of bacteria and physics on your honeymoon.
8. “Let’s come back here when we have kids!” Slow down. It’s so easy to talk about the future when you’re somewhere new and exciting, but the best course is to focus on the present when you’re on this big and exciting trip together.
“I think it is really important for a couple to be in the moment and eschew serious and futuristic talks while they are on their honeymoon,” Sanford says. “I don't think the honeymoon is the best time to have momentous conversations. It can be a time 'to dream together though.' But dreaming together is not making serious decisions together.”
9. “I don't want to do new things.” Yes you do. I promise you want to do at least a couple of new things. This is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten from “Bizarre Foods” host Andrew Zimmern, who is always trying new things on his show and in real life when he travels with his family.
“Travel creates both shared experiences and shared memories,” Zimmern said. “We always know what we are doing at home. It is important to be in a situation that is different and has challenges when you travel together.”
And “new things” doesn't have to mean para-gliding. On the last leg of our African honeymoon, in northern Kenya, we stayed at a gorgeous working ranch called the Ol Malo House. One of the options was to get up early and milk the camels, so we’d have milk for our breakfast coffee. Now, I've never milked anything, much less a camel. It was weird and a little uncomfortable, and a baby camel picked a fight with me when I tried to milk its mother, but milking a camel is now one of the things we talk about every day.