Travel as a Relationship Test: Bill Murray On Marriage

1024px-Bill_Murray_Get_Low_TIFF09 (1) - Version 4

“If you have someone that you think is The One,
 don’t just sort of think in your ordinary mind,
 ‘OK, let’s pick a date. Let’s make a party, and get married.’

Take that person and travel around the world. 
Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, 
and go places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. 
And if when you come back to JFK, when you land in JFK, 
and you’re still in love with that person, 
get married at the airport.” 
–Bill Murray

Wedding - Version 2

With a couple of failed marriages under his belt, Bill Murray might not be the best source for matrimonial advice, but in this case he may be onto something. 

Travel is exciting, educational, and a cultural smorgasbord. It’s a rewarding endeavor, but when things go sideways, it can also be incredibly stressful. Travel, by definition, takes you out of your comfort zone, and stress has a way of reducing things to their essence. For relationships, it’s a crucible.

Like most long-term travelers, we’ve had our share of unpleasant travel surprises and scrapes: military coups, taxi rip-offs, cheesy hotels, border shakedowns, rancid food, and the icing on the cake – dengue fever … twice. And we weathered all these travel storms together. 

Terri and I have always been extremely close, but our years of travel have only tightened the bond between us. I’m sure that our readers who travel as couples will agree … it can make or break a relationship. 

In 2018, the average cost of a wedding in the US was over $30,000! Weddings, whether extravagant or economical, are the ultimate personal choice, and I’m not advocating getting married on the cheap. What I am saying is that if you truly want to get to know your partner before the vows are spoken, take some of the money that you’re planning to spend on a fancy wedding and travel together. Partners on the road must be supportive, flexible, open-minded, and most of all, true friends; in a word – simpatico. And I’m sure that the Ghostbuster would agree there’s no better way to start a marriage.

The Bill Murray Backstory
For those that don’t know – and why would you – Bill Murray lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina; just across the Cooper River from where we lived in Charleston. I have no idea how or why he ended up in Mt. Pleasant, but he’s living about as far off the Hollywood grid as possible. He’s notorious for popping up around town in bars and restaurants, as he did recently in a Charleston steakhouse where a bachelor party was in progress. Someone asked if he’d like to have a drink and make a few comments, and the opening quote was his advice to the rowdy crowd.

There’s no denying that he’s a cool guy, and from all the stories, very approachable. He’s a generational Bud, and the Dalai Lama is on his side, so he’s got that goin’ for him. If you’re a Murray fan like me, there’s a website specifically for stories about his encounters with fans. Great stuff – check it out.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

This post is part of our Lessons From The Road Series.” And if you’re curious, here are 10 Things We Learned From a Year of Travel  … and why sometimes the lesson is that you just have to break a few rules.

Dalai Lama

Photo Credits: 1. Paul Sherwood via Wikimedia Commons
2. Minette via Wikimedia Commons
3. Ícaro Moreno Ramos via Wikimedia Commons<


We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

90 thoughts

    1. Beth, you’re right, and this is probably why this quote rang so true with us. We never lack for conversation that’s for sure: “Remember that time in … ~James

  1. We are coming up on 2 years on the road and this post rings truer today than it ever did. We have worked out most of the kinks, but still find “argue alleys” some times. Luckily, our style of travels is pretty much the same, we both research, but are always ready for spur of the moment (which happens often). Thanks for the reminder, it’s about the journey!

    1. Laura, you and Steve, more than most, know the stress that a life constantly on the road can put on a relationship. In fact, it’s for people like you that we wrote this post. Sharing the load means each person has to contribute, and sometimes two contributors mean two different ideas. As you know, on the long road it takes special people with a strong bond to make it work. ~James

  2. Great advice from a cool guy. My younger brother went on an extended European trip with a girlfriend we were sure he would marry. After two weeks she came home and he carried on. That was the end of their relationship. We were glad they had made the trip first.

    1. Thanks for a real-life testimonial Darlene. Just think how much heartache and grief this saved your brother and his girlfriend; sad that they broke up, but much easier than than a divorce. As I said, Bill Murray is onto something. ~James

    1. Thanks Christy, and welcome back to the blogosphere. Traveling with a partner is a bit like camping. You learn a lot about the person in a hurry, and if you can iron out differences on the road, you can do it anywhere. Sounds like a good formula to me. ~James

    1. Thanks Tess. Humans aren’t designed for full-time stress, and if you don’t deal with the stress, the stress will deal with you. This is true with individuals as well as couples. As I said in the post, it’s a make you or break you deal. Luckily for us, the bond has only gotten stronger (and the travel easier). ~James

  3. Such a great post. Brian and I have been married for 31 years. Interestingly we only new each other for 10 months when we got hitched, perhaps we got lucky but it has worked for us. We are now travelling Europe in a motorhome, something we had dreamed about for years. I was a little apprehensive about being together on the road 24/7, but so far it has been great 😄

    1. Good news Gilda! I know that you’ve been planning the motorhome trip for a while and I’m glad you finally pulled it off. As we said, traveling together is a relationship test for sure, but long term travel in a motorhome is a double trial. We have a small travel trailer and have done a similar thing in the US. And BTW, I envy your trip. It sounds fabulous. Enjoy! ~James

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. Both Terri and I have traveled solo, and while there are a few distinct advantages, there is no comparison with traveling with a companion to share the experiences. This concept of relationship test seems self-evident, but honestly, I hadn’t thought anything about it until I read the Murray quote. You just never know. ~James

  4. Hah! Love the Bill Murray quote. My husband and I travel a lot and when things go wrong
    you can either blame each other, or laugh and figure it out together. Laughing is more fun. Great blog.

    1. Thanks for the comment Geanie and for dropping by the blog. When it comes to disagreements while traveling it’s not a matter of if they happen but when they happen. And as you point out, couples that want to continue to travel together must nip these little scrapes in the bud. And your comment is just in time for a Bill Murray sighting update. We now live in Lexington, KY, and Bill Murray was recently spotted in a downtown bourbon bar, and as always, he arrived and disappeared before anyone knew he was in town. ~James

    1. Thanks Anya for linking to our post. As long-term travelers we can usually tell when someone has “walked the walk,” and Bill Murray’s comment above travel as a couple just rang true to us. As we said, wisdom from an unexpected source. ~ James

  5. We were married long before we travelled; but it did nothing but enhance an already unbreakable relationship. Chic drove, I navigated. He took the photos, I ‘directed’ (some of) them. We had our rôles and it worked like a charm. Our only problem was in generating the funds between trips. 😀
    And we LOVED Bill Murray.

    1. It’s nice to hear that someone else shared our travel experience MR, and oh yeah, the days of travel before GPS. I remember quite a few snippy conversations between the driver and map reader. I can’t say that our GPS has improved our relationship, but it certainly has increased our quality of life. ~James

  6. Like you two, Don and I were close to start with, but travelling/being together 24-7 has really deepened the bond between us.
    Great story about Bill Murray. It would sure be fun to meet him.

    1. Alison, given the places that you and Don have traveled, I’m sure that you know better than most what a wonderful travel asset a supportive and loving partner can be. And I would love to meet Bill Murray as well. In our time in Charleston, we always hoped that we’d bump into him, but unfortunately, we didn’t manage to. ~James

  7. We totally agree! Actually just had this exact conversation with another blogger yesterday! Travelling definitely is a true test of relationship! And as a couple, if you can travel together and live together – it’s a match made in heaven 🙂

    1. It’s great to hear from other traveling couples that have the same experience in their travels and relationships. When you’re on your own and only have each other to depend on, it builds a trust in the relationship that is wonderful. ~James

    1. Chris, I think that I’ve seen every movie that Bill has made. He cracks me up. Did you see that he’s going to be the voice of Baloo in a remake of Jungle Book? He should be perfect for the role. ~James

  8. The quote is spot on, James. Some of our very best, ermm, disagreements, shall we say, occur when we’re travelling. I have no idea how we’re still together, nor do I understand the dosh spent on weddings. Oh, what I could do with that cash 🙂

    1. Jo, I’m with you on the incredible amounts of money spent on weddings. And remember that the number I quoted ($30,000) is an average. Which means that some weddings cost considerably more. I read that the average cost of a wedding in NY City is … wait for it – $87,000!!. Our first house cost less than that. ~James

  9. Classic! Great advice. We’ve had our share of disagreements while travelling. In fact, there’s a side street in Salat, in the Dordogne now renamed “Argue Alley”. But from that and other “moments of tension” I think that travel is to relationships what pressure is to carbon – sometimes you get diamonds!

    1. I should have consulted you before I wrote this post Jill. We’ve all been to “Argue Alley,” and your carbon to diamond analogy is witty and perfect. I could have definitely have used both. Thanks for an award-winning comment. ~James

      1. Gee, thanks 🙂 I read your entire post out to my husband. It sparked a lot of laughs about the various Argue Alley’s we’ve discovered on our journeys.

  10. The amount people spend on weddings blows my mind. All I can
    think about is the amazing places they could go, the things the could see and do!!

    1. I totally agree Tosh. The wedding is one of the special moments in a couples marriage, no doubt, but things seem to have gotten out of hand. If I were a parent and my child wanted a $30,000 wedding, I would advise, let’s have a $10,000 wedding and I’ll give you the other 20K to spend as you wish (hopefully, some on travel). ~James

  11. Traveling (done right) gets us out of our comfort zone. But this is also the place where small differences of opinion, can become tense disagreements. After the storm has passed, it always seems that it was silly to let it get out of hand. The kiss and make up part is what’s good for the relationship. ~James

  12. Great story! Yes you have to be flexible. When things go wrong, I think of that great quote from “Life, the Universe, and Everything”. – Don’t Panic! By the way, we got married 31 years ago by a justice of the peace at a car dealership and our rings came from K-Mart. 🙂

    1. Pam, I love the story of your marriage: priceless. Terri and I married in our last year of college, and we were so broke that we could barely afford a six pack of beer, much less champagne. We were married at Terri’s parents house with only immediate family in attendance. It was a small, intimate affair, and even after all these years, we wouldn’t have had it any other way. And BTW, our honeymoon was a week touring KY State Parks, which we could only afford because of a tax refund. Ahh, those were the days. ~James

      1. How wonderful! I know what you mean – we only had school loans between us. At that point in our lives I went to the grocery store with a calculator, and our TV was so bad that we changed channels with a pair of pliers permanently attached to the dial. We got married upon graduation from college right before heading to Tennessee for Richard’s graduate school. You got us beat – we didn’t have a honeymoon, we just moved. We’ve since made up for it. Once Richard finished grad school and postdoctoral training, we’ve been traveling ever since. Our first big trip was to the Grand Canyon and Utah in 1990 – a memory we’ll always treasure.

  13. Love the Bill Murray stories and quote. We were just in Mt Pleasant. Our traveling didn’t start until well into the marriage and has brought us even closer. But, for me, the real test is traveling weeks with another couple and remaining friends.

    1. Lynne, I think that you learn more about someone traveling for a week, than you would normally learn in a month at home. We have dear friends that we traveled with early in our travel career, and we have nothing but pleasant memories. The four of us worked so well together because we all had similar interests, and each knew the give and take which has to happen for a group to get along. It’s really just like a traveling couple, only multiplied by two. ~James

    1. Excellent point Martha, and I’m sure there are lots of solo travelers out there that would agree with you. Most traveling couples are probably more reluctant to reach out to strangers for help and companionship. ~James

  14. I smiled all the way through this post. Most of our traveling has come in our later years of marriage so we could not use it to test things before. I so agree that with all of the situations that come up, hoping to miss the military coup by the way, a relationship has to be solid for the trip to be enjoyable. Bill Murray and you and Terri have it right. 🙂

    1. Solid is the right word Sue. And I would imagine that given the type of active travel (running marathons, alpine cycling, and rock climbing) that you and Dave enjoy also adds a good deal of physical as well as mental stress to the equation. It takes work on both sides to make it work well, an when it does, there’s nothing like it. ~James

  15. People fall in love … fall in lust … believe the Hollywood chick flicks … believe in fairy tales … marry for the wrong reasons or no reasons at all .. It is a wonder ANY marriage survives. It takes hard work, respect, an enormous sense of humor and the ability to think of someone other than yourself FIRST. The teachings of Buddha help a great deal, too.

    1. Virginia, if you asked 10 people what makes a marriage work, you’d probably get 10 different answers. Every couple is unique with different expectations and lifestyles. But as you say, thinking of your partner first is the glue that holds all good relationships together, whether traveling or not. ~James

  16. James, you are absolutely right about the stresses and trials that travel can subject people to. Just like in military planning, you have to have a Plan B (and Plan C) because Plan A often goes miserably once things are set in motion.

    I know the 30 year marriage I had before Florence and I met was essential training that I needed in order for us to weather a storm or two or three. And for every stormy event we also shared dozens of amazing experiences that surprised, awestruck and even humbled us – together. And that is the key word – together. Because when the stress hit peak levels, as it inevitably will, we were there for one another when there was no one else who could step in to help us.

    This story should be required reading for young couples. It was great for us old couples, too. I look forward to more in this series. – Mike

    1. Thanks Mike. Your point about being there for the other person is absolutely critical for a successful relationship, and this is particularly so in the uncertain situations encountered while traveling. Traveling couples that stay together figure this out pretty quickly. I’ve done some solo travel, and when things go offtrack, it can get awfully lonely out there. As to Plan A-C: we try to be flexible and not over-plan, but as I said to another commenter, there are certain things that drive us crazy, and these are the problems that we solve before they happen; which takes planning. ~James

  17. We published a book about our travels — about selling everything, packing one bag each, and hitting the road without an end in sight — and now we’re publicizing the book. There are TV and radio interviews, magazine and newspaper articles. The irony, we’re discovering, is that a number of interviewers ask if we fought while we traveled. Fights? Really? Never. Not once. Some interviewers refuse to believe us. They rephrase and try again: “How did you handle disagreements?” Nope. No disagreements. Our publicist tells us to just make some up and have anecdotes at the ready. We’re workin’ on it.

    1. Tom, from reading our post comments and from our own experiences, I have to say that you and Louise are definitely in the minority. However, the medical issues you experienced in Spain must help put it all into perspective. After that sort of thing, missing a train or losing your wallet doesn’t seem like such a disaster. As for making up disagreements – have a look at Jill’s comment above where she says: “In fact, there’s a side street in Salat, in the Dordogne now renamed “Argue Alley”. Maybe you could get her permission to borrow that tale. ~James

      1. Speaking of comments to this post, I agree with Bellochio: a sense of humor can often cure a stressful moment.

  18. ha! yes, i agree and have witnessed this in tropical america many times. this is the true test, especially on 4wd back roads where scorpions and bats and skeeters show the true nature of intrepid wannabe{s!..

    perdon i am at a cybercafe with a crazy keyboard! ha, that{s another great test!

    as always, i enjoyed your post!

    1. Lisa, you of all people know about the rigors of international travel, because in Ecuador you live it every day. And one of those hassles and stresses, sometimes minor and sometimes major, is internet access. BTW, we received a comment from someone you may remember. Her name is Sharon Grubbs, and she stayed in and was married at your inn in Natchez. Here comment is the last one on the post.

  19. Great post! Fan of Bill Murray here too. I love how he just goes on about life doing random things at random places and with random people. He’s having fun with life.
    And I agree with your point, my husband and I have definitely gone through some rough times together and probably has made the relationship stronger.

    1. Thanks Mani. I’m sure that Bill Murray isn’t just a “regular guy”, but it seems that he tries to be with his fans. And for me, his quote and ideas about couples and travel tell a lot about his personality. ~James

    1. The proof’s in the pudding Peggy, and you and Poor John are a great example. If you’re like us, you have lots of conversations that start with: “Remember that time in …” ~James

  20. Traveling this country in an RV will test your relationship as well. We know several who have gone their separate ways after such an experience. Great post James! 🙂

    1. It always sad to hear of the breakups, but not surprising. Long term domestic travel is different that international travel, but it presents its own set of challenges, as you and Terry know well. As I said in the post, it’s make or break, and it takes work from both partners. ~James

  21. I love this post! My fiancé and I met while I was traveling and then he came along with me. We traveled for 2 years together before getting engaged. I think it definitely tests a relationship in ways that a ‘9-5’ life doesn’t. Great read!

    1. Thanks for the comment and for dropping by the blog. In two years of travel you guys probably learned about as much about each other as is possible, and that’s the perfect place to start a marriage. ~James

  22. Love knowing that Bill Murray is so close to us when we vacation at Pawleys. If you know of a Bill Murray sighting op, let us know! We’ve been traveling for umpteen years, and surprisingly, we get along better in flight or on the road than we do when cooped up during long periods of staying at home. (Think snow days!) We love our GPS even if Bert is known to talk to “her” in condescending tones! (Better she than me!)

    1. We lived in Charleston for a year Rusha, and didn’t once see my main man Bill. He’s a phantom about town, he can be nowhere or everywhere. (I suspect he likes it that way.) And our GPS has made such a positive impact on our life that we’ve made it a family member with a name. We call her (definitely a her) GPSy (pronounced gypsy). We thought that was the perfect name. Terri will frequently to me: “Are you arguing with GPSy?” ~James

  23. We travelled a little before we married but mostly after. I’d agree though, some of the worst rows we have had had been on the first night somewhere new when we are both tired and disoriented. If you can weather those storms you can weather anything.

    1. Tired and disoriented certainly make a good catalyst for a row Marie, and to that I would add confused and uncertain about what to do, and when to do it. The hardest thing is these situations is to stop the argument train before it gets up a really good head of steam. ~James

  24. This may be the best thing you’ve ever posted – and everything you post is a gem. If this didn’t earn you another “Freshly Pressed” honor, then they’ve really missed the boat.

  25. I couldn’t agree more!
    It’s funny to read about this today because Gilles and I were talking about this very subject last night over dinner. We came to the same conclusion. Travelling together can either make or break a relationship. It’s better to know which as early as possible!

    1. Joanne, if you’ve read many of the comments you’ve seen that lots of traveling couples come to this realization quickly. As I’m sure you and Gilles know well, the realities of travel versus the postcard version can sometimes be radically different. And how these surprises are handled make all the difference. ~James

  26. I agree completely! Traveling with people we love is just the best thing in the world. Nice quote and nice character, after all we are human and we’re not perfect. Even Bill Murray 😀

  27. Perfect advice… as I’ve been taunting this for years as well. 🙂 I always tell people that before they get married, they should travel together extensively (not just an ordinary two-week vacation) to get to know each other rough and through and to experience multiple good and bad situations together.

    1. Liesbet, I suspect that this is something that most long-term travelers instinctively know from experience, but haven’t really verbalized. And I’ll propose another opinion that will be near and dear to your heart as well. I think that you learn more about a person in a couple of days of camping than two weeks of normal contact. Like travel, camping reduces things to their essence and one’s true colors come through. I’d be curious to hear your ideas on this. ~James

      1. You are totally right about the camping experience and what it does to relationships – they are a test of compatibility and priorities of both partners. Now, when I talk about travel in my previous comment, I meant the way I’ve traveled my entire life, which is either backpacking, sailing on a small boat, or living in a small camper. Never with a lot of comfort or luxury. Some of these conditions come pretty close to camping. 🙂

  28. Had to comment on this one because we’re in lockdown in Spain going on 3 weeks now. Which resulted in us watching “What about Bob?” last week, a movie that popped in my head (last seen about 20 years ago). Always loved Bill Murray.
    Can’t agree more with his quote. We’ve travelled full-time now going on almost 6 years. We were thinking with this lockdown that a lot of people must be stressed out being stuck at home with loved us. I can see it really would be because the average couple doesn’t get to spend 24/7 together. We didn’t in the many years before setting off to travel and we learned a lot in the first few years of full-time travel. It really IS the best test on whether you can make it as a couple.

    1. Thanks for the comment Frank and for dropping by the blog. Maybe I could re-publish this post with the angle that travel is a good relationship test to see how a couple will fare in lockdown. 🙂

      It’s funny your comment came in now and on this post, because Terri and I were having the conversation yesterday (we have lots of time on our hands) of how all our travel and expat years made us a fairly tidy two-person unit. We really are best friends and in places like Sudan we learned how to be supportive and when to be close vs give each other some space – essential skills for social distancing. I see from your blog that you’ve been expats for a while, so you know how this works.

      Lockdowns suck, and it sounds like Spain’s rules are more strict than ours here in Kentucky, but having a loving companion along for the ride makes all the difference. All the best for good health and fingers crossed that this crap runs its course soon. ~James

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