Where Did Our Love Go? The Five Hour Rule

Traveling with someone you love is an experience like no other. It can bring you closer, but if you’re not careful, it can push you apart. This Valentine’s Day, traveling couples can keep the romance alive by taking a temporary break from each other.

Don’t panic – sometimes five minutes apart is all it takes.

Coming Undone


The crowd was growing at the roadside bakery, and I could sense the salesman getting impatient. People pushed and jostled to make eye contact with him, but he was looking at me. It was my turn.

My boyfriend, Jared, was getting impatient, too.

“Just pick some,” he said, nudging me forward. “It’s not that hard!”

Rage flared up in my chest. It was that hard. I was tired, hungry, and overwhelmed by Luxor. For some reason, the task of choosing pastries pushed me over the edge.

“I don’t know,” I shouted at him. “I don’t know which ones I want! Stop rushing me.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. The men around us chuckled and nudged each other knowingly.

I wanted to punch them. I wanted to punch the salesman. I wanted to punch Jared.

Sensing danger, Jared quickly pulled me aside.
“It’s okay,” he said in his most soothing voice. “It’s just pastry.”

Of course it was just pastry. So why was I so upset?

The Rule

My mother operates under a theory she calls The Five-Hour Rule. She claims that she read about it in an ‘online study,’ but I can’t find evidence of it anywhere.

The foundation of the theory is this: after five consecutive hours with someone, you need to take a break from them.
Read a book. Go for a walk by yourself. Take a nap. Whatever it is, block out time to do something alone. When you feel recharged, feel free to lay eyes on each other again.

Although its origins are dubious, I have to admit that my mom is on to something.
I love my boyfriend. For the last 3 1/2 years, I’ve loved traveling with him, living with him, and even – occasionally – working with him here in Korea, where we were placed at the same school. (How’s that for being in each other’s pockets?)
But sometimes when we’re traveling, I want him to step off.

It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

Suddenly, everything is annoying: butterflies, laughing children, ice cream cones, and especially, my poor travel partner, Jared. I’m thinking only of my personal comfort and have lost the ability to consider anyone’s feelings but mine.
He calls it the ‘Hunger Rage.’ Admittedly, he has a point. Things get ugly when I haven’t eaten. But to my amazement, it usually happens at the five hour mark.

Worse, the same thing is happening on his end. He’s tired, the money belt is too tight, and he can’t work out why his girlfriend has morphed into a wailing banshee who can’t choose a bloody pastry.

The five hour rule doesn’t just apply to your partner. It applies to everybody you spend time with: your best friend, your kid, complete strangers, the Dalai Lama – everybody.

We all need a little ‘me’ time when we’re on the road, even when we’re with the ones we love.

Emotional deterioration starts subtly, but progresses rapidly.
Hour one: What the – ? Oh, he just stepped on my shoe.

Hour two: Why does he insist on walking so fast behind me?

Hour three: Get off my shoe.

Hour four: Step on me again and I’ll claw you in the face.

Hour five: One more time and this relationship is over.

Accidents become unforgiveable. Your loved one becomes your whipping boy. It’s not their fault. It’s not your fault.

It’s the five-hour rule. You’ve been side-by-side for too many hours, navigating foreign territory in a language you might not speak.

Sometimes you’re not in a position to separate from your travel buddy when the five-hour mark looms. It’s dark, crowded, unfamiliar, and you’re too far from your hostel to feel comfortable going solo.
That’s okay. Just ignore each other for a while.

Don’t talk unless you have to. Sit at separate tables of a coffee shop. Pretend you’ve never even seen that person before. Eat something and don’t share it with anyone.

Eventually, you’ll simmer down. Your energy and coping mechanisms will return, leaving you capable of travel and human companionship again.

At that point, go ahead and scoot your chairs closer together. Make any necessary apologies and have a good laugh.

If you feel up to it, you could even share a pastry.