The Economics of a Long-Distance Relationship

I didn’t realize how much of a financial burden the relationship had become until the semester when I was traveling to Philly more frequently than my boyfriend was coming to me.

When people talk about how difficult it is to be in a long-distance relationship, they’re often talking about the emotional toll of being apart from their significant other and all the baggage that comes with that. What often goes unmentioned is just how expensive a long-distance relationship can be. The dollars – both the cost of travel and the money spent on reunion dates together – can really add up if the couple isn’t careful.

My boyfriend spends his school year in Philadelphia and I spend mine in Boston. Our two cities are pretty close to each other on a world map (about 300 miles apart), especially compared to other couples I know in long distance relationships. But the relatively proximity of Boston and Philly brings its own obstacles to the table. Since it’s not that expensive or that time consuming (travel-wise) to visit one another, we tend to do it often — maybe once every two or three weeks. We take planes & trains & cars to visit each other. (Just like in “Hey There Delilah“!) …Except we don’t have cars, so we take Megabus. Here is the extent of our options:

  • Traveling by bus costs about $45 each way. It is definitely not ideal for a weekend visit because with normal traffic, the ride will take about eight hours.
  • Amtrak trains are significantly more expensive than buses, costing anywhere from $89 – $250 each way, depending on time of day and how far in advance we buy the tickets. While the train has the benefit of avoiding traffic, it still takes over six hours in total travel time.
  • A plane ride is obviously the quickest option to get to Boston/Philly: it takes about 1.5 hours and cost $300, round trip. When you factor in the time to get to and from the airport and time built in for security, the trip is probably three hours longer than that. There is also an additional $60 cab fee once I land in Philly to get to his apartment from the airport. Also, airplanes are more prone to weather delays than the other options, so flying from one East Coast city to another is kind of a gamble.

I didn’t realize how much of a financial burden the relationship had become until the semester when I was traveling to Philly more frequently than my boyfriend was coming to me. He promised he would make up for the imbalance during the next semester, and he did, but I still felt a bit uneasy about it at the time. As he was preparing for one of his few visits that semester, he told me about how he had scored a great deal on plane tickets for his second trip in a row, saving him hundreds of dollars.

Instead of being happy for him, this news almost brought me to tears. My immature reaction surprised me, but it didn’t seem fair that I was spending so much money on visits and he was finding all the great deals. So I made a conscious effort to change my spending habits going forward. Here are the rules I now try to follow when prepping for a visit:

  1. Plan the trips way in advance. If you’re lucky enough to be in a stable relationship and don’t really have to factor in a potential break-up down the line, take advantage of it. Figure out your schedules way ahead of time if possible and determine who is going to visit when, for how long, and how they’re going to get there.
  2. Explore all travel options before committing. I was often so excited to plan my visit that I would buy the tickets quickly without seeing what the best deal was. Sometimes Amtrak costs more than a round-trip flight; sometimes a combination of bus one way and train back can save a lot of money. Maybe your friend with a car would want to come too, allowing you to road trip and save some money.
  3. Make sure everything’s even. It’s easy to feel taken advantage of if you’re the partner doing most of the traveling. So make sure visits are balanced. Even if one partner has a more flexible travel schedule, try to share the financial burden as much as possible by alternating who pays for each visit.
  4. Plan cheap dates. Once you’re finally together, it can be tempting to spend a lot of money to make up for lost time together. Even during a short visit, a trip to a museum and a few dinners and lunches out can really add up. Try to plan some fun and free things to do.
  5. Appreciate the effort. Traveling can be very expensive and time-consuming, and the host doesn’t really have to lift a finger. So if your partner is making the trip, show your appreciation, starting by picking them up from the airport/bus station/whatever and escort them through unfamiliar public transportation to save on unnecessary cab fares.

Reprinted with permission from The Jane Dough.