[My guide for Traveling with Friends, published on BackpackerTravel.org].
Traveling with friends can be one of the most exciting and also one of the most trying experiences of your travels. We’ve all heard of the dangers of companion travel resulting in broken friendships and relationships, but these unfortunate cases may have all been caused by simply not having the right travel buddy. That being said, picking the right person to travel around with may be the most important thing you decide during the entire trip.
1. PICKING A TRAVEL BUDDY
Number one rule in picking a travel buddy: make sure you know each other well and actually like being around each other. This seems obvious but there are so many friendships loosely rooted and solely built on short get-togethers. I guess those could technically be called acquaintanceships? Regardless, this is not the kind of relationship you will want so make sure you pick people whose company you genuinely enjoy, because that’s all you’re going to get for however long you are traveling together. To help pick the right companion, here are a few preliminary considerations:
- Make sure you know each other well.
- Genuinely enjoy each other’s company, and for long periods of time.
- If there is already something personality wise that irks you the wrong way or if you sometimes find them hard to be around, those are issues that are going to magnify while you are traveling. Major scuffles can even come between great friends when sharing time and space and decisions with each other nonstop, so at least make sure you actually like the character of your prospective travel buddy.
2. KNOW THY TRAVEL BUDDY
Do you actually know the person you are planning on traveling with? Hopefully the answer is an obvious ‘yes’ but there are many not-so-obvious things to consider about yourself and your buddy(s) when deciding if you’ll be a good fit to travel together. If your answers are the same for most or all of the following questions, you are likely a good fit (or at least have fewer clashes than the next group).
- Are you a morning person or a night owl?
- Do you prefer planning your days or going with the flow?
- Do you prefer moving quickly and getting farther in one day or slowly and experiencing more in one place?
- Are you both comfortable meeting new people and hanging out with them?
- What are your eating habits like? Three meals a day? Snacks throughout?
- How well are you able to make decisions and compromise?
- Can you stand to be alone or would separation be a bad idea whilst abroad?
- What do you want to do on your trip? Adventure all day? A vacation from reality? Sightsee and explore?
- Do you like to get to places early or just on time?
- How much money are you realistically willing to spend on food, transportation, hostels/hotels, etc.?
3. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
Money is an issue that has been known to seriously damage relationships, definitely not just those among travel partners. Funny how little green bits of paper can do that.
Money is going to be used a lot throughout your travels so it is best to come up with an agreed upon plan as to how you and your companions want to go about spending it.
- Discuss each other’s spending preferences beforehand. How frugal to do want to be? How comfortable are you with splurging on accommodations and daily activities?
- Where would you rather save: hostels/hotels, food, transportation, activities?
- How will you keep track of your money and spending?
- If sharing costs, how will you decide on living and dining expenses if you have different ideas and/or spending expectations?
Answering the questions above and of the like will help get money out of the way as an issue. The last thing you want to be thinking about when traveling is how your expenses are lining up and who paid for what when. Being on the same page will be key to avoiding money-related arguments.
As a good rule of thumb, know your financial plan long before you leave. Taking turns paying or simply keeping a money log to deal with at the end of the trip (or during) are both good options for financial travel planning.
4. TALK TO EACH OTHER
Yes, you will have all day every day to do this but travel arguments often stem from unspoken built up resentments. It is valid to want to keep your cool about silly things that bug you, but at some point little things can pile on and crush your cool, so best to talk it out instead of take it out on your travel buddy.
- If/when disagreements arise, talk about them before they turn into full on arguments.
- Be cognizant of your travel buddy’s energy and motivation levels. Don’t try to push them to keep going if it’s obvious they need a break.
- Let each other know how you are feeling both mentally and physically if there are ailments that could turn into bigger issues or hinder a part of the trip.
- Make sure you are all getting to do what you want and that no one is setting the itinerary more than the other. If you are adamant about doing different things, then just do different things! Splitting up for a bit isn’t so bad.
5. PLAN ON SOME ALONE TIME
It is inevitable to require some alone time when traveling with the same people 24/7. But alone time is healthy and shouldn’t be anything to feel bad about. It is important to know beforehand that at some point you will probably want to wander off and do your own thing so be okay with it. You aren’t abandoning each other so there should be no reason to feel guilty for going your own way for a while or to take offense when you buddy does the same.
Taking a break from each other for a few days of even just a few hours may be all you need to reset and remember why you went on this trip together in the first place.
6. BE CONSIDERATE AND LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER
Consideration and cooperation are things great travel partners are good at and will honor well. It will be important to courteously keep with your agreed upon plans and to do so in a timely and respectful manner.
Be ready to go when there’s a train to catch, share space and utilities respectfully, lend and return borrowed supplies… See, it’s not that difficult. In respecting your combined interests, it is also important to consider your travel buddy’s personal interests.
After a certain point, you may become aware of your travel companions’ strengths and weaknesses and be able to anticipate the latter. Simply asking how they are doing may be all they need to open up before anger, tiredness or hunger gets the best of them.
7. THE DRUNKEN FRIEND
Depending on where you are in the world the drinking age will be a bit different, but, if you’re old enough to travel with friends, chances are you may encounter a bit of alcohol. In this case, one would be wise to know two people: your travel buddy and your drunken travel buddy. Obviously don’t try to get hammered every day but if you intend to go out and maybe party with some new friends for a couple of nights, make sure you know each other’s inebriated tendencies.
This will help you all stay safe and not get too out of control. This could also be the glue that allows you to stick together not only for the night but for the rest of the trip and beyond.