I’ve heard the story a million times – you wanted to travel the world but you didn’t want to do it alone. So, what did you do? Scour your friends and friends-of-friends for someone who wanted to go to the same places you did, around the same time, and volia! Instant travel partner.
Except for one thing… That trip ends up being a total disaster nine times out of ten.
Travelling for long periods of time can be intense. You’re experiencing all sorts of new situations, places and people when you travel. You will be completely out of your comfort zone the majority of the time, and this can put your emotions into overdrive – you’re excited, you’re nervous, you’re anxious, you’re happy, you’re homesick, you’re scared – and things can go wrong at the drop of a hat (or the lift of a stolen backpack).
That’s why it’s important that you’re travelling with someone who you can trust and rely on, who you communicate and get along well with, who respects your personal space and gives you your privacy, and most importantly, someone who understands your needs.
I think what most first-time travellers don’t always understand is that you and your travel partner (I’ll refer to them as TP for the rest of this article) are going to get on each other nerves at some point. It’s almost guaranteed to happen. It’s how you deal with your frustrations with your TP that will affect how smoothy your trip goes (and if your friendship ultimately survives the trip).
Firstly, figure out the theme of your trip. What are your goals?
When my TP and I went backpacking around Europe, we had the same goals in mind. We wanted to see as many cities/countries as we could, but we didn’t want to rush our trip. We wanted to go out and experience the local culture and meet new people, but we didn’t want to spend lots of money or party all the time. We were both single, so we were open to hanging out with new guys we met, but we also didn’t want meeting guys to become the focus of our trip. We wanted to go to Europe to experience new people, places and cultures, but we wanted to do so responsibly and on a reasonable budget. In other words, we were both on the same page about what we wanted from our trip.
It’s incredibly important that you and your TP are on the same page. If you want to save money while your TP doesn’t mind blowing their savings, or if you want to seek adventure while your TP just wants to visit museums, or if you want to go out and party while your TP prefers to stay in and go to bed early, then chances are this person will not be a good travel partner for you, and it will inevitably create conflict down the road.
With that said, please keep these tips in mind when spending weeks on end with your travel partner…
1) Don’t commit to spending an entire trip with someone you don’t really know – “Friends-of-friends” are often bad ideas. Choose someone you trust and know you get along well with.
2) Go into the trip with the expectation that you’re doing to have disagreements sometimes and do things that annoy each other, and that’s okay. Make sure to be honest with each other and voice your concerns (in a mature, kind way) when someone is doing something that has been rubbing you the wrong way.
3) Pick a code word. Say, “I’d like a few hours to myself” or “Today I’m going to take some me-time,” to let your TP kindly know that you need your space for a while. Discuss this phrase and what it means to you with your TP before you depart for you trip, and use this phrase as many times as you need while you’re away.
4) Be honest and communicate. Don’t bottle all your frustrations up for weeks and then suddenly explode on your TP. If they’ve been doing something that’s been continuously irritating you, discuss it with them in a gentle way.
5) Pick and choose your battles. Sometimes things just get on your nerves because you’re tired and hungry and grumpy after a long day of travelling. If your TP’s doing something that wouldn’t normally bother you when you’re in a good mood, don’t bother bringing it up.
6) Be open to criticism. Just like your TP may end up doing things that annoy you, there’s also a good chance that you could be doing things to irritate your TP. If they decide to talk to you about this, be open and constructive to their criticism. Instead of getting defensive, try to adapt to their annoyances and positively change your behaviour.
7) Make sure you’re travelling with someone who feels comfortable going off by themselves (especially if you do). A friend of mine recently came back from a trip where her TP never wanted to be alone. This created tons of problems down the road when they disagreed on what they wanted to do, or when my friend got annoyed with her and wanted to spend a day by herself (but couldn’t).
8) It’s important that you’re prepared to travel alone. Emergencies happen, people get homesick, and sometimes your TP may decide they need to end their trip early and go home. If this is the case, you need to make sure that you’re comfortable travelling by yourself for a while, so that you don’t end up having to go home, too.
Ultimately, you have to genuinely like, care, and trust your TP, while also accepting the fact that disagreements are likely to occur. As long as you keep the lines of communication open, you should be able to squash any minor disagreements before they become serious. However, if tensions do reach a breaking point, you also have to be comfortable with going at it alone for a while. Whether you decide to travel separately for a week to cool off, or you decide you need to permanently sever your travel relationship, it’s best to end something that isn’t working. You may not prefer to travel solo, but going at it alone is likely to be a way more enjoyable experience than sticking it out with someone you can’t stand.