Traveling with a Friend
It’s such a tempting idea: You’ve been friends for months, years or even decades, and you both love travel. You’ve shared stories and photos from your voyages. It seems natural to plan a trip together, and you’re both excited at the prospect.
The problem? Having a friend and traveling with a friend are two entirely different matters. Once you start globe-trotting, your BFF relationship may hit snags, forcing you to become frenemies or to ditch the partnership altogether.
Before getting married, couples discuss their goals, desires, which compromises they are willing to make, and where and how they want to live. Before traveling together, friends should have the same kinds of discussions to determine if they are compatible and to obviate painful revelations once they hit the road.
What you need to find out about each other’s travel style is simple. But it can make the difference between a dream vacation and a relationship nightmare.
Know Your Routines
We are all creatures of habit, and you need to assess if your routine is compatible with your friend's.
After you wake up in the morning, do you need to stretch and do a yoga routine? Do you jump out of bed, slip into your clothes and want to head out the door?
Once you are up, is one of you the comb-your-hair-and-go type? Does the other spend an hour in front of a mirror applying makeup, fussing with her hair or changing clothes?
And what about breakfast? Find out if you both like to linger over a full breakfast, grab a fast coffee and croissant, or skip the first meal of the day entirely.
One of you may spend a lot of time waiting. Is this okay with you?
Set Boundaries Around Romance
Imagine this scenario: Someone flirts with you in a museum or on a train. You strike up a convo and exchange contact information. To your delight, you get a text message 10 minutes after you separate, asking if you can have dinner together. You’re excited, of course, but what about your travel mate?
To prevent issues, you and your friend need to decide beforehand if each of you is free to go off on her own, or if you are committed to staying together. If you want to have dinner with your new encounter, or spend the night with him, how will your roomie feel? And how will you feel if it’s your friend who’s hooked up?
It may be a minor annoyance that you try to ignore. Sometimes your friend one-ups you. You say you had a lousy day with your boss, and he’s had a worse day. You love your new running shoes, but hers are better. You twisted your ankle at the gym, but he knows someone who broke his ankle.
On the road, this minor irritation can become a major problem. Your friend may know better than you, be smarter than you, have better ideas than you do, know how to charm people faster…and you will be left in the dust.
Or someone may hit on you, and you are having a great time laughing, talking and connecting. In comes your friend to steal your thunder and your new connection.
All you need to do is come clean and gently say that the one-upmanship is difficult for you. Your friend may be unaware she’s doing it, and may make an effort to change her behavior.
Discuss Your Travel Pleasures
You may love meeting people, and finding out about them. You talk to the lady who sells flowers in the market, and the couple with the cool motorcycles. You are curious about the young fashionistas, and want to know where they shop. You hear about a brilliant artist, and you want to go to her studio and see her work. You derive enormous pleasure and satisfaction from learning about others.
But your travel mate may be seeking out the iconic places. He may have no interest whatsoever in talking to people about what seems to him trivial or unimportant. He’s excited by things he’s always dreamed about seeing.
Can you work out a compromise, or agree to split up during the day?
Figure out How to Balance Luxury with Local
One of the biggest trends in independent travel is going local — eating like a local, shopping like a local, hanging with locals, hiking with locals, doing what locals do. Sometimes this means rustic, simple, inexpensive experiences. This can be gratifying and exciting...if it’s your style.
Your travel mate, on the other hand, may want to eat in the best restaurants and stay in luxury accommodation. They may not be comfortable in an environment where the language may be an obstacle.
Can you compromise and go part local, part luxury?
Prep for Travel Prep
How much planning you do or don’t do, and how closely you want to stick to a schedule, can be deal-breakers for friendships unless discussed in advance.
Some travelers are comfortable having everything planned beforehand. Either they rely on the tour organizer to put together an itinerary, or they create one. They know which day and when they will go where. They are happy to reserve in advance for restaurants and attractions.
Other travelers like to keep the trip spontaneous and make spur-of-the-moment decisions. They want to see the top sites, but don’t need to decide the day or time in advance. If they must reserve, they will, but, if not, they want to keep things loose.
The best method for compromise is to do some planned things together, while also leaving room for spontaneity.
Address the Snoring Elephant in the Room
Snoring could potentially make a trip really miserable, because at least one of you will be sleep-deprived.
If you are a snorer, and you are sharing a hotel room, be up front about it and tell your travel partner. It is better for her to know in advance of the trip. And you should ask your friend if she is a snorer, so you are prepared.
If either of you is a deep sleeper, snoring may not be an issue. If you are a light sleeper, it most certainly will prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. There are diverse products on the market that are designed to minimize or eliminate snoring — nose clips, homeopathic remedies, nose sprays.
But if all else fails, opt for separate rooms.
Track All Expenses
When people insist that it’s not about money, quite often the reverse is true. It is about money, but there’s a reluctance to seem cheap or mercenary.
When you travel with a friend, it is not always practical to carry enough cash or possible to pay with two credit cards. The result is that one or the other will be paying a bill, and there has to be a way of keeping track of that so there is no disagreement about money.
One of you can carry a small pad or notebook where each expense is listed with the first initial of the person who paid. Then, at the end of the day, week or trip, the expenses are tallied up and whoever has fronted more money gets a refund from the other. Keep it simple, and keep it clear. (Payment apps like Venmo can also be handy for swift, easy reimbursements.)
Have the Uncomfortable Money Talk
Sometimes, one person is comfortable splurging on expensive meals, while the other does not have the disposable income to indulge. If you discuss this beforehand, you can find a compromise: Maybe your friend eats in a high-end restaurant, while you dine in one that better suits your budget. Then you meet up afterwards.
A word of warning, though — if there is a real, consistent gap between what you want to spend and your friend wants to spend, this can throw the kibosh on a trip and lead to resentment on the road.
Respect Each Other’s Internal Clocks
Some folks are early risers, and like to go to bed early. Others are night owls, preferring to go out or read long after the stroke of midnight.
If you and your friend operate on the same internal clock, it’s perfection. You can experience a destination in the early hours of the morning, or enjoy nightlife long after the sun goes down.
If your clocks tick differently, figure out a plan beforehand. Tiptoe in and be very quiet if you return to the room and your friend is sleeping. Or when you get up really early, try not to disturb your friend who is sleeping.
And agree that the early riser will go out early and the night owl will go out at night. Hopefully, this will eliminate a conflict about it on the road.
Establish a Secret Communication Code
You will probably find yourself in a situation which is either public or involves other people. Maybe you’re at a bar, and two strangers have joined you for a drink. It’s fun for the first five minutes but then you want to make it short and sweet. You and your friend may or may not be sitting together, but you need a fast, effective, easy, clear way to communicate that you want to cut out.
Work this out in advance. If you pull your ear, it means you want to leave. If you put your thumb in a vertical position, it means you want to stay. If you feel your friend is committing both of you to something and you would rather she didn’t, gently but firmly press your index finger into her arm.
Allow for Quiet Time
It’s wonderful to travel with someone who likes to share reactions, ideas, opinions, enthusiasm. Travel is very bonding, and you will get to know each other better, even if you think you know each other well already. You may love to talk about the past, the present, the future and things that fill every space in between.
But sometimes, you just want quiet. You want to think, breathe, reflect; you don’t want to engage. If you discuss this in advance, you will have an agreement about how to obtain the quiet you need.
Maybe you will agree that one of you should ask, “Is it okay to have a little quiet time?” And the other will fulfill that request so neither of you is overwhelmed by chatter.
Never Forget Your Sense of Humor
You are almost ready to leave on your trip, and have had the discussion about how you can remain great friends during the voyage and afterwards. You have agreed, listened to each other, been respectful of differences, worked out compromises and all is good.
There may still be conflicts that arise on the road, though hopefully they will be minor. That’s when your sense of humor is essential. Crack a joke. Minimize the problem by saying, “Aren’t we ridiculous?” Address it directly by saying, “This is not worth arguing about.” Or exclaim, “aren’t we both a piece of work when we’re tired?”
Laugh about it. And most importantly, enjoy your trip.