Travel is amazing. It opens doors to cultures you never knew existed. It inspires creativity and passion in avenues you’d never imagine. It’s also incredibly difficult. Language barriers can frustrate. Hungry stomachs can make moody travelers of the best of us. This goes doubly so when you’re traveling with a friend, as your moods often play off of one another. Even if you’re not feeling hungry or anxious or lost, and your friend is, suddenly conflict can arise.
Honestly, I prefer solo travel most of the time as I’m pretty independent (read: stubborn) and like to pave my own way. But sometimes I just want to travel with someone I know and make memories with a dear friend. As of writing this, I’ve traveled to 38 countries, about half solo, the other half with friends or partners.
I’ve learned a few things along the way – mostly through mistakes I’ve made. Luckily I have amazing friends who challenge but tolerate my stubbornness, and I’ve learned and grown along the way. The key? Understanding yourself, your desires, and your shortcomings and being able to communicate with others about it.
Verbalize Your Expectations
Do you have some non-negotiables that you absolutely can’t miss? Do you have some activities you’re not that fond of? At some point during your travels, make it clear to your travel companion your musts and mehs, and make it a point to respect each other’s wishes. Don’t expect them to read your mind.
Example: I am a curmudgeon who hates the beach 90% of the time because I hate being crowded, getting sunburned, and getting salt water in my mouth. The 10% of the time that I do like the beach is when I’m in a place that’s just so amazing that even my curmudgeonly ass can’t find something to complain about. My friend is a normal human being who enjoys the beach. When in Málaga, she went for a few beach days while I wandered around the city taking photos and eating tapas. Everyone wins.
Determine Financial Situations and Comfort Levels
Compare your budgets. What do you think is a reasonable cost of accommodation? A reasonable dinner? What are you willing to splurge on and what would you rather cut corners on?
While I don’t recommend planning every little thing down to a T, it’s helpful to get these parameters put into place early in the planning stages. Find out where you agree and where you diverge. Consider whether or not you can meet your friend halfway there or whether it’s a dealbreaker. For example, if they are insistent on a certain diving tour, and it’s out of your budget, are they okay with you skipping it and them going it alone? Or if you really want to do one blow-out, sky’s-the-limit dinner, and they’re on a tighter budget, are you okay with tempering your expectations food-wise or would that ruin your trip for you? Be willing to compromise where needed and go it alone (which brings me to my next point) if necessary.
Schedule Time Alone
When you spend so much time together – especially if you are sharing hotel rooms and beds – you often find yourself wanting “me” time. And travel, while amazing, can be so mentally exhausting that you need time to process all that you’ve seen and experienced. After all, you want the time to reflect on your memories, process what you’ve learned that day, maybe write about it, or edit some pictures. Having to do that and juggle conversations can be difficult.
If you’re traveling short term (like a week or two), plan little parts of the day that are apart and reconvene for dinner. If you’re traveling long-term (two weeks or more), taking breaks becomes even more crucial. If you’re staying in a place where it’s possible to get cheap single rooms, schedule a little break from each other for 2-3 days every few weeks. If you’re on a strict budget, try staying at different hostels (this leads into my next point). Or, if you definitely want to bunk together, at least set out during the day on different adventures and meet up at dinner to talk about it.
Meet New People to Break Up the Monotony
Traveling with a friend is amazing because you always have someone to talk to, weigh things over with, make plans with, travel with, get lost with, etc. But sometimes, you’ve been traveling together for weeks and it’s like, good God, what the hell else do we have to talk about?
Enter the travel friend. Meet someone new – either pony up the guts to talk to people at a local bar, stay at a hostel and chat your way into some new friends, or do some sort of activity or meet-up aimed at travelers. Invite that person to join you and your friend – or accept their invitation when they invite you. The group dynamic will change, and everything will improve as a result.
Check In Periodically
Aim for informal, low stress check-ins with one another. It can be as simple as “do you think this plan is okay?” or “do you still want to do this?” As a frequent solo traveler, I can sometimes steamroll my travel companion with ideas. Don’t fall into this trap! Make sure you and your friend are both contributing ideas roughly equally. It sucks both to be the one planning everything and the one being planned for. So don’t let your friendship dynamic fall into that and ensure you get feedback from one another regularly.
Vent Before You Blow
Similarly, if there is something your friend is doing that is bothering you, for the love of God, don’t hold it in and wait until you’re ready to explode. I know you think you don’t want to ruin your vacation with talking about your feelings and risking a fight, but trust me, travel brings out stress and those feelings will come out at some point. It’s just a matter of whether you allow those feelings to come out in a civil fashion or melting down when you’re overwhelmed and getting into a nasty, hurtful spat. Verbalize your feelings early and calmly, so you have a chance to amend behaviors and improve the rest of the trip.
Acknowledge your shortcomings and be willing to apologize
In the event that you do get into an argument while traveling, don’t be defensive. There’s nothing worse than denying what another person feels – those feelings are valid. Acknowledge that this person is (most likely) not crazy, and they have a legitimate reason to be upset. Talk it out. Be willing to look within yourself, inspect where you can improve, verbalize the work you need to do on yourself, and make steps toward doing that work.