Travel Companions — Friends or Foes?

By Rebecca Pavlik

Before you invite your best friend on your dream vacation (or your cool office mate, or some other potential travel buddy whom you might not know very well) consider this: by the end of the trip you may not be on speaking terms! Yes, it’s hard to believe, but this actually happened to me.

Photo from my New York City trip

Twenty-somethings especially be warned: don’t be fooled into thinking that just because Jane is also young, single, has never been to Paris, and you both like Johnny Depp that the two of you will be great travel companions — wrong! Would you want this person as a roommate? If living with them sounds painful, so might be traveling with them! The problem with travel companions is that as different as we all are, and as varied as our tastes, hobbies, education, and politics are — that’s how different our travel agendas and styles can be. So, I ask you, before you book your flight: how well do you really know this person?

Another shot from my New York City trip

I once went on a short trip to New York with a friend that I didn’t know very well. I didn’t realize just how different we were and how difficult she was until it was too late. It turned out that everything I did and said offended her. For example, it offended her when I asked someone on the street for directions. She got mad about a comment I made in St. Peter’s Cathedral. Even worse, she didn’t want to fork out the $60 to see Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria, and on our last night didn’t want to go out on the town, or even just walk around the city. By the end of the trip she was no longer speaking to me — she decided to punish me for having different opinions and ideas than her. You may be thinking that perhaps I was the jerk, but let me just say that we never actually argued or exchanged harsh words. In fact, I tried to be very flexible and agreeable, and was truly on my best behavior. This person simply was not the person I thought she was. We never spoke after that. My New York trip was ruined. All these years later, I honestly feel worse about not seeing Julie Andrews on Broadway than the loss of her friendship!

Another time, on a road trip to Mexico, it turned out that my fun single girlfriends simply had a very different agenda then me. Once we arrived at our destination, a small resort on the beach, I found out that my friends were much bigger partiers than I was. I like to have fun too, but they were only there to drink, get high, and have random sex (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Because I wasn’t as wild as they were, I constantly felt like the stick-in-the-mud party-pooper. It’s no fun feeling like you don’t fit in. They were very nice and we all got along, but their idea of fun wasn’t my idea of fun.

Having different agendas can wreck a vacation, even with your closest friend. On a five-week trip to Europe to do some photography workshops, my best friend, who was not a photographer, insisted on meeting me for the last leg of the trip. I tried to warn her that I was there to do photography, and she seemed okay with that. Well, she was okay with it in theory, but felt ignored and neglected when I spent more time photographing than doing what she wanted to do. We got along great, but had completely different agendas. Our friendship was never quite the same after that. The point is this: traveling can ruin a friendship, just like being roommates or loaning someone money can. You don’t really know someone until you live with them, and traveling with someone is basically living with them, with the all the added stress of travel!

Therefore, rather than ruin a once in a lifetime vacation, or ruin a friendship, make sure you and your companion(s) are on the same page ahead of time. I suggest discussing the following topics before you book your trip.

  1. Sightseeing and Activities: Do you both want to see the touristy sights, art museums, and historical landmarks, or is one of you more into shopping or hanging out in bars, making friends with locals? Perhaps one of you is more into the natural landscape and wants to find hiking trails, botanical gardens etc. Do you both want to pack in as much as possible each day, or does one of you want to take it slow and have two-hour lunches and drinks at an outdoor café everyday? Is one of you a big photographer who is going to stop every five minutes to take a picture? Discuss your desired activities and itineraries in advance to see if they even remotely match up!
  2. Nightlife: Do you both want to stay out drinking and dancing until the wee hours every night or is one of you less of a partier who likes to get to bed early so they get up at the crack of dawn the next day? Does one of you hope to hook up and have a romantic fling while on vacation? This can be awkward if you end up on your own in a strange city because your friend abandoned you in order to find romance, or if there is now a third person joining you on every outing. Decide ahead of time what is acceptable to both of you.
  3. Meals: Discuss how much you both plan to spend on meals (and hotels, if not included), and how important that aspect of the trip is. If one of you expects to eat at pricey restaurants every meal and the other person is on a tight budget, it could be a constant source of friction and debate.
  4. Transportation styles: Just getting from point A to point B can cause a fight if one person insists on walking everywhere while the other prefers to take cabs or the metro. While it may seem obvious to you that you should walk everywhere, your friend may have bad feet, uncomfortable shoes, or would just plain prefer to take a cab. Also, you may prefer to wander down unknown streets and discover things on your own while your friend thinks it’s a waste of time if she is trying to get in a lot of sightseeing. While we’re at it, some people love trolley tours and bus tours, while others simply loathe that kind of thing.
  5. Art, Politics, Religion, and everything else: While you don’t need to agree about everything, someone who wears their political or religious beliefs on their sleeve may not make a good travel companion. After all, you will be stuck talking to this person all day every day for a week straight. That being said, it might not be a good idea to travel with someone who has completely different values or even extremely different cultural tastes. If both parties are open-minded and tolerant it might be okay, but if you know that your friend’s opinions tend to rub you the wrong way, I would skip traveling with this person.
  6. Find a common interest: Sharing a common interest with your travel companion can make up for other differences you may have. If you are both foodies and local cuisine is your number one priority, then you both have the same agenda. Perhaps you are both art lovers who want to visit every museum and gallery that time allows. If you both set out with a common goal, other differences will more likely fall by the wayside.

Travel can be stressful no matter how well you get along with your friend, but if you each start out with glaringly different agendas, you could be headed for disaster. Therefore, before you go off for a week with that friend who seems so nice, just be sure to discuss your expectations. Better yet, you may just want to go it alone. Trips that I have taken by myself have been some of the most relaxing, freeing, and empowering experiences of my life.

©2016 Rebecca Pavlik | TravlGusto.com