Travel is amazing. It opens doors to cultures you never knew existed. It inspires creativity and passion in avenues you’d never imagine, but it’s also incredibly difficult. Language barriers can frustrate. Hungry stomachs can make moody travellers of the best of us.
This is doubly so when you’re travelling with a friend, as your moods often play off one another. Even if you’re not feeling hungry or anxious or lost, your friend might be, and suddenly conflict can arise.
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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 travelled to 38 countries, about half of them on my own, 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 as I’ve travelled.
Here, I’ve compiled my six top tips for an inspiring, fun-filled, memorable (for all the right reasons) and harmonious trip with friends…
6 rules for travelling with friends to help you stay friends
Verbalise 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 your friends 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.
Compare your budgets
Compare your expectations. What do you think is a reasonable cost of accommodation? A reasonable dinner? What are you willing to splurge on and where would you rather cut corners? While I don’t recommend planning every little detail, it’s helpful to get these parameters in place early. Find out where you agree and where you diverge. Consider whether or not you can meet your friend halfway or whether it’s a dealbreaker.
For example, if they are insistent on a 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? Be willing to compromise where needed and go it alone if necessary.
Schedule time alone
When you spend so much time together – especially if you’re 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 time to reflect on your memories, maybe write about it, or edit some pictures. Doing that and juggling conversations can be difficult.
If you’re travelling short term (like a week or two), plan little parts of the day that are apart and reconvene for dinner. If you’re travelling 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 two or three days every few weeks.
If you’re on a strict budget, try staying at different hostels (see my next point for more on this). Or, if you definitely want to bunk together, at least set out on different adventures some days and meet up at dinner to talk about it and share your experiences.
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Break up (nicely) to meet new people
Travelling with a friend is wonderful because you always have someone to talk to, mull things over with, make plans with, travel with, get lost with and so on. But sometimes, you’ve been travelling 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 travellers. 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 with each other periodically
Aim for informal catch-ups 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 traveller, 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 your niggles before you blow
Similarly, if there’s something your friend is doing that’s bothering you, for goodness sake 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 via a meltdown when you’re overwhelmed and getting into a nasty, hurtful spat.
Verbalise your feelings early and calmly, so you have a chance to amend behaviours and improve the rest of the trip. Acknowledge your shortcomings too, and be willing to apologise. In the event that you do get into an argument while travelling, try not to 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, articulate this and make steps towards doing it. Oh, and enjoy your trip!
Photos by Brooke Cagle, Artem Bali, Priscilla Du Preez, rawpixel, Ian Schneider and Mohammed Hijas on Unsplash.