We’ve all seen the countless token articles: “Female Solo Travel,” “How I Traveled Around the World All By Myself,” or maybe even “Friends: Who Needs ‘Em! Travel Alone”.
I get why these articles exist. If you don’t have friends or a partner that can or want to travel with you, it can be intimidating for some to travel at all. These kinds of articles ease people’s fears about traveling to an unknown destination, even if they don’t have anyone to go with, and that’s great. I’m all for that. Travel more! I’m all about traveling and generally just being by yourself. As a writer, and generally anti-social human, I need to spend lots of time in solitude to create and recharge. As I write this I’m in the middle of an unexpected and enjoyable week spent entirely alone in our temporary Rapunzel condo (housesitting) while Veren is off eating all the baguettes in France. Whether they’ll admit it or not, almost everyone needs alone time to be the best versions of themselves, and too often we beat ourselves up for needing it. But all the “Solo Female Travel” articles make it seem like if you’re not telling everyone to fuck off and go off alone, you’re not doing travel right. I rarely see articles about how to travel with others, which honestly can be way more difficult than traveling by yourself.
So while I won’t balk at going to see a movie or eating at a restaurant alone, I do also enjoy sharing a meal with someone else (and not just because then I get to try what they’re eating). Most of the time, I actually like traveling with people or visiting places where I know people. A shared, especially travel-related experience can bring people closer together, whether you were strangers or best friends at the start. New experiences, places, sights, and sounds become part of your relationship, and that can be a beautiful thing.
Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, traveling with others, especially for extended periods, can make you want to tear your hair out. Everyone has different schedules, plans, and needs. I’ve traveled a lot with friends, family, partners, and consistently see the same problems arise. Know how to identify them and how to fix them and you’ll be well on your way to a happy, successful vacation with a travel partner that you can remain friends with once the trip is over.
Money can be a major source of stress with family and friends in our everyday lives, and when traveling, our heightened senses can make these tensions amplified ten-fold. If you only have the money to stay in hostels but your friend cannot imagine staying anywhere but a luxury hotel, compromising can be difficult. Where the money comes from can also matter; someone who has saved up working a student job to attend a study abroad program may feel resentful towards their new study abroad friend with their parents’ credit card. Or the teacher on unpaid summer leave will need to watch their spending, while the corporate friend on paid vacation may not pay attention to what they buy at all. One will be counting each penny while the other may not have to worry.
Be upfront about how much you can spend on the trip and what kind of things you’d be willing to spend more or less on. Even though it can be difficult, don’t budge on this. It’s easy to quiet the financially responsible voice with a, “Oh, this one coffee/drink/tour won’t hurt.” And maybe that one won’t, but if you give in consistently, you’ll get home to a dry bank account. Friends with more money to spend: be aware of your travel companion’s restrictions. If you must eat at that restaurant with the Michelin stars, either go by yourself, or offer to treat your friend. I’m sure they’ll be more than appreciative.
Problem: Eating Styles
Make no mistake: issues WILL arise from a vegan traveling with a meat eater. Someone who needs to eat every couple hours will likely annoy someone who can go long stretches of time without eating (and vice versa – also been there). Food is very central to travel and if you and your travel companions have vastly different needs and wants then it could be a source of tension for the entire trip. After all, you have to eat every day, multiple times!
Look up restaurants beforehand that offer options for everyone to enjoy. HappyCow is your friend, veg-heads, and for celiacs and those avoiding gluten, Legal Nomads is a great resource, with gluten free translation cards and some city guides. When you arrive, hit up the local grocery store and buy some snacks to eat throughout the day to avoid getting hangry. Staving off the hangry is extremely important, as hungry travelers end up in bad restaurants just because they’re the ones in front of them at the time. You don’t want to waste a valuable meal abroad on one that sucks! It might even be wise to anticipate this issue before booking your vacation, as some places are more unaccommodating to people with certain dietary restrictions than others.
You may be counting down the days to your trip to Rome to see the Colosseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Vatican, while your friends are more interested in eating gelato and pasta while people-watching on piazzas. What you want – and expect – to get out of the trip is extremely important as you’ve likely spent a decent amount of money on it. Returning home without doing what you wanted can be a sore spot for a while.
Everyone should set ‘must see or do’ goals that they make sure to do in order to make the trip worthwhile. Plan activities to do both together, mixing activities so everyone gets to do what they want. Have one person pick the morning activity, and another pick the afternoon one. You might both have fun trying something new. If that won’t work timing or logistics wise, plan a day apart, meeting up later at a designated landmark or spot. Don’t count on phones! We all know what happens when someone’s phone dies, they don’t have service, or they can’t find Wi-Fi.
Raccoons and roosters aren’t wildlife friends for a reason: one stays out late, one gets up with the sun. Or take energizer bunnies and sloths: one’s in constant motion, the other could have a PhD in chillin’. The same goes for us humans. Morning people will get frustrated with night people and vice versa. If one person has an itinerary two pages long and others want to sit back and sip a coffee for an hour, problems may (and they will) arise. Some people may need some down (and alone) time whereas others are comfortable being in a group 24/7.
Again, the resolution to pace and timing issues can be splitting off and doing things in smaller groups or alone, depending on how many people you’re traveling with. If you need to get up early and hit the streets while your friends sleep in, do that. An hour or two spent doing exactly what you want to do at your own pace can make all the difference, and help avoid resentment if you wait around for other people in your group to make decisions.
It’s obvious that traveling with friends is about negotiation, compromise, and patience. By putting yourself and your wants first, you will help yourself perhaps even more, as you’ll be getting exactly what you want out of your vacation. Keeping these sources of tension in mind and addressing them before they become an issue can not only save your trip – but your relationships with others as well. With the right approach, traveling with friends or a significant other can be the time of your life. Happy travels!
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