How to Be a Good Travel Partner

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A lot of people ask me why I enjoy traveling solo and I have a lot of responses, including that it’s not easy to find a good travel partner. No matter how close of friends you are with someone, it can be difficult to travel together. This is especially true on an international trip where you don’t speak the local language.

Being a good travel partner isn’t about always compromising, especially if doing so will frustrate you or will cause you to not have a good time. It’s about being as considerate of yourself as the person you’re traveling with and making sure everyone is getting most of what they want.

This post includes some of my thoughts on what makes a good travel companion.

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Coming to Agreement

What kind of trip do you expect to go on? Is this going to be a five-star splurge or a bare-bones budget vacation? Are you seeking a relaxing getaway or a jam-packed exploration of a location? City or country? What is the budget you’re able to spend and do you both agree? One way to have disagreement and frustration very quickly is if you don’t agree on the kind of vacation you are going on.

Being a good travel partner starts at the very beginning of the planning stages. I recommend having this discussion when you are first planning the trip to make sure you are on the same page. Then continue the discussion with the decisions that need to be made.

This dialogue continues until the end of the trip as well. There are a lot of decisions you make while you’re traveling and it’s important to come to an agreement that you are both ok with.

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Marie and I in Copenhagen

Areas of Potential Friction

Even amongst the best of friends, you can have very different views about your vacation and your expectations during it. When you start planning your trip and throughout, keep these things in mind and talk about any issues that arise.

  • Total budget: It’s important to determine an approximate budget before you travel to ensure you’re on the same page about accommodation and activities.
  • Priorities: Is cost the driving factor in your decisions or experience? Do you want to be active, see certain things, connect with people? Knowing your own priorities and those of your travel partner are key to coming to an agreement.
  • Where to stay/accommodation: discuss your ideal place to stay before you book along with budget. Do you want a hotel or an apartment? Separate bedrooms? What amenities are important?
  • Activities: What are the things you most want to do on this trip? Do you enjoy being active like hiking or biking, or are you more interested in sitting in cafes watching the world go by?
  • Early or late start: Are you more of a morning person or a night owl? Do you take forever to get ready in the morning, or are you in for a quick shower then you want to dash out the door?
  • Downtime: Do you like to go for 12-hour stretches or take breaks during the day, either when you’re out and about or going back to the room to rest?
  • Alone time: Are you used to being with someone 24/7 or do you need some “me time.” What does that look like to you: reading a book in quiet, separate rooms, solo time?
  • Dining/types of cuisine: In addition to budget, what type of restaurants do you enjoy eating in? Take out, sit down, street vendors? Do you want to dress up or go casual? Local and ethnic or American-style food (or that of your country).

What to Do When You Don’t Agree

You just don’t want to get up before 8 a.m. and your travel partner wants to be up and out by then. Or you have simple needs and want to stay at budget accommodation in a safe area but your travel buddy has loftier expectations. Take the time to talk through these things and work towards a compromise that you can both be happy with.

When I went to Italy, I had a day where I was feeling exhausted. My friend wanted to go to a market but I was definitely not up for all of the hustle and bustle. Instead of trying to talk her out of it, or her trying to talk me into it, I encouraged her to go and enjoy herself while I took a nap. I was nice and rested when she got back and eager to get back out there to see more. Alternatively, we could have agreed to go to the market a different day and to do something more chill instead.

Don’t be afraid to do your own thing for a while if there is something really important to you. Or if there’s something your friend wants to do that you don’t, maybe you can offer to do something he wants to do for him to come with you for what’s important to you. Compromise and being considerate of each other is what it’s all about.

Sharing Responsibility and Effort

A lot of work goes into planning a trip, before the trip and during. Vacations are fun, of course, but a lot of work goes into making it that way unless you go on a guided trip where everything is planned for you. There is research to do before you go, bookings to be made, and decisions to be made before and during the trip. It’s a good idea to expect to share those responsibilities to have a good time on the trip.

Several people I have traveled with assumed that since I travel so much, I must love to do all of the work. The truth is that I enjoy going on great trips and I’m willing to the work needed to achieve the result I want. So, if you’re not offering to help with the research, then offer to do something else.

Some Examples

For example, on a recent trip I took with a friend to Alaska, I did most of the research before the trip. She did all of the driving. I was over the moon as I hadn’t driven on the snow and ice for many years and was a little concerned, especially at night (I am NOT a night owl). She took that worry from me so we both felt like it was a great share of work.

Alternatively, I went on a trip to Costa Rica with a friend and it was the opposite experience. I planned everything before the trip and even heard her tell someone that she let me because I love doing it (she never asked if that was the case). I had to make every decision during the trip including when to go places, where to eat and research restaurants, etc. A couple of times I tried to go for a walk to get some “me” time and she insisted on going. Needless to say, it was a very frustrating trip and not a fun experience for me at all.

Splitting Costs

Talk about how you plan to split costs during your trip before you leave. Do you plan to alternate meals or split the bills? Will one of you get the rental car and the other get meals? Or will one person pay for everything and then the other will make payment after the trip? However you do it, make sure you agree and both feel comfortable.

Patience

Traveling can be stressful, particularly international travel when you don’t speak the local language. Patience certainly is not one of my virtues, but there are times when traveling that you have to dig deep to find it where you don’t know you have it.

I remember on my first trip to Asia, after a painfully long and sleepless flight, we arrived at a ridiculously crowded airport. I don’t recall what set my friend off, but it was something about trying to figure out where we had to go. He had a bit of a meltdown at the airport. That was ok—I was on it. I suggested he sit down and watch our bags and I’d head out to figure things out.

It could have escalated to an argument since we were both exhausted and cranky, but it didn’t. Don’t worry, I paid him back in kind later on in the trip with my own meltdown. He was equally patient with me and took care of things while I cooled off. Travel is all about teamwork when you travel with others.

Consideration and Compromise

No matter how close of friends you may be with your travel companion, you will have differences of opinion on things during the trip. How you handle it is so important to make for a great time on vacation. Do you want to see something your friend doesn’t? Or does your travel partner want to stay in but you want to go out? Take turns with the decision-making and remember, it’s ok to do things on your own.

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Kim and I in Pisa

Communication

It is important that you express your needs and wants during a trip. Of course, this is important at any time in any relationship. When you are traveling with a person, it’s especially important. Say what you want or what you need and really listen when the other person does the same. Although you may be friends, hanging out together and living together, even for a week or two, is very different.

Ask questions instead of assuming. Is your friend in a bad mood or angry with you? Ask the question so you can handle it so it doesn’t fester on the trip. I didn’t heed this advice once and really strained a friendship. I got angry and didn’t want to start a fight, so I didn’t really talk to my travel partner for a couple of days on the trip. Talk about uncomfortable and awkward! It’s a shame, too, as we were having a really good time before then.

How to Find a Good Travel Partner

Finding a travel buddy can be a challenge and finding a good one even more challenging. Before you consider joining a person on a trip, it’s important to give some thought to your wants and expectations. Talk about them with your potential travel partner to see if you align. When you get frustrated, as you invariably may at some point in the trip, step back and consider if you are being a good travel partner. Think about how you can open a dialogue to work through the issue so you can continue to have fun.

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2 Comments

  1. So you’ve traveled with your cousin a few times…how is he as a travel partner? I am thinking he is one of the easiest people to travel with. ????

    1. I’ll let you know the next time we travel together! 😉

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