Finding the right travel companion is worth it. Image by Kayti Burt.
Traveling can bring the best and the worst out of people. It can also bring the best and worst out of your most important relationships. Over the course of a backpacking adventure, friendships have died. Romances have ended. Cities have fallen. (That last one probably isn’t true.) Regardless, choosing a traveling companion can be the most important part of your planning process — especially for an introvert more interested in cultivating long-term relationships than finding drinking buddies. Pick the right person, and you’ll have enough shared memories, inside jokes, and secrets to last a lifetime. Pick the wrong person, and you might not make it back alive.
Here are three questions to ask yourself and your potential traveling companion before popping the big question: Would you like to travel with me?
Do we have similar travel styles?
Everyone travels differently, and that’s okay – it starts becoming less okay when two people with significantly different travel styles are figuratively (or literally) tied together for an extended holiday or backpacking adventure. Before choosing a traveling companion, make sure that you have the same expectations when it comes to things like routine, pace, and interests. Here are a few questions you might want to cover:
Do you prefer to sleep in or to get up early?
Would you prefer to stay in hotels, hostels, on someone’s couch, etc.?
Do you like to have everything planned in advance or to do things spontaneously?
Would you rather move at a slower pace to explore cities and sites more in a more in-depth way or pack as much into your travel time as possible?
What sorts of activities do you like to do when traveling?
There are bound to be some distinctions in travel style, even in the most compatible of traveling companions, so it’s important to determine if the ways in which you differ are deal breakers for either of you. Be honest about your own expectations. Have a conversation with your potential traveling companion about what your ideal travel experiences look like.
Pre-departure test: Buy a pair of handcuffs and mail the key to yourself. Handcuff yourself to your prospective traveling companion. If you’re still talking by the time the key arrives in the mail, you’re okay to travel together.
How well do we communicate with one another?
When headed into a long-term travel situation, it’s as important to know the strengths and limitations of your own communication skills as much as it is your prospective traveling companion’s. For example: I know that I am a people-pleaser who often fails at expressing negative emotions, as well as an introvert who has a hard time expressing feelings without having had the time to process them. On the flip side, I’m a good listener and I rarely react rashly. The people I’ve traveled with best are patient in letting me process my thoughts and feelings.
It’s also important to accept that, during the course of your trip, you will most likely get into a fight. Or a heated discussion. Or a silent stand-off. Probably all three. Traveling with someone is an intense and potentially rewarding exercise in communication. It can be a great way to stretch – or kill — the intimacy of a relationship.
Pre-departure test: Pie your prospective traveling companion in the face, then set an egg timer for five minutes. If it goes off before you’ve worked things out, you probably shouldn’t travel together. Eat the pie.
What are we respectively willing and able to spend on this trip?
Money: the root of all evil. You know that unpredictably tense situation you sometimes get into when trying to split a dinner bill with your friends? Travel is like that – times infinity. If you’re not on the same page budget-wise with your traveling companion, it can make for some serious clashes. Depending on the tightness of the budget, it might not be enough to nail down an overall figure (as even the most meticulous of prospective budgets can be challenged once on the road), but to honestly discuss how financial decisions will be made. This can be hard to think about in the abstract. Here are a few hypothetical questions to consider that might reflect your respective relationships to money on your trip:
Hypothetical #1: You’re over the day’s allotted budget, so you’ve agreed to walk back to your hostel rather than take a tuk-tuk. However, now it’s raining! Do you forget the budget to stay dry, or brace yourself for raindrop impact?
Hypothetical #2: You show up to board the bus, ticket in hand, only to discover they’ve overbooked. This means you will be standing in the aisle for the six-hour trip, and the travel company refuses to refund your tickets. Do you suck it up and stand, or buy the ticket twice?
These questions may seem insignificant, but they are the kinds of issues that can come up between traveling companions who have different levels of commitment to their budgets. Be sure to be honest about the kinds of sacrifices you are or are not willing to make before traveling together.
Pre-departure test: Invite some friends over for a game night. Form a team with your prospective traveling companion and play a game of Monopoly. If you win, then you’re okay to travel together.
When it comes down to it, traveling with friends, family, or significant others can be part of the adventure. Though it can be helpful to consider some of the questions I’ve mentioned above, there’s no such thing as a perfect traveling companion. You will get fed up with one another and have days you spend apart – and that’s cool. But, hopefully, you will also share moments that become stories that you will hold onto forever.