Having now travelled to 30 countries, many of which were on my own, I’m a big advocate of solo travel. I believe everyone should try travelling alone at least once (even if it’s just to a new city in their home country). But there are a few downsides to travelling alone: hefty single person supplements on package holidays, all your photos being squinty selfies and not having someone special to share that beautiful sunset with.
Of course, having a travel buddy eliminates all these problems. But the person you choose to venture with could either make or break your trip – therefore it’s important to think about where you’re planning to go and what you want to do once you’re there, then consider who’d be the best person to accompany you.
I was recently chatting with one of my best friends, TJ, about where else we’d both like to visit, and when. Her and I have been friends for nearly eight years now, and have been away together a few times, including an all-inclusive holiday in Turkey and a couple of long weekends in Amsterdam and Barcelona. We also lived together for a year, so I know we’d get along fine if we travelled together somewhere.
But as TJ works in a school, she can only travel during school holidays. And as I’d rather not travel during school holidays (because it’s more expensive, there are kids everywhere and, when working a 9-5 job, I’d rather let others in my office with kids take the time off), she’s not really a possible travel partner at the moment, unfortunately.
But it got me thinking, who would make the perfect travel buddy? I’ve outlined a few tips below to help ensure that you pick the right person to take on your next trip.
1. Always discuss want you want to get out of the trip.
Everyone travels differently. While some prefer leisurely afternoons spent wandering around museums with pit stops at local cafes, others might rather a trip bursting with non-stop action and adventure (ziplining in Puerto Rico anyone?). Then there are those that like to travel as part of a large, chauffeur-driven tour group, and the travellers that want to just lounge by a pool for a week, drinking cocktails. None of these “travel styles” are right or wrong, they’re just different.
So before you book anything, talk to your potential travel buddy (or buddies) about each of your styles and your priorities for the trip. This should allow you to create an itinerary that suits everyone (and avoids any arguments while away). I’ve found it helpful to chat with my travel companions about “must-dos” and “must-sees” – activities that encompass the day-to-day of a trip. It may be that the person you wanted to come on the trip with you isn’t that interested in the things you want to do; in which case, you may be better off taking the trip on your own (or finding another friend to go with).
Take my friend Laura, for example: she travels just as much as me, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends. If with friends, she has a two sets of friends she travels with: there’s her friend Nat, who (like Laura) likes to plan and book excursions ahead of the trip, and then there is her group of school friends, who prefer to pick a destination and let the itinerary just fall into place once there. Laura has had some amazing trips with both sets of friends, from Icelandic pony trekking in Iceland to safariing in South Africa. She accepts their different travel styles, and makes sure they choose an appropriate destination.
But would Laura make a good travel buddy for me? In some respects yes, I think we’d get along – we both like outdoorsy activities and we both like sightseeing. But she doesn’t blog (or even use social media) so I think she’d tire very quickly of me having to take a million pictures of a statue or my food to put on Instagram. She also has fair skin and red hair, so isn’t a massive fan of hot tropical climates – whereas I’m a sun junkie and will take trips far and wide to find the most beautiful beach.
Should we travel together? Probably not. Instead we’ll stick to catch-ups in the city over cocktails.
2. Always discuss your budget.
Some people like to bum their way from hostel to hostel and have picnics instead of eating at restaurants. Others prefer to splurge on hotels with at least fours stars and room service. Again, there’s no right or wrong way for travelling – it all comes down to individual budgets and preferences. Whether you’re doing hostels or hotels, budget airlines or business class, comprehensive or standard travel insurance, your budget will really affect your trip, and ultimately who you should go with. It’s hard to travel with someone when you’re arguing about money and can’t agree on where to stay, what activities you want to do and where to eat.
I was once away with a friend and half way through the trip she suddenly realised she’d unwittingly spent all her travel money, so had to resort to withdrawing money from an ATM (with the fees to do so rubbing further salt into the wound). Similarly, I’ve been the one that’s run out of cash because of an “unbudgeted for” activity (it wasn’t my fault – I just had to have that Michael Kors handbag from Macy’s in Puerto Rico).
I suggest agreeing a daily budget before booking anything, which you should try your hardest to stick to during the trip. By making sure you’re both on the same page money-wise before you go, your daily spending should not come as a surprise to either of you (and neither of you will spend beyond your means). I know it’s not always easy talking about financial matters, but trust me: having the conversation before you book a trip will save you a lot of grief – and dosh – on your getaway.
3. Always take things at a comfortable speed.
Agreeing a suitable pace is particularly important for holidays where you haven’t made any concrete plans.
If you’re traveling with someone who wants to stay in one area and explore it in depth, but you want to travel to several different cities (or even countries) in half that time, it can be a bit of a sticking point. Some people prefer to sleep in, take each day slowly and visit every corner of a place before leaving, while others might choose to be up at the crack of dawn because they have a shorter time frame or simply prefer being busy all the time.
Have a conversation about how much you want to accomplish each day, how quickly you plan to travel through each location, and how often you plan to relax. An overzealous itinerary could result in discontent for both of you, so build in some downtime to recover from a travel day, and be mindful of how each item on the itinerary could effect the next.
Maybe rethink your plans for a sunrise hike after a boozy night out – unless you’re like me and can function on only a few hours sleep? When in Brussels a few years back I managed a mammoth four-hour walk from the hotel in the city centre to the Atomium, after drinking beer solidly all of the previous day. My travel buddy Solo was flagging though, so in hindsight we probably should have done something a little gentler that day.
4. Always think about your personality types and circumstances.
Imagine, your single friend wants to check out a new club to see what the local talent is like, but you (who’s happily married) want to get a full eight-hours of beauty sleep so you’re fresh and ready for exploring the next day. You decide to part ways, and your friend goes clubbing into the wee hours in search of a holiday romance, while you snore your head off in your hotel room. Come the morning, your friend is still snoozing (potentially with a Pedro in the room), while you’re up and ready to go. And so your whole day seems ruined, your trip is ruined, you’re bitter and annoyed and spend the rest of the holiday not talking to your former friend.
Sounds extreme, but trust me, it can happen. Therefore, to fully enjoy your trip, make sure you pick a travel buddy who’s on the same schedule and same personal situation as you.
Similarly, consider your personalities. Are you an energetic, go-go-go type or do you prefer to take things easy, ambling along at a snail’s pace? Type A personalities are all about the action, while Type B people prefer to “be in the moment” and savour every step of the trip. It’s quite possible that someone can be both types, too. For example, when I’m on a short city break I like to cram in as much as I can, but if I’m in an all-inclusive resort I’m happy to just hang by the pool do nothing. It all depends on the type of trip and the country I’m going to.
Keep in mind yours and your friend’s personality types and personal situations when you’re deciding whether they’d make a good travel companion. Test it out on day trips and weekends away in your home country first, like my friend Bambi and I have done. We did day trips to Brighton and the Mayfield Lavender farm in Surrey, then went on holiday together (where we got to know each other a whole lot more).
Writer Mark Twain once said: “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” I guess like most things in life, it’s hard to know who will you’re perfect travel companion until you’ve actually ventured somewhere together. But these tips should help you determine how compatible you and your potential travel pal are.
One thing’s for certain, whoever you end up travelling with, and wherever you go together, the best part is that you’re seeing the world, having new and life-changing experiences, and learning things (about your destination, your friend and yourself) along the way.