Knowing how to choose the right travel companions can make or break a trip. Anyone who has travelled with others has learned that not all travel mates are a good fit. A great friendship or relationship doesn’t necessarily translate into compatibility on the road. Different goals and travel styles can cause friction, undermine a travel experience or ruin a relationship.
Given what’s at stake, how do we go about it?
1. Identify qualities in travel partners
I think one of the first steps is to identify the qualities you value most in a travel mate. This exercise also provides clues on what you value most in yourself, and how you can be a better travel partner for others.
For example, I like to travel with people who are adventurous, observant, flexible, self-aware, and thoughtful. They’re culturally sensitive and respectful, and open to new ideas and worldviews. They have my back, are aware of their surroundings, and don’t act in ways that jeopardize our safety. They’re also comfortable going off on their own to pursue different experiences and interests. And I enjoy travelling with people who pack light and travel with carry on.
2. Identify your travel style
Getting in touch with who you are as a traveller, and what you need to get out of a travel experience will help determine areas of compatibility. It also provides clues on where your needs and interests might be on a collision course with those of others.
For example, I love to explore a culture through its food. I consider myself to be more on the adventurous side of the spectrum. I’m a good fit with those who enjoy food tours, street food, eating out where locals eat, or experimenting with local recipes and locally sourced ingredients.
3. What are your irritants?
It’s important to know your irritants and the threshold at which a particular characteristic in a travel partner would drive you nuts.
For example, I grow weary of excessive talkers. These include people who don’t know when and how to respect the power of silence. Or, they interrupt others and dominate a discussion. It includes those who don’t have the will or the skill to draw others into a conversation. Enjoying contemplative moments or a thought-provoking discussion would be difficult with someone who consistently rushes in to fill the silence. Having a conversation on what we’re discovering and learning would be impossible with someone who won’t shut up long enough to listen to, and reflect upon, the perspectives of others.
4. What might irritate others?
What personality traits or aspects of your travel style might irritate others? Having enough self-awareness to identify them will help identify potential areas of conflict, and where compromises might be possible.
For example, more often than not, my pre-trip research takes the form of a travel planner document that includes a long list of possible activities. Whether travelling solo or with others, the list is shamelessly subjective, dominated by activities and experiences that interest me. Prior to a trip, I’ll consult with others on any common interests requiring advance bookings, and we inevitably leave day-to-day itinerary development until the destination. One of my travel mates is perfectly content to accept any and all recommendations, and go along with my suggestions on things to do each day. We’re a good fit – she’s happy to have someone else do the work, and I’m pleased to do what I like when I like, with someone whose company I enjoy.
On the other hand, someone else might resent my self-serving needs in proposing an itinerary with only the things that interest me. Or, find it tiring to travel with someone who doesn’t do any pre-trip research, always agrees with their suggestions, and never expresses an opinion or proposes alternatives on things to do.
5. Have a pre-trip discussion
You’ll be in each other’s company day in, day out, and some pre-trip intelligence can go a long way to predicting how a travel relationship might unfold.
Whether a potential travel mate is a friend, family member, a friend of a friend or complete stranger, it pays to obtain information on their interests, needs and travel styles before you embark on your travel adventure.
The following questions flow from my best and worst experiences in travelling with others. They might be useful as talking points for a pre-trip discussion.
- Why do you travel? What are your hopes and aspirations for this particular trip?
- In what countries do you feel most comfortable? Why? Are there countries or regions you won’t visit? Why not? What countries are on your travel list?
- Would you describe yourself as a relaxed or nervous traveller? What scares you most, or makes you uncomfortable about travel?
- How much luggage will you have? What types of bags do you travel with and what will be their packed weight?
- What’s your budget? What are your spending priorities? Where are you likely to cut corners, and where are you likely to splurge?
- What are your standards when it comes to accommodation? How much of your budget do you expect to spend on lodging? Are you prepared to stay in hostels? In a pinch, are you prepared to share a bed?
- Do you have any sleeping issues? What specific conditions do you need for a decent night’s sleep? Do you snore?
- How much of a role does food play in your travels? How much importance do you place on exploring a place through its food? Do you enjoy food tours or cooking classes? Do you have any dietary requirements? What won’t you eat? How adventurous are you in trying different foods? Do you tend to eat out or prefer to prepare your own meals? How much of your travel budget is likely to be spent on food?
- What’s your preferred travel pace? Do you try to pack as much as possible into a day, or move at a pace dictated by mood and energy levels?
- How important are research and planning? Is there an area of pre-trip research you particularly enjoy? Do you typically book all accommodation before leaving home? Are you more likely to have plans in place for each day, or do you prefer to discover what a place has to offer after you arrive? Or do you have a rough idea of what to do each day, and allow for spontaneity to creep in? How comfortable are you with changing plans on a whim?
- What types of activities tend to be a feature of your travels? Do you typically sign up for tours or guided activities? What are some examples? What are your favourite types of activities? What are your least favourite? What are your must-do activities and must-have experiences for this trip?
- How active are you when you travel? Do you like to explore a place on foot? Do you enjoy walking, hiking or cycling? Do you have any mobility issues? How do you typically get around?
- Do you expect shopping to be one of your activities? Do you shop for necessities, a few souvenirs or gifts, or “live to shop?” How much time do you expect to devote to shopping? How much of your budget is likely to be spent on shopping?
- Do you enjoy solo travel? Are you prepared to go it alone? For example, if your travelling companion cancelled at the last minute, how likely would you continue to travel? Are you comfortable being on your own if your companion has different interests?
- How important is it for you to have time alone? Or, having quiet time for activities such as reading, reflecting or writing?
- How do you use technology when you travel? What devices do you typically pack? Do you use a selfie stick? Do you like to have regular access to the Internet? What social media channels do you use, and how often do you post?
- Are you a morning person or a night owl? For example, would you enjoy exploring quiet city streets just after dawn, watching hot air balloons rise with the sun or capturing a sunrise photograph of an iconic landmark? Or, do you prefer to ease into the day? Or, is nightlife more your thing?
- Do you drink alcohol? Do you enjoy a drink with supper or do you like to party? Do you smoke? Do you do drugs?
- Describe your ideal travel companion. What qualities and characteristics would s/he possess?
- What makes you a good travel companion?
6. Now what?
Here are some suggestions on what to do with this new information.
Trust your instincts. If there are indications you’re not a good fit for each other, say so. Bail. A miserable travel experience isn’t worth the risk, for both of you.
Seek out a previous travel partner. If you had a positive travel experience with someone in your past, contact that former travel mate. Rekindling friendships through travel just might bring unimaginable discoveries and dividends.
Identify compromises and solutions. If they’re not deal breakers, find workarounds to those areas where your travel styles differ. If necessary, schedule another discussion to explore the possibilities, and how to incorporate them into your trip.
Go solo. It’s not as scary as you might think. A few years ago, my travel mate had to cancel just five hours before our trip to the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Turkey. During the flight, I desperately missed my friend, and wondered what new insights this sudden turn of events would reveal. Among other things, I learned that travelling solo doesn’t translate into being alone. It led to conversations with locals and other travellers I wouldn’t necessarily have had, and brief travel experiences with different travelling companions I met along the way. I learned that I love solo travel.
What insights do you have on how to choose the right travel companions?