No matter how well you know someone, travelling together will probably teach you something new about them. Maybe they get up early and have tons of energy. Maybe they're a terrible tipper. Sometimes these things are annoyances, and sometimes they can lead to a big falling out. It doesn't have to be that way, though. With some planning, you can make sure your travel adventure is a successful one.
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Be Clear on Who Pays for What, and When
Before your trip even begins, you want to set some boundaries. You probably don't feel like talking about boring financial details when you're planning a fun getaway or adventure, so it's tempting to forgo the discussion altogether. I made this mistake when travelling with my best friend years ago. One of us booked part of the trip, and rather than figure how to split the cost of flights, lodging, and other expenses, we just shrugged it off, saying "eh, we'll figure it out later." Not smart. After the trip, when it came time to figure things out, we weren't on the same page, and that led to a big argument that took months to resolve.
It's easier to come to a compromise before the trip rather than after. Review all of your travel expenses and the issues that come with them. For example, if you're splitting the AirBnb down the middle, who will get the bigger room? If one person has to do all the driving during your road trip, should the other one pay for a little more gas? It may seem like overkill to detail these out with a good friend, but it's better to err on the side of clarity. There may be some travel expenses that catch you by surprise, too. For example:
- Tips: Do you and you friend have different ideas about how much to tip or who you should tip?
- Hotel deposits: Are you cool with forking over your credit card for the hotel deposit?
- Money exchange fees: If one of you takes out cash, will you split fees down the middle or take turns?
It can also be problematic when one friend earns significantly more or less than the other. Your higher earning friend might want to do things that you can't afford to do. Or you might be cool with sleeping in a hostel, while they're planning on a 5-star hotel. Or, if you're the higher earner, you might be overly generous, and that can make your friend feel guilty and uncomfortable. It's hard to enjoy a trip when you're feeling guilty.
Whatever the scenario, you want to talk about these topics beforehand. Talk about how much you're comfortable spending on the trip and what you can afford to spend on food, entertainment, transportation, and so on.
You might even consider setting a trip budget for both of you. Consider how much you each have set aside for the trip, then allocate some of that cash to different categories. For example:
- All the expenses you'll split
- Money you plan to spend together
- Money you plan to spend on your own
- A set amount for incidentals
- A set amount for souvenirs or splurges
It may be awkward to talk about money details at first, but you'll be glad you did.
Plan a Basic Itinerary
As you hash out your budget, you also want to talk about what you both want to do on the trip.
For example, I recently took a road trip with a girl friend, and she was good about establishing our vacation goals. "What is the number one thing you want to accomplish with this trip?" she asked. I just wanted to relax. "OK, well I want to do some exploring," she said. "Are you cool with me taking your car a couple of days on my own?" And that was perfect, because that meant I would get some time alone to chill. Both of us got what we wanted, and all it took was establishing our vacation goals at the beginning of the trip. Without that discussion, she would have probably been surprised (and annoyed) at my lazing around, and I would have been annoyed that she assumed she could take my car and explore.
Your vacation goals might be more specific. If you're planning a trip to Italy with a friend, your priority might be seeing the Coliseum and scratching that off of your bucket list. Your friend's top priority might be checking out Venice. Whatever the details, make a list of your must-see destinations or activities beforehand, then decide how you'll prioritise and split your time.
It also helps to spend some time alone. Especially if, like me, you need time to yourself to recharge, it's important to split up at some point during the trip. This way, you can have time to reflect and also do things that are important to you, but may not be as important to your travel buddy.
Discuss Your Travel Styles
Knowing each other's habits, routines, and behaviours can help you know what to expect, too.
My girl friend and I, for example, have very different TV viewing habits. Namely, she likes to keep the TV off so she can read, and I prefer obnoxious, shouting cable news as background noise. As you can imagine, this drove my friend a bit nuts. So we agreed to keep the TV off in the mornings while she did her reading, and in the afternoons, I could watch whatever crappy television I wanted (turns out, I underestimated how nice silence can be).
With a little understanding and compromise, we got over it, but small things like that can add up. Maybe your friend likes to get up early and makes a bunch of noise getting ready in the morning, while you're still sleeping. Maybe you like to take long showers or you have a whole hour's worth of a morning routine, and your friend likes to get up and out the door first thing. Either way, it's easy for your quirks to clash. Before you know it, your friend's habits are annoying the hell out of you and you just want the trip to end. The Independent Traveller suggests:
Understand that these differences will be an issue, and be sure to talk about how to handle them before your trip begins. Compatible travel styles are probably more important than identical interests in predicting a successful travel partnership. Respect each other's style and be prepared to meet in the middle. There is no way but negotiation to settle such fundamental differences.
In some cases, discussing your differences beforehand may make you realise you're not very compatible for travelling in the first place. When I travelled with my best friend years ago, we should have seen our conflict coming, because we're both stubborn in the most incompatible ways. For example, I handled the stress of travelling very poorly, and he wasn't the best at being prepared. So if he forgot to, say, get tickets for something, I'd flip out and we'd get into a big fight. It definitely put strain on our friendship.
When one person does all the work and planning, that's a surefire way to build up resentment in your friendship. Let's say you do all the legwork that goes into creating the perfect vacation: you research, book the rooms, schedule fun activities, book the tickets — the works. Your friend happily forks over their half of the expenses, but what about all the time, effort, and stress you dealt with? After a while, you might feel shafted. Travel blog This Battered Suitcase suggests:
Talk often about what you're doing before the trip: buying insurance, applying for visas, etc. Keep each other updated; nothing's worse than realising an argument could have been prevented if you'd only communicated properly. If you know you'll be travelling together, you can also pack accordingly...That being said, know when to take full responsibility. There will be times when your friend is, for whatever reason, unable to help out. Maybe she's violently ill, or perhaps she's lost her wallet and can't take out cash. Now's the time to actually be a best friend and step up to the plate.
Make a list of everything that needs to be done for the trip, and assign tasks for each of you as far in advance as possible.
Finally, communication is everything. Do what you can to stay on the same page while you're travelling together. Voice your concerns as soon as you sense some friction, otherwise it can lead to resentment. When I felt like being alone, for example, I made sure to communicate that with my friend. In the afternoons, I felt really low energy, and I didn't want to do anything that required a whole lot of interaction or being out and about. When I'd get low key, I made sure to let my friend know what I was feeling so she didn't just think I was annoyed with her.
You can learn a lot about a person by taking a trip with them, and sometimes the stuff you learn can rub you the wrong way. With a little preparation and planning, you can ensure smooth sailing ahead for you and your travel partner.