Who you travel with can make or break your trip. As most spiritually in tune people know, energy is contagious. So you always want to be around people who are on a similar wavelength as yourself, especially while traveling.
Let’s face it. Traveling can bring out the worst in anyone. You’re completely out of your element in an unfamiliar place. Things can and will go wrong. At times, you will likely be pushed to your limits, stressed, tired, and uncomfortable. People deal with the inevitable ups and downs differently. How you handle and cope with it may differ from even the people you care most about. Also, you and the person you’re traveling with will pretty much be together nonstop. Will you get on each other’s nerves or get tired of one another? Sometimes you don’t find out until it’s too late and you’re stuck in a foreign place with someone you realize is not the travel buddy for you, wishing you could just be by yourself or just go the heck home. Worst of all, you could even damage your friendship for good with clashing too much. Ugh.
So while finding someone willing to go on a trip with you is pretty easy, finding a perfect travel buddy is pretty difficult and rare. Over the years, I have had both good and bad experiences traveling with others. I realized that even some of my best friends who I love dearly are not always the best to travel with. This caused me to explore solo travel many times because often, I would rather just go by myself. (See my post on solo travel here to learn more about why I often prefer traveling alone.)
But as much as I love solo travel, even that has its down sides. Who is going to take pictures of you, split costs with you, and laugh hysterically with you at the crazy things you encounter?! There is truly nothing like sharing a great travel adventure with someone else. Just think of all the fun you can have together, the memories you will make, and the bond that will form. With the right person, it can be a true joy and totally enhance the experience. But with the wrong person, it can be a complete nightmare and a waste of your vacation days.
It wasn’t until a recent trip to Bali, Indonesia with my girl Amita that I realized exactly what it takes to be perfect travel buddies. It was our first trip together, and I honestly wasn’t sure how it would go. We are good friends with a lot in common, but in some ways we are totally opposite. I rarely ever drink and like going to bed early like a grandma, while Amita can do yoga all day and then party like there’s no tomorrow. I obsess over planning things out and always have an itinerary, while Amita likes to go with the flow and wing it. So a lot of clashes could have occurred between us. But it turned out that she is the best travel companion I could ask for. With just a little compromise on both parts, we had the best time together and this amazing trip brought us closer than ever.
What is the key to being perfect travel buddies??? It’s quite simple.
What does that mean exactly? It means being like-minded enough to find common ground. You’ve got to be on the same page or at least in the same chapter, rather than in two totally different books. It does NOT mean you have to be extremely similar or agree on everything. You may in fact be opposites in many ways like me and Amita. But remaining in the same general range when it comes to the following eight major areas will make or break your experience together:
Are you both high strung or super laid back? Positive or worry-warts? How do you deal with challenging situations like rude people, language barriers, getting lost, mixed up reservations, flight delays, and the plethora of other things that may go wrong? Make sure you know the person you’re traveling with well enough to have an idea of their attitude and coping skills, especially in high-stress situations. It should compliment that of your own. Maybe they’re a Type A personality, but you know how to mellow them out, so it works out. As long as you know what you’re getting into and how to deal with the other person’s attitude.
Over the years, I personally have learned I do not want to end up with someone who’s always complaining or is constantly glued to their phone. I also cannot stand someone who’s super moody. I would rather go by myself or not go at all because those things tend to ruin the experience for me.
As for me and Amita, we are the type to laugh literally EVERYTHING off. There were a number of odd or frustrating things that occurred to us during our 10 days together. A snake in our living room, lack of sleep and food, extreme heat, torrential downpours, killer mosquitos, aggressive cab drivers, and getting stuck in the mud… just to name a few. All we did was laugh together the entire time. Anytime something went wrong, we laughed. Anytime something went well, we laughed. Somehow, we found humor and positivity in every situation. Even when I was going through an extremely tough time in my personal life and got horrible news while on my trip, Amita was there for me 100%, but would not let me dwell on it or let it ruin our trip. We were determined to make the most of every situation and we certainly did. Having the same agreeable attitude was the major reason that no matter what went wrong, we were able to enjoy the trip and also enjoy each other’s company.
You can’t always agree on everything so you both have to be willing to compromise and accommodate each other. If one person is extremely rigid or stubborn, then the other person has to be extremely flexible. However, if you’re both too flexible, you may never even make it out of the hotel room due to indecisiveness. So you need a delicate balance of both.
Knowing ahead of time that Amita and I differ on how we like to travel, we discussed a healthy medium beforehand. We would plan the necessities ahead of time, but mostly go with the flow. Some things we needed to arrange before arriving, like the place we stayed and the spa accommodations we both desperately needed. The rest could wait until we got to Bali to decide on. Since I am a planner at my core, I had already done my research so I had some suggestions on the things we couldn’t miss, but I was totally willing to compromise. Meanwhile, Amita was easy-going and willing to do things she didn’t really care for but knew I really wanted to do, like visiting a shaman. However, Amita wanted to explore the nightlife and I absolutely hate clubs. But we did go out together one night and we had a total blast, dancing and letting loose. Being able to meet in the middle and communicate openly was perfect and made everything super easy. Luckily, we almost always wanted to do the same things so it worked out and the amount we actually had to compromise on what we wanted was minimum.
This is probably the most important thing to relate on. If you do not have a similar budget, trust me… it will be a disaster. Imagine being a budget traveler and going away with a wealthy person who doesn’t care about price tags. You are on two totally different levels and may as well be on two totally different trips, because it can never work. Realistically, the differences between you and your friend’s budgets and lifestyles are probably not that extreme. But even a slight difference can lead to big conflicts if it’s not mutually understood. Either way, this is a conversation you MUST have ahead of time. If one person wants to splurge and brings a few thousand to spend, while another wants to stick to a $400 budget, guess what? You will not be able to do the same things, eat the same food, or visit the same places. So it’s essential to see eye to eye on this.
In the past, I was usually the one who brought more cash and spent the most, while some of my friends are more frugal. Many times, this meant I had to go to restaurants I didn’t like or skip places I wanted to visit due to my friends’ budget restrictions, which is super disappointing since you miss out on your own vacation. On the other hand, there were times when we were both broke and very limited on what we could do. Either way, you’ve got to be honest with each other and figure it out before you even agree to go together. Do not ever assume your friend will help pay for your meals or activities because they have a little more than you.
Amita and I went over how much spending money we’d be bringing and it was right in the same ballpark. We were both in splurge-mode during our Bali trip – neither of us like to be stingy or skip on good meals, and we love to shop maybe just a little too much. A match made in heaven.
Another big one. You’ve got to set a mutually agreeable pace for the trip. Do you want to go go go and do as much as you possibly can? Or do you both need to relax and take it easy?
Usually I am the type who crams in an unimaginable amount to see and do as much as possible. However, for this trip, I wanted to slow down. So Amita’s more relaxed pace was perfect. We still did a ton of stuff and had some days that were busier than others, but for the most part, it was chill. For each day, we agreed on a general idea of the area we wanted to explore or the sights we wanted to see, but we were flexible enough to improvise as we went along. We allowed for a lot of time to wander, explored diversions we encountered on the way, and welcomed recommendations and input from locals whenever possible. If we were tired and wanted to nap for a bit, or lounge at the pool (which we did daily), then we did. This ‘go with the flow’ pace is different than how I normally travel, but I loved it for a change.
Some people just naturally need more sleep than others. So while this seems like a minor aspect or even a non-factor, it can be huge. I have friends who sleep A LOT. They can literally sleep the whole day away and think nothing of it. Meanwhile, I feel like I am wasting time by sleeping all day while on vacation. I can do that when I’m home (or when I’m dead)! However, the older I get, the more sleep I need. So in general, making sure I get 7-8 hours each night gives me an optimal energy level. Some people only need a few hours of sleep and can party all night, and I am just not one of them. Another thing to consider is that your friend may not be a morning person. Some folks get up at the asscrack of dawn every day so while they’re on vacation, they refuse to get up before 9 am. Me on the other hand, I hate sleeping in when I could get out early to avoid crowds and explore during prime daytime hours. So do not be afraid to make it known not only how much sleep you require, but also what schedule you expect to follow. This is important because people can get very grumpy and irritable when they’re tired… especially if you are the cause of them not getting enough sleep because you don’t need as much (or because you’re an obnoxious early bird like me).
Amita and I both value our sleep. So each night, we agreed on the time we’d wake up the next morning to ensure we got a good amount. Due to this, we were both energized and usually in good moods. On the days we were jet lagged or just feeling exhausted, we listened to our bodies and rested.
If you’re anything like Amita and I, food is the highlight of your travel experience. If you do not like the same food or have similar tastes, that is totally fine but it can mean you have to compromise when it comes to where and what you’ll be eating.
Luckily for us, we are the exact same person when it comes to food. In fact, it was hilarious how we often wanted to order the exact same things on the menu, so we would order appetizers and entrees we both wanted, along with requesting extra plates, and we just shared everything. Almost every single meal went like this and it was absolutely delightful. We both agree on how much we love “fancy dinners” and that we’d rather spend more on food to truly enjoy it rather than spending on other things. We weren’t afraid to try new things and tried to be health-conscious, but also sometimes wanted some comfort food like pizza, pasta, or a good burger. Other times, it was just too damn hot to eat so we shared salads, or tried each other’s’ smoothies and fresh fruit juices. Both of us love ethnic flavors, so we enjoyed traditional Balinese dishes several times, as well as Indian. Basically, we are foodie soulmates.
I’m well aware that most people aren’t so harmonious when it comes to food preferences, but it’s so extremely awesome when your travel buddy is compatible with you in this area. If you’re a vegetarian going with a meatlover, or a picky eater going with an Andrew Zimmerman “anything goes” type who will eat testicles and brains, then it may cause some tension and disappointments along the way… I’m just saying.
If you’re a seasoned traveler, but traveling with someone who is new to the game, there can be some stark differences that become issues. The more you travel, the more you become a pro at getting through customs, budgeting, packing, navigating new cities, and adjusting to unfamiliar situations. Maybe your jet lag fighting skills or currency converting abilities are top notch now, whereas, years ago you were an amateur and totally clueless. Also, maybe now you’re more open-minded and tolerant of foreign traditions, whereas a newbie may still get culture shock. There’s nothing at all wrong with being less experienced… we have all been there. However, it always seems to work best when travel buddies have similar experience levels. If you’re both new to Europe, then it’s a new adventure for both of you. However, if one of you has been to Europe several times, you may have seen and done it all, meanwhile Europe is uncharted territory for your travel buddy. It really makes a huge difference.
Amita and I are both quite experienced with travel, especially in Asia. Plus we’re both Asian and familiar with the culture. However, it was the first time visiting Bali for both of us, so it was all new and exciting in the exact same way.
This may sound so silly, but hear me out. If you can find compatibility in this area with your travel buddy, this is a HUGE bonus and a sign that it’s meant to be. I have friends who hate taking pictures. Meanwhile, I am the kind who takes thousands of photos when traveling and truly cherishes the memories. So it sucks when the friend you’re with never wants to take pictures together. Then there are friends who are just horrible photographers. You ask them to snap pics of you by a famous monument, then *gasp* they only take one photo, and in it, your eyes are closed. What the…? You may never get to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa again, and the one picture you got in front of it is blurry. Pretty unforgivable! This is a big aspect for people like me… After all, I’m a travel blogger who documents everything.
Yet again, Amita passed with flying colors in this department. We took tons of pics together and of each other. When photographing one another, we’d coach each other to get the best possible shots. You’d hear us saying, “Move your head to the side, a little more, now suck in your stomach, stretch your leg so it looks longer, fix your hair, YES! That’s it. DON’T move… Okay. Now turn around and let’s try this pose.” So we got truly awesome photos for each other which we will love for years to come. If, on the other hand, you both could care less about photos, that works too.
So… how on earth do you find this perfectly compatible travel buddy?!
It may be just as hard as finding your soulmate, but I assure you, it’s possible. They may be right before your eyes and you never realized it. As I mentioned, I never would have thought Amita and I would be the best travel companions since we differ in so many ways but it worked out beautifully. This proves that you don’t have to find someone who’s exactly like you, but rather, they just need to pass the compatibility test in those eight areas I mentioned. Just because you both love yoga and Beyonce, or both agree on religious and political views… does NOT mean you’re compatible when it comes to travel. Like I said, I have close friends who I get along with great but I don’t necessarily want to spend an entire week in another country with. I am sure I have driven many of my friends crazy as well. But if you can find someone who matches you at least somewhat when it comes to attitude, compromise, budget, pace, sleep, food, experience, and photos; then you are sure to have an awesome trip together.