How to travel with friends (and not want to kill them)

by LEIF PETTERSEN·
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I have two permanent, oddly positioned bald spots on my head. Though my mother claims they’re from a scalp thing I had as a kid, I have it on good authority from my oracle that they’re probably where the Martians attached the electrodes.

However, spontaneous balding frequently has nothing to do with alien abduction. I’ve encountered many wretched travelers with unexplained bald spots formed during particularly challenging trips with incompatible friends. Whether they yanked that hair out during angry sleep or they were shaved by their vindictive companions is extraneous. What’s important is this hair-loss could have been easily avoided if these people had honestly communicated their travel styles and priorities during the trip planning stages.

Image by Ed Yourdon

Even your closest friend of 20 years, who saved your dog with mouth-to-mouth and donated a kidney to your sister (or vice-versa), can sometimes drive you to a stuttering rage while on the road. The divergent day-to-day circumstances of travel can expose and magnify irritations and disparities you never knew existed. And that’s if you’re compatible. If you’re not compatible, sooner or later that corkscrew you packed may be used for removing things its designers never intended.

Countless tent-pole duels to the death might have been prevented with pre-trip contemplation and dialogues. Some of the more pertinent criteria to consider in advance include:

1. Natural selection

Spontaneity during travel is great, but not so much when selecting a travel companion. Pick a friend whose company you consistently enjoy in a variety of situations. More often than not, blasting off with someone you don’t already know well is going result in trip-curdling disharmony. That includes your drinking buddy, that smokin’ hot babe you’ve dated for two weeks, and even the achingly attractive, witty, travel writer you met in the hostel’s breakfast room.

2. Setting expectations

Discuss your general vision of the trip. Vacation? Work trip? Urban exploration? Beaches? If one person is a go-go-go, see-see-see type and the other is a chill-at-sidewalk-cafes type, friction will quickly arise. And have you ever seen control freaks travel together? Messy. Carefully consider what you’d like to accomplish on your trip and communicate this with your prospective co-pilot.

3. Budgets

The last straw for many strong relationships has occurred while standing on a busy street in pouring rain, two miles from the hostel, when one person would rather walk, saving the €1.50 bus fare, and the other just wants to be dry. Ditto for the salivating foodie whose friend can only afford self-catered bread and jam dinners. Before you start planning, establish each other’s comfort preferences and available funds for things like accommodation, food and transport.

4. Divide and conquer

It’s perfectly fine to split up when you’d each prefer to do other things. Resentment grows quickly when one person is made to feel like they are catering to the other person’s itinerary too frequently. Equally, splitting up, whether it’s for three hours or three days, will soothe mounting frustrations. It’s not a sign of trouble or failure, it’s just good policy. Additionally, you’ll have copious stories to share when you reunite.

5. Night and day

A discussion about daily routines is a good idea. An incurable night owl is going to wear down a morning person in a hurry.

6. Be considerate

After you’ve found the right companion, a little on-the-road finesse is essential. Be conscience of your companion’s mood and fatigue. Balance each other’s needs. Be neat. Don't hog the bathroom. And for the love of Buddha, don’t bogart the wine.

Have you used any clever strategies to maintain friendship harmony while traveling?