Summertime always seems to bring with it a bit of wanderlust. Even for those of us whose full-time, year-round jobs deprive us of a true “summer vacation,” this seems to be the time of year when we want to jet across countries and oceans to spend time in faraway places.
One of the attractions of these traveling experiences is the opportunity to be cut off from familiarity and be immersed in a culture and place different from wherever you call home. But, perhaps strangely, I’ve found that this experience of otherness is often heightened and deepened when shared with one good friend.
Traveling with a friend allows you to share and process exciting experiences together. My awareness of and joy in traveling is amplified by chatting with the friend with whom I travel. I find myself more engaged with the place because we can verbalize our reactions to each other, and a friend can help me see things I might otherwise miss.
At the same time, living with someone in the intensified intimacy of travel can be taxing on a friendship. You’re together for longer than you’re accustomed to; you’re in a foreign country where you perhaps can only speak easily to each other; you’re living out of suitcases in small spaces, and you’re dealing with all the expected and unexpected stresses of traveling.
So how do you plan a trip with a friend that will strengthen rather than undermine your friendship? While each friendship is as different as the people in it, here are a few things that I’ve learned from my own traveling experiences (good and bad!) that may be helpful to you in picking a travel buddy and planning a trip that will make you both happy.
01. Do a trial run.
While a two-week stint in Europe with your bestie might sound amazing, it’s not something to just jump into. Traveling puts all sorts of stressors on a friendship—even when everything goes smoothly (which it never does in my experience!) So before you take that fourteen-day leap, try doing a couple of weekend or even day trips with your gal. Get to know each other’s travel styles in a slightly less pressurized context. You may discover that your differences in temperament and habits are complementary and experience-heightening, or you may decide that you’re better off keeping your exploring to your local hood.
02. Keep it intimate.
While traveling with a large group can be fun, it can also create problems: the more people you involve, the more disagreements there will be about where to go and what to do and when to do it. Additionally, though traveling with a larger group means no chance of loneliness and promises exponentially increasing fun, for these very reasons it can pull you away from deeply experiencing the places you’ve chosen to visit. If you’re alone with a friend at a café table, you’re more likely to engage with local people or fellow travelers around you than if you’re at a bar with a larger group of tightly-knit friends. Some of my favorite experiences have been the simple conversations I’ve struck up with waiters or the table next to me or the fellow sun-bather, and I can’t help but think that if I’d been ensconced in a group of my nearest and dearest I wouldn’t have been as open to those encounters. A little bit of loneliness (or, putting it more positively, the gentle intimacy of a close friend or two) will leave you the mental space and the moments of silence needed to be outward-facing and immersed in the individuals and cultures around you.
03. Make your priorities clear.
Are there particular things you want to see and do? That you don’t want to see or do? What are your expectations for money spent in proportion to experience had? If you are a planner, functioning best with a hard list of to-dos, make sure your travel buddy knows this. She may not function as well with lists, so you may decide not to travel together or perhaps to take turns planning different days. If you love walking but your friend is more of an Uber gal, also talk this through. If she loves history and you love art, talk about ways you can both see the things that make you feel like you’ve gotten to know the place you’re in. Often frustration is the product of unspoken and therefore unrealized expectations, so being real with yourself and your friend is the best way to spare you both that dissatisfaction.
04. Talk it out.
They say familiarity breeds contempt, and there’s no better way to become familiar with someone than by traveling with them for a week. Inevitably, differences and frustrations crop up—no matter how much you pre-talk your travel plans and styles. As a non-confrontational person, I’m always inclined to keep those issues to myself for the sake of peace—who wants to be quarreling while wandering the streets of Paris and sharing a tiny Airbnb? But, in my experience, this is the worst way to handle those disagreements. My travel buddies have always been great about calling attention to whatever sub rosa disagreement was going on, having us talk through it, and moving forward with our days. Doing this allowed us to more fully immerse ourselves in the country we were exploring and kept our friendship strong.
05. Prioritize some alone time.
It’s important for you both to take time to yourselves. Whether that means you get out for a quick jog, spend a morning exploring apart from each other, or simply set aside time to write or read in a cafe, I’ve found that having my own space for little periods of time makes me more grateful to return to the companionship of that dear friend with new experiences to chat through and renewed energy to invest in the next set of activities.
There’s nothing like quality time to deepen a friendship, and I hope that traveling with these things in mind will help you and your friend get the very most out of your travels together!