ONE OF MY CLOSEST FRIENDS refuses to stay in shitty hotels. The price of the alternative doesn’t matter — he’s just not willing to sleep on a budget motel bed that, as far as he knows, is totally encrusted with semen. He’ll pay the extra money to sleep in sheets with high thread counts and on pillows set to his exact Sleep Number. I can’t argue with this guy. The only reason I’ll stay at a budget motel is because I have extremely low standards and a proven ability to ignore substances that are probably semen.

I’ve traveled with my friend on several occasions, and it would be fair to say we have different tastes. He likes quality, I like quantity. He likes classy, I like available. He plays golf, I play drinking games. He likes fine dining, I like boardwalk chili dogs.

Usually, when we travel together we spend relatively little time hanging out together. He goes and does his own thing, I go and do mine. We’re very close friends and have been for a very long time — but we’re just not travel friends.

Home friends vs travel friends

As soon as I started traveling, I learned there were people I could travel with and people I couldn’t. The people I couldn’t travel with weren’t any better or worse friends than the ones I could travel with when we were all at home. But if I made the mistake of traveling with a home friend, I found there was a good chance I’d come back with one fewer friend.

Over time, I tried to hone my ability to identify travel friends out of my group of home friends. I’d ask myself the following questions about the person before planning a trip with him or her:

  • Does this person have a particularly loud or grating voice that I would not want to hear early in the morning after very little sleep?
  • Is this person cool with improvising? If we had plans but found something else to do that sounded cooler, would they stick to the original plan or be flexible?
  • Is this person interesting to be around for hours on end?

The questions had to go the other way as well. It wasn’t the person under the microscope, but my relationship with them. So I also asked myself these questions:

  • Does this person enjoy listening to my awesome stories and jokes?
  • Is this person a deep enough sleeper to put up with my snoring? Are they okay with sleep farts?
  • Is this person okay with me being quiet for long periods of time?

The questions helped me somewhat with identifying who was a good traveler and who wasn’t, but I found that ultimately, it came down to chemistry. Or, not chemistry — chemistry is an exact science — but down to something less tangible, something magical. It came down to alchemy.

Romance and travel friends

The best travel friend I’ve ever had is my fiancée. We’re compatible on virtually everything when we travel together. We don’t fight. We just roll with it and have fun. And it’s not a coincidence that the woman I’m most romantically compatible with is the person I’m most travel compatible with. If the friend I mentioned in the beginning were a woman, and we were both physically attracted to one another, we could still never have a long-term relationship. And not just because he hates semen.

When you travel with someone, you’re exposing the best and worst of yourself to that person. You’re showing them how you behave in stressful situations. You’re showing them what you’re really like — and not just in short bursts, which is the way we see most of our friends at home, but over long stretches of time. If you’re hanging out in someone’s backyard for a couple of hours, you can turn yourself “on” and “off.” But you can’t be “on” all the time when you travel. That’s exhausting.

Traveling with someone forces you to be vulnerable in front of them. It forces intimacy. And while intimacy is a good thing, there are some people who you just won’t have the special alchemy with required to be intimate in travel or romance.

That’s fine. They can remain home friends for now, and that doesn’t make them any better or worse friends than the ones you travel with. One person is never going to be able to be everything for you, anyway.

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