TRAVELING WITH FRIENDS can be a blast, but sometimes more isn’t merrier. You’re going to be sharing meals, long flights, drives, and close-quarters for an extended period of time. Assuming you want to remain friends after the trip is over, you’ll have to stay on the same page. Keeping these five tips in mind will help you get the most out of the trip without killing each other in the process.
It’s important that everyone has a say in the itinerary. No one wants to feel like they’re just tagging along on someone else’s trip. Make sure everyone’s ideas are heard, even if you’re the type of person who spearheads the research, and has strong opinions about where to go, or what to do. Often, that person is me. I unwittingly organized an entire Balkans road trip without soliciting any input from my travel partner. I’d mapped out a circular route beginning and ending in Bulgaria and pinpointed ten or twelve must-see stops along the way. When I showed him what I’d thrown together, he said, “I thought we were doing the Balkans, not Eben’s Balkans Adventure”. He was right. Asking him to contribute just one or two excursions would have gone a long way toward giving him a sense of ownership over the trip.
2. Take breaks from each other
It’s easy to fall into the routine of doing absolutely everything with your travel partner. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it can be healthy to spend some time apart, even if you’re not at each other’s throats yet. This can also be a great opportunity to do things the other person doesn’t want to do. Been dying to try the local fish, but your friend hates seafood? Try it yourself. Want to get lost in a city, but your friend wants to take a guided tour? Let them take the tour, while you wing it. Don’t be afraid to go your separate ways. And when you come back together, you’ll have something new to talk about. During my trip to Puerto Rico, I would wake up earlier than my two friends every morning, cook breakfast, and eat on the roof of our AirBnb. It’s not like I was going off to explore the island on some crazy solo adventure, but it gave me some much-needed time to myself.
3. Meet new people
This one is easy, because you’re probably trying to do this anyway. Whether its signing up for an outdoor group activity, going to a show, or a bar crawl, you’ll probably be meeting plenty of locals and fellow travelers. Not only will this give you some great experiences, it will also make your life a little easier. Even if they’re your best friends, hanging out with the same people every day gets repetitive. Injecting new voices and personalities into the dynamic is a great remedy.
I remember arriving in Innsbruck at the tail end of a road trip. We had been all over Italy, arrived in the Alps from Munich, and my friend and I were sitting in an Irish pub, in complete silence. We weren’t exactly sick of each other; we just had nothing new to say. The night would have continued like this—probably to an early end—if we hadn’t met a group of students. We followed them to an underground club, met dozens of their friends, and by the end of the night felt like we had gained a new social circle. Definitely beats sitting in silence in an empty pub.
4. When in doubt, always say “Yes”
One of the biggest wedges that drives travel partners apart is also one of the easiest to avoid. When it comes to deciding what to do, whether its hiking, rafting, shopping, renting bikes, or hitting the bars, you can’t agree on everything. If you’re not careful, enough disagreement can lead to a pretty awkward trip. So, when your friend wants to take a hot air balloon flight in Bulgaria, and you’re skeptical, remember this helpful tip: always say yes. You can argue all day about what not to do, but in the end, it’s easier to just take a chance. After all, if you try their activity, they’ll have to try yours.
In Prague, my friend insisted on waking up at 5:30am to watch the sunrise over the Charles Bridge. We had only had 3 hours of sleep the previous night, so I wasn’t crazy about his idea, but I thought, “We’re in Prague. I could see a sunrise, or I could lazily sleep till 11.” Sometimes Yes isn’t the easy choice, but it’s usually the right one. And when we left Prague for Budapest, and I wanted to check out a Ruin Bar at 2am, he couldn’t really say no, right?
5. Challenge comfort zones
One of the subtler benefits of traveling with others is that you’ll end up doing things you wouldn’t do alone. If you wanted to stay firmly inside your comfort zone, you wouldn’t be traveling at all. But when you arrive in a foreign city and find yourself navigating unfamiliar streets and languages, sometimes you need a push. On my last night in Israel, I was pretty exhausted, and would have been content just staying at the hotel until my 6am flight. But as my friend reminded me, it was our last night in Tel Aviv.
It was Saturday. And we’d probably never be there again. Reluctantly, I followed him and our Israeli friend to a popular Tel Aviv nightclub. Energized by the environment and my friend’s enthusiasm, I forgot my exhaustion, forgot about our flight, and ended the night with a dip in the moonlit Mediterranean. To think, if someone hadn’t dragged me out of bed, I could have spent my last night in Tel Aviv falling asleep at 9pm. Be that travel companion who brings out your friend’s adventurous side. They might not thank you right away, but they’ll definitely thank you later.