What makes a good travel companion?

Sunset over the Mekong, Laos

Ask me 50 years down the line which I prefer – solo or group travel- and I guarantee that I will lift my withered, sagging arms with whatever strength I have left and croak, “Go solo!” as loud as I can.

Travelling with others is fun, but there’s nothing quite like waking up and deciding where you want to go, whenever you like. There’s no need to wait for the shower or for anyone else to wake up. Even enjoying a sunset by yourself can be magical.

Venice Beach, USA

Having said that, some of my best memories are of the times I travelled with friends. Suddenly, I had people to speak to and laugh and have meals with. I no longer had to ask strangers to take my photograph just to prove to the people at home that for crying out loud, yes, I was there and did see that damn mountain.

Group travel also has its practical benefits: you get to divide your costs, distribute baggage weight if necessary and in many instances, it’s also much safer.

Once you’ve decided that you’re going to travel with someone, the next big question is of course, who’s it going to be. I’m very selective on whom I invite on a trip. That may sound obnoxious and selfish, but if I’m going to spend money on a plane ticket and accommodation, I want to make sure that I don’t end up being miserable with a travel companion from hell.

So what makes a good travel mate? It’s not an easy question to answer, but I know who won’t make a good travel companion.

The thing about a good travel partner is that quite simply, both of you just have to be compatible. He or she doesn’t have to be your BFF or that best friend you’ve known for 20 years. All that’s needed is that both of you respect each other and are considerate. I once booked (what was supposed to be) a one-month InterRail trip in Europe with someone whom I thought was my best friend until she suddenly took over and insisted on making all the decisions from which route to take to which hostels to stay at. The last straw was when, two weeks into the trip, she sheepishly told me that she only had £10 in her pocket and couldn’t go on any further. She didn’t admit it, but I knew that she’d blown all her cash on unnecessary and expensive souvenirs. We’re talking about a watch from Geneva and t-shirts from every single city we stopped at. And how much did I have left? Ten times what she had: £100. Being students, none of us had credit cards- we brought only cash and travellers cheques, so what else could we do but to return to the UK. She’s still a friend on Facebook, but we don’t have much to talk about anymore.

Does he like how you travel?
If you’ve never liked someone to begin with, chances are you’re still not going to like him if you travel with him. Likewise, if someone rants about how he abhors street traders and beggars, that should serve as a warning sign that he probably can’t go to countries with issues like poverty or homelessness. A few years ago, I let slip to someone that I was planning to go to Tibet via the Beijing-Lhasa Express, a journey that would take 48 hours by train. She immediately perked up and said she was interested in following me, a statement which puzzles me to this day. Just a few weeks earlier, she had complained of being ‘harassed’ by vendors and taxi drivers in Bali, a place I love dearly and would fly to at the drop of a hat. If someone cannot handle vendors in Bali, there is no way he or she can deal with two days of train travel, sub-zero temperatures and altitude sickness on the Tibetan Plateau. Your mission would be to find another person who can.

Don’t stand so close to me
I’m a firm believer of the idea that even though you might travel with someone, you don’t have to be with that person 24/7 unless that’s how you want it. Out of the numerous trips I’ve taken over the past 11 years, four of them were with friends. I enjoyed their company, but I would always yearn to be alone after a few days. In order to successfully break away from your travel partner for a few hours every day, you need someone who will allow you to do so. In other words, both of you must be independent souls to begin with. Having to deal with a travel mate who is clingy and insists on doing everything together, every single day, can spoil the rest of the trip. To prevent this from happening, look for someone who appreciates your need for some alone time, or whatever it is that you want out of the trip.

Or you could simply choose not to deal with any of these issues and go by yourself.

© 2011 – 2014, Anis. All rights reserved.

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