“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” -- Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894)
I’ve been traveling for more than 50 years. I’ve taken solo journeys as well as trips with my family and with friends. Over the past year, I’ve taken my first group tours. Several of my excursions have had transcendent moments; some had disastrous ones. That’s not only because of travel gone awry but also because of setting off with the wrong travel partner. On the other hand, a number of the loveliest moments I’ve had have been shared with a fellow traveler and have cemented a friendship for life.
Here are some tips on how to find the (nearly) perfect travel partner.
1. Accept The Fact That You’ll Never Find The Perfect Travel Partner
Sorry to disappoint, reader, but no pairing is perfect. The good news is that kindred spirits don’t have to fulfill every item on the checklist. Sometimes there is just an ineffable quality that draws people together, and even people with whom you may not have much in common can make great partners on the road.
And you never know what will and won’t work until you go on a shared journey. In the 1980s, I didn’t want to travel to Tibet alone, although I had dreamed of going there for years. So when a friend of a friend said that she wanted to go, we decided to travel together. The good news: My roommate was tough and could actually push me up hills. So while a partnership may not be perfect, there are some that have succeeded in ways I had never considered.
2. Know Yourself And Be Honest About Who You Are
I’ve found that there are people who can laugh off irritations and move on. I would love to be such a person, but that isn’t me. I take many things personally and am sometimes overly sensitive. On a recent trip, I traveled with an old friend who provided constant advice about how I could do things differently (i.e. better). I still love her, but the experience made me understand that we are not the best travel buddies.
3. Realize That What Made A Good Partner When You Were Younger Might Have Changed
The way in which I travel has changed with age. I know that I am leaning toward slower travel and want to find someone who doesn’t have to see everything in the guidebook or paint the town into the wee hours. Perhaps I have become more set in my ways, also, but I still love to set off for places unknown.
4. Be British About It: Find Someone Who Knows How To Keep Calm And Carry On
Having a companion who soldiers through travel challenges is paramount. Stiff upper lips are surely preferable to a not-so-fine whine. And of course it helps immeasurably for both you and your travel mate to be flexible. The way that travel challenges ebb and flow may necessitate changing course often.
5. Find Someone Who Speaks The Language Of The Country You’re Visiting (Especially If You Don’t)
Even though traveling with a linguist may make it seemingly too easy to depend on another for basic needs, the benefits are immediate. I found that finding transportation, ordering food, getting directions, and keeping out of iffy areas in New Delhi was much easier because my travel partner spoke Hindi. We were both at sea in the south of India, but luckily English and body language got us through.
6. Find Someone Like You (Or Not Like You)
It’s nice to have balance in any relationship. An extrovert and an introvert are made for each other. I recently went on my first group tour (to Mount Rushmore), and my favorite travel buddy and I had not a thing in common except that we amused each other. For some journeys, that’s enough. However, I typically prefer to travel with someone who loves art museums (but doesn’t have to visit every single one).
7. Find Someone Independent
My first long trip to Europe in 1970 was a success largely because I was traveling with someone who agreed that it was healthy to split up every once in a while and meet again in a few days, a week, or several weeks. I stayed in southern Spain while she went to Morocco. We were always happy to see each other and catch up.
I also met a terrific travel companion on a ferry in Hong Kong 40 years ago. We started to chat and discovered that we were both flying to Bangkok the next day and were traveling solo. She invited me to share her hotel and we ended up traveling through Thailand together. I visited her a few years ago in California and we happily reminisced about our adventures.
8. Make Sure You Discuss Two Danger Zones: Schedules And Money
It will make you crazy to be with someone who is always late and for whom you’re always waiting. Or if you are a night owl and she is up at the crack of dawn. You must also find out before the trip if your potential partner has the same ideas about budget as you -- and the money to afford what you both want to do. Also discuss how to pay for where you stay and eat. Will you split half and half, take turns paying, or add up totals each time you go to a restaurant or cafe? What can you live with?
9. Be Honest About Your Most Personal Habits
Do you snore? Does she? That may be a deal breaker unless you use noise-canceling headphones, which I find a pain to carry but a blessing in many situations. Does your travel mate need to FaceTime or chat on her iPhone to her friends back home all the time? That also may make you crazy. My husband has informed me that there are a few things that I do that make him crazy, so better look within, also.
10. Find Someone With A Sense Of Humor; It Will Make Travel A Joy
Sometimes anything that can go wrong on a trip will go wrong, and laughter may be the only recourse. There was the time in the ruins of Mahabalipuram in India when a small bird relieved itself on me while flying by. My partner waited for me to laugh first (the highest rung of partnership) then yelled “It’s good luck!” We laugh every time we remember it.
11. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate (But Brutal Honesty Has Its Limits)
Talking problems over may clear the air and enable you to continue a trip successfully, but you can never know how someone will take your efforts to say what you are feeling (especially if it includes criticism). And sometimes, even if you do communicate and share a common vision, your pairing just doesn’t work.
12. Know When To Break Up
Find someone with whom you can amicably split instead of suffering through a trip. The initial pain of moving on alone may be wrenching (or a relief), but things seem to look up when you don’t have the cloud of dissension around you. And, of course, if you find yourself uncomfortable talking to someone while planning a trip, follow your gut and try elsewhere.
13. Accept That Sometimes Solo Travel May Be The Right Path
In fact, if you know where you want to go and how and when you want to travel, and you don’t want to compromise your vision, going for it alone can sometimes be the better choice. I’ve traveled solo throughout my life and, while it may have different challenges, higher highs, and lower lows, solo travel has perhaps been the source of my most wondrous and memorable travel moments.
There are joys to be found when sharing an experience and joys when you are solo and don’t have to worry about what someone else thinks or expects. But if you manage to find someone with whom you are in tune -- and with whom you can split the costs of the trip -- then you’ve hit the jackpot.