No one plans to have a bad time with their travel companion. But it can happen on any trip if you’re not prepared.
It can happen on the first day of a dream trip when you’re so excited to hit the museum you’ve waited half your life to see. But over breakfast, your travel companion says, in a flat voice, “Whaddaya think that’s gonna take us? An hour?”
Oh no. Don’t tell me you didn’t hash this all out before you left?
Ok, maybe that doesn’t happen on one of your trips. Maybe it happens when you start planning it? Let’s say you’re planning The epic journey, but all the sights you’re dying to see are sounding oh so very boring for your future travel companion. Is that it - you just pass on the trip?
I mean you could - but hey, some trips come up once in a lifetime! And maybe, in spite of your different travel styles, this companion is someone you want to travel with, like your spouse or adult child. So, how can you balance your styles, get along with your travel companion, and have the best trip?
Well, my daughter Hilary and I will soon blend different travel styles on our first international trip. The stakes are high when you cross an ocean. We have a shared history of good times and massive train wrecks while traveling. The lessons we’ve taken from those trips now help us when we’re travel companions, and maybe they’ll help you.
But first, let me explain.
When You Don’t Get Along
In the early days of our traveling together, it was pretty obvious when it wasn’t working. The not-so-subtle red flag involved raised voices wrapped in tears. We had zero self-awareness of our own travel styles. It broke down like this - I thought we should do things the way I’d always done them and she thought that was a terrible idea.
To be fair, Hilary was probably right. My travel style was by the seat of my pants and for one big reason: the internet didn’t exist when I started traveling. So my style evolved in an era that required a lot of deliberate effort and research, which I hated. Her’s evolved when you can make two clicks here, one click there - and BAM - options times infinity.
You might think, after reading this, that I became a planner. The traveler who gathers tons of research and guidebooks about a destination using them to map out a detailed itinerary. You might also assume Hilary is a spontaneous traveler who buys a ticket, grabs a bag, and lets the magic happen when she arrives!
I am the spontaneous traveler buying a ticket quasi-last minute (after massive second-guessing anxiety), grabbing a bag (heavily packed non-carry-on), and getting excited about whatever (I don't know what) might happen when I arrive. I surf the web a couple of weeks before I leave, and in flight, making a list that I’ll peruse over espresso on day one.
Drives Hilary fricken nuts.
Her style? Go through an intricate NASA level flight search, launching massive destination research two seconds after her flight is booked. If the trip is three months out - doesn't matter. She’s on it, curating every detail, and sketching out a “Rough” (her quotations, not mine) daily itinerary. That means the itinerary will be finalized before the trip and followed upon arrival.
Can you see a slight disconnect here?
When she learned about my travel blog, the pressure was real. “Now that you’re a travel blogger, Mom,” preceded many of her motivational speeches to research early and often with varying levels of success and action on my part. But the reality is a spontaneous travel style, and a curated itinerary travel style is a volatile, uncompanionable, combination.
So we had to change.
Blending to Get Along
Not change who we were, but change how we blended our travel styles. I have to confess something: on our last trip, Hilary planned the entire itinerary, and I didn’t pay attention. It was hard to immerse myself in the plans months out, so when she went over the schedule with me - details didn't stick. I had the gist of it, and I’m very flexible, so I told myself “it’s fine.”
It was not fine. Some of the things she’d planned were great for her but, for various reasons, didn’t work for me causing huge amounts of turmoil. Even with my natural flexibility, the schedule pushed me past my breaking point at times. Not Hilary’s fault - these were tweakable things if I’d paid attention.
Lesson one - regardless of how or when the itinerary is created, both travelers need to review the details before the trip. Enough to feel comfortable signing off as is or make changes before the trip. For Hilary's itinerary, if we’d changed a couple of time slots, it would've made all the difference. At the same time, the things that were NOT for me I could have easily bowed out of before we left town and avoided hurt feelings.
Lesson two - both individuals need to take the time to do a little internet surfing and make suggestions for the itinerary. You might even turn up the same list of cool things to see, do, and eat. For our upcoming trip, I’ve made time to do some early internet digging and - hey - I found cool stuff! Some things Hilary had not found in her research. To add them to our schedule meant we needed to discuss what days made more sense to do certain things.
I have high hopes for how things will work out on this trip based on these small changes, but wait - there’s more!
The Compassionate Companion
Our last disastrous trip produced some golden nuggets of insight for us both. Specifically, the times I was pushed past my breaking point can be traced to one thing - I was tired. Oh come on - it happens to young and old alike! For the next trip, we’ve given each other permission to crash at will. And for the last traveler standing - either continue sightseeing, crash too, or do something else entirely.
No one wants to feel like they’re holding someone back or ruining the trip. At the same time, FOMO is real. That little seesaw teeters between martyrdom and Wendy Whiner. It’s not easy to strike a balance, and it's possible to swing both ways, so - for the love of Pete - have some self-awareness! If you need to stop and rest, do it. Then get back at it.
If you build downtime into the schedule, use it to circle back to see something that’s important to you - in case you slept through it. Hilary might think I’m OLD (and maybe I should be irritated about that) but she automatically includes downtime into our schedule now. She also lets me know that she may use that time to see some other things.
And that’s huge. It’s how you set up a trip to allow each person the flexibility they might need. But you have to say the words, and build in the downtime, before the trip. If your travel companion is not into museums and you love them, knowing ahead of time gives you the option of booking a tour on your own. Your travel companion can use that time to schedule in something they want to do.
To Be Continued
Stay tuned to learn know how things turn out on our international trip. I know these two travel companions will get along, so watch for posts on our time in Berlin and Krakow. I promise I'll tell all.
Do you have a good travel companion? Was it always that way or did you make some adjustments to get along? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! Who knows - I may reach out and feature your story on TravelingLater.