Since we were in high school, my best friend and I dreamed about taking a trip abroad together. We imagined the adventures we would have in foreign cities—memories we’d remember forever. More than a decade later, those visions came to fruition in the form of a 10-day trip to Spain, but it wasn’t the bonding experience we thought it would be. In fact, it ultimately weakened our relationship.
It turns out this is a common issue; I’ve been traveling solo throughout Latin America for seven months and counting, and I’ve met several friend pairs, almost all of whom have had difficulty in some way with all the togetherness involved in traveling. Some even split up on their trip and continued separately!
When I asked people what seemed to go wrong, the answers ran the gamut: dissimilar interests and desires, unbearable negativity, different travel styles and routines, and beyond. But, you’d think two besties who supposedly know each other better than anyone else in the world could handle these discrepancies with ease, right? Wrong.
You and your No. 1 may get along seamlessly at home, where you have privacy, routines, and favorite hangouts that provide structure to your independent lives and relationship with each other. But travel is a whole other ball game.
You and your No. 1 may get along seamlessly at home, where you have privacy, routines, and favorite hangouts that provide structure to your independent lives and relationship with each other. But travel is a whole other ball game: The logistics of transportation, accommodations, and activities can be exhausting to organize and require a lot of extra communication, not to mention compromise (during precious, rare days of vacation when you’re likely less willing to budge on how you want to spend your time).
And then there’s the constant togetherness, which can be tough even if you operate the same way while traveling as in regular life, which often isn’t the case. Many people behave differently on vacation as means of breaking away from routine and channeling less exposed facets of themselves. That may mean, among countless possibilities, being more adventurous, trying new things, connecting with people you normally wouldn’t, and letting loose in general. In this sense, traveling with someone who knows you can be a hindering force fraught with judgment.
But since I’m not ready to abandon the potential of having stellar experiences with friends, I tapped psychotherapist Alena Gerst, LCSW, and crowdsourced real-life traveling buddies for intel. Find eight tips below for how to travel with your best friend in a way that’ll allow your relationship to survive and thrive.
Read on for 8 tips for traveling with your BFF without ruining the relationship.
1. Pull equal weight
Divvy up the planning responsibilities so neither of you starts to feel like a tour guide rather than a tourist, a dynamic that sounds a lot like a grudge in the making. Perhaps one of you is passionate about finding the best places to stay on Airbnb while the other has a knack for uncovering locals’ favorite things to do. Create a master to-do list, and split up everything.
If your trip is to a foreign country, and your friend is more adept at the local language, be vigilant about learning a few keys phrases yourself. That way, your friend won’t feel like your translator and you’ll have a sense of independence and confidence during your time in the place.
2. Discuss your travel styles and expectations before the trip
Since you love each other’s company at home, you assume there’s need to discuss personal travel styles. And that is exactly where many go wrong.
For example, are you going to create a spreadsheet crammed with things to do in every hour block? Or would you rather book the flight but no other details? “A lot of people are surprised to learn that one of them is more ‘the planner’ while the other wants to be spontaneous and go where the wind takes them,” Gerst says. “Not adhering to either tendency can be anxiety-inducing for the other.”
How would you feel about meeting another person on your trip and becoming a travel trio? You may think that’s a rare scenario, but while abroad, you’re bound to meet other travelers. I met one woman from Germany who decided to split from her friend and latch on to another group of women with whom she instantly clicked—and her travel companion didn’t feel the same way.
Think about how your expectations may differ from your friend’s. Will you be partying at night, drinking with the locals, or will you hit the sack by 10 p.m. to wake up and go for a sunrise hike? Is one of you a more seasoned traveler than the other? If so, each of you may have different comfort levels while abroad. My Spain trip was my friend’s first international experience, and she was nervous to be on her own, whereas being solo was natural (and often, necessary) for me. Not surprisingly, this ended up being a source of tension between us.
3. You are not actually joined at the hip
Don’t be afraid to part ways for a few hours or even a day if your interests diverge, Gerst says. If one of you wants to sit at an outdoor café to people-watch and read while the other takes a historical tour of the city, great! If one of you is a foodie who wants to have dinner at the expensive, cutting-edge restaurant she read about ages ago while the other chows down on traditional street food, amazing! You won’t want to do the same things all the time, and that’s okay—in fact, a short time apart will likely do you both good.
While on a guided overnight hike to see Volcano Acatenango near Antigua, Guatemala, I met a woman from Slovenia who came without her travel companion, who wasn’t interested in climbing straight up a mountain for five hours. (At several points during the heart-pumping hike, I thought her to be very wise.) But the woman admitted they were in serious need of some alone time anyway.
4. Talk numbers
Just as money is a common source of strain in romantic relationships, same goes with your platonic travel S.O. You two might have very different salaries and travel budgets, which can affect pretty much every choice you make with your itinerary. “One friend may want to live large while on vacation, and the other wants to be more savvy with how they spend,” Gerst notes.
And as uncomfortable as it may seem at the outset, the financial talk needs to go beyond whether you spring for the boutique hotel or opt for a bed in shared hostel dormitory. It’s easy enough to split the cost of accommodations and tickets and anything else purchased before you take off, but Gerst suggests having a plan in place for handling expenses incurred on the road as well: “Do you split the bill(s) down the middle regardless of who ate and drank how much? Or do you break out the calculator and pay only your share?” There’s no right or wrong answer, but still, it’s best to be on the same page.
5. Do sleep before you’re dead
Catching enough zzzs to stay healthy, happy, and to curb stress should be a top priority while traveling, so Gerst advises talking about sleeping arrangements ahead of time. Are you happy to share a double bed, or is having your own nonnegotiable? Or are you a super-light sleeper who needs your own room? Especially if two friends adhere to different bedtimes—and even bedtime rituals like reading, calling family and friends to check in, and streaming TV shows—it’s smart to have a snooze plan in place.
6. You’re a bestie, not a babysitter
Of course, friends should have each other’s back while traveling, but definitely don’t confuse that with acting as a parent of sorts. Friends don’t need to make sure their travel buddy eats regularly, offer reminders to bring a jacket in case the temperature drops, or pass judgment on anything they do. You may have the best of intentions, but your friend is a grown-up.
7. Remember, negativity spurs negativity
No one expects you to be in a cheery mood 24/7, but do be mindful of how your disposition and words affect your bestie. In Cuba, I met a retired teacher who had traveled to the country many times and loved it. But this go-around, she came with another woman who constantly complained. The retired teacher told me, tearing up a little, that her friend’s negativity was negatively impacting the vacation.
8. Communicate—I repeat, communicate
Be prepared to do lot of talking and don’t swallow your negative feelings—those are the most crucial ones to convey to your travel pal, Gerst says. It’s a lot of work, and you might think it would put a damper on the easy-breezy vacation vibes, but often, measured communication can clear things up.
So your trip compromised your friendship. Now what?
It’s okay to take some time apart to unwind and reflect on the trip. But don’t wait too long to talk about it, because you might unintentionally drift. “It will likely take several conversations, possibly involving some hurt feelings and emotions,” Gerst says of mending the relationship. “But it is crucial…to be completely honest with each other and go to extra lengths to hear the other person out.”
Perhaps the microscope of traveling together simply made you realize that you’ve outgrown each other—and that’s okay. But still, you owe it to your friendship to talk about it, be cognizant of each other’s feelings, and come to a mutual understand “so the other person isn’t left wondering what happened,” Gerst says.
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