It's key to pinpoint the qualities of an ideal travel companion because the same aspects of travel that make it worthwhile and memorable—unexpected adventures and misadventures, exposure to different cultures and people, and extended time with friends and loved ones—can also lead to friction and tension in the wrong company. Knowing your travel soul mate, though, can make the experience fun and memorable.
Why a lot of your friends might not be the ideal travel companion
Finding someone you enjoy traveling with is much like dating because it's all about compatibility, says counselor Alexandra Cromer, LPC. But, your ideal travel companion doesn't need to be someone you're close with in your daily life. In fact, many friendships won't lend themselves to travel companionship.
Taking a trip with an ill-matched travel buddy opens you up to the risk of shifting your own expectations to accommodate theirs, which can detract from your own experience.
Think about it: Going on a vacation stands to bring up all sorts of scenarios that aren't present during, say, a lunch date or a catch-up phone call. So even if you get along great with a friend in day-to-day life, it may not translate well to a trip. Having sustained contact with a travel companion for the duration of your trip exposes you to more of their habits and foibles, which creates more opportunity for disagreements. And taking a trip with an ill-matched travel buddy opens you up to the risk of shifting your own expectations to accommodate theirs, which can detract from your own experience.
For example, you may not have an issue with a friend who is not great at adjusting to unexpected circumstances at home (you may not even know this about them!). But this quality could stir up problems when dealing with all the curveballs traveling, in particular, throws. "It might be convenient to travel with your best friend," says Cromer. "But the reality is that some people [are just incompatible]." she says.
What to look for in a could-be travel buddy
It may sound counterintuitive, but Cromer says people with whom you aren't close, in particular, can be a great travel companions. You can evaluate this person without extra pressures and expectations you might place on a close friend, and also, someone with whom you're not that close may be better able to communicate directly about what they want you and also respect your boundaries.
So where do you find these people, if not in your immediate friend group? Cromer suggests looking at social media to see if any acquaintances seem to enjoy traveling and doing the same things you like to do, and also turning to local interest groups.
For example, Cromer says some of her clients in Richmond, Virginia, who met through a walking group have started taking local day trips to Washington, D.C. to explore their shared interest of checking out new coffee shops. Tapping your community beyond your immediate friend group can surface people who have the same interests you do, which could help uncover your ideal travel buddy.
You don't need to share the same habits or have identical interests, but rather mutual grounding principles and general outlooks will help ensure everyone has a great time. Read on for four qualities of an ideal travel companion.
4 qualities of an ideal travel companion
1. They’re flexible and willing to compromise
Flexibility is a key quality for a good travel buddy. Someone who can rebound from setbacks—like bad weather leading to a canceled activity—and adjust to unexpected circumstances will make the headaches that come with traveling easier to navigate.
“If you are traveling with someone who is flexible, that supersedes whether or not they're a planner or whether or not they like to sleep in because that means they’re going to be respectful of your needs and your goals on this trip,” Oneika Raymond, a TV host and travel content creator, says.
Raymond says she and her husband, who is her ideal travel companion, have different travel styles (he's a planner while she likes to go with the flow; she sleeps in and he's an early riser), but they've successfully traveled to more than 80 countries together by adjusting to each other's habits and making sure each of them has something to look forward to on the itinerary.
2. You agree on the financials
Your ideal travel companion doesn’t have to have the exact same financial situation or budget as you do, but they will have a clear understanding of their individual financial expectations for the trip. To make sure nobody is chasing down payments or footing the bill unexpectedly, have an “open and honest dialogue” about all financial aspects of the trip in the planning stages.
Someone who is upfront about what they can and can't do financially and wants to figure out these details in advance to prevent drama and chaos on the trip itself is worth holding onto as a travel companion. Before you travel with someone, especially someone you may not know well, confirm that you're aligned on the financial details and expectations of the trip.
Get into the details beyond how flights, activities, and accommodations will be paid for; Raymond suggests talking through different scenarios that might pop up, like how bills will be split while dining out, what will happen if someone spends more money during an excursion or during a meal, and how to proceed if someone’s credit card doesn’t work. Use their answers to evaluate if this travel pairing will work.
3. They have the same goals for the trip as you
Another sign you've found an ideal travel companion is that you want the same thing out of your trip. It’s going to be tough for everyone on a trip to get what they want out of it if their goals diverge wildly. Someone who wants to spend all their time in a city center, exploring museums and shops, may not be satisfied with the ideal itinerary of someone who wants to do every rustic outdoor activity and never spend time in the city. A traveler who is set on going out every night and hitting every club may not gel with someone who would rather do anything but.
Some introspection beforehand can shed light on this. Sahara Rose De Vore, founder of the Travel Coach Network, helps clients maximize their trips by encouraging them to pinpoint what they want to gain from the experience. “Everyone’s personality and different quirks and expectations come [on the trip], but if they share a common ground, they’re going to be able to make the trip work together as partners,” she says.
Some of the questions De Vore asks to gauge whether folks have similar goals include include how the person wants to feel after the trip, what the trip means to them, and how they want it to affect their relationship. “It’s really identifying what you are looking to get out of it," she says. "Do you want to enrich [the relationship], build your bond, understand each other, create lifelong memories, or all of the above?” Being on the same page as your travel partner about the overall goals will help smooth over bumps and is a good indication you'll get along.
4. They’re independent
Factoring in some alone time to decompress and recharge is key, and an ideal travel companion understands and respects that. “Traveling with someone doesn’t mean that you have to do everything in lockstep, because that’s a really unhealthy way to travel, and it’s going to cause friction at some point” Raymond says. Someone who can be happy and confident entertaining themselves and spending time alone also helps ensure everyone on the trip is reaching their goals.
A great travel partner won’t mind if you leave them alone for a bit, or if you change your mind about an activity. At the same time, they won't muscle you into only doing what they want to do. "'My way or the highway' is a trip killer,” Raymond adds.
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