As you might be aware if you’re read any of the posts on my blog over the past few years, I’m a huge advocate of solo travel. In fact one of my most read articles of all time, an article I recently discovered (while on a bar crawl in Macedonia!) has been read and shared in more countries than I can count on both hands, is all about the merits of travelling solo.
And yet here I am, half way across Europe en route to the most Southern tip of Africa with a stranger I met once for 24 hours in a hostel. Here I am having travelled across 11 countries (so far) with a stranger who only decided to embark on this trip after a bad day at work, a 6 pack of beer and a few drunken Facebook messages. Here I am, a girl who has travelled solo over 50 countries (okay there might have been a friend with me here and there!) solo, backpacking with a travel buddy on the biggest trip of my life.
How then have we survived thus far? Here are some guidelines on how to travel the world with a stranger (or a friend!) and successfully make it out the other end alive! I believe we have many more lessons to learn, but here’s what I’ve learned so far. Will we make it to Cape Town alive and kicking? Only time will tell.
As with everything in life, good communication is essential when travelling. I think so many fights, arguments and misunderstandings come about on the road simple due to a lack of good communication. Be it with your best friend, a new travel buddy or your better half, if you don’t say what’s on your mind and always make it clear if something is upsetting you, the problem will only grow bigger. Is your travel buddy getting horrendously drunk and passing out in puddles? Spending every waking hour searching for girls on Tinder instead of having a conversation like normal people?
Whatever crazy thing might be getting under your skin, communication is key to resolving any issues you may have. I have discovered that most of the time my travel buddies in the past were totally unaware of any wrongdoing until we discussed it. Be it cultural differences, contrasting personalities or just different styles of travel, discussing any issues early on should help make the trip stress free!
One of the main differences between travelling solo and travelling with someone else is that you no longer get to make all the decisions. What time you get up, what you’re going to eat for breakfast or even bigger decisions such as what country to go to next or what kind of accommodation you should stay in suddenly become decisions that you must plan and make with someone else. This is not longer your own personal solo trip, it’s a trip you will be sharing with someone else. Creating memories together.
One of the first compromises we made on this trip had to do with our itinerary. My travel buddy really wanted to go to venice where as I was hoping to do Lichtenstein and Austria. As France and Switzerland were my choices, we compromised and spent a weekend in Venice. Sometimes the compromises might be small, like not staying out late, where as in other instances they might have a lot of influence on the trip. Just be sure that you are both open to compromise and that things are always equally sacrificed.
There is not a chance that I will make it the entire way to Cape Town overland if I’m not 100% honest with my travel buddy and he is not 100% honest with me. Dishonesty tears apart friendships just as it tears apart relationships, and there is no place for lying, secrets or hiding information on a six to nine month trip through Africa.
If you’re feeling unwell, having a bad day or simple need some time apart, tell you travel buddy! If you feel they are acting inappropriately, be it by not understanding cultural norms and traditions, or simply by not respecting you, be sure to let them know. If you just feel like spending some time apart, let them know. It’s only natural to want “me time” when you spend that much time one person. If you’re not happy, chances are they might not be happy either. Be sure to let them know privately as there is nothing worse than witnessing friends or a couple having a full blown argument and spilling dirt on each other in front of a crowd of nosy backpackers.
I think disagreements over your budget is definitely something that causes a lot of stress, tension and arguments among travelling companions. The topic of budget was the vert first thing brought up with my travel buddy and it needed to be discussed in quite a lot of detail. Our trip is a pretty long one which needs both commitment and the finances to cover a six to nine month adventure. That said, as we are doing it on a budget it was important to clarify that it would mostly be hostels rather than hostels, cheapened long bus journeys and absolutely no flights!
In the past I’ve almost fallen out with friends over issues with budgeting for our travels. I’ve had friends run our of money (like 100% not a silt euro) in Italy, I’ve had friends get robbed and needed a loan and I’ve even come across people who thought travelling with just travellers cheques or an American Express was a wise idea. What may seem trivial can grow into quite a big problem when money is involved, so always be honest, communicate and if possible always have a back up so you don’t have to borrow off your friend or other half.
If you seriously don’t want to kill each other, you are going to need some time apart. Be it booking separate rooms in a hotel for a few nights, letting your travel buddy go out partying without you once in a while or simply hanging out with different groups of travellers in your hostel, a bit of time apart will do your friendship the world of good.
I know some travelling companions that even go there separate ways for a few days or even weeks, especially if their ideal of activities is strikingly different (for example if one wants to party 24/7 and the other wants to get up early every day to practice yoga and go hiking!). Time apart, especially after some stressful or tiring experiences, lets you both recover and rejuvenate and you’ll be able to continue the trip with a new found energy and enthusiasm.
If you are embarking on a big trip and there is a lot of planning to be done, it is essential that tasks are divided equally. First off it might simply be as there is far too much research to be done and it would be unfair to expect one half of the team to do all the work.
Second of all, and probably more importantly in the long run, both sides of the travelling team need to feel like involved in the trip, to be apart of every moment. The more you invest in planning, booking and making travel decisions, the more rewarding the travel becomes. You also can’t blame your friend for booking a dodgy hostel or accidentally booking train tickets instead of bus tickets as you are equally to blame. You should take turns booking accommodation each night, downloading city maps for each new destinations and researching what buses to take or how much a taxi should cost to the hostel. Leaving one person to do all the world will 100% result in disaster and you will not make it through your trip alive.
I think this is simply something you should do in life in general, but more so when you are traveling with someone else. While solo travel is incredibly rewarding, it also allows us to sort of hide away from others at times and in a way we become quite selfish. We don’t always think of others immediately, we don’t always think of sharing our food or doing nice acts of kindness to those around us.
This all changes when you spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with someone else. It’s not like your friendships at home where you either see them in the evenings, or just see them at work and then leave at 6pm every day. a travel buddy is ALWAYS there. You might have to share a bed, a toilet, the backseat of a cramped bus. If you’re travel buddy is feeling unwell, offer to go get them some medicine. Suggest they spend the day in bed. If you’re travel buddy is a little worse for wear after a night out, surprise them with a McDonalds or a Chinese takeaway. It doesn’t take a lot to be nice, to be considerate, but it sure does go along way!
Do you guys have any other suggestions on how not to kill your travel buddy?!