How to choose a travel companion

10 March 2016
Stories of disappointing holiday trips are not uncommon. You can spend an excruciating amount of time planning your travel itinerary but choose the wrong travel companion and your holiday experience can go from magical to meltdown.

Where to go is only half of a good trip; who you go with can make or break the trip. Choosing a travel buddy is very similar to finding a roommate, except that instead of seeing each other for a few hours a day, you will be spending every waking moment together. And that can be a nightmare if you haven’t thought it through.

We all have personal likes and dislikes. This is obvious when choosing a life partner. Not so obvious when it comes to friends. Which brings me to point number one – best friends are not always the best travel companions. Mostly because you’ve learned over time to put up with your pal’s idiosyncrasies. Spend three weeks in confinement with this person and your good cheer will evaporate, replaced by a viper’s den of resentment.

I have always found that it’s the small stuff that grates the most when it comes to the behaviour of travelling companions. Thus, someone who spills a bottle of wine all over your bed, or who loses both your passports on the first day of the trip, isn’t really that much worse than someone who uses up all your toothpaste, “borrows” your last few notes of the local currency or forgets his/her wallet all the time. In fact, the more dramatic screw-ups at least provide some stories to tell; the others are just annoying, but often insufferably so.

The right travel buddy can make your holiday better by leaps and bounds.
The right travel buddy can make your holiday better by leaps and bounds.

Here are my things to watch out for when picking a travel partner

Don’t bring a clingy friend

Do you have friends who will only venture to the bathroom in groups of two or more? Friends who have to be with you no matter what? Don’t bring them. You’ve paid too much money to deal with a serial cling-on. You should team up with a friend who is okay alone in certain uncomfortable situations, such as sitting with strangers on a packed bus or sleeping in a different room in a hostel if there’s no availability for you to be together (it does happen).

You also need regular breaks from each other so one person can spend a day at the museum while the other bronzes at the beach. There’s absolutely no need to be joined at the hip the whole time. And your relationship will be the better for it.

Sometimes you'll want a little bit of time to yourself, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes you’ll want a little bit of time to yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Don’t bring a friend whose makeup bag is bigger than your carry-on

Avoid women (and men) who can’t leave their house without 30-minute showers, pin-straight hair, or slabs of makeup on their face. The truth is, when you’re traveling, you might not have hot showers, or even a mirror. While their materialistic habits may keep them looking fresh, you’ll be pulling out your hair at the thought of wasting precious time waiting for them to get dolled up.

Embrace the natural look – after all, on holidays no-one knows if your appearance is any different, do they? Think carefully about you and your buddy’s other bathroom habits. Are you neat freaks or messy monsters? Do uncapped toothpaste tubes set off alarm bells in the morning? What about navigating through your travel partner’s field of scattered cosmetics? This needs to be sorted before you accidentally brush your teeth with that tube of concealer.

Don’t travel with a night owl if you’re a morning person

If you like to wake up at the crack of dawn each morning, a companion who doesn’t stir till 11am will drive you crazy – and vice versa (particularly if they turn out to be the aforementioned clingy type as well).

How are you meant to see the sights when your travel buddy’s asleep?

Some travellers are always on, racing around racking up attractions and experiences; others like to find quiet places to sit and watch. When you’re travelling with another person, your awake/sleep rhythms are not going to match up all the time. How to deal with this will vary immensely based not only on the individuals involved, but also on the type of travel you are doing (a theme park demands a very different rhythm than a day at the beach) and on what needs to be done (taking your time on holiday is a great thing, but a leisurely pace when running late for a flight is almost an offence).

If you and your travel buddy are not compatible in this area it’s best to pick someone who is similar in travelling style.

Don’t travel with someone who doesn’t like trying new things

Yes, they are out there; they like the idea of travel but secretly don’t want to do anything out of their comfort zone. Alarm bells should start ringing when you hear things like “Why should we go further than we have to when we already have a restaurant in our hotel?” or “Why would I ever want to climb a volcano? That’s dangerous.” Hanging out with these people can be travel suicide.

And as for being open to speaking a little of the local language, well, that usually goes hand in hand with this type of traveller as well. What’s the point of travelling if you’re not going to immerse yourself in the local culture?

Don’t bring a friend who disappears every time the bill comes

We all have that friend who goes to the bathroom or pretends they forgot their wallet when it’s time to pay the restaurant bill. When you’re talking about Euros, Pounds, or any other expensive currency compared to the Aussie dollar, financials are no joke. Pay your fair share, but don’t overreact about money. Arguments about money on the road can really create a fracture in your relationship; it is up to you to make sure you are paying your way, and so is your companion, without treating it like a criminal case.

We don't recommend travelling with money-obsessive sticklers.
We don’t recommend travelling with money-obsessive sticklers.

My best travel partners haven’t been sticklers for splitting every single bill to the exact cent. Trips cost money. The goal of the trip for me is to enjoy where I’m going, not to count my money or to talk about money and what I’ve paid versus my partner. A good partner picks some things up, and I pick some things up, and in the end our bills come out around even.

Don’t mix Single with Unavailable

If you are single and want to party each night, it’s probably a good idea to go with another single friend who feels the same. If you do travel with a friend who has a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse, make sure you find out if they feel comfortable going to bars and clubs.  It’s not smart to go out at night solo, plus you want to party with someone who actually wants to be there. If you are in a serious relationship, consider whether or not you feel comfortable traveling with your single-and-keen-to-party friends.

Don’t mix Adventurous Foodie with Safe Diner

It cannot be denied that food is the one thing that brings people together and often a huge reason why people travel to a country (think Bangkok and Hong Kong). However, the glorious quest for food is not for everyone – divisions can happen if one traveller is a foodie and the other is not as the foodie will become bored with the same, safe options and the non-foodie will become frustrated by the inordinate amount of holiday time that is spent in the pursuit of cuisine.

While some of us have the industrious taste buds of Bear Grylls, not everyone has the same taste and sense of curiosity in food. If you are a foodie who is out to seek out a culinary adventure, it is best to bring along someone who’d appreciate a good food hunt. Finding out and deciding how far one is willing to travel for that sumptuous, glistening bowl of udon is the key in this situation.

Fried scorpions anyone? Don't travel with someone who refuses to try new things!
Fried scorpions anyone? Don’t travel with someone who refuses to try new things!

Nothing spoils a trip for both people more than mismatched foodies. I know from sad experience when I visited Hong Kong with a friend who, I found out after I was there, hated Asian food and the idea of unhygienic kitchens (the two don’t necessarily go together) and insisted on eating every meal at the Hong Kong McDonalds. Now, I don’t eat McDonalds in my own home town so why would I pay good money to eat at McDonalds Hong Kong? Needless to say, meal times were mostly spent with me tucking into some amazing street food while my travelling companion munched his way through a quarter pounder and chips. Things other than the cuisine can sour the meal as well. For example, splitting the bill evenly down to the last decimal point may scratch the inner OCD itch in some of us, where others prefer not to deal with the nitty-gritty (see money para above).

Some final travel words

There are heaps more points to consider before you decide on the right travel companion for you. For instance, the Whinger, the Permanently Unimpressed and the Opinionless/Over-Opinionated are a few other types to steer clear of. But if you ask me, the travel companion to avoid at all costs is the one who will be on Skype for the entire trip. In between Skyping, they will be obsessively watching TV while texting and constantly updating their Facebook page. For these people it’s more important that they are seen by family and friends to be holidaying, rather than actually living in the moment and enjoying the holiday themselves. Heck, they might even have to learn how to conduct face-to-face conversations again!!!

For the greatest chance of a successful trip, look for an individual who shares similar interests and a similar mind-set as yours. If you are particular about the kind of food you eat, worry about catching germs on public transport and prefer familiar hotel chains, a travel companion with those traits will be more enjoyable than someone with a bohemian flair who lives for street food vendors and hitchhiking.