Whether you start your trip with a partner/existing friend or meet someone along the way, there are bound to be times during your long-term travels when you find yourself travelling with someone else, which can be great…until you fall out with your travel companion.
I have form for doing a moonlight flit. I’ve done it definitely once, creeping out in the dark of night to catch a flight my ex-travel companion didn’t know I’d booked and even as I write this I am grazing alternative accommodation arrangements having misjudged the character qualities of my current travel companion. But does it always need to be this drastic?
Having travelled with many different people from friends to family to partners to strangers, here are my tips for:
1. Don’t react
I have an honours degree in tantrums. I don’t have them often, but when I do they are as unpredictable as monsoon storms. When these clouds of anger pass over me, they do so with less than a moment’s notice drenching anyone in my vicinity with a downpour of emotion. The storm will usually pass minutes later but instead of revealing a rainbow, I’m left feeling embarrassed and regretful for my actions that have regularly found me stomping off…usually in the wrong direction, often under the weight of my bags, only to sidle back to my travel buddy moments later with a full apology (and offer to buy the next coffee/beer) in hand.
Not reacting is something I’ve personally worked really hard at (not least because it can be financially costly – all those coffees add up). Sometimes my efforts are successful, sometimes less so, but my stint of Vipassana meditation training in India definitely helps. If tensions are rising or a situation is annoying you, try your level best to adopt the tried and tested method of counting to 10 (or in my case 482) before you even consider responding. And then count some more until your anger is a distant, laughable memory.
2. Take some time out
In a scenario where you’re spending nearly all of your time with the same person, there are bound to be times when you clash. Fortunately, there is a simple solution – schedule in some alone time. Whether it is a walk in the park, an afternoon in a café or a few days exploring on your own, some time away from your travel companion can work wonders.
3. Slow down
Two of the most common causes of a bad mood on the road are stress and tiredness, both of which come hand in hand with doing too many things in too little time. It’s understandable that while you’re exploring new countries you want to cram as much into your days as possible, but is it worth your ongoing happiness and at the potential cost of your relationship/friendship with your travel companion?
If you find yourself starting to get annoyed at the slightest thing, including your travel chum, try slowing down. You may not see as many things, but you’ll probably appreciate the sights and your company a lot more.
Tip: I also find that there is very little that can’t be solved on the annoyance front by a good sleep or decent food. For a quicker fix, try doing both and seeing if things improve before you alter your travel itinerary.
4. Have a word with yourself
Whether secretly or openly, we all (I’m holding my hand high in the air here) like to think that we are beyond reproach – the vision of the perfect traveller, but the reality is rarely that (I’m holding both hands high in the air at this point). As much as we like to think that the sun shines out of our…travel shoes…we equally don’t tend to want to admit when we’re being an idiot. However, as often as we find other people annoying, it is more likely than not that our own actions are as much to blame for any conflict, which is where it is useful to sit back and take a large dose of objectivity (swill it down with a beer if necessary).
Try to consider your behavior from the perspective of your travel companion: are you being the best of who you can be? Are you being kind, generous, compassionate, understanding, unassuming, flexible, considerate…The answer is usually going to be: probably not as much as you could be. If that’s the conclusion you reach, adapt your own behavior and see if things change.
5. Talk it out
Left untreated, wounds can fester to the point of amputation and the same goes with feelings (though in a less physically dramatic way). If something is bugging you about your buddy, talk it out. It’s always better to get your thoughts off your chest in a calm, controlled manner than reaching the point where you can tolerate the annoyance anymore resulting in you screaming your objections at your (soon to be ex) friend in that posh restaurant you’ve being dying to try, with relationship amputation guaranteed to be served some time between the aperitifs and the main course.
Starting an honest chat can be difficult and there is no easier time than 5 minutes ago, but be brave, stumble the words out and wait for the reply. Two words of caution: i) your buddy is entitled to a response so be sure to apply rule number 1 – don’t react, and ii) be prepared to have a mirror held up to your own behavior, which may not look as pretty as you think. If you’re both able to take on board the points made on both sides, hopefully you should be able to move on, back to full travel friendship health.
6. Lay down some laws
I’m not talking about an attempt at the Magna Carta or the 10 Commandments, punishable by drowning under the nearest waterfall for non-compliance, but agreeing on some ground rules can sometimes help. Whether you determine some rules before you set off or agree them as you go, identifying the main causes of friction and working around them can dissolve a good portion of your travel companion troubles. For example, if you feel like you spend all of your time trip planning while your friend lounges in a hammock, draw up rules on who will do what, utilizing both of your strengths (note: if you ever travel with me, never, ever, ever, let me be in charge of map reading – even with GPS).
Whatever rules you come up with, be careful not to let them sneakily introduce an alternative source of stress and conflict – they are there to help and if they are not working, it’s time to re-assess.
7. Acquire some new friends
I’m not suggesting a straight swap (as I assume you’re reading this because I’d like to improve things with your existing friend), but there is nothing like a group get together to take the pressure off. Let’s face it, we all behave better when we’re around strangers and swapping stories, laughing and having a light-hearted time can work wonders for your existing friendship…even if all you do is spend the following days pondering between you the various curiosities of the people you met, reveling in your luck that your existing travel companion isn’t quite as bad as the potential alternatives!
8. Consider a longer break
“Ok, see you in the next town…country…continent.” Sometimes things reach a point of near no return, but there is still potential to salvage your travel relationship, if you’re prepared to take a leap of faith with an extended break. If your relationship is romantic, be careful to set the ground rules to avoid the painful Ross-Rachel-Friends-‘we were on a break’ scenario, but taking longer time out can be just what you need.
Whether you decide to meet up in two town’s time, the next country along or back at home, a real separation can provide time to reevaluate whether you want to continue to travel with your companion or whether you really do prefer to be apart. I tried this method once, parting ways with a male travel friend. When I felt relief rather than longing when we did part ways, it gave me the answer I’d been battling with for weeks.
9. Set a limit on compromise
As much as I can be a grumpy cow prone to tantrums, I also have a serious weakness when it comes to compromise. Catch me before I get angry enough to explode and I’m most likely going to bend with whatever situation I’m presented with, adapting as I go. At times, this can be good, but in some cases, for me, it means that I bend so much it is ultimately to my detriment.
Not only can I find myself tolerating situations that shouldn’t be tolerated (unreasonable, unfair and sometimes just plain bad behavior), it ends up detracting from my enjoyment of my trip. If you’re of a similar ilk, it is all the more important to set a limit on what you will and won’t compromise on. From experience, I have developed a simple threshold – if I reach a point where I would enjoy my time more if I were alone, and none of the above have worked, it’s time to thinking about number 10…
10. Be prepared to walk away
The longer you have travelled together and the more entwined your relationship, the more difficult it can be to walk out on a travel friend. However, sometimes it becomes a necessity. If you find yourself in a situation where, despite having tried all of the above, you are experiencing more bad than good times, your travel friend is taking unfair advantage or you’re missing out on the kind of trip you envisioned (and let’s not forget you’re investing hard earned cash in each day of your trip), it may well be time to say goodbye.
It’s not always the easy option and my flit in the night method is cowardly…yet (I’m embarrassed to admit) effective. If you’re worried about the finality of this approach and don’t want to rush out under the cover of darkness, consider approaching your walk away as a longer term break, accepting the reality that you may not want to meet up later down the line after time has passed (and you’ve met another, better, travel buddy).
However, it is important to be prepared to walk away – you get each day only once, so it’s important to enjoy it. If that means being apart from your travel friend, so be it.
Have you done a moonlight flit or endured travel friends for longer than you should? Let me know your stories.
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Photo by: Tambako the Jaguar.