I always estimated my average time of travelling with a companion without feeling the urge to murder them as two weeks. It worked better with some, turned out worse with others (now, ask me where I hid the bodies).
I seriously envy people who manage to have a travel mate from the start: they embark on the adventure of a lifetime with a partner, best friend, family member. I never had the luxury of having grown up among people who would be ready to set off on a trip without deadline and destination.
‘Be honest with me: am I annoying?’ I remember asking my best friend when we went on a short trip to China, ages ago.
‘I can’t stand you sometimes,’ she admitted. ‘Am I?’
’You can’t even imagine,’ I replied.
That was that very moment when I realised that I could survive zombie apocalypse with her. We had no trouble admitting to each other what pisses us off. I am also of strong opinion that travelling together is the best test of any relationship, especially when it comes to being cheap and getting in ridiculous situations. Although traveling solo is, without a doubt, the best thing one can do, every now and then you find yourself knee deep in shit and think: ‘It’d be grand to have somebody here right now. Shit is funnier when you are not laughing in solitude’.
I’ve travelled with friends, I’ve travelled with companions I found online (on CS groups), I’ve travelled with complete strangers I encountered on the road. Experience shows that travelling with strangers usually turns out to be more rewarding just because you have about enough time to get to know each other and then just feck off and go your separate ways before turning homicidal. One of the coolest travel buddies I had was Alice, with whom we shared a CouchSurfing host in Kuala Lumpur and then a few days of hilarious hitchhiking to the north of Malaysia. Somehow, we both were flexible with our plans, happy to listen to each other’s stories and nagging, and not preoccupied about where we were going to sleep next night. I’ve had great time with travel companions in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, China, Burma and many other places – we even still keep in touch sometimes, and photos contain lots of precious memories.
Of course, to travel with somebody you need to have at least a couple of common interests. It will be quite hard to get along with a person who loves pool parties when all you can think of is paragliding and bungee jumping. But I’d say the main factors that play major role in finding your perfect travel companion – apart from obvious things like common interests – are the following:
– Hygiene matters
Seriously. Backpacking is dirty business, but we are living in the 21st century when being a full-on hippie is not that trendy anymore. It’s totally ok if we spend a day walking on the highway, riding a deadly Asian train, scrambling through the jungle, sleeping on a sheep farm. That’s adventure, and nobody expects you to smell like roses. But for fussake, next time we come across shower facilities, do not pass up this brilliant opportunity.
– Owls and early birds
It’s kind of amazing to travel with someone who has a different sleeping pattern than you. This way, you get your alone time when the other is sleeping, and still get to spend common awake hours together. Just don’t be that ass who wakes me up at 7am and yells: ‘Come ooooon, you cannot waste your time sleeping, let us go and do exciting things!’ There is nothing exciting about 7am, you mean insensitive person. I’ve only been asleep for 4 hours.
– Freelancers and holiday kids
Some people I travelled with came to visit me for a few weeks because they wanted to spend their holidays in my company. After a while I realised that the core problem lies in our perception of travelling. For them, it is a two-week break from work routine, and they want to pack as much relaxation and new impressions as possible in these two weeks. For me, travelling is a full-time life, and I work freelance. When you see me staring at my computer all day long while the sun is shining and outdoorsy life is calling, I am not a zombified reddit addict or food instagrammer. I am answering emails, doing my job, and perhaps taking some time to send updates to my family who haven’t seen me for ages.
If you come to spend your holiday with me, I will do my best to free up the entire week to spend it with you doing exciting stuff. But I’d also appreciate if you were independent.
– Time is relative
Some people are more flexible with their time and route. Get it figured out before you set off travelling with another person. If I meet great people in some place, I’d rather postpone whatever plans I had and stay here until I get bored. After all, I am hunting stories when I travel, not ticking off top 10 travel landmarks off my list.
– Money matters
This is a major one. Most of my homicidal tendencies towards travel companions sprung from the difference in our travel budget – and inability to deal with it. I’ve travelled with people who had much more savings on their bank account, and I’ve travelled with people who were even more cheap than I am. I don’t mind camping in random places, sleeping on other people’s couch, spending a night or two at the gas station, hitchhiking across the country. I certainly do not eat in restaurants, do not go on organised tours and do not stay in hotels – these are my comfort boundaries. I do not feel that lodging and food are worth extra money, which I’d rather spend on paragliding, diving, new travel gear, or some community projects. I am more flexible when it comes to transportation: I hitchhike only when the public transportation is unreasonably expensive, when I happen to have time to waste on the side of the road and energy to be social. I do not dumpster dive, sometimes I can buy you a dinner, sometimes I can spend days without eating just because my stomach doesn’t need it.
This might sound terribly materialistic, but money and comfort issues matter most when it comes to traveling together. While you normally can give up on some comfort for the sake of your less rich travel companion, there is no way your broke friend will miraculously pull dollars out of their ear and exclaim: ‘Whoa, look what I found! Now we can stay in that hotel with a/c instead of camping, just like you wanted!’
So, good luck with finding a perfect travel buddy. Apparently, there are now social networks just for this purpose.
As for me, I am working on being a better travel companion. I still mostly choose to go solo, because it just works this way. I am no Doctor or Zaphod Beeblebrox, but we’ll get there.