Choosing the Right Travel Companion
It was 1980, and I was on a ferry off the coast of Hong Kong. An American woman around my age and I began to chat, mostly because we sat literally in the same boat.
She was from Los Angeles, and I lived in New York City. She was flying to Bangkok the next day, and I told her that I planned to go to Thailand as well.
We ended up traveling together. It turned out to be a wonderful journey, especially memorable because tourism had not yet reached northern Thailand.
At the time, few people spoke English and we couldn’t understand destinations on buses or foods on menus. I remember we laughed a lot.
Some forty years later my daughter and I visited my travel mate in Los Angeles. It seemed as if the intervening years never happened. We were still laughing about having to share a bed with our tour guide in Chiang Rai (of course fully clothed), a good example of failure to communicate.
Since then, I’ve made some lifelong friends and travel mates through my journeys. When I chatted with a woman who sat next to me on a flight to London four years ago, little did I know we would stay in touch and that she would join a trip to India I took this past November.
That trip made us closer; it felt as if we were related by shared experiences as well as by geography.
What makes people bond?
It is pretty clear that a good travel buddy is one with whom you have a shared love of travel. However, there are other qualities that you might like in a travel mate as a prospective traveler. You may or may not have other things in common. Perhaps you want someone who has a good sense of humor. Or, if you are an inexperienced traveler, you may look for someone who knows more than you do. Here are some tips on choosing the right travel companion for you.
Choosing the right travel companion
1) Have something in common
Travel buddies may have much in common from similar bucket lists to similar ways of traveling. Some people love to hike, and others prefer visiting art museums. Still others adore sitting in a café watching the world go by. I recently went on a trip where friends from the same expat community abroad decided to travel together.
2) Have nothing in common (except the urge to go)
You may have different life goals, different lifestyles, or different tastes in food or hotels. Does it matter? In some cases, opposites attract.
3) Have a sense of humor
Good travel partners often share the ability to laugh at the same things. Feeling unmoored in another culture makes it easy to experience imagined or real-life mishaps. Not knowing a language, misidentifying foods or perhaps incorrectly navigating bathroom facilities abroad can inspire these instances. Travel disasters are funnier in retrospect, and often friendship is a by-product of what makes us laugh.
Someone on a recent trip told me that what she values is a similar sense of “snarkiness.” I believe what she meant was a shared appreciation of absurdities by people who don’t take the ups and downs of travel too seriously.
4) Have more travel experience or different skills than you do
Other qualities you may desire in potential partners include people who know the language of your destination, people who are patient and positive (VERY important), and those who are experienced travelers and can help a newbie relax. As a non-hiker in Kathmandu, I dearly appreciated the physical and emotional support of my experienced partner.
Connecting with Others
1) What Would Alice Do (WWAD)? Learning from others
Many people are nervous about going on a group trip by themselves and are not sure how to connect.
Before a work trip to South Korea years ago with a group of academics, I realized I had reverted to my teen years and feared sitting alone at dinner. Inspired by WWAD (What Would Alice Do), I came with a plan. Alice was a work mate with whom I traveled previously who seemed to draw others to her easily. I observed that she asked people questions about their travels. She chatted with people she didn’t know, and was friendly, but not overpowering. I began to see that if you first just watch and open yourself to taking part in conversations and activities, people eventually start to chat with you. It’s happened on every trip I’ve taken.
2) Clicking with travel buddies
I met Ivy from Largo, FL when on a tour in Cuba in February. She was traveling with two women she met when they all spotted a four-for-the-price-of-three travel deal to the Galapagos on a National Geographic-Lindblad tour. Ivy said that their camaraderie was “how you were with friends that you have known for years.” They met up in New York City to see Hamilton, and then three of the four went on the Cuba trip. Next fall two plan to go to Africa. Of her travel buddies, Ivy said,
“I don’t know why we clicked but we did. Of course, my daughter was sure it was all a scam, and I was going to be taken for “all my money and jewelry.”
Women do meet travel buddies while on tours. But Debby Allen Brackett (Clemson, SC) hit the jackpot with a busload of buddies:
“A group of eleven women I traveled to Cornwall with last year simply bonded. Some of us were teachers, most of us retired. We were mostly aged 50 to 80, with one woman in her 30s. We’ve all gotten together since, with different combinations of participants. Six went to Yorkshire last May, with four of us going to France together first.”
3) Finding friends while volunteering
I also met several people who volunteered abroad or in this country—for animal rescue programs, cleanup sites, or environmental non-profits. Friendship and conversation can be a by-product of doing a meaningful activity together.
Sheila Stone from Los Angeles, CA, a guide for small groups of women, has a good story. She met her “British Besties,” friends who volunteered together, at an English school in Spain. They now meet every year in Madrid to travel and continue to volunteer.
4) Connecting on social media
Another way to find travel partners is to join social media groups. I’m a member or several groups and there are many more, especially on Facebook. All of these groups on Facebook include posts from people looking for travel partners or places to go. You might find they help in choosing the right travel partner. These groups include:
When it doesn’t work
Of course, you may find that you made a mistake. Perhaps you and your travel partner don’t get along. Hopefully you make it through the trip, but sometimes the experience is so difficult, you may not want to.
Several years ago I posted an online query about travel mate disasters. One woman wrote to tell me her roommate carried a loved one’s ashes with her, another complained her roommate tapped on her laptop long into the night. Several reported earth-shaking snoring. Finally, a few reported roommates who partied a bit too hard and required help getting to their rooms.
You may also find you don’t actually like traveling with others or in a group. In that case, you may want to try flying solo or temporarily find travel mates as you go. I went to Iceland as a solo traveler a few years ago and took day trips with groups to see historic sites and track the Northern Lights. The social/solo balance worked well for me, and I did not have to share my room with anyone’s ashes.
The bottom line: Travel is life-changing
There’s nothing like the feeling of returning from travels where you overcame obstacles to see and experience a different world. Besides stocking your life with future memories, you may find your travels provided friends for life. There’s nothing quite like sharing stories about the disasters and joys of exploring the world.
It’s difficult to imagine our lives without the friends we met along the way that we have come to love. And sometimes we can even trace the arc of how we changed with every journey.
About the author
Barbara Winard began her solo travels in college, and during her 20s and 30s solo traveled to Europe, Asia, and North and South America. After returning from a 6-month trip to Asia, she wandered off the street and was hired by the Asia Society in New York City to produce films and print materials for adults and children about Asian culture. She also worked as a film programmer and traveled to film festivals around the world. Barbara got her start in film with New York City’s public television station, WNET/13 and was a freelance documentary writer and producer for ten years. A Jersey girl, Barbara and her husband moved from Jersey City to New Castle, Delaware, last year. She has been writing for Road Scholar, TravelAwaits.com and several other online magazines; her blog is thebabybloomer.blog.
You may also enjoy these articles from Barbara Winard:
Compelling Reasons to Travel to India (or Anywhere!)
Grandparent Travel With Grandchildren (Parents Not Invited!)
What Inspired Me to Travel the World