I have been lucky enough to find some great travel companions over the years. But I understand that it can sometimes be difficult to find like-minded people to travel and explore this world with. Unfortunately, I do not think there is a magical formula to finding good travel companions. However, I do have some tips for choosing a travel companion or buddy.
5 tips for choosing a travel companion
Below are five tips that will hopefully help you find a good travel companion. I also share five examples of real-life travel companions I have gone on trips with and the various experiences we had. I hope it helps!
Tip 1: discover yourself first
Before you can deal with someone else’s annoying habits, you need to know your own. Are you a morning or a night person? Do you prefer a lot activity or some quiet time on the beach? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? These are important things to figure out before you attempt to leave the country with someone. You do not necessarily need to find someone who is exactly like you, but you need to know your own habits, preferences, strengths and weaknesses. That way you will better understand where you might complement a potential travel companion and where you might clash with them.
Even if you have never traveled before, you should be able to figure out a few travel preferences based on how you prefer to live your life. Do you like a well-ordered plan? You are probably not going to enjoy traveling with someone who flies to a new destination without knowing where they are going to stay that night. Are you looking forward to relaxing on the beach for a week straight? That adrenalin-junky friend might not be the best choice then. Are you budget conscious? Stay away from travelers with trust funds. Asking yourself a couple of questions up front can save you a lot of heartburn later on.
When you picture your vacation in your mind, what do you see? Once you figure that out, it should making choosing a traveling companion a little easier…especially if you already pictured them along with you on that mental vacation.
The story of L:
L was my very first travel companion. I was lucky to have her in my life and I learned so much about myself, both as a person and as a traveler. When she got married and started a family, I was genuinely worried I would never find another travel companion as good as her. However, I now realize that although there is no one quite like L, there are other, equally great travel companions. In order to find them, you have to be a good (or potentially good) travel companion yourself. That is the first step and one of the many important lessons I learned from L.
Tip 2: look at personalities
It is okay if you do not want to travel with your best friend. They may make a great best friend, but that does not mean they will make a good travel companion. In fact, none of your current friends may be right for hitting the road. Same goes for your significant other. Getting along on a trip is very different than getting along in real life. That slightly annoying habit one of your friends has of whistling through their teeth is going to change from slightly annoying to something else entirely on a trip.
Take a hard look at your current pool of friends. You may even need to look outside that pool. You do not need to travel with someone who has your exact personality. If fact, some contrast can be good. The trick is finding someone you can get along with for long stretches of time and in times of challenge. That is no small task!
For me, there are a few things I need in a travel companion (e.g. someone with a sense of adventure who is cool under pressure) and a few things I do not need (e.g. someone who panics easily, is dramatic or a whiner), but everything else is negotiable. I myself am an introvert, but I can travel just fine with either another introvert or an extreme extrovert. I am a picky eater, but I will follow along to whatever restaurant my travel companion wants to try and then order something “safe” from the menu. The important thing is to identify your “must haves” and your “must not haves” and then go from there.
The story of W:
One of my favorite experiences was a road trip around New Zealand (both the North and South Islands). I traveled with my good friend and former roommate, W. W was new to international travel. She was also my first travel companion since L. To say I handled those details in stride would be a reach. Although I consider the trip a success, there were situations I wish I had handled differently.
I learned a lot about myself and the way I prefer to travel. I also learned that some people are easier to travel with than others. W and mine’s personalities were not as conducive as I assumed they would be. We never fought, but we experienced challenges I had never faced before. I would like to think I learned from those challenging experiences and they made me an overall better travel companion. In the end, everything worked out and we had a wonderful vacation. We are also still friends.
Tip 3: compare situations
This is probably the most difficult of the tips for choosing a travel companion. Not only are you looking for someone you can get along with, but you are also looking for someone who is in a similar situation as you are. Maybe you have found the perfect travel companion, but their situation in life and/or circumstances do not allow them to travel the same as you.
For example, your best friend may be your preferred road trip companion, but if she has five kids, you are probably going to have a tough time going on those road trips. Finances, vacation time, family obligations, work commitments, health, etc. all contribute to the kind of traveler you are. It can be difficult (if not impossible) to find someone who matches you on every category. The goal then is to find someone who matches you on as many as possible.
Another thing to look at is travel preferences. Do you enjoy saving up and going on one big trip a year or do you prefer taking multiple shorter trips? Do you like returning to the same tropical island every year or are you on a quest to visit as many countries as you can? When looking at a potential travel companion, everything else may align but if you want to visit a new country and she wants to head to Las Vegas again, it might be a deal breaker.
The story of S:
S and I became friends at a time when all of our other friends were getting married and starting families. We were both single, gainfully employed and enjoying the last of our 20s. In addition, we both loved to travel. Since our lives matched up so perfectly and we got along well, it was only natural we started traveling together.
For my 30th birthday, we celebrated by backpacking through Europe and skiing the Swiss Alps on the big day. Then for her 30th, we traveled around Indonesia and spent her big day scuba diving. S is a big part of my travel portfolio. Her situation has now changed (she has a husband and a kid) and we are no longer travel companions. But for a time, our lives aligned and we went on some memorable trips.
Tip 4: take a test run
Of all the tips for choosing a travel companion, this one is my favorite. Once you think you have found that perfect travel companion, it is time for a test run or a trial trip. Even something as simple as a weekend road trip is a good idea. By the time R and I stepped out of the country together (which was Costa Rica, by the way), I was pretty sure we would get along fine. Our personalities are very similar and we had both traveled previously.
I did not necessarily think of our time in Costa Rica as a test run, but I guess that is what it was. If either of us had had a bad experience, that may have been our one and only trip together. Instead, we learned that R should never be tasked with holding the keys and I should not be driving if there are large potholes in the road. But there were no deal breakers and in fact, the last sentence of my travel journal from that trip reads: “Costa Rica is wonderful, R is an excellent travel companion and I love, love, love to travel.” We have now been traveling together for more than five years and we even started this travel blog!
The story of C:
We had been friends with C for several years before we decided to go on an international trip with her. It was a short trip, just five days in Iceland, and none of us believed any real issues or disagreements would arise. However, we still joked that it was C’s test run to see if she could “hang” with us. Although we joked, in all reality it was a test run—for both her and us. We were just as much on trial as she was and if she had an awful time traveling with us, that would have been the end of our trips with C. Needless to say, nobody had an awful time and we have enjoyed C’s company on many more adventures like Puerto Rico, Poland and Estonia.
Tip 5: be the kind of travel companion you want to travel with
It sounds a little cheesy, but this is good advice. And in terms of tips for choosing a travel companion, this one cannot be overstated. You are in a relationship with your travel companion, if only for a short time. It pays to be a little more flexible. Be a little more patient. Be a little more understanding. Travel can be a stressful experience and sometimes emotions run high. Think before you speak and act, especially if your travel companion makes a mistake or a poor choice. Imagine how you would want them to act if you made a mistake. And we all make mistakes. If you want to find and keep good travel companions, you first need to be one yourself.
Recently, R and I observed an older married couple hiking just ahead of us on a trail through North Cascades National Park. They were bickering and it was the kind of bickering they have probably been doing for 40 years. As I we listened and observed their behavior (before taking a trail that went in the opposite direction), we commented on how much fun they were not having thanks to the way they were speaking to each other. We also noted how much different our relationship would be if we spoke to each other like that. I wonder how much more they would have enjoyed their hike if they had treated each other with a little more respect and patience. We all benefit from kind words and a vacation is much more enjoyable if we remember to use them, especially to the person we are traveling with.
The story of D:
My oldest and dearest friend is also my cousin D. We share a bond I cannot begin to describe and no matter where life takes us, we remain close—which is interesting since our personalities are so very different. Our different personalities combined with our very different situations in life should make D and I horrible travel companions. But we are not. Although we do not get to travel together often (D has five children), our trips together are fun and memorable. We know each other’s strength and weaknesses and we cater to them. Most importantly, we think about the other person when making decisions. Traveling with D may be very different from traveling with my usual companions, but it is no less of an enjoyable experience.
Do not let a lack of companionship stop you from exploring. Do not be afraid to travel on your own until a travel companion comes along. You will definitely discover more about yourself (see Tip 1) and you many even find a new travel companion out there on the road.
Finding the right travel companion is hard. In my experience, even if you find the right companion, situations or circumstances change and you sometimes end up right back at square one. Do not lose heart. Be patient, improve yourself and keep planning those adventures. Eventually, the right Jane will come along. I hope you enjoyed reading these tips for choosing a travel companion.