Traveling is great. The experience of throwing yourself into a new location and culture that can, at times, be supremely different from your own, is thrilling. It’s a unique rush for me.
My most recent trip to New Orleans really brought something to mind, though: A travel experience can hinge greatly on who you travel with – even more so than where you go.
Take my friend Yasmin, for example. We have been friends for years – years. In that time, we’ve grown extremely close and she is almost like an older sister to me. She provides me with excellent advice, calls me out when I’m being a dumb ass and is firmly grounded in her life. She’s a great person and I’m so fortunate to have her as a friend.
But I’ve learned that we can’t travel together.
Before our trip this past weekend, we were both super excited – sending each other messages and emails that expressed how many days away our trip was. And emphasizing how badly Yasmin ‘needed’ this trip.
So with all of this hype building for it, by the time we left, I was rarin’ and ready to go. Austin to New Orleans is an eight hour drive – quite a long trek.
As we drove past Texas farmland, through the metropolis of Houston and over Louisiana marshes and swamps, I kept conversation going. I would comment on things, ask questions pertaining to Louisiana Life, relive interesting stories and read out funny signs that I saw along the way (Really, a huge billboard denouncing Evolution? That’s hilarious!).
I think on long road trips, a lull in conversation is definitely natural. For me, though, silence can be very uncomfortable. To be next to someone in a car for that long and not speak is a very strange thing. Poor Yasmin, it seems, was of the opposite opinion. After about Hour 6, she told me that she needed some quiet. After that, I realized, that I had not really stopped talking since we left.
For someone who is not used to it, I can see how I’m a bit overwhelming – a kind of ‘noise overload’. But I was not aware that I was apparently that intense. Oops.
This ‘noise overload’ seemed to last the entire trip for Yasmin, however, and it made for pretty awkward outings. I felt like if I were to comment on something or talk to Yasmin, I would disrupt the sudden mental barriers that she had thrown up. ‘Is it okay that I’m asking you something?’ I felt like asking. ‘Are you okay to speak? Are you okay with me speaking?’
Like I said, it made for some awkward outings. To me, when someone is super quiet in my presence, it feels like they are ignoring me. I then, in turn, become extremely self conscious and upset because I feel like I’m annoying them. It’s this whole weird, Extrovert thing.
I still had a good time wandering around New Orleans, but I feel like Yasmin had a less-than-stellar time. Her sudden withdrawal from interacting with me was extremely jarring and I felt like I needed to walk on eggshells and limit what I said in her presence. For me, that’s pretty maddening.
Some part of me wants to think: ‘Have you exceeded some kind of talk/listening quota or something?’, and ‘If you’re this sensitive to noise, then why the hell would you go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras? Especially with someone like me?!’.
I realize, though, that it isn’t a fair criticism of anything. The thing to realize is that while we are great friends and have been for years…we can’t travel together.
This most recent trip really got me thinking about just how important WHO you travel with is. It can be just as important (if not more so) as WHERE you travel.
People are different when they travel. It can take a toll on some people and they can act in ways that you would never have expected them to. Traveling with someone comes with an entirely different set of dynamics and challenges than simply just hanging out with them. Everyone does it differently.
One of my friend’s lost her shit in Incheon Airport when our group was separated during check-in. It turned out that the airport staff was separating us in order for the line to go faster, but when it’s the end of an 8-day trip and you’re exhausted and confused, things like these can seem like world-ending problems.
These things can happen to even the most composed and grounded of us. When you find yourself in a frustrating situation during travel, it’s not unheard of to react in a way that might be more intense than you normally would; even for things that seem insignificant. I had a friend who went on a five minute tirade when a waiter at a restaurant poured him the wrong kind of wine (complete with bits of cork in it). Similarly, my friends and I got lost in a seedy area of Bangkok and wandered for what felt like hours to find an elusive club. After a while, it all just got to be too much and I ended up acting like a dick to those who don’t necessarily deserve it.
I’ve been there. Traveling is an experience that can bring out different sides of people. That’s why it’s important to choose your travel buddy (or buddies) wisely. Here are three things to keep in mind that I’ve learned in my time traveling:
1) Discuss Expectations
Before you go anywhere, talk to the buddy(or buddies) that you’re planning to travel with. Some people are cool with staying in hostels; others find the idea revolting. If you’re jonesing to ride an elephant in Thailand, make sure that everyone in your party is comfortable with it – and be prepared to go it alone if they aren’t. If you want to have a day to just relax, let it be known. This doesn’t mean you have to plan and micromanage every day of your trip (unless that’s your thing), but you should definitely discuss with your travel partners what you hope to do and get out of the trip.
2) Don’t take things personally
A lot of times, when shit hits the fan, it’s due to several factors. Once, in Taiwan, my friend and I got into an argument at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. It was hot, disgustingly humid and I was exhausted from having walked around the city all day. I certainly did not MEAN to take out my frustration on him…but I did. After a few minutes of icy silence, we relaxed and things returned to normal.
It’s important to realize that a lot of the time, there are other things going on that can cause people to act differently than you expect. Try to keep a cool head and know that the frustration might not be completely directed at you. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s an important thing to remember.
3) Don’t be afraid to ‘Take a Break’
For someone who had never really traveled by himself, being alone in a foreign country was pretty daunting; especially when I understood a fraction of a fraction of what was going on around me. However, when things got a bit too tense between me and my travel buddies, I found that it was beneficial to split up for a short while. Sometimes I would pair off with someone who I was still getting along with and sometimes I would just fly solo. This is a great way to diffuse any kind of tension and give everyone a break from each other. Being together with someone for extended periods of time can be exhausting (e.g., my poor friend Yasmin).
It should go without saying that this should be done smartly, though. Even if you’re annoyed at your travel companions, letting them know where you’re going and the estimated time that you’ll be back is important.
While traveling is great, remember that not everyone travels the same way. . Some people prefer to experience it ‘on the real’ and sleep in hostels, wander backstreets and eat anything they can find. Other people prefer to spend the money to stay in a nice place and opt for tours and recommended restaurants.
There are several different ways to experience a location and I don’t think any of them are really ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (except for maybe sex tourism…ugh). It’s important to not just be mindful about the culture you’re visiting, but also the dynamics of whoever you’re going there with. It can definitely bring out different sides of people, but isn’t that the magic of travel?!
What are your experiences with this? Have you ever had a travel buddy that you’ve just gotten sick of? Have you ever been that annoying travel buddy (like I was)? What do you think makes a great travel partner? Do you think unfavorable situations can be avoided? If so, how?
I would love to hear thoughts and opinions!