When it comes to picking travel companions, I’ve been lucky. Save for a totally useless kid I dated in college who was a walking disaster both at home and on the one trip we took together, I’ve managed to find people who are fun, adventurous, and not-at-all embarassing to come along with me on trips (or, more appropos, who let me join them while they go on trips). Of course, most of these said people are my husband. And Pinguina. But they’re both so awesome that they should count as more than one person each.
That’s not to say that I haven’t heard horror stories: from a friend of mine who nearly got arrested because of a didn’t-know-when-to-shut-up travel buddy, to another who got sued because the girls he traveled with wanted him to pay for the entirety of their hotel (he won the case, and the girls were found guilty of being lame). With all the things that can go wrong on a trip (losing luggage, having a crazy naked dude attack you, seeing the pants of the guy sitting next to you erupt into flames), a crazy travel companion is not something you want to add to that list.
So, after considering what went wrong in those unfortunate cases, and scrutinizing what makes Pinguina and Rand so awesome (which is like trying to explain what makes a unicorn that farts rainbows awesome – it can’t be dissected or explained. It just is), I’ve come up with a list that should help you find the Indiana Jones of travel companions: someone who’s clever, adventurous, ready-for-anything, and, if you are very, very lucky, bears a striking resemblance to Harrison Ford.
- Get someone who understands your finances. Nothing is worse than traveling with a budget shopper when you’re ready to splurge on nice hotels and meals. Except maybe traveling with a splurger when you’re trying to save a buck or two. Pick someone who knows your finances and who’s on the same page as you – whether you want to be high-rollers or clip coupons, you’ll have a lot more fun when you’re in sync.
- Leave the judgmental friends at home. If you love to gorge on local delicacies and your friend turns up their nose at anything that isn’t a grilled cheese, you won’t get much further than the security check-point before strangling one another. You might not share the same level of enthusiasm for indigenous art, local cuisine, or regional specialties and customs, but make sure you show the locals – and eachother – some respect.
- Have shared interests. If you have a morbid fascination with historical medical museums, and your travel partner is say, not an absolute lunatic, you might have trouble finding things to see and do that you’d both enjoy. However, if you both are obsessed with the musical stylings of Kevin Bacon (but think he’s a crap actor) and think cold war LOLcats are funny, you’ll probably be perfect travel buddies (and also, we should hang out).
- Be invested. Or not. I generally feel that travel partners should fall into one of two categories: they’re either friends who you will love until the day you die, or totally expendable people who you never have to talk to again. This way, when you have the almost-inevitable fight that any two people traveling together will have, you can take comfort in the fact that either 1.) your friendship will get you through it, or 2.) once the trip’s over, you’ll never have to talk to one another again.
- Match your energy levels. Recently, my friend Adam and I discovered that our spouses are nuts. Both Adam’s wife and Rand like to run themselves ragged while on vacation, seeing absolutely everything they can and not taking ANY breaks, even when your wife is really tired and hungry and just wants TO SIT DOWN AND EAT A FRIGGIN GELATO. (Okay, maybe that last bit is more about me than Adam. But still.) If you like your vacations to be relaxing, and your travel partner doesn’t, it won’t work (and vice versa). Fortunately, Rand and I worked out a deal: He slows down, and I stop threatening divorce.
- Find your own Felix Unger. Nothing’s more frustrating than a travel companion who keeps losing their boarding pass, ID, passport, and any other document or possession they can’t live without. Instead, find someone like Pinguina, who has itineraries, phone contact lists, confirmation codes, and reservation numbers all at her fingertips, and still takes the time to get you both a snack. Damn. I need to call her.
- Feel the love. This sounds obvious, and yet, it’s still worth saying: travel with someone with whom you enjoy spending time. While this isn’t always possible (sometimes you get stuck with someone just because they had enough vacation time), it’s always something to shoot for. And if you plan ahead, it generally works. Of course, after several weeks, you might hate even those you once loved dearly. But you’ll probably hate them less than you would someone else.
- They’ve traveled about as much as you have. Trust me: nothing will annoy a seasoned traveler more than a wide-eyed novice who has to stop and take photos of everything. And nothing will annoy a novice more than a know-it-all, been-there-done-that traveler. Find someone who’s traveled as much as you (or close to it) and you’ll both know what you’re in for. Plus, you’ll be able to avoid playing tour guide or baby-sitter to one another … unless you’re into that.
- Surround yourself with positive energy. Sure, your co-workers constant state of melancholy is entertaining while you’re in the office, but do you really want to drag Eeyore across Europe with you? Pick a travel companion who’s upbeat, and can put a positive spin on things. Because when things go awry – and believe me, they will go awry, you’ll want someone to laugh with. Like the time my hubby was driving the wrong way in a lane reserved only for streetcars (in downtown Milan). Except maybe only one of us was laughing. And it wasn’t me.
- Find the friend who’s comfortable everywhere … including in their own skin. Travel ain’t always going to be pretty. Or comfortable. And it won’t always smell like those little soaps you get in hotels (sometimes, the hotels don’t even have soap). So find someone who can handle it without whining, complaining, or bolting for the first McDonald’s in sight. After all, folks who are willing to rough it usually have smoother rides (see what I did there?).
Of course, even if you follow all of these steps, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find the travel partner of your dreams. Like falling in love, it isn’t always something you can predict or rationalize – use your best judgement and listen to your gut. Sometimes the person who should be your ideal travel partner – your significant other, your roommate or best friend, even the great love of your life – just isn’t the right person.
And sometimes they are.