What makes a good travel companion?

While traveling alone can be rewarding and adventurous, the majority of your travels will include a partner or two. Be it a significant other, friend or family member, you will typically find yourself on a trip with some company. If I’ve learned anything from my travels it’s that your choice of partner can make or break a trip. Not all friends make for good travel companions. You have to choose wisely before inviting someone on a trip with you. So, what makes a good travel companion?

I asked my friends and Twitter followers for their thoughts on the matter and mixed their suggestions in with my own to compile a list of traits that every successful travel pairing should possess. Find someone who fits these criteria and you can be fairly confident that you won’t be ready to kill each other before you even pack your bags.

  1. Be together but alone – At some point on any trip, people will want to do different things. This will either cause a fight because one of you is insecure or create an opportunity for you to split up, enjoy some alone time and keep everyone happy.
  2. Flexibility – Travel can create stressful situations. Plans will change on the fly or new ideas will be discovered. A good travel buddy can roll with the changes and see them as exciting opportunities.
  3. Hygiene - Hey, you’re going to be with this person (potentially in cramped quarters) for days, week or even months. Either you both have to be slobs or you both have to keep clean. Smell together, shower alone.
  4. Spontaneity - The ferry to a remote island that you just learned about departs in five minutes and you leave town tomorrow. This is your only chance. These are the opportunities that require split-second decisions and can create amazing memories.
  5. Extroverts have more fun - Befriending people at hostels, bars or on tours is a great way to change up the travel dynamic. But your friend needs to share your willingness to invite people into your plans. Gadling editor Grant Martin did it with great success.
  6. Shut up – Whether you’re standing at the edge of a cliff admiring the view or on a train after a long day, there are times when you just want some peace and quiet. The company is nice, but knowing when to be silent makes it better.
  7. Similar schedules - If you like to party all night, it gets annoying when your friend always passes out at 9:00pm. And if you want to sleep in, it’s no fun being nudged awake at 5:00am to go on a tour that doesn’t even interest you. There’s no right or wrong schedule for traveling, but you should be able to compromise.
  8. Share responsibilities - If one person is doing all the planning, keeping things on schedule, booking all the flights, buses and hostels while the other person plans to just show up, there’s a good chance resentment will pop up the first time you miss a train. Split up the leg work and share the experience from beginning to end.
  9. Respect – You and your friend can disagree about a lot of things – foods, activities, destinations – but don’t criticize each other. If your friend wants to eat grasshoppers while in Mexico and that grosses you out, let her enjoy the experience without having to hear you gagging in the background.
  10. Cultural sensitivity – If you’ve ever traveled with someone who got into an argument over a language barrier, belittled someone or, in exasperation, yelled out something to the effect of “That’s what’s wrong with these people,” you know how mortifying it can be to apologize for your friend’s behavior. Best to travel with people who can handle cultural differences as well as you can.

Of course, these aren’t the only things that you want to keep in mind when choosing a travel companion, but they’re the biggest concerns. You’ll surely also want a friend who won’t mind if you stop to take lots of pictures or will share their photos with you if you’re not a shutterbug. And it never hurts if you don’t mind sharing a jacket or iPod when someone didn’t pack properly. Compromise and common courtesy go a long way towards keeping the peace.

Picking the right travel partner will ensure that you not only enjoy your trip, but that you will have shared experiences that will strengthen your friendship when the trip is over. I am fortunate enough to have a group of friends that gets along as well on the road as we do at home. We have stories from around the world that will bond us for years to come. If you’re hurting for a good travel buddy, you could always look online. Or not.

Have more suggestions or a story about how you picked the right/wrong travel companion? Please share in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.