Ask Gadling: What do you do when you can’t stand your travel companions?

Had enough of your travling companions?

Whether it’s old friends, fellow travelers on the same tour or a bunch of folks you just met in the hostel, some people are bound to get on your nerves when you travel together. This happens to everyone. Some of my personal peeves include:

  • Stick-in-the-muds.
  • Tantrum-throwers/whiners.
  • Bad drinkers.
  • People who ask complicated questions just to make themselves sound smart.
  • Ugly people. (Kidding.)
  • People who lack respect for their fellow man or the place they’re visiting.
  • Rudeness.
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When you’re in a situation where you feel like you can’t stand your traveling companions for one more minute, it’s usually not the whole group that’s a problem; it’s one or two people poisoning everyone else. The easiest way to deal with these kinds of people is not always to ignore them. For example, if you didn’t stop so-and-so from littering in the Yangtze River, could you forgive yourself? And if whats-his-name is being rude to the guide, ignoring it could affect your guide’s ability to give you what you came for: an awesome tour. And what if the first-rate Goofus also happens to be your fellow countryman? Do you want them representing your country that way? No.

Worst of all, despite whatever barriers you try to put up, people like this can slowly encroach upon your enjoyment of your trip, all but ruining the entire experience. To let them do that would be a crime.

When ignoring the problem clearly isn’t going to cut it, try one of these three strategies to alleviate your (and probably everyone else’s) suffering:1. Kill them with kindness.

Sometimes, the jerkstore in question just needs to feel appreciated and heard. Yes, they should go to therapy, but if you bite the bullet and give them some of the approval they so desperately need, you may be able to salvage your own sanity. Try complimenting them on their good questions, ask them if they need help with whatever they’re complaining about and get them talking about their own life. Stare right between their eyes and just nod your head understandingly if you have to. This tactic can calm down attention-seeking behavior fairly quickly.

2. Turn their comments into group discussions.

This can work if you’re tired of hearing just one person’s voice or if that person is saying inappropriate things. Take control of your group like it’s a classroom for a moment, and ask one of the braver people what they think. Do they agree? Ask the quieter people. The phrase, “That’s an interesting point of view, what does everyone else think?” can go a long way — even if it just ends in laughter.

3. Remember that the problem is probably fear.

Travel can bring up strange, new feelings in people, causing them to behave poorly. The main root of this is fear. Rather than take any hostility or obnoxiousness as being indicative of a “bad person,” try to make it about an “afraid person.” This depersonalizes the situation and helps you to tolerate that person without getting upset yourself. Once you start dealing with them as someone who’s scared, not evil, you may find you know exactly what to say and do to make them shut up. Ask yourself what the person is afraid of, and see if you can say something tactful and subtle to address it, either privately or publicly. For example, a person who’s being infuriatingly outspoken about time and speed may be afraid they’re going to miss something later. Ask them if they have plans for later and listen. Say something understanding, like “I can see why you’re worried about time.” Allowing them to publicly air their mission may calm them down, or talking it through may actually solve their problem. If they’re hoping for something impossible, the conversation will force them to face that. Situation diffused.

If you really think there’s no problem person in the group and that the trouble is that everyone else is just so irritating, take a look at the man in the mirror, Michael. The problem person is probably you.

[Photo by hrlndspnks via Flickr.]