For those debating whether to travel in a group or go solo, you’ll want to read this. Just because you get along with someone at happy hour or Sunday morning spin class, doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing on the road. After backpacking around the world for five years, both solo and with others, I’ve had my fair share of unpleasant travel partners. Think about these situations, and decide if your potential travel partner seems laid-back or fits into one of these categories.
For the most part, backpackers are budget-travelers by nature. They stay in dorms with 13 other people, forgo tours for the cheaper do-it-yourself version and will walk 15 blocks to save the equivalent of $1.50 on a meal. However, there’s a big difference between trying to stretch your dollar, and being downright cheap. When backpacking Europe, I traveled with a girl who talked of nothing but how much her condo cost, and how she couldn’t afford to eat or take the subway. She was so cheap; she used to eat the egg yolks from my daily chef’s salad as her lunch. We also went to an amusement park in Vienna, but didn’t go on any rides because she felt it was too expensive. In my mind, I was wondering why we had even walked the two hours to get there – because she refused to spend money on public transportation – if we weren’t going to enjoy it. Before traveling, make sure you’re both on the same page about the budget.The Spend Thrift
On the other hand, there are those who have no budget at all, which can make you feel like you need to spend more than you have. In Argentina, I traveled with a girl who clearly had a lot more money than me. She constantly wanted to eat in nice restaurants, take guided tours, opt for fancy tourist buses and take taxis rather than the bus or subway. Not only did I not have the money for this, but it went against my mentality of trying to get away from the tourists and go local. Before signing up to travel with someone, make sure your travel philosophies are aligned.
The Clean Freak
While I’m not suggesting being clean is a bad thing, there is a point where it can be borderline high maintenance. Especially when in other countries, you’re going to have to deal with certain places not being up to par with western sanitation standards. When I was in Thailand, I was with a girl who would constantly whine about the bathrooms – how squat toilets were gross and how there was never any toilet paper. She also almost had an aneurism when one of the guesthouses had a spider on the wall. Trust me, I enjoy a spider-free room and toilet-paper stocked bathroom as much as the next person, but sometimes these differences in place and culture are what make the trip interesting.
Being from the United States, I know the hardships of being stereotyped as an “ugly American.” While traveling, I’m constantly forced to listen to people talk smack about U.S. travelers and how ignorant, annoying and rude they are. In reality, I think it’s pretty ignorant, rude and annoying to have people talk badly about Americans when there’s one sitting at the table. It’s bad enough having to hear this from strangers, but when it’s your own travel partner, it’s downright infuriating. I’ve actually experienced this while traveling with other Americans. On a local tour in Peru, as the guide talked about the culture, every reply from my companions seemed to be how Americans contrasted negatively with Peruvians. When the guide talked about how in Peru corn and potatoes were staples, the retort was that Americans were fat and ate nothing but processed foods. When the guide talked about how hard the Incas worked to build temples by hauling large boulders up mountains, the reply was that Americans were lazy. I couldn’t help but be offended, and also feel they were missing the point completely. Make sure your travel companion is both open to learning about a new culture, but also proud of their own.
Similar to the Clean Freak, the complainer will make you wonder why they bothered leaving their home country. The food isn’t good, the accommodation is subpar, the public transportation is unreliable and the culture is “weird.” In Prague, I traveled with someone who was a vegetarian. Not only did she whine about how the city didn’t have good food the entire time, she actually screamed at a waitress for bringing the wrong salad in a restaurant. “She should learn to speak English!” she huffed to me, annoyed. Needless to say, I was mortified.
There are some people who never want to be alone, others who thoroughly enjoy their own company and those who fall somewhere in between. In my opinion, this is the most important thing to discuss with your potential travel mate before booking your plane ticket. While backpacking in Australia, I traveled with a girl who wanted to do absolutely everything together. If I ever tried to do something on my own, or opted not to signup for a tour she was doing, she accused me of ditching her. I once went outside to read a book, and she barked at me for not telling her. It felt like a stifling relationship, and really put a strain on the trip.
The Lazy Backpacker
Of course, it’s important to relax to prevent travel fatigue, but there are some travelers who will make you wonder why they bothered to buy a plane ticket. When backpacking in Italy, I traveled with someone who would sleep until noon, nap at 3:00 p.m., and spend a majority of the day on Facebook and watching TV in the common room. When I’d ask her if she wanted to cook dinner, she’d reply, “Sure, if you get the groceries.” I guess typing was exhausting, because she barely saw any sites in one of the world’s most beautiful countries. Before traveling with someone, try to gauge their excitement level to make sure they’ll actually get out of bed and get dressed.
The Space Obsessor
When backpacking, belongings in the hostel dorms tend to get jumbled together. Be prepared to not always have your things perfectly organized, and for other peoples’ things to sometimes be touching yours. In Chile, I traveled with someone who was definitely not okay with this. Not only was I verbally scolded for hanging my towel on the hook next to hers – the edges touched – my pants were thrown in a ball on the floor when I hung them on the same chair as her shirt. After awhile, her behavior made me feel like I was walking on egg shells, and led me to book separate rooms to avoid the unnecessary conflict.
The Ultra Planner
While it’s good to have some sort of plan in mind when embarking on a trip, there comes a point when too much planning takes the spontaneity and adventure out of travel. When traveling in Spain, I was with a girl who needed to have everything planned out days in advance, from what sites we would see, what time we would wake up and go to bed and where we would eat dinner. Not only that, but veering from any discussed plan would set her into a frenzy. While I wanted to meet other backpackers and locals and explore together, she had an itinerary that was apparently set in stone. Make sure you’re potential travel partner is okay with going with the flow sometimes during the trip.
Have you ever had an unpleasant travel partner?
[flickr photos via chexed, Ingsoc, rabble, Tobyotter, RogueSun Media]