It has all the makings of a classic buddy film: you and your best friend set off on an epic journey across the globe in search of adventure, knowledge and that unspecifiable wisdom broadly summarized as “your true self.”
By Sue Bedford
But tensions between you and your mate quickly mount. By the third week, you’re bickering over whose snoring is keeping who awake, who aaaaaaalways gets the window seat and whose stupid idea it was to backpack together in the first place. So what went wrong?
Travelling with a companion can be an awesome experience.
Not only do you have somebody to share in the excitement, but the two of you will keep each other’s spirits elevated when you’re exhausted from overnight buses, frustrated with belligerent touts or just homesick for Kraft Dinner. It’s also cheaper and safer to backpack in pairs, and it’s guaranteed that someone will watch your stuff while you go to the bathroom.
However, it is crucial that you select a friend who you not only get along with but who you are compatible with on a myriad of levels.
First and foremost, you need to be able to fully trust this person
Immersing yourself in an unfamiliar culture that communicates via a language you don’t understand in a country far away from your own renders you exceedingly vulnerable. It is important that your friend will unquestionably be there for you (and you for them) when you require it. Here are a few trust-based hypothetical situations that may assist you in determining whether you have chosen a suitable travel mate:
– If you two are on an excursion and you fall ill, will they help you return to the hostel if you need it or will they insist on continuing with the activity because they are having fun? Similarly, if you are bedridden (or toilet-ridden), will they ensure you have water, food and medicine or will they simply abandon you in favour of enjoying their day?
– Are they honest when it comes to money? Backpackers often share a kitty wherein both parties contribute a certain amount on a regular basis and use it to pay for meals and rooms (as it is easier than constantly attempting to divide checks).
– If you have a “bad feeling” about a person or situation but your friend does not, will they honour your gut or force you to partake in something you are not comfortable with?
– Are they fair when it comes to sharing benefits and burdens? Can you count on them to perform as an equal partner or will they really always take the window seat?
It is likewise vital that your personalities are harmonious
Remember, you will be spending 24 hours a day with this individual. If you consider their humour to be annoying or their philosophies to be ridiculous, then they will probably drive you bananas by the end of your first international flight. Instead of abandoning them at baggage claim, ask yourself these questions prior to reaching the departures lounge:
– Are they persevering and good-natured or sensitive and quick to anger? Travelling can be extremely challenging and, as our seventh grade gym teachers pugnaciously reminded us through squawking megaphones, we often do need to “just suck it up.” Therefore, backpacking with a person who is easily overwhelmed will place that much more strain on you.
– Are they rational and open to discussion? You two will inevitably have conflicting ideas or even disagreements during your trip; you must be able to work them out in a calm and reasonable manner without the interference of ego.
– Do you have engaging conversations that keep you laughing? If not, then those are going to be some extremely long bus rides.
Next, you have to decide whether your travel styles are congruent
If one of you is set on hardcore mountain trekking while the other is preoccupied with wooing intoxicated beach-goers, then you won’t have a very good time together. Have a frank conversation about where you want to go, why you want to go there and what you intend to get out of your trip. If it seems that your ideas are insurmountably different, then it is better to respectfully bow out of the adventure than to compromise your entire trip just so you can travel with a friend (that said, there will of course be a certain level of compromise as it is rare for two people to share identical visions). Ask each other:
– What sort of sights and activities interest you? E.g. hiking/trekking, camping, physical sports such as surfing, temples, museums, markets, café-hopping, partying, day tours.
– What kind of transport, food and accommodation are you considering? Will you stay in a guesthouse where the cockroaches are the size of terriers and the pillows make a crunching sound simply because it’s four dollars per night, or do you require a place that’s a little more comfortable? What is your opinion on street food?
– What is your budget and how are you intending to divide it up? Consider this in relation to the previous two points.
– Do you want to travel at a rapid or languid pace? Would you rather be awake and moving by eight in the morning in order to maximize daylight hours or would you prefer to sleep in until noon because, hey, it is a vacation? With as much detail as possible, plan out a sample week together.
Be candid and realistic with yourself and each other, even if it ultimately leads you to conclusions that you don’t want to reach (such as acknowledging that you’re not suitable backpacking buddies). While travel insurance may look after tailpipe burns and lost luggage, it doesn’t cover broken friendships or miserable trips.