On a flight home, have you ever sat near a couple of people who clearly went on a trip together, and had a major falling out? They might be arguing about what they didn’t get to see or do on their vacation, or who was to blame for cheaping out and choosing the Pickpocket Express bus to the Colosseum instead of taking a taxi. You might get to hear every painful detail about who left whom sitting outside the Acropolis after dark, or how good-for-nothing Travel Partner A having a little too much to drink resulted in Mr./Ms. Perfect Travel Partner B having half their luggage stolen. Have you ever tried to watch an in-flight movie while these people are going at it? It’s usually impossible — and depressing, especially after one of them swears the other one off, grabs their travel pillow, and marches back to that empty seat right next to the lavatory. Thud. That’s the sound of Travelocity’s little Roaming Gnome falling to his knees over a fatally failed travelationship.
Since many people are wrapping up their vacations for the summer, and about half of us aren’t traveling with a spouse or on our own, but with 1) a good friend, 2) a significant other, or 3) a relative, now might be a great time to look at how to have a heart-to-heart with your touring mate. There’s no doubt that travel can be a stressful and emotional experience and can strain even the most solid relationship. Furthermore, you can be surprised, overwhelmed, and disappointed by what you learn about your companion in a different setting, and while doing different things — and your disappointment and frustration can come to the surface when the challenges of travel start to wear you down.
While all trips must come to an end at some point, the last thing you usually want is for your relationship to end with it. Think about how challenging it is to find someone who has the time, resources, and interest to go where you want to go, and it becomes clear that even though you might have had a major negative “episode” with someone on a trip, you should put aside your frustration (and your jet lag) to get to the root of the issues. Here are some specific things you might talk to your companion about.
When you worried about each other. Many of us may sound angry and accusatory when really we were fearful about our companion’s safety. Did your travel partner not come home until 6 am a night or two in Stockholm? Did you freak them out by going to the apartment of someone you just met in Copenhagen? The last thing you want to say (or hear) is, Don’t ever do that again! No one wants to feel like they’re on vacation with their mother. You might try saying, we were alone together in a foreign country, and I couldn’t reach you. Could you send me a text message the next time so I know you’re okay? Still think they’ll feel micromanaged? Next time, ask the person they’re partying with to text you. Chances are they’ll do it — if only so you won’t spoil their fun by trying to track them down.
Close calls. There may be scenarios that you replay in your mind because they almost led to a major problem, such as nearly getting separated from your companion while boarding a flight, or being followed by someone until the two of you reached your hotel. You should talk about what led up to these events, and recognize that there’s usually no one to blame; one or both of you was simply distracted. In fact, most travel “mistakes” can be attributed to distractions. What could the two of you done differently to avoid getting distracted?
Who was more comfortable doing what — and who didn’t do much of anything to help. A frequent battle between travel partners revolves around who feels like they’re doing all the “dirty” work on the trip — watching bags, checking out, dealing with obnoxious bellhops, etc. If you’re the one who feels like you did all the grunt work throughout the trip, you should understand that your partner probably didn’t even notice. They may have been so preoccupied just making sure they had all their things, and that their pants weren’t tucked into their socks, etc. that they didn’t even notice your efforts, or your growing resentment. If your companion is generally considerate, don’t think they’ve turned into a travel snob who just wants you to wait on them. They probably just got overwhelmed. If you have a partner who suffers from some social anxiety, ask them next time if they can start packing your things while you straighten out the minibar bill with the cranky manager downstairs. You’ll make it clear that there’s work to be done on both sides, while not getting them upset by asking them to do something they definitely won’t want to do.
Major differences in energy levels. Even if you’ve known your travel partner for years and understand whether they are a morning person or a night owl, or who’s often a little slower to react than whom, people’s energy levels can be significantly different on a trip. Jet lag, environmental factors, excitement, and stress can make someone hyperactive, or slow them down to sloth mode. You weren’t having fun on your trip if you could barely get your partner out of bed when you were ready to go for hours (or vice versa). Don’t resort to saying, you were slowing me down the whole damn trip or you were running around like a crazy person for half our vacation. Instead, see what you could have done to better match energy levels. Could you have gone out on your own tour in the morning, or hit the exercise room or your blog while your partner was trying to wake up? Again, try not to blame each other. We’re all victims of our circadian rhythms and our hormones.
Major differences in personal space needs. Did you feel overwhelmed and claustrophobic after eight hours of crowds in the Forbidden City, while your partner thrived on all the activity and had a hard time leaving? You probably didn’t get along very well in your hotel room that night. You may be used to spending one or two hours a day with your friend/significant other/relative — not ten or twelve. No one says you have to arrive or leave places at the same time. Even if it will cost you an extra taxi ride, talk about how the two of you could have planned a little differently so that you were both happy — and not sick of each other (or your trip).
After discussing these things with your travel companion, the two of you might decide not to travel together again — and if so, at least you’ll have made the decision with understanding, not anger, and you won’t leave a stain on the places you visited together. And chances are, the next time you go abroad, your companion will not only still be talking to you; they’ll be glued to your travel blog the whole time. Who knows, in a few years the two of you could travel together again — this time as part of a larger group.
Did you have a wonderful time with your travel partner? Or did you often think about leaving them far, far behind — especially towards the end of your trip?
You should talk together about the challenges — or your relationship might end along with the vacation.
Travelling always is a real challenge for a relation. You need to talk a lot to avoid fights or any other kind of stressful experiences. Very nice sum up 🙂
Well said, Moritz!
— Stephane, Ms. Nara’s assistant
Great advice Rita!!!
Looking forward to an Irish adventure next September—I’m really excited!!! My aunt is my cohort again, so fingers crossed she doesn’t get ornery like she did last trip when we were in Prague 🙂
I’m reading and reading your words. . . 🙂
Happy Travels Rita–Julie
Planned so far in advance! Good for you 🙂
Word of advice: buy some Euros NOW for your trip. Very favorable exchange rate right now for Americans and Canadians.
— Stephane, Ms. Nara’s assistant
Oh thank you—a very good idea. I really like to plot and plan and a year or so out gives plenty of time to study, plan and re-plan if necessary 🙂
As always I love your advice and adventures—
I’ve has this happen to me too. It’s tough, but sometimes you must go through this in order to become better travel partners too.
I totally agree on all of it! Traveling can both change and show new sides of a person.
Ms. Nara is currently working with someone who says that his chihuahua is going to be his best travel partner.
I guess the real question is, would most people rather sit on a loooong flight near a cute dog, or a cute baby?
This is such wonderful advice! I’m not actually traveling with anyone at the moment, but it’s good to keep in mind with people you’re spending some time with while traveling. I currently live in a hostel and work for accommodation with 4 other cleaners. We live, work and party together. That’s a lot of time spent with the same people who you may not even know so well! It’s good to keep in mind how different other people are while traveling. Not everyone has the same thoughts and energies as I do.