I’ve been traveling solo for years now. My first trip without a travel companion was to Costa Rica, where I had signed up to do a volunteer project. Because I was part of a group, there was little alone time to speak of, and I never felt like I was traveling solo. However, navigating the start and end to the trip on my own at the age of 20 was a huge confidence boost that gave me the desire to take an even longer and more daring trip alone. Also, I got to know those other group members pretty well, and we bonded right from the start over the fact that we were on a remote beach with no electricity or hot water, a first for many of us! Since that point, I’ve been doing most of my traveling alone, the biggest journey being three months of backpacking through South America. My first night there I sat in the hostel bar in Lima and made some great friends (there will always be someone up for a chat in the hostel bar, believe me). For the next two weeks the six of us traveled together, rooming in hostels, taking cheap overnight buses between cities, and drinking the nights away. Over the course of the following three months, we periodically met back up in various South American cities, and seven years later, we still keep in touch.
However, not every journey goes this smoothly, especially the ones that start at home, when you plan the trip with friends. Differences in budget, itineraries, interests, travel styles, and vacation desires can make for a messy trip. One person may want to eat street food, take local buses, and stay in hostels, while the other may be looking for a five-star spa experience with poolside piña colada service. Usually these stark differences will be obvious, but even small budget issues can get in the way in a significant sense. If your travel companion has a different idea of what will make the trip amazing, you can still have a successful journey as long as you are both okay with a little solo adventuring, and/or compromise, but it all starts with communicating about your ideal vacation.
Twice I went away with a good friend of mine. The first trip was a weekend away and we hiked and dined out and had some late night drinks. The next day I got up early and took a yoga class while she slept late and then got some work done. The whole weekend was really a wonderful getaway that served both of our purposes and left us with great memories. The second time we traveled together, it was a disaster. She didn’t want to hike (one of my favorite activities), but wasn’t willing to skip the outing with me to pursue something else. She wanted to stay in pricier hotels while I wanted to take local transportation and stick to a tight budget. I was happy to stay in one city for a few days, and she got bored and wanted to move on so she woke me up at 530am to “get going” when I had been up late working the night before. Long story short, the trip did not end well. While we had previously had similar travel styles, and had discussed our itinerary before the trip began, we missed the key points: budget and what we wanted to get out of the trip.
I have a few friends that love to go to the same destinations that I do - but with completely different travel styles - we can have fun together, but not on an expensive trip. I have other friends that will just get on a plane and be open to anything and let the control freak in me run the show! Then I have those friends that love to travel solo but sometimes look forward to an adventure with friends. These are my favorites to travel with because we usually have a similar budget in mind, and during the day we’ll go do our own thing, and meet back up for dinner and room together.
Whatever your style, traveling can be a very emotional experience for people, whether you do it often or not, and no matter the destination. Before embarking on any adventure for the first time with a friend, make sure you’re on the same page with regards to your flexibility, budget, and ideal plans. If not, you don’t have to cancel your dreams of traveling. You can sign up for an organized tour where there is very little to negotiate, or better yet, try your first solo trip - you may be surprised at the amazing people you meet when you’re on your own, and the beautiful things you would have missed had you been following your friend around (or trying to lose her)!