When describing my wanderlust, I am often asked why I travel alone by friends, colleagues and even relatives. It’s not something I intentionally set out to do when I started my solo travel adventures nearly 11 years ago; it occurred more out of a desire to travel and a lack of people interested in doing the same. Now that I am on day four of a nine day trip with my mother, I think it’s a swell time to give this topic further attention.
Occasionally, I’ve traveled with friends and, together, we have tackled cities across Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. I enjoyed these bonding experiences and the moments shared eating, drinking, laughing and sightseeing. It was most fortunate that I was not alone in Peru as I fell ill with a parasite and altitude sickness, or when I succumbed to “Delhi belly” in Jaipur. Sharing Oktoberfest in Munich with companions is absolutely as amusing as one would think after several pitchers of beer and oompah music. Climbing Machu Picchu, wine tasting in Mendoza and Stellenbosh, shopping in Bali and dancing until 4 am in Istanbul with friends are some of my most treasured memories from my travels, and I appreciate those dear souls who contributed to the joy of the journey.
Amongst all the treasured memories, travel with friends also has its share of ups and downs. A trip to Montreal turned disastrous when a friend insisted on saving her money and eating at McDonald’s, something I wish she shared prior to me selecting the city’s cool restaurants to try. A girl’s trip to Paris placed four women, ages 30+, in one hotel room with a queen size bed and a shower down the hall–a catastrophic fact the planner failed to mention until I arrived after a seven-hour flight. I ended up eating alone and booking myself into a more adequate hotel across town. Lastly, I booked a post-college European trip with girls from school who preferred partying and sleeping to visiting churches and museums. The group split apart and I traveled to Spain and Germany independently.
A bad travel experience can not only ruin the trip, but can also terminate the friendship. It’s more common than you would think because you are spending excessive time with a person day in and day out who may not possess the same enthusiasm for hiking or biking and eating or relaxing, or whatever preferences you may desire. You must be clear about your intentions from the beginning for the trip to go smoothly.
I prefer to travel alone because I’m cognizant of my strengths and weaknesses. I’m single, live alone and I’m fiercely independent. In other words, I am not always accommodating to others. It’s nice to wake up when I want, traipse through cities at record speeds or meander with no plan, sleep when I want, exercise if I must and spend money on emerald rings or Indian rugs if I feel like it.
I prefer personal guides to tour buses, trains to cars, shopping to sunbathing and lots and lots of activity where I am learning history, sampling local culture and meeting kindred spirits. People assume solo travelers are lonely, but I prefer it because I can assimilate easier, talk to locals and force myself to do all the things I am too afraid to try at home. It’s the best, my version of serenity.
However, I really do enjoy traveling with my dear friends Pam and Jill, and I am blessed they still sign up for my shenanigans from time to time.
Where are we going next, ladies? Wimbledon and Paris are calling!
Top 10 Considerations for Traveling with a Friend (or Alone)
1.) You must both agree and be excited about the planned destination. If you like the beach, don’t go skiing.
2.) Discuss your aspirations for the trip. This includes a budget and planned activities. Your budget may allow for only one meal a day or one museum and a lunch to go. Share that information with your travel partner(s).
3.) Admit your quirks, faults or needs in advance of departure, preferably before booking flights and hotels. Would you prefer your own room? Are you afraid of heights?
4.) Discuss payment in advance of trip. When I travel with friends, we keep accurate records on spreadsheets and match with credit card bills to ensure the conversion rate matches. It usually works out that we break even or close to it at the end of the trip.
5.) Plan a reasonable schedule of time together and time apart. Ask yourself and your friend, “Do you need ‘me’ time?”
6.) If you are sharing accommodations, confirm with your travel mate sleeping patterns, safety needs and also whether or not you expect or will permit new found friends in your room at any time of the day.
7.) Plan any balloon rides, hikes or group activities together in advance. This way you can both have something to look forward to at some point during the trip.
8.) Strategize who carries cameras, electronics, toiletries etc. so you can share and not be lugging around multiple items. It saves space in your luggage and your sanity.
9.) Be open and honest and agree to disagree. There will absolutely be a few hiccups in the road.
10.) Have fun and share your experience with others.