Becoming Travel Buddies with Strangers
“Do you want to travel together?”
Picking someone to become travel buddies with can be such an awkward conversation to have sometimes, partly because no one likes rejection if they say no and partly because: what if they say yes? What then? Then it’s official and you start referring to each other as travel companions and have all those awkward first moments, like the first meal together, where you see if they are a messy eater, eat with their elbows on the table, or slurp their soup too loud. You see how they react to stressful situations like when the bus is late or the plane is delayed. If you share a room with them: do they snore? Go to the bathroom with the door open? Make you feel awkward getting changed? All these little things that seem so trivial and insignificant somehow seem to matter when traveling with someone new. And it’s not always just them—are you a soup slurper or a personal space invader or someone who doesn’t react well outside your comfort zone but don’t know it?
Traveling with unknown people or someone new is a risk that not many people give much credit or thought to but can have a huge impact on your trip. Part of the enjoyment of travel is meeting new people, experiencing different ways of life, different food, and other cultures, but if you are constantly annoyed by the person next to you or you’re thinking of ways to avoid or get away from them, can you really enjoy what is around you and get the full benefits from travel?
As great as it is to travel alone sometimes it gets just that: lonely. You start wishing for a companion if only so you can stop taking selfies and actually take a real picture of yourself somewhere.
Group travel on a pre-organised trip is one situation where this arises. It’s like being back in the school yard with everyone separating into cliques or groups based on gender, age, common interests, nationality, or language spoken. Many people who have considered the pros and cons of their unsolicited travel companions and who have the means will choose to upgrade their booking to include a single supplement. This at least gives them an opportunity to be in their own space and have some time out from interacting with people they wouldn’t otherwise choose to interact with. Others who either didn’t think about it before booking or decided to take the risk and see who they end up with have mixed results, like me.
I learned this single supplement lesson the hard way after booking a group tour in Nepal. I arrived to the hotel first and wasn’t aware I had to return the key when I left to go sightseeing and assumed my roommate would be given her own key. Unfortunately, the hotel made her wait in the foyer until I returned several hours later, so it wasn’t the best of introductions or start to our tour. She then proceeded to bring guys back to our room throughout the trip, meaning I either had to leave or face the other way with ear plugs in. In direct contrast to this experience, during my Antarctica trip where I could not afford the single supplement I was placed in a room with two unknown travel companions who were thankfully awesome and we became great friends and it was a truly rewarding experience.
Traveling independently is an amazing experience as well, not just because you learn so much about yourself, but also because different experiences and opportunities present themselves to you than if you were with someone or a group. As great as it is to travel alone sometimes it gets just that: lonely. You start wishing for a companion if only so you can stop taking selfies and actually take a real picture of yourself somewhere.
But how do you decide if you want to travel with someone or even ask them? It’s tricky and more often than not just evolves through normal conversation when you both discover a similarity in travel itineraries and decide to join up or are heading for a day trip somewhere and decide to extend that to dinner or a few days instead. If it doesn’t evolve naturally then it requires someone to put themselves out there and make the invite. It’s risky and scary but what do you have to lose? You’re already traveling by yourself so if they say no it doesn’t change anything and you go back to taking selfies. If they say yes then you have potentially changed your whole trip for the better by spending more time with that person.
I usually travel alone for a variety of reasons but often meet people I then spend more time with. Sometimes it’s just dinner or a drink, other times it’s a few days and on the rare occasion it turns into a lasting friendship that involved more travel and adventure and communication even when you’re back home. Taking a risk to travel with an unknown has paid off on more than one occasion for me but most notably was when I agreed to travel with someone I met in China. We hardly knew each other before agreeing and there was all those awkward first moments made worse when I got ill and they had to clean up the bathroom after me because I was incapable of doing anything more than lying there wishing for death.
If there was ever a reason to go our separate ways that would have been the time, but we stayed together and spent the next few months traveling Southeast Asia, and I would say both of us had a better time together than if we were to have travelled independently. Thankfully we are still in contact today and have gone on several more adventures together since then.
So my advice when traveling is this: consider the risk of traveling with a previously unknown person before agreeing to it as your perception and opinion of a place may be skewed just because of who you experienced it with. I have been fortunate to meet some great people while traveling and you will too. Just be prepared to take a risk and offer or accept an offer but if things don’t work out be sure to cut your losses and don’t allow the experience to taint your view of traveling.
Traveling with someone is a very personal thing. You have to be in close proximity to them sometimes for extended periods, you have to watch them eat, sleep if you decide to share quarters with them, interact and talk with them and deal with any annoying habits they have. It’s not all one sided either, as they have to do the same with you, so think carefully before taking the risk, recognizing that the rewards can be enormous.
Image by Emmanuel Retzepter, Flickr