Traveling with your best friend can be a dangerous adventure. You love spending time with her when work and other commitments limit your bonding time to a few hours a week. But eating, sleeping, and exploring together in an unfamiliar place can make you wonder if you really are compatible after all.
Here's a rough guide on how to ease the transition from best friend to travel partner:
Before buying plane tickets, a general discussion on what you each want to get out of the trip is a must. She may want to go to museums and take sightseeing tours while your idea of traveling bliss is people-watching from a coffee shop.
Even more drastic, she may plan on having intense romantic affairs and leaving you to fend for yourself for a few days, while you may be looking forward to spending quality time together.
Honest pre-plane talk can make at least your expectations compatible, if not your post-plane actions. Even without an explicit discussion, the approaches you each take toward planning a vacation can be telling.
As my friend Alison and I started planning a trip to Australia, our different attitudes became clear. Alison -- who, I should say, is still my best friend -- wanted to book our hostel stays while I was willing to leave the trip more up to spontaneity.
After lodging, food is the next big potential sore point. I, for example, wanted to cook all our meals, which meant pasta or rice every night, and Alison liked the idea of indulging in a restaurant every so often.
It took us about a week of me always suggesting a trip to the grocery store and she a trip to town when we got hungry before we realized that we really wanted different things -- so we compromised, dining in town once a week and cooking the other nights.
Paying for special treats like nice restaurants can be touchy. When Naomi Naierman of Chevy Chase and her best friend of nearly 30 years went to Australia on her friend's frequent flier miles, Naierman never was sure how often to cover the bill. Differing financial backgrounds also can cause tension; talking about money beforehand can prevent unease on the trip.
Annoying habits may be easy to overlook when taken in small doses, but can be more irritating when you spend all day with a person. Alison likes to take a lot of photos of scenery. Of course, I didn't realize this before we went on our trip, but once we were in a new city, she would start clicking.
I have always limited my clicks to photos with people in them -- and even then, only people I know reasonably well. Going through Alison's four rolls of film at the end of three weeks was almost like going through someone else's photo album. I didn't recognize anyone in the photos, but that doesn't matter to Alison because she was capturing the image of the ocean behind the people.
She also tended to be less willing to leave our bags unattended while we searched for a bathroom or food. I had to remind myself of the benefits of having a paranoid, camera-obsessed friend -- you'll never lose anything and you'll have great photos.
Sightseeing also can be a matter of much unspoken disagreement. For some people, an ideal day is one spent wandering from one monument to the next, studying the small blurbs next to museum exhibits, and paying $10 to see koala bears in cages.
This kind of day makes me feel as though I am stuck in a propaganda film produced for all the video-camera wielding tourists. I would much prefer to observe local culture from a cheap coffee shop. While Alison shared my point of view for the most part, she also was able to appreciate what museums have to offer. No problem, we just split up for half an hour so that she could see the Monet exhibit while I people-watched.
Even if you enjoy the same activities, Naierman suggests splitting up for a day or two. She and her friend saved money by sharing hotel rooms, something she may not repeat if given the chance. Like most people, Naierman appreciates time to herself, and when she doesn't get it, she feels moody and withdrawn, which made her friend feel as though she had done something wrong.
"I should have just explained," says Naierman, "but you don't have the state of mind to when you're in that kind of mood."
Splitting up for a few hours or a day also can keep you from taking each other for granted. When I had the chance to work on an organic farm for a day, I did, and Alison took a boat trip to a nearby island. I got back to the hostel with blisters, dirt and sweat, and a feeling of complete satisfaction with my day, and so did she -- something that wouldn't have happened had we stayed together. I also was glad to be with a familiar person whom I loved after spending the day in a completely foreign environment with no one I knew.
Bad moods, which lead to bad days, are almost inevitable. About two-thirds of the way through our trip, we hit a low point. Maybe it was the 100-degree heat, maybe we stayed out too late the night before, or maybe we had just spent a little too much time with each other, but we felt bad: unmotivated to explore a new town, cranky, and missing being at college, where a challenging project already is laid out for you.
Naierman suggests agreeing beforehand that tensions are to be expected so when they do occur, they seem less threatening. And keep in mind that traveling as a pair often affords you more freedom than you would have on your own: You can watch each other's valuables while you take turns swimming in the ocean, catch a bus at 1 o'clock in the morning without worrying as much about your safety, and make half as many annoying (and expensive) phone calls regarding where you are going to sleep the next night and how you are getting there.
And after your trip, you have at least one person with whom you can gush over and relive every moment of your adventure -- your best friend.