These days, travel is no longer merely a way to reach a destination – it’s the destination in itself. The word conjures up mental images of sandy beaches and sarongs, full moon parties and beers in the sun – it’s shorthand for hedonism, fun, and above all, freedom. But despite the rose-tinted expectations and assurances that your holiday will be “like, the best experience EVER”, it’s important to pay attention to the fact that plans sometimes have a tendency to go tits up when personalities clash.
For the past six years, my boyfriend has been my main travel companion. We’ve done day trips, mini-breaks, family holidays, a move to Berlin, and we’re planning a three month trip around the U.S this spring. However, our mettle was most tested on our eight week tour of Europe that took in eight countries, 35 hitchhiking rides, two car crashes and one pretty severe brush with the law, all on a budget of less than £2000 between us.
Somehow, we managed to survive the entire trip without beating each other to a bloody pulp, but there were a few bumps along the way! These bumps, however, proved to be valuable learning curves that taught me a lot about how to keep a cool head and get the most out of every travel experience without compromising your own ideals or those of your travel bud. Here are some of the most valuable lessons I learnt.
- Agree on the pace of the trip before you go
Everyone has their own individual preferences when it comes to travel and sightseeing. Some of my friends swear by their itinerary, and schedule exact times to visit every monument, museum, and eatery. Some even go as far as prescribing naptime and make-up refresher stops! Others (i.e. me) prefer to wing it. I tend to research a couple of key hotspots before arriving at my destination and am then perfectly content to mooch around the city at my own pace, hopping from cafe to bar with a couple of cultural pit stops in between. Both are totally valid ways of seeing a city or country, but tempers often flare when you discover that your travel partner has totally opposite sightseeing expectations to yours.Circumnavigate this problem by discussing your preferences way, way before your flight takes off. Be prepared to compromise – for instance, if you’re a stickler for planning and sightseeing but your partner is happier with lounging in a cafe off the beaten track, try researching cool semi-residential areas full of quirky bars and offbeat art galleries that are also in close-ish proximity to the main tourist highlights. You don’t have to plan out your day by the hour, but highlighting a mixed-bag list of various places you might want to visit will save you a lot of hassle and argy-bargy once you arrive. Marking out potential destinations on a city map and working out simple travel routes is also a major help – getting a little lost is always fun, but wandering for hours around identical grey high-rise apartments in the outskirts of Prague definitely isn’t.
- Meet lots of people – or at least one on a short trip
If you’re away for much longer than a few days, that blissful holiday feeling has a tendency to fade once you’ve spent 80 solid hours in the company of your partner. It doesn’t matter how much you like, love and respect them – the simple fact is that once you’ve spent so much time together, conversation starts to go round in circles or peter out altogether unless you introduce some fresh air. Think about it; in everyday life, the two of you rarely spend so much time in each other’s company. You most likely go to work, school, or out with friends, meeting in the evening and on the weekend to discuss all the fun/crap/annoying shit you’ve experience throughout the day. If you’ve done all that fun crap together and have been exercising your conversational muscles in between, what’s left to talk about? Even an extended one on one with Gandhi would become tedious after a couple of days.Accepting that you need a blast of social fresh air doesn’t mean that you and your partner have run out of things to talk about – far from it. Instead, meeting new people – preferably locals – clears away the conversational cobwebs by exposing you to new, culturally specific viewpoints, insider tips on the best places to go, and hidden histories of places and monuments that Wikipedia skimmed over. My boyfriend and I couchsurf a lot, and in each new city we found a welcoming host who took us to their favourite spots, told us their most hilarious stories, and taught us the customs and a little of the language in each place. And when we left each place, we were buzzing with conversation for hours, eager to discuss everything we had learnt and experienced through our new friends. Meeting people really isn’t that difficult when you’re travelling, especially if you’re hitting up big cities with a large youth population, but you can make it a little easier by signing up to Couchsurfing and scouring the meet-up groups in the city – there’s almost always someone willing to show visitors a good time.
- Let the little things slide
Leave the niggling little annoyances at home – your trip is your time to break free from the tyranny of real life. If your travel partner insists on leaving his crumpled travel clothes on the floor, who really cares? You’ll be packed up and gone in a few days. So you misread a map and that 100 meter walk is actually a couple of kilometers? No bother! Enjoy the stroll, or figure out an alternative way of getting there. Trust me, travelling as a duo is a whole lot more enjoyable once you learn to loosen the reins and let those little annoyances slide…
- …But accept that there will probably be at least one major blow-up
Don’t expect the entire trip to be plain sailing. Don’t hope it will be, either – when you’ve spent two months side by side with a travel partner, blowing off steam at each other is an almost necessary occurrence, a cathartic release of pressure that usually comes towards the end of a trip when you’re dog tired and low on funds. Save it for something that has really, really bothered you though. For instance, my boyfriend and I made it seven weeks without an argument, laughing after we were arrested in Karlsruhe and high-fiving each other as we ran away from a lunatic in a stormy Berlin campsite. We arrived at our beach campsite in Italy, with a battered old tent, 25 euros and one pouch of tobacco to see us through the remaining seven days. He then decided to run full pelt into the ocean, forgetting that his phone and my cigarettes were in his pockets. Cue the beachside screaming match of the century (this was back in the days when I smoked, and I was NOT good at handling nicotine withdrawal).Yes, it sucks, but when it comes to most travelling, a small bust-up is just part and parcel of the experience. Just make sure you vow never to go to sleep on an argument – there aren’t many travel arguments that can’t be resolved over a gelato and a beer at a dusty Tuscan bar.
- Laugh at disasters
This is probably the most important point. When all goes tits up – and at some point it will, make no mistake – take a deep breath, let the situation and mad angry feelz subside, walk away for five minutes, and then just…laugh about it. Think that’s impossible? Over the course of one day, my boyfriend and I were detained and strip-searched by the transport police, stranded without cash by the side of the road for hours, involved in a CAR CRASH, and then spent a cold, damp night sleeping in the doorway of a bank, cuddling a kebab for warmth. It could have been the end of our travels, if we hadn’t descended into hysterical laughter at the sheer ridiculousness of the previous 24 hours. That giddy laughing fit saved our trip. Apart from severe injury, death, or an extended stint in an Eastern European jail, there isn’t much that can’t be fixed with a bit of a LOL.