Budgets, personal interests, food choices, and daily schedules are all issues for solo travelers to consider when forming a temporary travel partnership.
The advantages of solo travel range from having complete freedom in choosing an itinerary to not having to put up with a travel partner’s snoring,
But there are times when even the most confirmed solo traveler may want company for safety reasons, travel budgets, or temporary loneliness. Adventure, eco-, and volunteer travelers often wander into some challenging off-the-beaten-track situations, and it can be reassuring to have a partner, at least for a while. While it’s not difficult to meet fellow travelers, it can be challenging to set up a compatible traveling partnership with a stranger.
What to Look For in a Travel Companion?
Choosing a travel partner isn’t the same as choosing a best friend or a spouse, but travel partners spend a lot of time together, so compatibility is essential:
Perhaps the most crucial issue is the budget. Travel partnerships work best not only if the travelers have the same primary account but also share the same attitude about when to splurge (and when not to). If one partner always wants to take taxis and the other can only afford to hitch-hike, neither may be satisfied on a bus. In the same vein, do the partners share a similar attitude toward money? Will one always count up how many drinks the other had or holding back on leaving a tip?
Whether to stay in hostels, cheap hotels, or five-star hotels is related to budgets, of course, but it’s also a matter of style: Given the same account, what is acceptable to each partner? A three-star hotel might be a charming local inn with attractive plumbing or an American chain with standard amenities. One partner’s definition of an acceptably clean cheap hotel may be very different from another’s.
Food preferences can also cause tension. Fast food? Long, elaborate gourmet meals? Street food bought from a dodgy-looking street market stall? Is local cuisine full of unidentifiable animal body parts and spices that could heat a hothouse? Picnics of bread and cheese? Vegetarian or vegan diets? Travel partners don’t always have to eat together, of course, but it’s a lot easier to get along and plan a day if there’s a basic agreement about what is and isn’t edible.
Travel companions don’t have to be chained to each other, but it helps if there is a basic sense of compatibility in terms of interests. Of course, one can always watch World Cup football at a local bar, while the other hangs out at a jazz bar. But some activities, like long treks, or guided tours, require agreeing.
Colonial style is another less obvious issue: Is one partner likely to engage locals in the political discussion? Debate? Outright argument? It’s hard to feel comfortable in a situation where a travel partner is causing heated conversation and tension.
Finally, consider personal schedules and energy levels: Does one partner want to sleep late every day and go out partying till the wee ampere-hours? Is the other an early bird? Being on a different schedule can give both partners time to do their own thing, except when trains, guides, and other fixed activities are involved. The same concern applies to energy levels: it’s no fun to travel with either constantly pushing forward or lagging back…
Making a Travel Partnership Work
The following tips can help make a travel partnership work.
- Be upfront about what you’re looking for and why you want to travel together.
- Set a time limit on the partnership: Agree that you’ll stay together until you get out of Central Africa or for two weeks backpacking in Europe. It’s always possible to stay together longer if it works out well, but setting a time limit gives both partners an escape hatch.
- Don’t share equipment. On a trek or a hike through Norway, keep enough gear so that both parties can continue alone if the partnership breaks up.
- Keep finances straight daily. One strategy that works is to have a kitty and use the money for agreed-upon ordinary expenses. And be clear about what that means: One partner’s drinking habit is not a typical expense.
- Take benefit of “solo time” to follow particular interests. Or agree to split up and meet back up at a specific time.
- Don’t be overly trusting: It’s rare, but occasionally, hucksters prey on solo travelers by starting a partnership and then running off with money or equipment.
Travel companions who meet on the road may or may not be best friends of life. They possibly never even catch each other again. But finding a compatible partner with whom to share part of the journey can add variety to the solo traveler’s usual solitary routines.