There is a saying that you should not travel with the people you love. When forced into close proximity for days on end, seeing each other at your best and worst, it can go one of two ways – you find an excellent travel partner, or you never want to see this person again for the rest of your life!
While you often can’t help it with family, you can choose your other travel partners, and I took a leap of faith in joining a friend, Lyn, on a 11 day trip overseas just a month ago. We are, I’d say, pretty good friends. But we hadn’t really spent that much time together. The only time we took a trip together, it was a road trip, with some other friends, and sometimes the dynamics of a group helps diffuse any tension that might arise. When there’s just the 2 of you however, things can go south quickly.
But I can tell you quite truthfully, that I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday. I don’t think we had any disagreements, although we found ourselves in a few scrapes and inadvertent adventures. We were forced into very close proximity, as accommodation was tiny. But, we didn’t kill each other, and I’d be quite happy to go on another adventure again.
So, here are 7 things I learnt about going on holiday with a friend. If you too are thinking of going on one with friends, it might help you to think about these things, so you don’t kill each other 😛
Do you have common interests or a common goal?
Lyn and I first bonded over beauty. We met thanks to blogging, something I am always grateful for. By over the years, while I’m still plugging away at beauty, her interest had waned and she was now doing a little business making fabric bags. She also has an interest in craft and stationery. I wasn’t particularly interested. So, we were going on this trip with quite disparate interests.
Before we went, we sat down to talk about what we intended to do while in Japan. Lyn had plotted out the stores she wanted to visit and where she wanted to go, for her interests. I had the odd store I was interested in visiting e.g. Hakuhodo in Kyoto. In those areas, our interests diverged.
But in other areas, we were in agreement. We did not want to see all the sights. We wanted time to pause, relax and watch the world go by. We both enjoy doing nothing for a while, and we agreed that we were fine with not seeing every tourist sight in town.
It is important, when travelling with others, to realize what, if any, common interests or goals you have. Is it to chase sakura all over the city? Is it to seek out all the hipster coffee joints in the city? If your interests and goals aren’t in alignment, and expectations are not set, you will have a problem. I, for example, am not arsed to seek out hipster coffee joints and cafes. I wouldn’t be able to travel with someone who was insistent I went along, as I’d be bored, and find it a waste of time and money. Similarly, I place a lot of importance on food and finding good food. Some people don’t care, so long as they eat something. Set your expectations early, and have back-up plans. There will be times you have to split up and do your own thing. Be sure you’re comfortable with doing that.
Help to plan your holiday
It is not fair to leave all the planning to one person. Help to look up flights. Perhaps you might find a cheaper flight, or cheaper travel options. Perhaps you come across a website with discounts. When travelling, unless you are rolling in it, every little saving helps. Perhaps you might stumble across a more affordable hotel or apartment. Treat your holiday as a project – you want everyone in a group to pull their weight and contribute to the project. After all, everyone stands to benefit.
Be sure you are in agreement about where you want to stay. Hotels can be more convenient, especially if you have odd check-in times. Apartments, e.g. Airbnb, can be more affordable, and offer more space. Which are you more comfortable with? What do you intend to do each day? What do you intend to see, or do or eat? You can do research in your own time, and contribute suggestions as you go.
Above all, be decisive. There’s no need to give in all the time, nor do you have to be the one calling the shots all the time. But be decisive about the important things – travel dates, flight details, where to stay, where you’re visiting. The rest, you can keep it fluid. We even planned some days on the fly while we were in Japan, changing plans at the last minute. But our basic structure was there.
Take time to meet and discuss
Lyn and I live quite far away from each other, so we really only met up twice to finalise bookings. Once to book our flight and to have a rough itinerary and another, to book our apartments and train tickets and finalize our itinerary. In between, we kept in touch via WhatsApp.
I think it’s important, if possible, to meet and if not to meet, then to set aside time to discuss how your trip is progressing. These days, this can be done online. Circumstances can change in the lead up to a holiday. Events can change and even something as simple as train tickets can change your whole holiday.
In our original plan, we were going to fly into Tokyo, spend a few days there, and then head out to other cities or towns before coming back to Tokyo to depart. When we realized how expensive the Japan JR Pass was, we opted for the 7 day pass, and flipped our travel around, so we spent the first 7 days travelling. Because it was just the 2 of us, it was quite easy for us to make that quick decision. But it is certainly something that you should do in a proper discussion, so everyone is on the same page. That is important, because you want to avoid misunderstandings. Friendships have been lost for less!
Be flexible in your travel plans
You aren’t on a guided tour, so be flexible in your travel plans. All sorts of things can happen while you’re on holiday, that can derail the most well-laid plans. You must be prepared for that to happen. Or perhaps, you are just too tired to do a punishing day. Be flexible enough to take a rest day if that is so.
In my example, Lyn and I had a scare the very first day. We had gotten on the wrong train from Tokyo to Kyoto, and were on a train bound for Nagoya instead. At the first opportunity, we jumped off. We had to be flexible enough to know that we might have to take another train, which would result in us arriving at our destination very late. In the worst case scenario, we’d have to spend a night in Yokohama, where we had gotten off. Fortunately for us, the next train that came along we our train. So the day was saved.
There were a few occasions when we just decided on the spur of the moment to go and visit a particular spot or, just stop for a coffee and break. We were flexible enough to know when certain sights were just beyond us, and when we just did not want to queue for hours for a chance to glimpse Mt. Fuji. Some things, you can forgo. Again, expectations are important.
You must have give and take
There will be occasions when you end up going somewhere that doesn’t interest you. Or vice versa. Or maybe you’re too tired to walk any further, and want to spring for a taxi. Compromise, or give and take, is very important when you’re travelling together with a friend.
It is important to realize that not everything will go your way, and that you should not expect everything to go your way. I’m thankful Lyn agreed to queue with me the 45 minutes it took for us to try Ichiran cubicle ramen. I wanted to try it, and I knew she wasn’t all that keen (Conclusion: It wasn’t worth the queue time). But she came along anyway. I wasn’t particularly raring to visit the Traveler’s Notebook Factory main store, but I went along anyway, and spent a happy quiet hour resting, and browsing and updating my epic travel stories on Instagram haha 😀 It turned out to be win-win for us.
When overseas, I don’t usually take taxis (I don’t do taxis in Malaysia either, it’s a personal quirk) but there were a few occasions when we were both just too tired, or when we knew our luggage was too bulky and unwieldy to push along sidewalks and up and down subway stairs. We both agreed then that taking a taxi, despite the cost, was the best way, and it was.
Have time to yourself
When travelling together, the chances are that you’d be spending many days together in close proximity. But I found it just as important to take a little time off for yourself, if you feel that your interests don’t mesh. Lyn was going to Nippori, a suburb of Tokyo that specialized in selling fabric. I wasn’t particularly interested. But I went along anyway, out of interest, and also because I’d seen online that there was a little market there I was interested to visit. I love pottering around little markets and the like, and if you’re ever in Nippori, I highly recommend visiting the Yanaka-Ginza market.
It turned out to be one of my highlights of my trip! I thoroughly enjoyed walking down the street, peeping at all the food on offer, eating various street food, buying snacks and just exploring. Along the way, I stopped by 2 little temples, and walked around their quiet, zen gardens, enjoying the quiet serenity of the place. I loved it. Lyn did some fabric damage, so I think she had a good time too! LOL! 😀
Similarly, when shopping. We decided to split up within the department store, so we could each cater for our interests. We set ourselves a meeting place and time, and that allows you to browse more freely, without feeling like you’re imposing on anyone’s time or interest.
Have a food “kitty” pool to pay from
One of the first things we did upon arriving in Japan, was to pool together a “kitty” from which to pay for our meals and shared expenses e.g. train tickets. I took care of the kitty, and at the end of each day, we’d do a little tally of expenses, just to gauge our spending, and how well we were doing in terms of money. This is useful because it removes the stress of having to sort out shared expenses after the fact.
Sometimes, when you split expenses after that, it is harder to split it more exactly. In foreign currency, when exchange rate is involved, it can sometimes be tricky. Money is often the easiest way to destroy friendships. As we were sharing most of our meals, it made sense to have a common fund. If we wanted to buy a snack for ourselves, we sprung for it from our own pocket. But when we eat together, it came from the common pool. Naturally, if someone wishes to order wagyu beef while another is opting for chicken, you should adjust your expenses accordingly 😛
Be realistic about finances
We were both quite clear about what we were willing to splurge on, and what we were prepared to save on. We wanted to get a commercial flight, which we did, at a pretty good price for the season. Accommodation in Japan is expensive, and because we were there for many days, we had to save. We were quite lucky in that we found quite decent lodgings for a fairly reasonable price (for Japan) on AirBnB. We were also quite clear that we were willing to splurge on a few good meals during our trip, which we did.
However, we were also realistic in that we ended up having convenience store food quite often. Because we were in Japan, convenience store food is affordable, hot and filling. Were we to be in a different country, we’d probably have been having sandwiches, or making sandwiches as we went along. I brought some instant coffee with me, so we had that at breakfast for half the trip. It isn’t exactly gourmet, but it was a good kickstart to the day, and it saved us a little money. We weren’t travelling on a shoestring budget, but it didn’t hurt to save where we could.
It helps to be clear about your budget constraints, so there isn’t any misunderstanding. There’s no point going on holiday and then feeling pressured to spend on something you aren’t comfortable with spending on, just to keep up. I prefer that everything is laid out on the table BEFORE you go. That way, everyone is aware of what’s happening, and the trip and experiences can be tailored accordingly.
Above all, as you can tell from the recurring theme above, is to set expectations. Are you the sort who sleeps in late? Do you need an afternoon nap? Are you prepared to walk long distances? Do you intend to dress up and primp before going out?
We tried to set our expectations as best we could and for the most part, I think we met our expectations. Perhaps even surpassed them. It is very important that all your travel buddies are on the same page. If there is something you cannot agree on, then compromises can be met earlier, before the trip, as opposed to while on the trip.
Have you travelled with friends and was it a positive experience?
Do feel free to share any tips or experiences you may have. I spoke to a friend recently, who shared that the one time she travelled with some friends, they ended up no longer being friends! So yes, it can work out well or be a nightmare – what was it for you? 😀