A few years back, I unexpectedly met up with my neighbors Jim and Kim (their real names) overseas. The man of the house and I have some similar interests, and found ourselves attending the same multi-day event. We chatted briefly before heading off to dinner. I suggested we meet the following day at the same spot.
"We won't be here tomorrow," Jim said, and turned to Kim. "Tell him about our deal."
"Jim gets Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; I get Wednesday and Friday," Kim said, smiling. Jim smiled too, and shrugged. "Hey, you gotta work together."
This negotiation had clearly taken place at home. In fact, knowing these two busy professional folks, I'd bet this deal was cut before they checked flight prices. And while it sounds a little too scripted for my taste, they had successfully avoided a showdown on the road.
Different interests, a single itinerary. On the road, where you won't have your own cars, jobs in different offices, other friends to hang out with or a big house to wander around, a little togetherness can cause a lot of trouble. It can ruin a trip, or even a relationship.
It doesn't matter whether you're married, significant others, good friends or merely just headed the same direction — it's well worth it to put in the time, thought and effort that will let you enjoy each other's company without driving each other crazy. Read on for our ideas and tips.
What's your style?
The first step in planning a peaceful trip is to identify your differences. Do you like to board planes first or last? Do you like to stroll through a trip or charge hard all day long? Do you like to linger at a meal or scarf it down and get moving again? Travel styles can differ greatly, even between spouses or close friends. Here are a few common differences:
Night people vs. day people: Does one of you like to trip the night fantastic, while the other wakes up at dawn? Travelers who can't sync their schedules may face a few conflicts.
Indoor people vs. outdoor people: I know two travelers who went around the world together. One simply wanted to hug the coast for the entire trip, never losing sight of the water; the other wanted to see great cities, great buildings and great museums. Needless to say, they found themselves at loggerheads a couple of weeks into the trip.
Planners vs. wanderers: Some travelers arrange each step of their itinerary ahead of time, while others prefer to wing it without so much as a map.
Understand that these differences will be an issue, and be sure to talk about how to handle them before your trip begins. Compatible travel styles are probably more important than identical interests in predicting a successful travel partnership. Respect each other's style and be prepared to meet in the middle. There is no way but negotiation to settle such fundamental differences.
Choosing your destination
If there's anything on which you need a solid consensus, this is it. No matter what plans you make, precautions you take or tolerance you fake, if your trip takes you to the beach and your companion hates the ocean, or to the desert and your companion hates the heat, you're probably doomed.
Make sure that both parties are involved in the decision-making process. Try to pick a destination that you'll both love or that has enough activities that no one gets bored. Former IndependentTraveler.com editor Carrie Calzaretta recently took a honeymoon cruise, and emphatically endorses this advice.
"Although both of us were more than apprehensive about the idea of spending a week on a cruise ship for our honeymoon (crammed into a tiny cabin, dining with talkative strangers), we both knew there was no better way to see French Polynesia," Calzaretta relates. "So on day one, armed with our shore excursion sheets, we proceeded to pick out three activities a day, every day, for the duration of the trip. Horseback riding, scuba diving, safaris, you name it. For the most part we went together, but there were days when one went to the woods, the other to the shore.
"That time spent away from each other actually brought us closer together; back at the ship we sat on the deck for hours and caught each other up on the events of the day."
Check each other's energy levels
Just because you are gung-ho to take a walking tour of every pub mentioned in James Joyce's "Ulysses" doesn't mean your traveling partner is up for the same. An important time to check each other's energy levels is right at the beginning of your trip; did one of you just come off a particularly tough stretch at work? Is one of you looking forward to a leisurely pace, the other ready to see all of Europe on $25 in 24 hours?
Your saturation point and stamina may differ greatly as well; hitting your stride together might be even more important than hitting the sights together.
Equal time or just equal fun
When planning your trip or even your day, it's usually a little like dance class; someone has to lead, and someone has to follow. If your relationship is based on equal time, it's best to know when it's your turn to lead and when to follow.
It doesn't always have to be a matter of equal time, although that is a sound approach. Be aware of what is most important to your traveling companion, and what concessions will mean the most to her or him. In Kim's case, she knew how important the event was to Jim, and gave him the extra day. In fact, I saw Jim at the event without his wife when we crossed paths at a late-night party late in the week; Kim was already back at the hotel, sleeping. They were comfortable enough to let each other go their separate ways, and Kim had no problem letting Jim fly solo into the night while she went home to bed.
Do your own legwork
Want to go to a museum? Find out on your own what tickets cost, how to get there and when it's open. Then when you drag your companion along, he or she doesn't have to worry about all the logistical hassles and might actually enjoy the experience. Sweeten the pot by paying the admission fee or treating your companion to lunch as well.
When choosing your destination, be careful to consider cultural and language issues. Does one of you know a language well, while the other can only garble language book phrases? Is one of you an expert skier, the other strictly a kiddie-sloper? One of you might feel left out in these cases.
Consider one another's routines
What about routine activities, like a cherished daily run or leisurely breakfast? Not everyone accounts for these types of activities when planning a trip, but forcing your partner to go without can cause considerable friction.
If you are addicted to your 7 a.m. jog or to sipping coffee and reading the newspaper all morning, get up 30 minutes early to make your routine fit.
Break out so you don't break up
Don't be afraid to launch out alone. This may not be advisable late at night or in dangerous neighborhoods, so you should consider these issues carefully. But as Calzaretta notes above, it doesn't hurt to take a walk on your own or to head your separate ways for a day or an afternoon.
Taking your work with you
These days, it's the rare person who can leave his or her work behind completely while traveling. If you absolutely must stay in touch with the office, do it on your own time. Wake up early to answer e-mail or make calls while your companion sleeps. Plan in advance when you are going to work and give your companion enough notice to make other plans. (Get more tips in How to Escape While Staying Connected.)
Pack separate bags
Especially for short trips, it may seem more efficient to pack a single bag, then take separate carry-ons. Think twice before you do this.
First off, one person ends up carrying it — which can lead to resentment if one of you has to lug a heavy bag bulging with the other's souvenirs.
Second, packing style is a very personal trait. Some people are neat, compartmentalizing clean and dirty clothes, shirts and pants, etc. Others stuff dirty clothes into corners, pile everything else in and sit on the bag to get it to shut. There'll be enough differences between you to deal with; skip this one.
When traveling solo, if you get tired you simply skip an event or two. When traveling together, one person's optional event is another's dream day. If you schedule in some down time, you'll be able to kick back without forcing anyone to give up cherished activities.
Agree on a general budget
While traveling together usually helps you save money, a consensus on how much money you'd like to spend is important. For example, how, when and where you eat is a fundamental component of traveling. If one person spends freely on restaurants while the other prefers to save money by going to the grocery store, you could be headed for a major clash. Decide ahead of time on a budget that's agreeable to both parties, and stick to it.
Keep your head in a crisis
In the event of airport delays, lost luggage and other minor disasters, keep your head and consider carefully whether to open your mouth. Angry words said in a stressful moment can have lasting effects throughout the rest of your trip. (Prepare for the worst with our tips for coping with travel trouble.)
Share the load for decisions
I've found that traveling with someone who always agrees, always defers and always does whatever I want to do is harder than traveling with an itinerary tyrant. I'd rather someone speak his or her mind than go along miserably.
On the other hand, there's nothing like travel to bring out the control freak in some folks. If one of you particularly savors or has a talent for dealing with logistics, let that person have at it!
Talk about it
Especially on a leisure trip or vacation, everything is flexible and negotiable. Changing plans can be as simple as saying something like, "I'm tired; want to sleep in tomorrow?" Your companion might just agree. Alternatively, if he or she has done the legwork as I advise above, your companion might reply that the ferry to the mountain hike doesn't run again until the afternoon, and that if you miss it, you're not going hiking that day.
Often the best and most memorable travel is unexpected and unscripted; it can be a little trickier to find these happy accidents when traveling with another person, but it can be done. Remember that these negotiations and changes are part of traveling.
Special concerns: Visiting family
Many of us like to take our partners back to the place we grew up, to give them the grand tour. And as often as not, they find themselves sitting in living rooms reminiscing over times and events that they never experienced.
For you, sitting around with old friends and family is perfectly amusing; for your traveling partner, it gets old — fast. Be sure to plan enough time so that the trip actually feels like a vacation, rather than a never-ending audition or meet-and-greet.
A simple 'thank you' never hurts
If your traveling companion has spent the day tagging along on your idea of a good time, a sincere "thank you for coming with me; it was better with you along" goes a long way.
Don't forget to smell the roses
Calzaretta adds one final reminder, especially for couples: "Tips and tricks aside, don't forget that the reason you took the trip was to spend time together. Mark and I usually agree to go on at least one 'date' together near the end of the vacation — flowers, manners, the whole nine — which inevitably reminds us that despite the occasional rock in the road, we really love to be together."
There you have it: how to travel together without tearing each other's throats out!