I’m a big fan of travelling alone, I love being able to do things at my own pace. There are days when I’ll pack my schedule according to TripAdvisor’s Top Things to Do and other times, I just want to curl up in bed till mid-afternoon and spend the rest of the day with a good book at a neighbourhood café.
That said, I’ve had some pretty amazing adventures with my closest friends over the years: Crossing a broken bridge while hiking in Laos, savouring Hong Kong cuisine through many shared meals, spending a girls’ night in at our hotel room with face, hair, and feet masks on.
These are experiences I wouldn’t have had on my own. Admittedly, it’s not always sugar and all things nice. Spending so much time in close proximity can wreak havoc on even the closest friendships. But after much trial and error, I think I’ve worked out the formula for travelling with friends without wanting to tear your (or their) hair out.
Choose your travel partners wisely
It may seem like a silly question, but are your friends the people you enjoy spending time with? A holiday isn’t just made up of the big moments. There are the little pockets of time where you’re waiting for the rest of the gang to get ready or chilling in line at the airport. The people you love make (almost!) every minute worthwhile, even the mundane ones.
Travel with friends with whom you’re comfortable expressing your needs. Does it make you nervous to tell them that the roadside skewers gave you a stomach ache and you need a toilet stat? Are you afraid of suggesting changes to the itinerary? Travelling is filled with conflicts and compromises – it’s perfectly normal. In such close quarters, you need to be able to communicate openly.
While friends with similar temperaments and expectations are great, so are those who complement you. I can be a bit scatter-brained so I really appreciate my ‘mum’ friends who make sure everyone and everything is accounted for. In contrast, two super chill people can spend the entire trip going “What do you wanna do?”, “I don’t know, what do you want to do?”. Find the mix that works best for you.
Plan your itinerary
Imagine trying to organise dinner over a WhatsApp group chat, then multiply that by a hundred. Saying “YOLO!” and travelling with no itinerary is only fun until you realise how much time you’re wasting on decision-making during the trip itself. Get the hard stuff out of the way FIRST.
I find that the best way to do this is to use shared spreadsheets or project management tools like Trello. Ask everyone to list down the things they want to do, see, and eat. If you all like the same things, great. If not, set aside times where the group can split up.
Creating an itinerary also helps manage expectations and address potential issues. If you’ve got early morning hikes on the menu, a night owl might suggest an alternative time. A friend who’s not keen on clubbing or expensive cafes might instead make her own plans to meet up a friend in town.
Discuss money and logistics
Be upfront about your budget, lodging, and travel preferences. While some of my friends like roughing it out and meeting new people in backpacker hostels, others want a nice, comfortable hotel room with all the amenities.
I’m also a big fan of walking, and enjoy taking in the architecture of the place as well as observing people as they go about their day. Not everyone likes that; some just want to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Be willing to compromise and negotiate the small details.
Don’t be a mooch
We’ve all got that one friend who packs like she’s going on an Arctic expedition. She’s saved you many a time with her economy box of wet wipes, and you don’t know what you would do without her. Don’t let this be your licence to slack off with your own packing. It’s not nice when you’re still slathering yourself in your friend’s carefully-rationed moisturiser on the third day of the trip. The same goes for planning and booking. Offer to do your part so that the entire burden doesn’t fall on the same person.
Always keep in touch. If you’re heading down the road to check out that interesting rock formation you saw on your way in, let your friends know so that they don’t worry about your whereabouts. My friends and I usually create a WhatsApp group so that everyone is connected. It also makes sharing photos much easier!
Leave your annoying habits at home
Do you only flush after number two or clip your toenails in bed? Yeah, don’t.
Spend time apart
Travel friends are not like your colleagues or housemates; you’re with them 24/7. Even the best of friendships can be tested on holidays. Yes, some of the things your friends do can be genuinely annoying (and vice versa) but we’re all on a mental edge after 96 straight hours together.
With long holidays, especially, spending at least a day away from each other is essential. It’ll give you a chance to recharge and explore on your own, while also allowing you enough time apart to miss each other and remember why you’re friends.
Take a deep breath
The littlest things can seem like terrible, friendship-destroying deal-breakers on holidays. Take a deep breath, acknowledge your issues, then let them go. You’re on holiday with some of your favourite people! Well, maybe some of them won’t be your favourite people anymore after this trip but let that be a problem for another day. Breathe…
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