7 Tips To Save Friendships When Travelling In A Group
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
Thinking of travelling with your best friend? Read this first!
Welcome to part 2 of the 'advice to young travellers' blog post series! Here I'll be imparting some lessons on travelling with friends/groups in order to minimise the chance of destroying friendships!
Destroy friendships? Isn't that a bit over-dramatic?
To put it bluntly, no. As much as travelling can forge friendships, so too is it capable of ruthlessly dismantling them.
And it happens because of one sole reason: miscommunication.
You and your best friend might be perfectly matched to watch Netflix shows together, but when it comes to budget travelling through South-East Asia, there might be slight compatibility issues. And if that isn't accounted for through good communication…well, let's say choosing your next Netflix series together is the least of your immediate issues…
So how do you go about making sure that the friend/friends you're planning to go travelling with are compatible?
Here's a handy list of 7 things that are worth discussing in advance to make sure your expectations are aligned!
Let's get to it.
You have to be able to keep it 100% real with the individual/group you’re travelling with. Many a friendship has ended because of a bad travelling experience, so real talk is absolutely necessary.
And I don’t mean the, ‘hey, are you up for changing plans and doing something different tomorrow?’ or ‘man, you need to wear some deodorant when we have long train journeys’. I’m talking about, ‘brother, I’m feeling very guilty as I feel my illness has let you down and tarnished your travel experience, and it makes me feel like s**t…is it okay if we talk about this?”.
There will be uncomfortable moments and painful conversations, no doubt about it. But you’ll come out of it having enjoyed the trip far more than you would have otherwise. And you’ll have friendships built to last far beyond the trip.
The number of times you’ll have to compromise when travelling in a group or pair is simply uncountable. Let me tell you now, if your friend wants to keep a ‘compromise chart’ as to how many times each person compromises, there are definitely some underlying issues to discuss!
Compromise is about putting aside your own selfish desires and trying to be empathetic with the other person’s circumstances, not doing someone a favour! I’m not saying that you should be a pushover – I’m simply saying that this isn’t all about you…or them! You’re a team.
Here’s the key – if you communicate well, you’ll realise that compromise doesn’t have to mean ‘settling’. Once you're able to empathise with a friend's situation, you'll be better equipped to understand their reasoning for wanting to take a certain course of action. At that point, you're no longer settling by choosing to pursue that path – it’s simply a different path that you, to some extent, have also decided to take.
So follow through accordingly by committing to it as strongly as a choice that you've made, as opposed to resisting it and resenting your friend for 'making' you walk this path.
3. The 'Peace Ritual'.
If it does come to pass that you find yourself at odds with your partner/group, make sure you have a 'peace ritual' in place. Make it unique to you, an act or ritual that really represents your relationship. Don't discuss the situations in which you'll use it - trust me, you'll know when it's needed. Ideally it'll never be used - so don't make it too fun!
When I was travelling in China, my friend and I decided that, in the event we really found ourselves resenting each other….we'd sit next to each other, cross-legged, eyes closed. And then we'd hold hands and sing 'Let It Go' from the Frozen soundtrack at the top of our voices.
I'm dead serious.
Did it ever come to this?
Were we secretly disappointed at this?
Did we sing 'Let It Go' anyway as we cycled tandem around the City Walls of Xi'an?
An uncomfortable area to talk about, but absolutely pivotal when it comes to group travels. It’s unlikely that two or more people travelling together will come from exactly the same financial background, or have the same budget for a trip. The last thing you want is to be arguing over accommodation, food or activities because your budgets are different!
Once again, this boils down to good communication. Talk to each other prior to the trip, share your habits and preferences, and know when to compromise!
During my travels in South America, I fell very ill. I’m hugely grateful to my travelling partner for paying more to stay in a hotel (as opposed to a budget hostel, which we both originally agreed to as our preferred dwelling type – less due to financial constraints, more due to the ‘travelling experience’) when I was bed-ridden with illness. It helped my recovery hugely to not have to worry about other dorm-mates, shared bathrooms and cold rooms, plus the atmosphere just felt more laid-back.
I knew that my partner wouldn’t leave me to go somewhere alone in my ill state (not a bad trait for a travelling partner!), so I felt very uncomfortable knowing that he’d be paying more on my behalf. So I confronted him. I offered to pay the difference between the room and cheaper hostels. He was uncomfortable with this, and so we proceeded to discuss the matter further. In the end, we decided that we would pay the same amount. Both of us were comfortable and at peace with the decision, and I’m grateful to him for his empathy and understanding in dealing with the issue.
5. Dealing with unanticipated bulls**t.
As I said before, s**t happens when you travel. You want to be with someone who can think clearly under pressure, not someone who becomes overwhelmed by deviations from the expected path. In most of my travels, unanticipated bouts of illness have been a key challenge faced by myself and my travelling partners.
Once again, communication and compromise take centre stage. In the end, it doesn’t matter how something happened – all that really matters is what is now, and more importantly, how you're going to handle it and avoid repeating it going forwards. Communicate well. Be honest. Don't rush decisions. Come to a resolution together.
Specific to illness, there’s a few key points to recognise.
First, if you're ill, your partner is having a battle with themselves. On one hand, they know it’s completely wrong to leave you – on the other, your illness is tarnishing their travelling experience! You need to bring this up and talk about it. Be honest with each other, make each other aware of your situations and empathise. After all, you’re friends, right? Trust me, it’s not as painful a process as you might initially think.
The second point to consider is that your negativity (you’re ill, of course it exists) is infectious. Even if you don’t communicate how you're feeling exhausted, angry and disheartened explicitly, your partner will sense it, and it will affect their state of mind. You need to sit down together, confront this openly, and create a plan that will meet two key criteria: allow the healthy individual to minimise regret and indulge in activities they wish, whilst allowing the ill individual to recover.
Keep communicating – when time is running out, sometimes you’ll have to part ways and do excursions alone. Even if it doesn't come to that, it's still important to make sure the healthy-partner is mentally prepared for the far-from-ideal situation of continuing alone in the event of the ill-partner not recovering.
7. Personal Growth.
Not for the ultra-sensitive, but if you hold a positive attitude towards ‘constructive criticism’ and are always looking for opportunities for self-improvement, talk about the observations you’ve made about each other.
My South America-trip travelling partner was superb in this aspect, at one point making a very interesting point that I was often talkative (surprise, surprise…) when we met new people in hostels, but to the point of dominating conversations and overshadowing him. I’d never considered him a quiet person, especially in comparison to me, so this was quite a startling revelation!
Looking further into this, I realised that this trait was rooted in my past shyness, linked to old insecurities I had about being overlooked or ignored, and that I obviously still identified with my past attribute of being somewhat introverted. Being with someone like my travel partner, whom I considered an extrovert, meant that my insecure past-self had tried to influence the present-self into ‘compensating’ by being the more dominant character in conversations!
Bringing that past projection into the present and ‘updating’ it to account for my new traits (e.g. my inability to shut-the-f**k-up) was a very positive step for me, one that wouldn’t have been possible were it not for my partner's observations.
That's all for now - thanks for reading! I hope the practical tips outlined above have been helpful (or at least amusing) - if you've enjoyed them, check out the practical travel tips from the first post of the series, as well as the final post on mental/emotional advice and lessons!
As always, feel free to share, comment or ask any questions. I'll end by wishing you safe travels, amazing experiences and plenty of personal growth!
Keep growing. Keep striving. Keep shining!
Kam Taj is a University of Cambridge graduate (Engineering Tripos, BA, MEng, 2011-15), ICF-Accredited performance coach, motivational speaker and author of 'The Ultimate Guide To Exam Success'. He runs training workshops at schools, universities and companies on personal & professional development, with a focus on performance improvement in their field of choice. When he's not running workshops or coaching private clients, you can find him playing tennis, hanging on gymnastic rings and making cheesy motivational Instagram posts.