Words by: Victoria Gillett Art by: Sarah Annett
Choosing a travel buddy is kind of like choosing a life partner. You have to be 100% comfortable with each other. Ride the ups and downs, be understanding of your need for both space and support, and share interests and goals. We dream of that ebony and ivory companionship, perfect harmony.
I always say that I have three types of friends — friends I love, friends I could live with, and friends I could travel with — it was no easy feat learning how different these categories could be.
When I first went backpacking around Europe, I headed off with one of my closest school friends. Little did I consider how utterly different we were in so many ways — where I was flexible and spontaneous, she was rigid and anxious. She liked planning out every day to the nanosecond, I liked figuring it out as we went. She wanted to visit every museum, gallery and Duomo — I wanted to lie in patches of sun beneath the Eiffel Tower, and watch old men playing chess in plazas.
It wasn’t that either of us were wrong in our ways — we were just too different. My lackadaisical attitude to time put her on edge, her anxiety made me feel increasingly perverse. Far from being on the same page, we weren’t even reading the same book, let alone in the same library. Retrospectively, we were both 20 years old and growing up into very different people from our schoolgirl selves. But no matter how well we got along in a homeland context, we just weren’t compatible travel buddies.
As we traipsed across the various cities and sights of Europe, I ended up meeting people who I was more compatible with, and I could feel her getting left behind. It was a tricky situation balancing our friendship, and my desire to enjoy our trip the way I wanted. While I always stuck with her in the end, it strained our friendship at the time and there was constant friction.
When we travel, we live in a paradox of being both the best and worst of ourselves.
Via this paradox, you learn so much about your true self, and the true self of who you travel with. I’ve travelled with family, my sister, boyfriends and best friends, but for me — the best travel buddies have been new friends and strangers. The ones who don’t weigh upon us expectations. The excitement of learning about each other while you learn about a new place is enriching.
Can you know who you’re going to travel well with until you’ve travelled with them? Probably not. But it is of course important to consider travel compatibility – like interests, goals, and budget – before choosing a Donkey to your Shrek.
It’s also worth remembering that your best travel companion may be yourself. I don’t regret any of my adventures in Europe with my friend; we both learnt so much about each other and ourselves, and while I made other great friends along the way, I treat both experiences of friendship with the gravity they deserve in how they shaped us.