A lot of different factors can influence whether you enjoy your holiday or not. The weather, locals, sightseeing, safety, unforeseen events, transportation method, budget, stress, or even the pillow you will lay your head on at night. But most of all, I believe that a travel buddy can make or break your holiday. I speak from personal experiences. Regardless whether you travel as a couple, friends, occasional travel companion, as part of a guided group trip, or you decide to join a few other backpackers as part of your solo trip.
The longer you go and the more you differ, the more the differences will become evident and may lead – in worst case scenario – to irritation, frustration or worse. There are these websites and Facebook posts of people looking for travel companion. If no one in your vicinity meets your travel needs, you have to do something. Life is too short to always having to wait for others. Some calls seem so desperate that “anyone” would be fine, as long as they do not have to travel solo. Rather risky considering the fact that bad travel company can pretty much ruin your trip.
When looking for the right travel companion, what kind of characteristics and behaviors do you look for? Nobody is perfect but here are some tips and suggestions based on personal experiences during 20 years of travel.
Lover vs. travel buddy
Now if you have serious travel goals and you are still looking for a partner or you are still in the dating phase, I would suggest to pay some extra attention here. Your boyfriend or girlfriend will likely become an important travel companion throughout your life. You may have others that you can go travel with, like friends or a relative, however their lives will develop (kids) and not many couples survive if all they share together are the household and obligations.
People may be different of course, but if you enjoy traveling and your partner has a different travel style preference than you (for example budget backpacking vs. luxury) and/or multiple unpleasant character traits, then traveling can become a setback faster than you might imagine now. Or you end up on a couch with a bunch of screaming kids, feeling miserable with every travel photo you see. Love is blind and there will always be compromises in life, but keeping your mind when choosing a life partner can make a big contribution to your future travel happiness. Good luck!
Characteristics travel buddy
Someone’s character highly influences whether or not someone is pleasant company; with travel, but also in relationships, at work, etc. What kind of characteristics makes someone a pleasant travel buddy is a bit subjective and personal of course, however there are a bunch of characteristics that most people do appreciate in others. So what are the main characteristics and behaviors that I appreciate in my favorite travel buddies? In voluntarily order. You may notice that communication, expectation, equivalency and respect are a reoccurring theme.
To me, laughing is like the elixir of life. No matter how many things may go wrong and how miserable things can get, if you can laugh with your travel companion, it will definitely contribute with your travel happiness. If someone has no humor at all, a very different kind of humor than you, or only makes harsh jokes on the expense of others, things can become dull up to embarrassing or obnoxious. When you notice this after a couple of days out of a three or four weeks or months trip, the journey can feel like an energy-consuming, exhausting long way. So better test this in advance before going on a longer trip together.
I can be a bit slow in the morning. Make-up, hair, pick clothes, day dreaming… Not a morning person at all. If your travel companion is a morning person and you are a night owl, your day rhythm will be different and require some adjustment. Morning persons who do not care about make-up or a crease in their pants, will be must faster ready for breakfast than an evening person who does. If you share an apartment, the morning person may want to start making breakfast? The slower person may want to set the alarm a bit earlier to have enough time. Find a way to make it work.
But what if you are staying in a hotel? Isn’t it nice if your travel buddy patiently waits until you are ready for breakfast too? OK maybe not for hours but waiting for 10 minutes or so is a way of showing respect to the other. OK, but what if you are really hungry and the other person looks-like they may need at least another half an hour or so? Just joke about your growling stomach, ask your travel buddy on a friendly tone how much more time he or she needs to get ready, and potentially discuss the possibility of going to breakfast already. Saves a lot of raised eye brows I can tell ya.
Same with for example taking pictures during holidays. Show some patience towards a travel buddy who wants to take a photo or shoot a short video at a sight. Obviously this should not become a whole photo shoot on every single step you take. Especially if you are on a group trip, show some patients towards others. Otherwise you better travel solo, so you can do everything as you like, on your own pace. Showing some patience to another has a lot to do with showing respect, but that is just my humble opinion.
Did your mom get hospitalized recently? Your sister got a baby? Your bunny recently died? It is nice if you show some empathy to your travel companion. Simply ask how they are doing and ask about recent events in their lives. Possibly this person does not want to talk about the less fun things that have happened recently in his/her life, a holiday can help to escape and relax for a while from our daily worries. But do not fill in for another or assume; make an attempt and you will notice quickly enough, whether your questions are appreciated or not. It does not have to become a police kind of interrogation, but open your heart, be kind and show some interest in one another. Who knows, you may end up in a wonderful deep conversation about life.
Traveling with a travel buddy who is anti-social, is like a nightmare to me. Or those couples who sit at a restaurant table opposite each other and have nothing to talk about, simply stare around or at their smartphone. After a couple of weeks of traveling together, it is not strange to be silent for a while, but not all the time, right? When you are traveling around as a couple, I have noticed that sometimes you can be in your own bubble, mainly focused on each other. When you travel solo, with a social friend or a nice group, I have the experience that it is much likelier that you will end up spontaneously talking with other travelers and locals. Meeting great people often end up as some of the best travel memories.
Extrovert people usually make contact with others easily. As an introvert person you can benefit from that and enjoy the talks, you can get annoyed or tired from all the talking and social events at some point, or a possibly combination? I love traveling with my friends who work in the hospitality business. They are so easy going and social; smiling and friendly to strangers, making contact with others easily. Not in a naïve but in a fun and sincere interested kind of way. I would travel around again with those friends any day!
Social people can be a lot of fun. If you are on an island like Ibiza and you want to go out to a party, while all your travel companion wants is relax and stay in? That can be quite a setback. Also, social people like sharing things, such as a snacks, or ask you to taste their cocktail. I love social people.
What are considered good manners is definitely influenced by culture, upbringing, etc. It is great if both you and your travel companion respect the local culture and behaves appropriately. For example dress appropriately when visiting a religious sight, not wear a T-shirt with an offensive image and/or text, not smoke where it is not allowed, etc.
When you travel with someone, you get to know their eating habits and behaviors. What or normal and acceptable for you, is very personal. Stand up eating, elbows on the table, talking while eating, not using a fork and knife, there are a lot of table and eating manners that are cultural related. Cleaning out a table while some of the people on that table are still eating is considered rude in Western Europe, while in the US that is considered good service. And what if you are a carnivore and your travel companion only wants to go to vegan places?
Personally I can get awfully annoyed by eating noises. Champing, slurping or other forms of noisy sipping, chewing or swallowing, the repetitive sound of a fork against someone’s front teeth, etc. Having a mild form of misophonia, I can be quickly annoyed by all kinds of noise actually, repetitive sounds and movements such as wobbly legs flickering light in the corner of my eye. Especially when I am tired and/or stressed. In addition, clicking with a pen or bubble gum for example. And I am not alone in this, I know several people who have misophonia symptoms too. A travel companion who takes that into account is essential for a pleasant holiday.
And what about snoring? Dorm rooms are soooo not my thing! I would not be able to sleep at all. Or a camping neighbor who has their TV or music speaker out loud all the time for example. When someone is so generous to allow you to spend several nights at their place, wouldn’t it be social to offer some help making food, do the dishes or make up the beds?
6. Together apart
In The Netherlands we have this expression: out together, home together. When traveling, that means that for example if you go out for a drink together, you also make sure that you all get back to your accommodation together. Taking care of each other, watch each other’s back, make sure the other(s) get(s) home safely. You will never forgive yourself if something happens to the other person because you wanted to stay at the club for a few more drinks. I know the stories, it happens.
However, that does not mean you have to do everything together on a trip, not as a couple either. You cannot like everything the same. Let’s say you have a different level of fitness. Quite a determining factor when traveling together. One may dream about walking the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand, while the other thinks it is a bit too much for him/herself and prefers to go horse riding instead. Or one person wants to see some more temples in Bangkok, while the other is not interested and prefers to sleep in for once. No problem, just do something separately, as long as it is safe and in balance.
So I arranged a couple of people who wanted to join my boyfriend to do the walk, dropped them off at the starting point, went horse riding in the meantime, and picked them up when they were finished in the afternoon. We both had fun that day, on our own way, totally fine! Your travel buddy wants to go to the market with some other group members, while you want to relax a bit at the pool? Cool, just give each other some space, enjoy yourself, and meet again for dinner for example. Especially on a longer trip this is fine. When looking for travel companion, check each other’s condition and interests. If one wants to party all the time while the other has a list of museums to check, this may lead to conflict.
7. Fair share
When it comes to money and travel, it is important that you agree in advance how things will be paid by whom. To me, 50/50 is the norm, but for example with couples where one partner makes no or a lot less money than the other, I can imagine the contributions are different. At least talk about it, to avoid unpleasant surprises. The bigger the group and the less well you know each other, the bigger the chance money-wise things may go wrong, from misinterpretation to misunderstanding to miscommunication, or worse. Money can do strange things to people and lead to undesirable, awkward situations or even break ups, I know from personal experience.
Set your fears aside quickly and talk about it when planning a trip. Who will pay for what and how? What can be paid from the joint cash pot? There are apps that can be helpful to keep track of expenses or quickly transfer money to someone else. Having a similar level of spending and budget is definitely earlier and helpful to avoid such financial crises. As a woman, it is nice if your boyfriend or husband treats you for dinner, but do you want him to do that every night? That does not sound fair to me, but hey, I am Dutch; Dutch women like to be independent. Generosity is a lovely characteristic but it’s not cool to make advantage of that. Be careful when considering a trip with someone who has a lot lower budget than you.
Sure, when you are lovers or good friends, you are not going to be difficult about every penny. It is definitely no fun to hang around on holidays with a Scrooge. If someone is not willing to pay for a pricey cocktail on a rooftop to enjoy the view, that can be a real disappointment and spoil the fun for you. That can happen on a night during a longer trip, but if every night one wants to get a salad at the supermarket to save money, while the other prefers steak or a fancy restaurant, this can become a real deal breaker.
Try to spend a similar amount of money during the trip, for example by getting the same amount of cash from the ATM every time for a joint cash pot. One evening you pay dinner, another evening the other pays for dinner. But what if the bills were very different on several nights, would you calculate back who paid how much in total at the end of the trip? One time this has made a huge dent in a friendship, as I paid thousands of euro more than my friend and she lied about paying back. The dark side of a memorable holiday you do not get to see on the pictures.
Everyone brightens up with a nice compliment. For some people this seems to be very difficult, to give or receive a compliment, but this is something everyone should have on their to-do list every day. I believe real friends give each other sincere compliments. Wouldn’t it be nice if your travel companion would compliment you, if you made an effort to get yourself a nice new dress for this trip, or bought new sunglasses? Or if your hair is looks lovely that day? It can be small things, obviously it does not have to be anything in appearance or materialistic. For instance saying thank you after he/she made a nice photo of you. Or when you picked a nice restaurant. Or to the restaurant itself. Traveling with a jealous whiner who can only nag about everything is no fun at all. Thankful people who frequently make sincere compliments to others are better companion.
If friends do not live close to each other, they have to make an effort to see each other. This should come from both sides. The same counts for travel buddies. Both should make an effort to keep the trip fun. Naturally there is usually one person who is the planner and the other(s) is/are more like a follower. That’s fine because two captains on one ship usually does not work. Be thankful for the efforts the planner/organizer makes. Planning and organizing a trip can be a very time consuming task. Try to take some initiative yourself as well, such as finding a nice place to eat that evening on Tripadvisor or Google.
I love going on trips with a travel buddy who is into photography. Or at least someone who (does not mind) to make an effort of taking a nice photo of you. If your travel buddy hates taking photos, or determines one careless shot should be enough, this can become an issue. Sure, you should not make a photoshoot out of every spot; that would be ridiculous. But I love my friends and I want them to look good on a photo, so I make an effort to get a favorable shot, want to see them happy. Nice pictures are a memorable, free souvenir. Also towards people on a group trip; after a few days they usually know who to ask to take their photo. I remember one of my friends said to me on Bali: “It is such a relief to finally travel with someone who does not get annoyed when I want to stop somewhere and take some time to shoot a short video”. Obviously, when both of you do not care about photography, fine, hopefully you share other common interests. That’s always good for bonding.
Slightly touched already under Patience and Humor for example, but find this one so important that I wanted to mention it separately. When people travel together, you have to get used to each other and adapt. From eating habits to travel pace. When you do not know someone well and you consider him/her as travel companion, sort out what this person’s day rhythm looks-like. Is he/she a morning or an evening person? Does he/she mind crowds or rather get up early to avoid crowds? Try to gather some examples on how this person handles situations in which something goes differently than initially planned? In other words: how flexible is this person and is he/she willing to adapt?
Nothing worse than traveling with an ego-centric selfish person who has a “my way or the high way” kind of attitude. The more easy going someone is, usually the better it is, preferably adding some humor to release some tension when needed. If both of you are determined to see everything everywhere, no problem, go ahead. But if the other does not, you will have to compromise and adapt your plans a little bit so it stays fun for both. Making drama or a battlefield out of everything will be exhausting. That is not what a holiday is supposed to feel like, right? Try to lower your expectations, seek common decisions and please go with the flow once and awhile.
Do you have any characteristics or behaviors desirable for travel companion to add? Please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this article.
Contrary, there are characteristics and behaviors that are not desirable with travel companion. Throughout the above, I mentioned a few already, but just to give you some examples of what characteristics and behaviors to avoid like the plague: ego-centrism, anti-social, arrogance, inflexibility, disrespectful and mean. Sure, what one finds annoying or unacceptable may be fine to someone else. Nobody is perfect, including myself. But as long as you treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself, at least you make an effort to make it work and keep it fun for both.
Should you have the desire to travel yet no-one you know can or wants to join? Ask around with friends and family members whether they know someone else looking for a travel buddy? Alternatively, you could go solo (which I can highly recommend) or join a guided group trip (which I can also recommend, especially for ’trickier countries’). Some thoughts:
- When you travel solo and stay in hostels and/or join group tours, it is very common to meet new people along the way and ending up spending days or weeks with them.
- Join day tours booked via for example Viator or GetYourGuide. I met lovely people that way.
- Look online for people who are in the same location as you (locals or fellow travelers) to spend a day or so with. Thing about country specific Facebook groups for example, or websites like Localites or Meetup.com that connect solo travelers and locals. Go to a local’s home for dinner via EatWith. Check apps like PartyWith and TravelStoke to find same minded travelers wherever you are. Or for the real adventurers among us: Couchsurfing.
- Guided group round trips can be really nice I recently discovered in Egypt. Such tours can be in your own local language (see my Partners page for some Dutch options) or international, like Intrepid and G Adventures. Most groups are pretty generic (like any age, all genders, wide area of interests, individuals and couples, etc.), some more specific (focus interest like photography or hiking, singles, female only, etc.).
Search online for travel buddy
If you have decided that a guided group trip or solo travel is not what you want, then you could try and search online for travel companion. There are websites, apps, forums, Facebook groups, etc. that can be helpful to find a travel buddy.
- Some good examples of international websites and apps that help English speaking people in their search for a travel buddy are: Workaway, TravelSisters, Gaffl, TripTogether, TripGiraffe, Travello and TourBar. Especially when you are older, you may be interested in looking into Women Welcome Women World Wide (5W). For Dutch travelers there is Reisgenoot Zoeken. To combine travel and dating, check out Miss Travel.
- Online forums such as Lonely Planet, Travellers Point, Gap Year or TravelGirls (Dutch).
- Facebook groups such as The Solo Female Traveler Network (private), Adventure and Travel Mates (public) and for Dutchies there is Reismaatje gezocht (private).
Just be careful online. Do not share too many details about yourself online, especially not on public pages. This may create the risk of attracting people with bad intentions, like traffickers. Be aware of the phenomenon called cat fishing, when someone who pretends to be someone online they are not in real-life. Always meet up in a public place first, make sure your family or best friend knows where you are going and who you are going to meet (name, phone number). Be cautious with organizations that promise things that sound good to be true or ask money for volunteer work.
Do not rush into a decision. Listen to your gut feeling and inner voice. Your first impression is often your intuition telling you something. When it does not feel good, walk away, do not be desperate. Safety first. Tell people at home where you are and who you are going to hang out with. I would never promote hitch-hiking as it involves too many risks. Couchsurfing is something that budget travelers may want to try, but as a solo female traveler be extra careful, for instance never stay in a house where are only men, who you never met before. This is asking for trouble.
Question potential travel buddy
When talking face-to-face to anyone who potentially could become your travel buddy, don’t jump on cloud no. 9 out of enthusiasm immediately. This is like dating but then for travel companionship instead of love. Make a serious attempt to find out what this person is really like and how he/she will behave during a trip abroad. What are their travel dreams, wishes and expectations? Ask about their previous trips, how did they go? Some examples of questions you may want to consider discussing with your potential travel buddy:
- Are you a hostel or hotel kind of person? Low budget or luxury lover?
- Which countries are in your top 5 as future travel destinations?
- What is your budget? Did you already save the amount or plan to use your credit card?
- What annoys you about people on holiday? What are your eating habits?
- Can you give me an example of a situation in which you dealt with a setback?
- Do you prefer to travel with a suitcase or backpack? Method of transportation?
- Could you describe your perfect day on holiday? Morning or evening person?
- What are the top 5 of places you want to see and things you want to do in country x?
- Do you prefer to plan everything in advance or to wing it? Planner or follower?
- How do you stay fit? Do you have any active hobbies or do you prefer to relax mostly?
Be open and honest. Not too critical yet realistic. Alarm bells should ring for instance if a potential travel buddy does not have realistic ideas (f.e. wants to stay at 4 or 5 star hotels while he/she is still a student), tells a lot of negative stories about other people such as previous travel buddies, wants to keep things secret, things like that. Try to go on a short, regional trip together first (trial), before planning trips together longer than a week or so abroad.
Found a travel buddy?
There are several things you will need to agree upon before booking a trip with your travel buddy and actually going. Even if you are friends for years. Talk and share information in advance about for example:
- Make clear, detailed agreements about money: budget, who pays what, joint cash pot, etc.
- Agree where and when to go, how/when things will be planned, accommodation, etc.
- Make sure you have each other’s health and travel insurance details (name company, 24/7 phone number, policy or customer number) and emergency person’s name and phone number in case something happens.
- Visit each other at home and ideally get introduced to each other’s partner, family, etc. first. Update your family and/or partner on your travel plans and share your travel buddy’s details with them.
Yet most of all: have fun! I sincerely hope you will have a wonderful trip, however you decide to travel. Just don’t get your hopes up too high. Realistically speaking, you may have a difference of insights or want something different at some point. No matter how hard you try, one way or another, you will encounter issues or differences along the way. People are never 100% the same (but they can be complimentary to each other).
If your travel buddy is not like what you expected in advance, don’t get depressed. Try to make the best out of it. Talk to each other and see if it can be solved in an adult way. Always stay respectful. Do not let somebody walk all over you. Decide for yourself if it is worth a fight if that’s your sad conclusion on the last day of your trip. Conclude for yourself that he/she is a ‘once but never again’, lesson learned, move on and cherish the good memories. Consider splitting up if there is still a long way to go. It’s not the end of the world. I went on a solo trip to Japan and had a great time.
The perfect travel buddy does not exist. However, a proper search and having some basic standards in mind can definitely influence your chance for success. Know yourself, what is important to you? Don’t be too critical yet honest and realistic. There will always be a point where two travelers turn out to be different. And for that reason, before you travel with that person, it is worth reviewing some of the points and questions listed in this article and reach agreement. To avoid unnecessary miscommunication and frustration along the way. Happy travels!
Did you ever travel abroad with someone that turned out to be bad travel companion? Who is your favorite travel buddy? Please feel free to share your personal thoughts and experiences below.
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