Travel companions: Are you compatible?

Your friends or extended family want to visit Europe. You also want to visit Europe. Before you know it, someone says “Hey! Let’s go together!”

You’re thinking “why not?” It would be nice to travel with new people. These days the travel possibilities are endless, including group travel (with other couples or families), multi-generational travel, “girls’ getaways” and “mancations”. It’s a chance to try something new, to meet people and reconnect.

Besides, there are many reasons to go with people you might not have traveled with before. You’ll have a chance to build on your relationship — you get to know each other better and create long-lasting memories. You’ll have a chance to experience things you might not have tried otherwise, and share your own experiences with others. (Not to mention sharing the expenses too!)

But the possible pitfalls? Arguments — especially ones that could damage a friendship or family tie. Also, you’re spending a lot of time and money on this trip, so you want as little fuss as possible.

If you’re traveling with new people, here’s what you can do to make the trip a little smoother:

Compare styles. The choice of destination and travel date aren’t the only things you’ll have to agree on. To find out if you’re compatible, here are a few things to discuss before you get down to details:

Budget. Like it or not, you have to talk about money because it’s going to influence other factors. Agree on some reasonable numbers for meals, accommodations, transportation and activities so everyone can afford the fun while comfortably staying within their means.

Pace. Do you want to explore one place in depth (like spending a week in Paris), or do you prefer more variety (like a European tour where you’re in a new country every few days)?

Accommodations. From hostels to high-end hotels, there are places to stay to suit any taste and budget. Vacation rentals are also an affordable option for groups. What type you choose, and how many rooms you’ll need, will depend on people’s comfort levels. (See Save with vacation rentals and Hostels: Not just for backpackers.)

Transportation. If you’re visiting more than one country, are you willing to hop a bus or train to get around, or do you prefer air travel only? Are cruises an option too?

Activities. It’s not always possible to mix sports with art galleries and tours of the countryside with days at museums. Find out which activities are “must haves” versus “off the table”.

Routine. Your daily habits — like when you go to bed, how late you sleep in and when you prefer to bathe — may be different. Routines don’t have to match, but they do need to work together.

Deal breakers. Is there anything you absolutely won’t do? Any health issues that require consideration? It’s best to get them out in the open in the planning stages.

There are no right or wrong answers to the above questions, but speak up if you find there are too many differences. Either you can work around them — or mutually agree the trip might not be a good idea after all.

Be flexible. Spending time with people is as important as where you go and what you do, so it’s important to be open to new experiences and activities in order to accommodate everyone’s interests and expectations.

A good measure of patience is also required. The more people you add into the itinerary, the more potential for mishaps, changes and other issues to crop up.

Plan together. Here’s a quick tip for traveling with someone new: before you meet up, get out the guidebooks (both online and in print) and research the destination. Have everyone come up with a list of a few “must see” or “must do” items and a list of “it would be nice to see or do” items. (The number on your list will depend on the number of people and how long your trip will be.)

Next, it’s time to amalgamate those lists and start plugging items into an itinerary. You might find it helpful to have one person in charge of planning an entire day, including where to eat and what to do.

If you’re web-savvy, try a travel planning website like to help coordinate and communicate the details. Alternatively, you can create a “group” on a social networking website like Facebook.

Be assertive. The best way to achieve the win-win scenario in planning is effective communication. Don’t be afraid to speak up about something you don’t agree with, but avoid being aggressive as well. Starting sentences with words like “I think”, “I’d like to”, and “Why don’t we try…” can help you get your ideas across without seeming like you’re dominating the conversation.

When it comes to children, agree on the rules (and the consequences of breaking them). If you’re traveling with children, the time to talk discipline is long before there’s a problem. Everyone should discuss the ground rules before they go to make sure there is consistency. Devise consequences that everyone can live with, even if they mean disrupting plans. (And if the kids are old enough, get them involved in the conversation.)

Take a break. Even if you don’t think you need it, give yourself some space by building in a break (especially if everyone is sharing accommodations). A little time apart can give you a chance to pursue an interest or activity that others don’t share, or enjoy a little “me time” to relax and recharge.

The same goes for some “alone time” for couples, and a break for parents too.

Double up. Packing can be tricky at the best of times, but you can lighten the load by coordinating your efforts. You likely won’t need four copies of your guidebook, multiple hair dryers or numerous first aid kits. Find out what items you can share or exchange (like some toiletries, books, etc).

If you’re traveling with children, games and toys can often be shared too (depending on age and temperament).

Discuss payment options. You know that awkward feeling when a waiter asks “is that separate bills or together?” Now imagine that feeling on a bigger scale. Figure out how everyone is going to divvy up the costs. For example:

– Will everything be split evenly, or will each person pay their own way?

– Who is responsible for tipping?

– Will one person foot the bill and others reimburse him or her later? If so, how will you keep track of who owes what to whom?

– Do you need to keep some cash on hand for these contingencies?

Whatever methods you choose, talk about them beforehand so there are no surprises when the bill comes.

Exchange details. If you’re not traveling with a spouse or next of kin, your travel companions will be your go-to people in an emergency (and vice versa). Here’s some critical information everyone should have:

– Name and contact information for someone at home.

– A copy of (or access to) insurance information and important documents.

– A list of medical issues, allergies or medications that would affect acute or emergency care.

– Any special instructions for medications or prevention.

In addition, everyone should know how to contact the local embassy’s emergency hotline.

Preserve the memories. A nice follow-up to a vacation could be collaborating on a special project, like a scrapbook or album, to commemorate the event. Take time to share photos and stories, write about your trip or even publish your own hardcover book. (For more ideas, see Great ways to share your travels.)

Overall, the best strategy when traveling with someone new is to know as much as you can before you go — and as much as possible, plan for any potential hiccups you might experience along the way.

Photo © Gary Martin

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