Service of Traveling Companions: Spoiled Trips or Saved Voyages

June 14th, 2021

Categories: Friends, Guidelines, Negotiation, Travel, Travel Warning, Traveling Companion

Many think traveling with someone will ensure a great trip. Obviously you should know the person you’re planning to travel with–or think about what kind of companion they would be abroad or far from home 24/7, for a period of time.

These true stories show that even the smartest and well-meaning of us can be tripped up. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Drastically Uneven Budgets Ensure Disappointment

We’ll call the first twosome–dear childhood friends–Mary and Agnes. They lived thousands of miles apart and thought a trip, just the two of them, would be just the ticket.

Mary was on a modest budget and Agnes, it turned out, had barely a cent to spend. Before the trip Mary didn’t realize Agnes’s financial constraints were so dire. On their return Mary confided that she was disappointed at not being able to visit a single restaurant as Agnes wouldn’t let her pay yet she couldn’t afford such a meal.

Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Then there was Tricia and Polly–also made up names. Tricia said her trip was one of the worst experiences of her life.

Polly invited Tricia to Europe. Tricia grabbed the chance of a free trip.

She’d get up early to fit in as much sightseeing in a day as possible and Polly slept late and didn’t want Tricia to leave their hotel room without her. For dietary reasons Tricia needed to eat three meals a day. Polly would eat a candy bar at 11:00 a.m. and say she wasn’t hungry for lunch and wouldn’t stop for Tricia to grab something.

Tricia told Polly that an office friend had asked her to bring back a few bars of chocolate naming an ordinary brand not yet available in the States. Polly had never heard of it. Tricia would duck into store after store and come out empty handed because they didn’t have the milk with nuts favorite.

Their relationship was so frayed by the time they arrived at a picturesque village that they finally agreed to explore it separately. Tricia found a newspaper store and asked about the elusive chocolate bar. “A woman just left with the last five,” said the shop owner.  Guess who showed up with a little bag and the chocolate? And she wouldn’t give even one to Tricia for the office friend.

This Gift Horse Who’d Had It

Another pair–let’s say Gail and Francesca–were cousins. Gail invited Francesca on a Viking River Cruise. [I love their tempting commercials on PBS.] The women hadn’t seen each other in years. Turns out Francesca had gained so much weight she could hardly walk and wasn’t up to taking side trips or moving much at all, putting a damper on the experience for Gail.

She changed partners for her next Viking Cruise. This time her friend/guest Marilyn made troublesome disappearing acts. In one port she took off in mid land tour. Gail waited for her at one stop and missed most of the side trip. In addition to that frustration she feared something had happened to Marilyn. As great as the cruise was otherwise, Marilyn’s childish games spoiled Gail’s time.

My Guidelines for Traveling with a Friend

With the exception of business trips, my travels have been mostly with a parent, significant other or spouse. A trip alone eons ago to an intimate island resort turned out to be one of my best vacations–but I digress.

Before the first trip with anyone, even the love of your life, an adult would be well served to explore their traveling companion’s expectations and to spell out theirs so as to agree on a few guidelines before taking a step.

Given the experiences noted above, my druthers would be:

  • We each get up when we want [unless we are catching a flight or train].  No resentment if one wants to veg out in the room and the other is raring to explore.
  • In cities, if we want to visit different things, we can meet back in the room at a predetermined time.
  • Especially if a shared bedroom is small, keep it neat as possible.
  • Address budgets–level of restaurant expense and timing of meals. Figure out how to make it work–or at least know about it beforehand–when one eats no breakfast and the other, no dinner.
  • ID each person’s “must see” attractions before departure and make sure each departs the vacation happy.
  • No problem if one or the other doesn’t care to go on a tour.

Have you had–or heard of–a ruined vacation because of a mismatched travel partner? Would you discuss guidelines/druthers before a first trip? Are there rules-of-the-road you insist on? Have you been happily surprised by the experience of traveling with a pal? Would you rather travel alone?

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12 Responses to “Service of Traveling Companions: Spoiled Trips or Saved Voyages”

  1. BC Said:

    Issue easily resolved. I do not like sharing a bathroom with a
    non-family person!

    Went on a cruise with my late college roommate, and that was a
    disaster! She ordered me around like I was her child! Never again!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    I didn’t even think of the bathroom issue. Crucial! I have become fussier about such things the older I get. I didn’t give bathroom sharing a thought in my various college dorms and obviously not in today’s post!

    Funny how the dynamic between people can change over years and in unfamiliar circumstances. That’s something else to watch out for! Maybe it’s wise to take a short trip with someone before a longer one–a test run.

  3. ASK Said:

    I have a friend with whom I went on an extended college graduation trip to Europe…never again have I traveled with this person. My husband and I frequently went on cruises with another couple quite successfully. Our ground rules were simple: We met and shared drinks and dinner together in the eveninng. Each day each couple plotted their own itineraries. Sometimes we joined up for activities we all enjoyed, sometimes we didn’t. We were not joined at the hip with each other. I’ve also traveled successfully with a college classmate with these ground rules. You just need to agree on independent time and set the ground rules before you buy the tickets…

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    I could see how two couples might enjoy a cruise together especially as you arranged it with no pressure to follow each other lockstep–but never on an extended car trip. We overheard a horrendous argument between two American couples in France outside a charming hotel/restaurant we’d visited several times. They had to immediately enter the same car and drive off. [The car area was small and they needed to vacate their spot.] Insignificant to our enjoyment of this enchanting place but vivid enough that I remember the incident with its flashing warning signs.

  5. ASK Said:

    HA! We never rented a vehicle together, either.

    Reminding me of a funny story. As twenty-somethings, two friends and I rented an open-air pink Jeep in Acapulco, only to find out I was the only one of the three who knew how to drive a stick shift. We went up the mountain nicely. Coming down, those hairpin turns and steep grades were perilous; I shifted into second gear to slow the momentum and try for more control. We finally made it to flat land. Near some heavy shrubbery on the side of the road, I stopped to lose my lunch, then went on, over protests, to return the Jeep to the rental agency.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    Your car situation reminded me of a weekend trip we took with another couple and their little girl. It was brief but what happened was memorable. In fact,they were terrific to be with. We laughed so hard with them. We were also in our 20s.

    Here’s the story: Our friend–a terrific driver–was slowly descending a mountainside in Turkey when it started to rain. We were on the inside. The narrow road was slick because oil had spilled on it. Drivers in the day–decades ago–weren’t always prudent. A truck coming up the mountain veered toward us. Friend slammed on the brakes and the car skidded backwards, heading off the mountainside rear tires first. We were in the back seat with their daughter. We held on to her arms so if we toppled over her head wouldn’t hit the roof. We had on seat belts–there wasn’t a third set. It was as though the finger of God stopped the car from falling off the mountain because it stopped just in time. No car coming up the mountain bumped into us either. My husband asked the driver if he’d like him to take over and he said if he didn’t continue on our way he might never drive again.

  7. lucrezia Said:

    Tastes differ, and I enjoy solo travel. Further, I don’t have any friends I want to lose. Companionship is fine, but I’ve found that new adventures are best enjoyed without someone adding their two cents, or finding other ways to become a nuisance. More often than not, there are people met along the way, many of whom make up the fabric of good memories. That beats 24/7 annoyance!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    I imagine some places are better than others to visit alone. I’ve become such a fussbudget that I fear I would not make a good travel mate for anyone.

  9. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie on Facebook: YES to all [of the questions above]. Mismatched (financially or otherwise) is a recipe for disaster (far from home). Communication in ADVANCE of purchased tkts (cruises airfare travel pkgs) should be discussed at length w/contingency plans for just in case someone falls ill.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Debbie,

    I’m adding to my guidelines your suggestion–contingency plans in case of cancellation. There might be a work deadline or illness of travel mate or family member to put the brakes on any trip. Flexibility seems to be an increasingly important attribute of life these days.

  11. Deb Wright Said:

    My unforgettable trip to Spain and Portugal.

    There are Snodgrass [pseudonym] family reunions every few years. Theoretically, anyone who has that name are related. Genealogy is a big thing and people come from all over the world. South Africa, France, England, Israel, etc. I have been aware of these reunions as my cousin Karen and her parents often went. The destinations have been in Spain, Paris, Barcelona, London; I have never gone primarily because I was working and mostly because these are very, very expensive trips. Well, three years ago, my cousin asked if I would go with her to Madrid for the reunion which lasts a week. Then the Snodgrass cousins from Chicago would pay for a private tour in Portugal.

    Karen also assured me she would pay for that second lap of the trip. Of course, I said no. I do not enjoy the “poor relation” title and I do not like being indebted to anyone. Well, my children really encouraged me to go and my friends said I was crazy not to take advantage of this offer. Karen and I have become very good friends over the years. She lives in San Francisco and is very, very wealthy. Good person: volunteers with dog rescue, loves the arts, philanthropic. I had in the past visited her in her home and we got along and had fun. I need to add she never married or had anyone live with her. I know she is persnickety and a germaphobe. For example, when I visited her, I knew the dish cloth had to be folded in a certain way and I would never leave a coffee cup in the sink.

    Forward to landing in Madrid–a week of cold and miserable weather. She told me I had brought too big a suitcase. It was cloth and on wheels and I never asked anyone for help, so it really did not affect her. As roommates, a nightmare! She accused me of being noisy if I got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I was tiptoeing around like a mouse. If I reorganized my suitcase, she scolded me, saying I had just done it. The very first day we got lost at the Prado, the rest of our cousins having deserted us. And on it went.

    I like to get up early and have a cup of coffee in the lobby–oh, no! If I moved around to get dressed and leave, it disturbed her. Also, lights out early and I couldn’t read by a light on my side of the room. She grudgingly admitted that I did not snore! One day she was showing me something on her laptop and I touched the screen and it disappeared–don’t know why. Well, she said I needed to own it and take responsibility. Okay, now I was mad! I said I would not take responsibility We went back and forth. She did say maybe it was not a good idea to share rooms for these two weeks. I jumped at the idea, said of course I would pay for my own room. It didn’t work out with the week in Madrid, and our cousin David Snodgrass had made all the reservations for the hotels in Portugal.

    Enough–you get the idea. I won’t relate about losing my new hearing aid in Madrid, falling on the cobblestones in Lisbon and cutting my chin open and going to a foreign E.R. to get stitched up and the doctor did not speak English or think I needed novacaine, and other delights. In retrospect, rooming with Karen was funny because it was so bad. I was glad to be home and, no, no more Snodgrass reunions for me!

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Deb,

    I’m not a fan of school reunions and admit that as far as I know, there have been none in my family. Would I go? Who knows. However I admire those who conduct and appreciate them. It would be interesting to see if I had anything in common with far flung relatives. I might pop in one day if the reunion was nearby.

    I attended a weekend meetup of my husband’s distant cousins in Delaware which I thoroughly enjoyed and many years before my mother’s 50th reunion of her junior year abroad which was memorable. She organized it.

    Karen was a delight during your visits to her home so I would have been surprised at her attitudes in room-sharing. Given her proclivity for perfection in folding her dishcloth I would have thought she’d relate to you reorganizing your suitcase [her business??] At least you knew she’d keep the bathroom clean because she’s a germaphobe.

    Your trip was memorable for all the accidents: No Novocain? Yikes.

    You are a good sport to look back and think of the misery of rooming with Karen as funny. I suppose it might have been grist for a segment in a Neil Simon [“The Odd Couple”] play.

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