How To Pick A Travel Buddy (And Navigate Conflict)

How to pick a travel buddy

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It may seem like a funny thing for a solo travel blog to say but sometimes you may not want to travel alone. In this guide, I’ll help you pick a travel buddy for the times you want company.

When I was 19, I wouldn’t have suited solo travel. While there are many reasons to travel solo, I had no idea where to start and wanted to share the experience and responsibility. I’ve spoken before about the disadvantages of solo travel which include loneliness and the pressure of organising everything. For your very first trip, sometimes solo travel is too much, too soon.

If you’ve assessed the pros and cons of travelling alone and decided it might not be you right now, you’re probably thinking of picking a travel companion. So…

How to pick a travel buddy

This is where many travellers go wrong. It’s important to pick a travel companion with a little precision: a nightmare travel buddy can make or break your trip. If you’ve quit your job to go on the adventure of a lifetime, you don’t want to look back and remember fights in restaurants and awkward days not speaking.

These are some helpful things to think about before deciding to travel with someone. 

Related read: how to make friends in a new city

Do they share your travel style?

The first thing you should ask yourself when planning a trip is what kind of trip is this? Will you be staying in hotels, taking taxis and eating at restaurants? Or will you be staying in hostels, eating street food and taking local buses? Maybe you’ll be sticking to cities or going off-grid to trek.

I like doing adventurous things and staying in hostels. I’d feel frustrated to skip these things if my buddy couldn’t adapt. But on the flip side, if you prefer a more luxurious travel style, why not?

Pick a travel buddy by talking it through with them before committing to a trip. If you have a gut feeling you’re not a match, don’t feel bad backing out of loosely-made plans.

picking a travel buddy
Travelling with new buddies in Guadalajara, Mexico

Do they have a similar budget?

Check your budgets match before you pick a travel buddy. Travelling with people on different budgets can be challenging – don’t wait until you’re already on the road together!

Scenario one: Your friend wants to eat in nice restaurants but you only have a few dollars for dinner. You order a side for a main and drink tap water. There’s delicious street food around the corner. This isn’t going to be a fun trip, is it?

Scenario two: You’ve worked hard to afford this trip and want to splash out on bucket list activities and nice meals but your friend can’t afford it. They always suggest the cheaper option and you feel guilty.

Either situation is difficult!

Is it a dealbreaker?

If your budgets only differs when it comes to activities, you can easily split up when they want to splash out. But if they’re on a hotel and restaurant budget and you can only afford hostels and street food, it’s going to bring one of you down.

The nightmare buddy: That friend who always conveniently seems to be in the toilet when the bill comes. There’s a difference between a friend on a tight budget and a friend who’s plain tight. If you find yourself travelling with someone who never wants to pay their way and would rather exploit you, ditch ’em quick.

I’d rather travel solo!

My story: I took a trip to Mexico while studying in Canada with a girl and a guy from my exchange programme. The guy made me withdraw cash for him as he didn’t want to pay fees then paid me back at the end, conveniently missing out things he’d bought.

When we landed back in Detroit (we lived just across the border in Canada), he refused to pay for a taxi, wanting to take a bus through a notoriously dangerous area. In the end, we paid his taxi fare. Travelling with someone who’d rather endanger my safety than pay $10 was the worst!

Are they the kind of person who gets jealous?

Jealousy isn’t reserved for couples. Frienvy can get messy, especially when you’re in a country where you only know each other. If your travel companion is keen to do things the two of you but you want to meet people while travelling and make friends during your trip, it can be challenging.

What to do if it happens?

If it’s down to confidence and insecurity, you can probably reassure your travel companion and bring them out of their shell. But don’t put up with a travel companion who is jealous and controlling. Life’s too short!

What’s their dinner style?

I pick travel companions who will eat street food with me! Or at least come with me to eat street food. I think my worst case buddy would be a picky travel eater or someone who only eats in McDonalds. I don’t mind occasionally – who doesn’t love pizza? But if my travel buddy wanted to eat Western food all the time, I’d struggle.

Is it a deal breaker?

For me, yes! I’m such a foodie and couldn’t compromise and miss local food. If you’re not a huge foodie, then it’s probably not a deal-breaker.

travel buddies at dinner
Friends who eat together stay together

Will you spend ALL your time together?

I’m very independent and have no qualms doing my own thing. I also need me-time to recharge. I’d struggle with a travel companion who wanted to be together every moment of the day and night and couldn’t do anything by themselves.

Saying that, I understand my independent mindset isn’t the ‘right’ one. When I was 19 in South America, I didn’t go anywhere without my friends to start with. Had they left me alone to do their own thing, I’d have felt overwhelmed as I was a nervous, inexperienced traveller at the time.

However you feel, it’s something to think about when picking a travel companion. I’ll check with any future buddy they’d have no problem with me doing my own thing sometimes.

Is it a deal breaker?

Yes. If your buddy can’t understand you need alone time OR ditches you when you’re feeling nervous in a new place, it’s not a match.

Will they do half the work?

Ever had a housemate who leaves you to sort the bills and never does the washing up? Or the friend you always contact first and never makes the restaurant booking?

Now imagine that 20 times a day!

While that chilled friend who always says ‘I don’t mind, it’s up to you!’ may be a lovely person, it’ll get tiring if you do all the navigating and booking. There’s a surprising amount of admin when it comes to travel. You have to book accommodation, transport and research what to do in each location. This is your trip, not an opportunity to work as a tour guide/babysitter for free!

What to do if it happens?

If your friend is open to criticism, just ask them to help out a bit more. They may not realise they’re doing it. If they get defensive and won’t change habits to accommodate you, it’s time to go your separate ways.

Do they have similar hobbies & interests?

Before you pick a travel companion, find out what they’re into. If you love cities and nightlife and they only like action-adventure sports, you may both end up compromising… Or just not spending much time together. 

Likewise, if you want to be busy and active during your travels but your friend wants to bask on the beach all day, that might get boring for you. If you constantly do things alone, why not just travel solo?

What to do if it happens?

Why not take turns at each other’s activities? You spend quality together and might try something you wouldn’t usually. The other option would be independence: splitting up for the day then having dinner together, catching up on your days. As long as you can either compromise or be independent, you will make the differences work.

The nightmare travel buddy? Someone who has very specific or expensive interests but won’t enjoy them solo. No, I don’t want to pay $50 to go belly dancing with you…

Will your travel companion party (or stay in) with you?

Socialising is a normal and enjoyable part of travel. But it can be frustrating if your buddy is always drinking and hungover when you’re ready to go out for the day. If they don’t want to explore and experience the culture, what’s the point of them travelling?

On the flip side, you wouldn’t want to travel with someone breathing down your neck for having a good time, especially in destinations known for nightlife.

If you’re the polar opposite to your companion when it comes to drinking and going out, you might find it challenging to travel together. Knowing what they’re like at home is a pretty good indicator to go on.

Nightlife when picking a travel companion
Pick a travel companion who will party (or stay home) with you

What if it goes wrong on the road?

However much effort you put into picking a travel buddy, it’s never a guarantee. If things go wrong, have open conversations and try to understand them. For example, a travel companion who clings to you may be struggling with confidence or recovering from a bad experience. Once you know, you’ll be able to support and encourage them out of their shell rather than get frustrated.

We all have our ‘things’. Your companion’s habits that seem annoying may actually be self-preservation or a response to nerves or being in a stressful situation. Try to understand your travel buddy, whether they’re new or old. Explain why you get stressed or snappy in a certain situation.

Once you understand each others’ triggers and past experiences, it’s easier to give each other grace and rub along together.

How to pick a travel companion – suss them out!

Why not take a mini break with your friend before you sign up to become travel buddies? If you see how they respond to booking and organisation things, problem-solving and nights out, you’ll have a better indication.

Bottom line when picking a travel buddy

As long as you pick a travel companion who understands you have differences (like any two people!) and doesn’t resent you for wanting to do different things, having a different budget or needing time alone or with others, then you should be fine. Kindness is key!

The alternatives to picking a travel buddy

Don’t pick a travel companion who is incompatible because you’re scared of going solo. In any situation in life, it’s much better to be alone than with the wrong person. Start with my solo travel archives.

If you’d rather travel with someone but don’t have any suitable travel buddies available, consider the pros and cons of solo travel compared to taking a group tour.

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