Figuring out who you’re happy to travel with can be really complicated. During my two manic travel years from 2006-2008, I tried a few different things to make my traveling dreams come true, before moving on to other permutations.
- Travel to a friend. For my first vacation during my assistant year, I went to visit my friend Emily who was an assistant in Lille. We had planned on spending several days visiting Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges, but when Emily’s first salary didn’t come through, we cut back to Ghent, Bruges, and Lille (where I stayed with her for free). This was a really fun trip, and the only time I went to Belgium. I think we adapted our interests to each other fairly well. For example, Emily doesn’t drink, so I didn’t obsess over Belgian beer the way I might have with someone else. Overall it was smooth sailing even though our plans changed almost at the last minute—we were both working on making it work the whole time.
- Travel with a stranger. For my second vacation that year, I met up with another assistant who I connected with on the now defunct assistant forums. This was a solution to keep myself from traveling solo, which I didn’t particularly want to do at the time. It was also the dead of winter and our destination of choice was Scotland and England, so those dark afternoons and evenings (sun setting at 4 pm) would have been difficult alone. It was a pleasant trip but not one of my best, even though this other assistant did have some ideas I wouldn’t have thought of (Rosslyn Chapel, for example). With a stranger you never know if you’ll hit it off and you don’t have the back-up of friendship in the event where you start to find each other irritating.
- Travel with one good friend. This is delicate, and can be wonderful or catastrophic. I went to Morocco with my good friend from high school Malavika the summer after my lectrice year (she traveled from Wisconsin, while I came from France). Mala and I were interested in the same style of travel and the same attractions, and again, there were some things she thought of that I wouldn’t have otherwise done (the ruins at Volubilis, for example). The only point where I thought our friendship might not last was when she was driving (shh, don’t tell her). Driving in Morocco on the fancy modern highways was a piece of cake, but on the two-lane roads we got stuck behind trucks going 35 km/hour (that’s kilometers, people) and Mala was too nervous to pass. Though I was worried about getting to our lodging before dark (a legitimate concern since driving in Moroccan cities involves going around small children who have no fear of cars), I bit down hard on my tongue and told myself our friendship was worth more than some tense driving. All in all, I really cherish having shared this experience with an old friend.
- Travel with a group of good friends. For the February vacation of my assistant year (remember, I said it was manic), I went to Spain with my three good assistantship friends. I will always love these girls for the magic that was this trip. Lots of decisions came easily to us: eating grocery store picnics on the bus to save money, choosing which museums to see, etc. There were a few travel learning pains: after several destinations where we easily found lodging on arrival, this proved much more difficult in Valencia and I insisted we reserve for our last stop in Barcelona. The night train to Valencia was also awful because of noisy passengers and allergies. While I will always hold on to great memories from this trip, the problem I discovered with traveling in a group is that the planning work always becomes lopsided: two of us were always the ones finding the way, leading the others around the city while they goofed off, ringing the doorbell at every hostel in Valencia at 6 am when we just wanted to sleep on the train station benches. While it didn’t ruin the trip by any means, it created some unnecessary resentment.
- Travel alone. While I successfully found travel partners for all my vacations during my assistant year, the year I was a lectrice, this never seemed to work. I went home for Christmas but by the time April rolled around I was sick of people saying yes to travel plans only to say no when it came to actually making them. So I reserved an almost three-week trip to Poland and Ireland on my own. It wasn’t ideal, but I have great memories from this trip (I mean Ireland is the most beautiful country on earth so how could I not?). While traveling alone means cutting out certain experiences (like taking advantage of Polish vodka), it means a lot of quiet train and bus rides through the countryside, which I actually really enjoy. In Poland I stayed in hostels to more or less success (great in Krakow, lonely in Warsaw, weird in Gdansk), sometimes finding travel companions for the day (again, more or less hitting it off). In Ireland I started couchsurfing which definitely helped me not feel alone and allowed me to have the Irish pub experience in Galway with my hosts. I stayed in one hostel in Killarney, and am still in touch with the American girl I went out with that night who now lives in Germany. Sometimes you can hit it off with hostel strangers and have experiences you’d never have otherwise (including making out with an Irishman named Brendan shhhhhhh).
- Travel with a partner. Since being with J, this has become my default mode of travel and we travel really well together, thank the Lord. I have more experience planning trips to destinations that are not just a campsite by a cliff in France, but J is always happy to get the planning rolling with me. We have some of the same interests though again, he makes me curious about things I otherwise wouldn’t think of (like plants in West Texas).
- Travel with a partner and friends. We’re doing this for the second time this summer, the first time having been our trip to British Columbia after my brother’s wedding. It happens to us because of the rock-climbing aspect that’s often present in our trips, and it can work really well depending on the friends. The fact that J is there also lets me vent if I feel the need, and we can also take breaks from the others if we want to do something just the two of us. For this summer’s trip to South Africa we’re finding that we are the only ones who want to plan much in advance, which is fine, since we can sort of do our own thing while the others figure their shit out at the last minute. Travel in numbers can also cut down on expenses. In Squamish we shared a fantastic AirBnB basement apartment and car rental as well as groceries.
- Travel with family. Similar to travel with a partner but more complicated because of more people being involved. I know this type of travel can be complicated for some families, and there is always more baggage than you expect riding on seemingly small decisions (along the lines of oh God Eileen needs a snack AGAIN, why is she always so needy?), but my family is really travel worn and I find traveling with them overall really enjoyable.
Any formulas I forgot or haven’t done? What’s worked or gone completely haywire for you? I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences.