Step 1: Decide if you really need one.
Read yesterday’s post on traveling solo. Seriously, hitting the road alone is pretty great. But if you just don’t want to–maybe you’re one of these “extroverts” who are all the rage these days–I suppose that’s fine too. No judgment here. Wimp.
Step 2: Talk about budget. Then talk about it some more.
This has to be your first consideration. More important, to my mind, than finding someone who wants to go to the same destination as you. Because someone who pulls down six figures and is planning on a luxury hotel room and fine dining is really not going to the same place as a freelancer/barista/puppeteer who plans to stay in a hostel dorm and buy two or three meals a day at the market for a picnic, even if they’re both in Paris.
We’re taught that it’s impolite to talk about money, but seriously, talk about it. Every detail. Would you rather spend more for a nonstop flight or save $100 by taking a long layover? What do you want to spend on accommodations and food? Do you want to spring for a guide or just follow the walking tour from your book? If one person has more money than the other, is the richer person going to want to pay for her companion to enjoy some of the more expensive and elaborate things on the trip? And does the person with less money feel OK about that, or does it make her skin crawl? These are the issues that will cause you to have a miserable trip if they’re not ironed out in advance, and that misery can linger long after you’ve returned.
Step 3: Find someone with the same travel style as you.
Several times in my life, I have traveled with someone who could not bear to wander, to sit and contemplate, or to soak up atmosphere. It had to be monument! Museum! Important historical site! Bam! Bam! Bam! One after the other like that. No lolling late in bed, no lingering in a cafe. There’s a reason why we no longer travel, or do anything else, together. We had opposite styles.
There’s no right or wrong way to travel, as long as the person you’re with is on board. If you both want to pack in all the sights, great. If you both want to just start walking in the morning with no particular destination in mind, equally great. But, like money, travel style needs to be discussed and agreed on in advance so it doesn’t grate on you for the whole trip.
Also, talk about if all of your time will be spent together or if you can wander off and do your own things once in a while and then meet back up at dinnertime to discuss. I’ve used this technique with great success and highly recommend it. Even the best of friends–and especially family–sometimes need a few hours apart.
Step 4: Decide on a timeline.
We all have those friends with piles of free time, either because their jobs are generous with the PTO or because they work for themselves or not at all. But most of us are constrained with time in some way–we’ve got to squeeze a quick getaway into a long weekend, or we only have four vacation days left this quarter. If you don’t totally line up with your preferred travel companion on this point, though, consider that one of you can arrive earlier or stay longer than the other one. It might not be ideal, but on the timing issue, you can be a little more flexible than with issues of budget or style.
Step 5: Now you can figure out where to go.
If your budgets, styles, and schedules are in sync, you’ll probably have a fine time wherever you go. But if, for example, you want nothing more than do to a driving tour of Michigan breweries, and your friend doesn’t drink or have a valid driver’s license, that could be a problem. Similarly, if your friend wants to run away to a remote surf camp with nothing else around for hours, and you’re terrified of the water and can’t swim, that’s probably not a good match.
You can take one of two routes: you can find your common interest and let that determine the destination (you both love beer, hooray!) or you can go somewhere with a variety of attractions, where no thinking, feeling person could be bored (Oh hey, New York City. What’s up, Buenos Aires? How’s it going, Prague? Been a while.).
Either way, agreeing on the destination should be the easy part. Once you’ve figured out budget, time, and style, you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. And bring extra snacks. The surest way to have a good travel companion is to be a good travel companion, and the surest way to be a good travel companion is to not whine and to bring extra snacks.