Fellow Traveler: Money, Honey

Dear Fellow Traveler:

If one is traveling with a partner or small group, how do you divide the costs? This seems pretty easy if it’s someone you’re, say, married to—if you’ve already got shared money, it seems straightforward. But if you’re going on a trip with, just for example, a non-cohabiting boyfriend who makes about the same amount of money as you, so you want to pretty much split things evenly, how do you do it? Go dutch on each restaurant check as it comes? Square up when you get home? Figure, I’ll get this and you’ll get that and it’ll turn out close? I should note, in the specific situation I’m asking about, neither of us is crazy and both of us are decently employed, but I’d welcome your thoughts on what to do when a person is crazy or someone makes a lot more than someone else.

Signed,

Budgeting in Bensenville

Dear Budgeting,

I’m just going to give the married readers (and the divorced ones, too) a moment to finish laughing at the assumption that it is easy to share travel costs if one is married.

Now to your premise:

I would give my brother a kidney, cheerfully and without hesitation. I will not, however, play Monopoly with him. We both understand that doing that would only be fun for one of us (at best). Some friendships need that line around travel. However well you may get along at home, even close friends can be travel-incompatible, and there’s nothing wrong or weird about that. Being unable to mesh on a hobby doesn’t expose a fatal flaw in your friendship. Everyone doesn’t travel well with everyone.

That in mind, there are some strategies that can smooth the path.

When Traveling With One Other Person:

You asked, specifically, about a non-cohabiting person of pelvic interest who is, happily, a financial equal and not crazy. This is an easy one: straight cash, homey.

Let us say you and the BF are going away for five days. You two need to figure out your total walkin’-around money* in the budget for those five days. Let’s say it is $1500. Each of you needs to contribute $750 in cash to an envelope marked “Vacation” before you leave. Now you have, between you, $300 a day. How you divide that—$150 each every morning, $100 each plus $100 for dinner**, he carries the roll, you carry the roll, let’s just figure out how we’re gonna spend it all in advance, snoogums—is a ground-level decision between you two. What’s critical to this strategy is that you both agree that nobody is whipping out a credit card until you’re back at home. If you both contribute the same amount, and you basically do the same shit, the pool of money will divide itself evenly. This method also works with a platonic co-traveler or a cohabiting romantic partner who brings the same amount to the table that you do.

When there’s an imbalance in income, suck it up and talk about it. It’s different for a love interest than for a friend, obvs, but in either case you can figure out a solution that works for everybody well in advance. What’s key is that you work it out at home rather than in the field. It’s much easier to refuse the “helicopter skiing, my treat” offer when you aren’t looking at the mountain. (And do refuse. Acceptance of that offer is very likely to come up during a Grade Five Plate-Thrower somewhere down the road.)

And if the person is crazy, dearheart, don’t travel with that person. Shed them. If the sex is that good, stay in.

When Traveling With A Group:

This is more about setting expectations and managing potential conflict. It’s still pretty easy to do if y’all cooperate. First, set some policies:

1)      Everyone doesn’t have to do everything. If four of you want to take in the $48 Monday Night Dragstravaganza Stage Spectacular, and for whatever reason two of you don’t, no problem. The last two don’t have to. There is no need to make it about money—maybe the two sitting out just can’t stand Cher.

2)      All meal checks (including a 20 percent tip) will be divided evenly by the number of people at the table. The efficiency of this is a breathtaking upgrade over everyone trying to work out what they owe from a three-foot-long check, and it’ll all work out evenly over time. (Splitting checks among two or three people/couples is fine, too, and sometimes works better for splurgy dinners. Do be decent enough to tell the server before you order.)

3)      Everyone is responsible for booking and buying their own hotel and airfare. When roadtripping, this is tougher, but be sure to take turns buying gas.

4)      Maintain a blacklist. Travel should be pleasant; having to worry about someone with a history of not pulling their own weight doing so again will spoil the trip for you even if they get it right this time. Be ruthless. It’s your vacation.

In closing, here’s my best rule of thumb for knowing if you are managing companion travel correctly: Everyone should feel, at all times, like it’s probably their turn to pay.

* “Walkin’ around money” is the trip budget excluding airfare, hotel, and anything else you pay for pre-trip (theater tickets, ski rentals, etc.), which you can divide evenly ahead of time.

** The Yours-Mine-Dinner strategy works especially well in Vegas if one of you is a gambler and the other is a shopper and each of you finds the other’s hobby a little unseemly. Hi honey!

[Do you have a travel conundrum for Go Go Go’s Fellow Traveler? Email us at submissions@go-go-go.org and we’ll ask him real nice to tell you what to do.]

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Listicle: Trips with a Minor Internet Celebrity

I’ve known minor Internet celebrity Ed Hirsch for approximately half our lives, since back in the day when he attempted to wear a mustache that was never entirely sure of itself. By my recollection, we’ve been on three trips together.

1) Somewhere around August of 1998 a huge group of us piled in our friend’s mom’s Chevy Regal and drove to Milwaukee for GenCon. For the three of our readers who aren’t massive nerds, GenCon is a gaming convention. People carry large bags filled with many different kinds of dice and pretend to be vampires and guys flirt awkwardly with girls who awkwardly accept or reject their flirtations as the mood moves them. I don’t remember a lot about the trip other than we slept about eight of us in one hotel room to save money, and I wound up in a bed sandwiched between Ed and another guy. This was not a bed made for three grown people, even as close friends as we were. Somewhere in the middle of the night, Ed removed himself to one of the chairs. This was quite gentlemanly of him, as it saved my arms and legs from going completely pins-and-needles and then probably turning black and falling off. And just think where I’d be today with no arms or legs. (Actually… probably the same place.)

Lesson: Choose your travel companions wisely, especially if you’re going to be in close quarters.

2) In April 2010 (Yes, that’s a long gap. Life gets busy sometimes, ya know?) I was supposed to be going to the UK to visit some friends, but then this stupid volcano in Iceland decided to erupt like nuts and stop all transatlantic flights. I got a refund on that trip, but I still had the itch to go somewhere. On the spur of the moment, I texted Ed and informed him that I was going to New York and that he should come with me. Of course, he agreed. The next weekend, we were on a plane to New York. I was pretty sure we were going to die while trying to land in a freak thunderstorm at LaGuardia, but after that, the rest of the trip was lovely. We walked everywhere and ate waaaaay too much and I made him look at flowers and go to a poetry slam and we danced to Bell Biv DeVoe. Half of my foot nearly fell off because I insisted in walking for miles around Manhattan in shoes not made for such a purpose, and Ed bought industrial-size bandaids to fix it. I think he maybe was a Boy Scout?

Lessons: Be flexible. Have spontaneous friends. And always be prepared–bring a Boy Scout with you wherever you go.

3) New York having been such a success, in June 2010 I invited Ed and two other friends of ours (and those friends’ two adorable dogs) up to my family’s mostly disused vacation house in northern Wisconsin. (Yes, that’s two trips to Wisconsin. Going to Wisconsin is what people in Chicago do when they can’t afford to go on a real vacation.) We caravaned up, stopping at Mars Cheese Castle and the Piggly Wiggly for supplies. We spent the weekend hiking to see waterfalls, walking in the woods, pretending that zombies and/or bears might attack at any moment, being legitimately afraid that zombies and/or bears might attack at any moment, cooking a ton of good food, being contemplative around a campfire, drinking New Glarus beer from boots, shooting off fireworks, and generally just having the best time ever in the middle of nowhere. The best.

Ed conquers nature one tree at a time.

Ed conquers nature one tree at a time.

Lessons: The world looks better when you’re sitting next to a campfire, and when all your foods include cheese.

How To: Write a Travel Blog

“Claire,” friends often [Ed. note: never] say to me, “how can we replicate your success by starting our own world-famous [Ed. note: technically true!] blog?”

Step 1: Talk for several years about doing a creative project.

Spend a lot of time at your boring day job talking about doing something artistic and creative with a similarly bored and frustrated coworker. You may, in the course of this, start and fail to follow through on many other projects. That kind of practice will help you move on to…

Step 2: Decide one afternoon to just do it.

The less forethought you put into this, the better. Forethought is what stopped you from acting on all those other ideas. Inform your friend (yeah, that bored coworker from Step 1) that you’re starting a travel blog together. Do not phrase it as a question or an invitation but merely as a statement of fact. I can’t find the chat where we arranged all of this, but I believe it went something like this: “We’re starting a travel blog. It’s called Go Go Go. I need you to make it look nice for me.”

Step 3: Keep doing it.

This is the hardest part, and yet the most crucial. Like today, for example, when I was not inspired to write about anything in particular. This is where having two people comes in handy. One person falters, and the other urges them on (usually in less-than-supportive terms, like, “Don’t be a lazy ass,” but sometimes with a concrete suggestion, like “Write about that car accident you got in” or “Use your lunch break to take some photos”). And you take turns at that, and that’s how you keep going.

Step 4: Be lenient.

For example, in your definition of travel. You may have noticed we’re pretty loose with that term around here. That’s because we make the rules, and we want to make the rules so we win.

Step 5: Get your friends to help.

A/k/a make them do it for you. We’ve recruited a fantastic and surprisingly dedicated staff writer and staff photographer from among our friends, as well as others who have written one-off pieces for us, and we’re always looking for more people to participate. Remember, when you get other people to do the work for you, the hardest part is accepting all the many accolades that come your way on their behalf.

Step 6: Remember that you are Doing Something.

When someone asks about your blog’s metrics and you have to shamefacedly say you get like fifty readers a day, temper the shame that you are not yet The Hairpin of the travel world with the fact that that’s fifty more people looking at your work every day than if you weren’t doing this blog, and that counts for something. Whether you ever try to conquer the world or make a dime off it or do anything more than just write the stories and shoot the pictures doesn’t really matter. You are Doing Something, and the alternative is Doing Nothing, and Doing Nothing is the lamest. Also, when you do something, you get to high-five.