As we approach almost a year since our passports began gathering dust and our suitcases took up permanent residence in a closet (Or is it under my bed? It’s been so long since I’ve looked for it), I realize that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time this past year watching other people travel. When I wasn’t watching The Queen’s Gambit, The Crown, or Schitt’s Creek, I was watching travel shows. And as I went from one to the next, it wasn’t hard to spot a common denominator. They all featured travel buddies, typically two guys, although one show featured three. One guy assumed the straight man role and the other played the joker, to varying degrees of silliness. Each show had at least one episode with exposed bums, usually the result of skinny dipping. And each show made one thing perfectly clear – how important it is to have the right travel buddy.
I couldn’t help but to notice the dynamics between each group of buddies. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching all these shows concurrently, thanks to the streaming services I didn’t know I needed but now can’t live without, so it’s hard not to make comparisons. Maybe it’s because Anthony Bourdain set the bar so high that any conversation that seems unnatural is painfully obvious. The interesting thing is that I’m almost certain these travel buddies are friends in real life. Sam Heughan and Graham McTavish from Men In Kilts, Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman from the Long Way Round series, Zac Efron and Darin Olien from Down To Earth, and Gordon Ramsay, Gino D’Acampo, and Fred Sirieix from Gordon Ramsey’s American Road Trip. It breaks my heart that I can’t include the group of charming British actors (Matthew Goode, Matthew Rhys, James Purefoy, and Dominic West) from The Wine Show series in this list of comparisons, but I am still struggling to unlock the hidden streaming portal that will give me access to the show. Nevertheless, I feel adequately qualified to discuss the critical components of the ideal travel buddy.
I didn’t start traveling solo until fairly recently, so a majority of the traveling I’ve done in life has been in the company of others. In fact, I assumed that I needed to travel with someone else in order to enjoy my trip, something I now know is not necessarily true. But it was through these experiences that I came to understand a few things about travel buddies. Like how the qualities that make someone a good drinking buddy don’t always translate into making them a good travel buddy. I suggest making sure you’ve seen your drinking buddy handle an early morning wake-up call before planning any travel with them. Similarly, the person you spend most of your time with at home isn’t always the right person to join you on a trip. Not that I’m trying to stir up any trouble, but sometimes you need a different travel companion to get you out of your comfort zone and try new things. I enjoy planning trips and whenever I travel with family, I always take on the role of organizer and create the itinerary. But some of my favorite travel memories have come from times when I’ve traveled with a friend who suggested a stop at a place that I had overlooked.
A key visual clue that you have the right travel buddy is the size of their luggage. Now, this clue may come a little too late, if you’re meeting up at the airport for a week-long adventure and discover that you’re getting by with a carry-on while they’ve brought two suitcases. You obviously can’t find a new travel buddy at this point, so you’ll just have to roll with it and keep in mind that for future trip planning you should ask potential travel buddies to pack for a pretend trip. You know, like a test drive. But seriously, having similar size luggage is always a good sign. It shows that you’re both planning to go on the same trip.
The next criteria may not be important to everyone, but for me, it is essential. I need to know how my travel buddy feels about coffee, and specifically, how they feel about afternoon coffee breaks. This is make or break for me, an avid coffee drinker (although I can make substitutions with afternoon tea in the spirit of “When in Rome” or, I guess, when in London). And while I absolutely love coffee, the reason this is a big deal for me has more to do with the experience than the coffee. There is almost nothing I enjoy more while traveling than sitting in a coffee shop or outside in a piazza and watching people as I sip my coffee. I like to observe the locals and the tourists, I like to notice the architecture, I like to process my thoughts about my trip, and sometimes I like to just sit and be in the moment. My ideal travel buddy understands that having an afternoon coffee is not taking a break from sightseeing, but rather, it’s a vital part of sightseeing.
I’ll add that knowing a travel buddy’s comfort level with being independent is also important, as there may be those moments when you don’t want to waste precious vacation time doing something in which you have no interest and it may be better to split up for an afternoon, so that neither person feels that they have to give something up. And while this is an important conversation to have before any trip, there’s another discussion that could quite possibly be a better indicator of whether you are simpatico travel buddies. This discussion should start with each of you taking a piece of paper and writing down the first word or two that comes to mind when you think of….Las Vegas.
This completely unfounded and non-scientific method, attributed only to my life experience and gut instincts, should reveal everything you need to know about whether you and your travel buddy will indeed get along. If you both write words like “slots” or “tables”, you may be a good fit. If you both write “Britney Spears” or “(insert pop diva here)”, you may be a good fit. If you both write “kitsch” or “retro”, you’re definitely a good fit. And if you both write “Ew!” or “never”, there is a lot potential. Why am I suggesting Las Vegas as measure of compatibility? Because, for some bizarre reason, I’ve been there quite a few times. And each time, my expectations for the trip were incongruous with the person or group with whom I was traveling. Yet, I found that there was a lot I liked about the city, particularly as I took early morning walks along The Strip and watched the city wake up while my travel buddies slept, having returned to the hotel room shortly before dawn. I came to realize that if you can be on the same page about Las Vegas, your travel personalities should work well together anywhere.
Having traveled with a lot of different people, I feel lucky that one of the first people I traveled with continues to be my perfect travel buddy to this day. My college roommate and I were one of those rare combinations who immediately clicked and became friends. We studied abroad together and backpacked around Europe together. Then we didn’t travel together for a very long time, as our lives took us in different directions. But on a milestone birthday a few years ago, we took a trip to Iceland together and it was just like old times. Our luggage was the same size. Our coffee break suggestions were practically synchronized. It was a great trip. Soon after this, I discovered the joy of traveling solo and didn’t think I could go back to traveling with others again. Yet, during a recent text exchange with my travel buddy, the subject of our next milestone birthday came up. “Where are we going?” she asked. I smiled, thinking that this was the best sign of all, when your travel buddy wants to keep traveling with you.