At some point or another, every experienced traveller has asked themselves, “Should I invite Jane (or John) on my next trip?” Travel partners impact a traveller’s experience, so choosing who to travel with is an important factor in your travel planning.
This article is the follow-up to Part One https://travelandtash.wordpress.com/2017/02/19/to-travel-with-friends-or-travel-alone-part-one/ which presented my challenges traveling with romantic partners, the importance of communication, compromise, flexibility and patience, as well as the pleasures of independent travel. Once again, Part Two is a collection of experiences, rather than an explicit comparison, and I draw on these experiences to show the positive and challenging sides to traveling with friends and traveling alone.
People have different expectations or ideas about what they want to do while traveling, and these are somewhat dictated by their levels of endurance or stamina. Here, I refer to physical stamina as the ability to 1) walk , trek, or stay out for long periods of time. This is not necessarily a physical fitness measurement as I’ve travelled with people who are not especially fit or strong. Less fit friends can be driven and push themselves longer and harder to experience more things while opportunities are available. Indeed, my own levels of stamina have fluctuated over the years and have impacted my ability to do what I wanted to do.
I also discuss 2), ’emotional’ stamina, or the drive to seek challenges by leaving your comfort zone. Travel always presents challenges, so unless you travel in a bubble, you will no doubt be pushed beyond your comfort zone. Travellers have different degrees of emotional stamina. Some endure challenges while others seek them out.
I became increasingly aware of physical stamina on my latest trip abroad. While in Kyoto, I discovered that my traveling companions (and work colleagues), CeCe and Riley, preferred to stroll through the streets and sites, while I wanted to walk at a faster pace. My energy levels were so high that I almost skipped through the streets. My physical and emotional states were so energized that I wanted to charge up mountains, and I generally found it impossible for the first two days to slow down.
On our first night there, Riley declared that she would not change her walking pace. Suddenly, our differences in physical stamina placed our trio in a tricky position. Either I had to slow down and possibly resolve to not see or do everything that I planned for, or I had to convince her to speed up. About two days into our stay, we both met halfway. I slowed down while she sped up. The interim, however, had been difficult to navigate. Our third companion, CeCe, had been forced to chose whether to walk slowly or walk quickly, and thus had to chose between which friend to spend more time with.
Since the three of us invested time, money and expectations into our trip, compromise was tricky. The potential for resentment to build was present. Thankfully, I had already visited Kyoto, and we were visiting sites that I had visited recently. Not climbing to the top of Fushimi Inari mountain was not problematic on this occasion. But, this would have become an issue for me if we were visiting a location that I had not seen before. To avoid disappointment, I would have split from the group.
My experience at Petra, Jordan was quite the reverse situation. Petra was larger and hotter that I had expected. The famous tomb façade that I expected to encounter was only one in a complex of numerous tombs spread out over a large area. I decided to abandon my usual travel group who were seasoned Canadian hikers ten years younger than myself and all physically fit. They intended to charge around the complex at break-neck speeds to see everything. Thus, I decided to travel with a different crew of friends who wished to savour the experience at a slower speed and were content to see fewer tombs. As a result, I had more time to take stunning pictures and appreciate the site at my own pace.
Travel with Beth in Asia was simple because we had similar physical stamina. We could both walk for hours, and had comparable energy patterns for travel, rest and play. But, when we met Leonor from Paris, she challenged our emotional stamina by getting us to leave our comfort zones. Walking and touring sites together, we had similar physical stamina, however biking was a different story.
In Ayutthaya, Thailand we rented bicycles, and since Leonor was an experienced cyclist back home, she led our little group. Beth and I struggled to keep up with Leonor, while she was very confident navigating through the Thai traffic. Beth and I were apprehensive and were convinced that we wouldn’t survive! We were glad for her confidence and we learned that we weren’t as hard-core as we thought we were!
Traveling alone is very different. I don’t have to consider anyone else’s physical or emotional stamina. I speed up and slow down at my whim. I may seek out ways to take me out of my comfort zone, or avoid situations that may challenge me. The decision is mine alone. If I join new friends while traveling, once again, I have to negotiate these details, however the rules are simpler.
While traveling with my new Australian friend Kevin, I’ve found that we had fewer expectations. We met at our hostel in Kyoto, headed out to lunch, together with our new German friend, Marco and during lunch, we discovered that we had similar plans for the afternoon. We decided to explore Gion together. Neither of us were in a rush to do anything, and so stamina didn’t matter. Kevin patiently accommodated my random souvenir shopping and photo-taking at temples. Later, we parted, and I continued my evening exploration alone. Joining up for adventures and parting ways was easily because there were no expectations which required negotiation.
MEETING NEW PEOPLE
I found it harder to meet locals and travellers when I traveled within my trio. We also stayed at an Airbnb, with the result that we had few opportunities to meet other travellers. Both CeCe and I are outgoing and talk to strangers easily, and travellers we encountered were eager to reciprocate. But, our opportunities to meet other people were largely while dining at restaurants.
When you already have friends to share your experiences with, it seems less necessary to reach out to locals and other travellers. Also, others may presume that because you already have a group of friends, that you don’t necessarily want to meet new people, and therefore not take the initiative to strike up a conversation. Also, our Airbnb accommodation provided little opportunity to meet anyone (see my blog: https://travelandtash.wordpress.com/2017/02/05/airbnb-vs-hostels-my-experience-in-kyoto-japan/).
Whenever I travel alone, meeting people seems more necessary and is far easier. After CeCe and Riley returned home, I met numerous fun people at my new hostel residence. Khaosan Theater Kyoto hostel provided a very social environment. I meet Kevin, Marco, and many other travellers in the kitchen, basement workshop and bar, and repeatedly hung out with them and shared stories and recommendations. I stayed up until 5am talking with Juan on my first night there, and randomly stumbled across new friend Sandra in a nearby restaurant and joined her for dinner. Making new friends while alone was super easy.
To complicate the topic of meeting new people a little further, I will point out that while traveling with Beth in Thailand, as a pair of girls, rather than a group of three, it seemed easier to meet other people. Perhaps our tiny unit made us seem more accessible. This may be an interesting discussion for another blog.
Last but not least, CeCe, Riley and I discussed expectations and budgets in the planning stages of our trip. We talked about the kind of activities we wanted to do and could afford to do together, and figured out how simple or posh we wanted our dining and accommodation experiences to be. CeCe initially explained that she wanted to stay in a classy Airbnb and dine out at a fancy restaurant on at least one occasion while in Kyoto together, while I wanted to spend more cash on evening dinners in general. Riley didn’t want to spend money on souvenir or fashion shopping. We all had to compromise because we all had different ideas about how to spend our cash.
When I travelled alone, however, I decided how much I wished to spend on food, accommodation and so on. I could be luxurious or a penny pincher, and I didn’t affect, or was affected, by others. I was also solely responsible, however, for my finances and if I got into financial trouble, only I could fix it. I couldn’t rely on friends to provide any emergency funds if needed, so essentially, I was forced to become more responsible.
LEARNING ABOUT MYSELF
One of my personal goals this year has been to become a genuine team player. Traveling with two of my work colleagues in Kyoto was a very good way to develop team skills. I learned to hold my silence when I disagreed with something because it wasn’t worth the confrontation, and also had a refresher course of how to compromise. I’ve also learned that I prefer to travel in a pair, rather than a group of three. It’s easier to compromise with one woman than compromise with two. There were at least two alpha females in our group, so that alone kept things interesting. Also, I’ve learned that when visiting new locations, a travel partner needs to be willing to compromise as well as have compatible physical and emotional stamina to my own.
Finally, I’ve learned that I really love traveling alone. I enjoy the time to think, make decisions for myself, and be able choose when I want to socialize. Traveling alone reminds me of just how outgoing I am, how independent and self-sufficient I can be. It is one of the biggest self-esteem boosts I’ve discovered to date. If you haven’t travelled alone yet, I highly recommend it.
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What is one thought you agree or disagree with here? Can you add other reasons why you prefer to travel with friends or travel alone? What have you learned about yourself through travel? Share you thoughts in the comments below.