Travelling with friends

00:56, Jun 29 2010
Bruges has much more to offer beer drinkers.
HERE'S TO FRIENDS: Travellers toast with beer during 176th Oktoberfest in Munich in 2009.

When you set out on a long holiday with a friend, you're committing to a union far more involved than holy matrimony.

For starters, marriage provides room for some respite, in the form of going to work five days a week, or regular nights out with the girls or boys. Travellers have no such luck.

You sit at the airport at the beginning of the trip, laughing with your new travel buddy, excited about what the next few months will bring. What you don't think about is that the face you're looking at will be with you every step of the way.

When you wake up, that face will be there. When you go to sleep (well, most of the time), that face will be there. When you get sick and have to dash to the toilet, that face will be there. When you're stuck at train stations, drunk in bars, wandering around art galleries, lost in foreign cities, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner - that face will be there.

And it's not as though you've committed to being life partners. The buddy might not even be a good friend. The criterion for a good travel buddy is just someone who's prepared to go with you.


So there you are, with a mere acquaintance, destined to spend your every moment together for the next few months.

Want to get to know someone? Travel with them. Within a week you'll know every single foible, perversion and everyday bad habits. If you're still talking to each other by the time you get home, you've got a friend for life.

I've had varying success with travel buddies. My first one, Gary, was a mate from school. We were 17, thrown into the big wide world with no clue about what we were doing, other than the fact we knew there were girls out there somewhere and we hoped to meet a few.

The falling-out, when it came, was probably the most stupid I've ever had - and that includes real relationships. We were living in Scotland, working on a farm. I'd just gone out and spent my hard-earned on a new CD and had to drop it at home before going to do my day job planting thistles (or whatever the hell I was supposed to be doing).

At exactly the same time, Gary and I realised he was going to be left at home alone with my beloved CD and would get to listen to it before I did. I tried to slip out, still clutching it. He tried to stop me.

It's embarrassing to admit but we almost came to blows over a £5 copy of Metallica's Ride the Lightning - probably not the first time in history that's happened but definitely the most pointless.

My most successful travel buddy was my brother, Tim. We spent a month travelling in south-east Asia together, which you'd think would be a recipe for disaster but turned out better than either of us could have hoped for. Tim, I found, is a nightmare to live with but a champion to travel with.

Our roles were perfectly aligned. I would meticulously plan things, study guide books and map out where we'd visit and what we'd do. Tim would then go on a series of completely unplanned rampages and make things far more interesting.

Sure, he was robbed in Cambodia, got into an ill-advised kick-boxing match in Thailand and was too hungover to tour Angkor Wat - but we've got a lot of stories to tell.

Then there were the three months I spent sharing a tent in Africa with a girl called Anna. Our relationship was strictly platonic - a marriage of convenience because the two of us wanted to see Africa and neither knew anyone else crazy enough to travel with them. But by the end of the three months, it was like we had a real marriage, as in we argued non-stop and never had sex. We argued over putting up the tent, taking down the tent, who was cooking and whether they were doing it right. ("You're putting oil in the pasta water? Are you insane? Just salt it!")

Happily, we're still friends. Although we've never been camping together again.

Sydney Morning Herald