The old adage that you never know someone until you've lived with them is almost true. In my experience, you never truly know someone until you've travelled with them.
That's when personalities are stripped bare, when all of a person's flaws and foibles are brutally exposed during a 24-hours-a-day marathon of shared experience.
It's when jetlag kicks in and you're getting edgy. It's when it's three in the morning and you've lost your hostel key.
It's when your mate decides he/she just needs to faff around in the hotel room for "five more minutes".
It's when you're worn out and tired, and you've exhausted all conversation, and you find yourself fighting over whose turn it is to pick a restaurant, any restaurant, and trying to speak some foreign language to just order us some chips and WHY CAN'T YOU DO IT JUST THIS ONCE?
That mildly annoying habit they have of chewing their food noisily? That suddenly becomes a hellishly grating cacophony after a few weeks on the road.
You realise that your friend or partner needs to go to the toilet all the freaken time. You come to the conclusion that you actually have nothing in common and probably never should have been friends in the first place.
OK, so it's not always that bad. In fact it usually isn't, provided you choose the right travel buddy, which is a dark art that can be difficult to master. Just because you get on with someone in real life, doesn't mean you'll make good travel partners. And vice versa - you might grate on each other normally, but turn out to be the perfect pair on the road.
I've travelled with plenty of people, some I've had a great time with and cemented lifelong friendships, and others I haven't. But I've found there are a few things you need to look for before you make the commitment to get on that plane.
First: is your travel buddy calm in a crisis? Do they laughingly help their drunken friends into a cab at three in the morning? Do they calmly go and rinse their jeans off when you accidentally spill red wine on them?
This is the kind of person you want to travel with. The kind that can roll with the inevitable punches. The kind of drama-free dream-buddy who looks for solutions instead of dwelling on problems.
Because things will go wrong when you travel. Lots and lots of things. The trick is knowing how to deal with them.
The next thing you need to do is match up your budgets. It never works when one person has loads of cash and wants to stay in fancy hotels and go shopping and eat at expensive restaurants and do all of the great activities, while the other one wants to hang out at the hostel drinking $1 beers and searching the cupboards for abandoned packets of noodles.
You might not have the exact same budget, but it helps to be close.
The travel dynamic is also aided, I've found, by someone being an organiser, and the other person not really caring that much about what happens.
If neither of you care about organisation you'll end up wandering around the world getting lost and frustrated, and probably frequently ripped off. If both of you want to choose every hostel and every restaurant you'll clash over and over again.
In an ideal world one person will enjoy doing all the research and the bookings and having all the background knowledge, while the other person will cruise along and enjoy the benefits.
Obviously it will help if the two of you have similar interests. You're going to be doing a lot of things together - it will make life much easier if you both enjoy those things. At the same time though, your ultimate travel buddy needs to be the type to embrace the spirit of compromise. You can't always get what you want. There has to be some give and take.
Vegetarians! You may want to travel with other vegetarians. Just a suggestion.
Everyone, however, should try to travel with someone gregarious and fun, someone who will saunter up and introduce themselves to foreign strangers, someone not afraid to throw themselves into a scary situation, someone who will laugh off the bad times and embrace and celebrate the good, someone with patience, someone with a passion for adventure, someone who will make your travel experience infinitely more enjoyable with their mere presence.
That's the person you want. And you'll be able to forgive them when they chew their food noisily.
Have you ever chosen wrong? What are your tips for choosing the perfect travel buddy?
- Sydney Morning Herald