Of the scraps of well-worn advice that adults bestow upon students, ‘Make friends out of flatmates, not flatmates out of friends’ haunts me because of its pertinence to travel. What we look for in a travel companion differs hugely from what we look for in a friend.
Think of yourself as a film director casting two wildly different parts. That wickedly sarcastic, downbeat friend who makes you laugh like nobody else might be the one you position yourself next to in the club, but in the chaos of a Bangkok bus station, you’ll wonder what possessed you to team up with such a glum, useless companion.
And that soft-hearted best friend from school you call when you want a 90-minute analysis of a single text message from a guy? She’ll end up driving you bananas as you tour the temples of Angkor Wat with her and her bundle of neuroses. Travelling is stressful and exhausting, and the dream travel companion combines an upbeat outlook, practical mindset and calm exterior.
Here are questions I ask myself about any potential travel companion:
1. What are their priorities? If they’re all about having wild parties or bringing random friends back to the beach shack, while you want to do yoga and learn to surf, it won’t work.
2. What is their budget? Nothing drives a rift between travellers faster than disagreeing on what’s a sensible spend on a meal or hotel. Talk this through before you book any flights.
3. Are they good in a crisis? Around 60 per cent of what happens to you when you backpack is unplanned, and you need someone who’ll roll with the punches. Do they have a history of spinning out if they can’t get a taxi home at night? Do they blame others when they’re late? Do they hold grudges or sulk if things don’t go their way? This behaviour is just about tolerable on a group night out, much less so when you’re hot and bothered and trying to find a hostel for the night.
4. What do they contribute? Are they too shy to approach a stranger and ask for directions? Will they make an effort to learn the language or will they expect you to do all the talking? It’s fine for you both to have different roles and strengths, but a healthy balance of travel chores is key.
5. Do they make you laugh? Will they help you see the funny side when you accidentally book a night in a run down hotel? Laughter is the most cleansing thing in the world, and we all need to travel with people who laugh easily, and coax laughter out of us.