Machu Picchu, Peru
I write a lot about solo travel, because I’m often a solo traveller. There’s one person I can always travel with, though, and have an incredible time: my best friend, Kerri.
Seoul, South Korea
Kerri and I met in university in Halifax, Canada. Although we shared a few classes together throughout the years, it was only in our final year that we discovered how well we got along, and that we had a shared love for travel. We were both planning backpacking trips around Europe after graduation, and so we’d sit in cafes and pore over guidebooks, plotting our routes and our hostels and our modes of transportation. Despite our planning, we never actually crossed paths in Europe.
Our friendship really blossomed through email, and, eventually, over Skype, although there were a few shared months in Toronto, too. Our first trip together was to Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey in 2008; then, she came to visit me twice in Osaka in 2009. We then travelled through Thailand and Myanmar together in 2011, and I went to Seoul to visit her. Finally, in 2012, we travelled through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. Throughout the years, we’ve also had lots of visits whenever we both happened to be in Canada. That’s 18 countries together. That’s a lot of laughs, and a lot of great moments, but it’s also a lot of tears and a lot of hardships. Travelling together can be one of the most difficult challenges your friendship will face, but, if you follow these tips, you’ll ultimately become even better friends, and closer than ever before.
San Blas Islands, Panama
So, how can you travel with your best friend… and still manage to be best friends at the end of it?
1. Before you even set off, make sure you’ve discussed your goals and your intentions for the trip. You need to make sure that you’re on the same page (or at least in the same chapter) when it comes to pace of travel, your budget, and the kinds of activities you’d like to do. If, for example, one of you envisions a luxury hotel getaway while the other wants a back-to-basics, let’s-rough-it camping trip, the two of you probably shouldn’t be travelling together, or at least need to have a serious chat. It’s not enough to say, “Let’s do Southeast Asia together!” You need to discuss your standards of accommodation, transportation, sightseeing, and spending. Better to discuss what each of you wants out of the trip before it even becomes an issue.
2. Share all of the pre-trip responsibilities. Talk often about what you’re doing before the trip: buying insurance, applying for visas, etc. Keep each other updated; nothing’s worse than realizing an argument could have been prevented if you’d only communicated properly. If you know you’ll be travelling together, you can also pack accordingly. When travelling around Central and South America, for example, I brought the guidebooks. Kerri brought the sunscreen and the GoPro. We rarely spent time apart from each other, so it was natural to share these things.
3. Develop a buddy system. It sounds incredibly cheesy, but it will help you both stay on top of things. Check with each other that you have your passports, that you’ve locked up the hostel safe, that your camera battery is charged, and so on. Two brains are better than one, so take advantage of that.
La Paz, Bolivia
4. Keep track of spending. Kerri and I often paid for things on our own, or split bills, but inevitably there were times when I covered something or she covered something. We made sure to quickly pay the other back, or to write down what we owed as to not get confused in the future.
5. Share all of the trip’s responsibilities, no matter how big or how small. One person shouldn’t always be the one to book flights, or find the hostel, or navigate a new city (unless one person really loves doing one of those things). The last thing you want to feel toward your travel partner is resentment. The only way to truly enjoy your travels together is if both parties feel equal, and that the travel responsibilities are balanced; take turns finding restaurants or figuring out how to buy train tickets, or better yet, do it all together. You’ll both learn a lot, and you’ll be thankful for your friend’s opinion and advice.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
6. That being said, know when to take full responsibility. There will be times when your friend is, for whatever reason, unable to help out. Maybe she’s violently ill, or perhaps she’s lost her wallet and can’t take out cash. Now’s the time to actually be a best friend and step up to the plate. Kerri got a bit seasick when we sailed across the Caribbean, for example, and so I wasn’t going to complain that she wasn’t able to help me out with some of the chores we had on the boat. She got my back later on when I got food poisoning in Peru. One of the best parts of travelling with a best friend is always having someone to lend a helping hand.
Love the monk in the background: Rangoon, Myanmar
7. Always keep communicating. You have to be fully honest with each other. If your best friend wants to hike up a volcano or take surfing lessons or visit the newest art museum, and you don’t, speak up. You’re both adults; act accordingly. If your friend is doing something really annoying (if Kerri was a 5am plastic bag rustler I might not be writing such a glowing article), calmly tell him or her, and offer a solution.
8. Know when to apologize. Sometimes, I can be a jerk. I know this, and Kerri knows this. If I haven’t eaten, I’m really hot, and we’re lost, I can snap at whoever happens to rub me the wrong way. It’s totally uncalled for, and it’s only happened a few times, but I’ve always looked back and admitted that I was wrong, because… I was. Apologizing doesn’t make you weak, it makes you a good friend. We all screw up and do stupid things, but it’s how we handle those things afterward that show our true colours. Don’t be stubborn, and learn from your mistakes.
Here’s a tip for travelling with anyone, not just your best friend. Never start an argument before asking yourselves: are we hungry? are we tired? are we uncomfortable in any way (too hot, too cold, sick)? are we lost? If you can answer yes to any of those, save the argument.
9. Compromise. I’m pretty sure that’s the key to every single successful relationship, but it’s hugely important if you are going to travel with your best friend. Kerri and I often talk about being soulmates – we are overjoyed to have found each other in life. That doesn’t mean we want to do all of the same things, though. What it does mean is that we are happy to compromise and to occasionally do something that one of us doesn’t necessarily want to do. We help each other out, and lean on each other. It’s a crucial part of being someone’s best friend.
Dressing up in Otavalo, Ecuador
10. Make other friends. Even though you have a built-in travel partner and friend, part of the beauty of travelling is to meet new people from around the world. Branch out! I might even argue that having your best friend with you means that you talk to even more people, as you’re extra confident. What’s the worst that can happen? You attempt to talk to a group and they act a bit cold (that’s happened to me exactly twice in 8 years, by the way)? You have your buddy to hang out with anyway, so no harm done. Kerri and I met a ridiculous amount of people together while on the road. We even wrote songs for some of them.
Another issue that might arise is if one of you meets someone you’d like to travel with as well, either another platonic friend or a romantic interest. That’s something that you and your best friend should discuss before you travel together, because you might have very different ideas as how to handle that situation. I know that, in the case of Kerri and I, we were very supportive of each other and totally respected that need to have some private time with someone else once in a while. Be happy for your friend, or open up to the possibility of travelling with someone new.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
11. Spend some time alone. OK – I have a confession. Kerri and I never, ever spend any time alone. Like, ever. We spent 5 months side by side in Central and South America, and, although we both always said that we were fine if the other person wanted to spend a day apart, we stayed together the whole time anyway. We joke that you could put us in an empty room, and, when you opened the door 24 hours later, we’d still be laughing. Not everyone’s like us, though, and sometimes a few days (or even a few hours) apart can do wonders. It’s also important to travel on your own from time to time – you learn a lot about yourself and are forced to be more confident, social, and resourceful. Recognize that travelling with someone 24/7 is very difficult, and be mature about the situation if one of you wants to spend some time solo.
12. Don’t forget to have fun. At the end of the day, this is your best friend. Take silly photos. Laugh until you cry. Share everything, from your toothpaste to your innermost fears. Love her and compliment her and cherish every moment with her. Chances are, if you travel together well, you’ll be best friends for life.
Travelling with your best friend can be an amazing experience, so long as you respect each other. While I love to travel solo, my best and most vivid travel memories are with Kerri – we get to share them with each other, and tell the stories again and again.
Near Uyuni, Bolivia
What about you? Have you ever travelled with your best friend? Did your friendship survive the journey?