I’m a go-go-go, nonstop, need-a-vacation-from-my-vacation type of person. I walk until I can’t feel my feet, schedule activities with little room in between, and usually end the trip so exhausted that my entire body throbs when I blink. As for my boyfriend, well, not so much. He is perfectly content spending the majority of the trip in a hotel room or Airbnb with minimal activity sprinkled throughout.
Despite our different travel styles, and after much trial and error, we finally made traveling together work. My secret? I forced my boyfriend to succumb to all my demands. Just kidding — I would never date someone so spineless. We were able to travel more harmoniously through clear communication and compromise.
Here are some guidelines for traveling with a romantic partner or friend who has a completely different travel style than you.
If you’ve never traveled with this person before, it’s probably best to test the waters with a short weekend trip. Start with an affordable staycation or drive a few hours for a quick getaway. After the trip, evaluate what worked, what could be improved, and if you want to travel again with this person. Worst case, if it ends up being a total disaster, you only wasted one to two days of your time. The last thing you want is to spend cash and PTO on a long overseas trip that causes tension between you both.
Discuss Travel Temperaments
Chances are, if you are willing to take a trip with this person, you have a fairly decent grasp on their personality, likes and dislikes, and if they’re type A or B. But their traveling personality? That’s a whole different ball game. For instance, the person who schedules every waking minute of their day may want to wing it on a trip and be more relaxed. Someone who’s less organized and more free-spirited may want more structure when traveling to ensure they don’t miss anything at their dream destination.
The best way to figure out travel temperaments is — surprise, surprise — to communicate. After choosing a destination, ask your potential travel buddy if they prefer a jam-packed schedule, more relaxation, or a mix of both. If you are both on the same page, great! If not, there are two options to take: Decide not to go on the trip, or learn to compromise.
“If people understand and have clarity on each other’s needs for their vacation and are willing to compromise, then, yes, you can absolutely travel with someone who has a different travel style than you,” says Jackie Schwartz, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Bayview Therapy. “If both people are unwilling to step outside what he/she wants to do, then, unfortunately, traveling with this person may be harmful to the relationship. Before traveling with someone, it’s important to communicate honestly about expectations of the trip and to take steps towards compromising where we give to receive and receive to give.”
Establish the Purpose of the Trip
Is this trip for a specific event or just for fun? Is one party supporting the other in an endeavor like a job interview, or is the agenda up in the air? If you are planning the trip to visit a friend as the main priority, all other wants should come second. Make sure the other party knows and is clear that every single bucket-list item may not be crossed off on this trip, and pick a few must-do activities instead. “Before traveling with your friend or partner, it is important to discuss at length your values, wants, needs, and dislikes,” says Jennifer Silva, a psychotherapist at Reclaim Life Counseling. “These conversations allow each person to have a point of reference to rely on and create an open dialogue so each voice can be heard.”
How to Compromise
“There are many ways to compromise while traveling with a friend or partner. Find out in advance what activities are most important to each other on the vacation so you can make sure to prioritize those needs,” says Silva. “Taking turns doing things your way this time and their way the next keeps the trip balanced and shows your willingness to do the things that are important to your partner. If something is really important to you, make sure to express that to your traveling companion, and respect things of importance to them as well.”
I can attest to this. On past trips, I would make a list of all the restaurants I wanted to eat at, every exhibit I wanted to see, and every activity I wanted to do. The goal was to cram every single activity in with little breathing room. The result? My boyfriend was exhausted, and I was thrilled. Not the best compromise.
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Nowadays, I still make a list (some habits are hard to break). What’s changed is that I narrow it down to must-haves based on want, convenience, and cost-effectiveness. Let’s use our recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina, as an example. I made a list of restaurants I wanted to eat at. From the list of 16 restaurants (I’m a psychopath, I know), I narrowed down the list based on the price of meals, proximity to the hotel, and what my boyfriend was more inclined to eat. The end result was two restaurants (one for lunch, one for dinner) and one dessert spot. He picked the rest of the places to dine, and we ate free continental breakfasts at the hotel all weekend.
Activity-wise, we left the hotel early in the morning, did some sightseeing, came back to our room to chill, went out again for dinner, then right back to the hotel for the night. If that doesn’t say win-win, I don’t know what does.
State Your Boundaries
If you have any non-negotiable aspects relating to travel, speak up. This is where the aforementioned purpose of the trip comes in. For instance, I was accepted into the Chicago marathon and invited a friend to go on the trip with me. Since I had to run such a long distance, I had to be cautious in what I ate and limit excessive walking. I made it clear to her that the day before the race I had to stay off my feet and couldn’t eat any crazy, greasy foods until after I crossed the finish line. We planned all walking activities two days prior and went on a riverboat tour the day before. After the race was a different story: There was pizza and ice cream.
Boundaries are also important to establish if one is an extrovert while the other is an introvert. “The differences between an extrovert and an introvert can determine how each person prefers to spend their time and how they relate to themselves and the world around them. Extroverts and introverts have different needs and ways of fulfilling those needs,” says Silva. “Having awareness and information about these different personality types can help us understand where someone else is coming from and make it easier for us to emphasize and communicate more effectively. Letting your partner know your needs and preferences will prevent them from misreading a situation and help create an environment of mutual respect for each other’s preferences and boundaries.”
For instance, say you try napping on the plane while your significant other continues to yap your ear off. Try to be upfront about your needs by saying something like “I’m sorry, but I just need to rest for a bit.” For those in reversed roles, be mindful of the other person’s need to recharge, and look for signs he or she needs you to back off. These can include lack of eye contact, excessive sighing, and curt/short answers. Don’t push them to be more talkative either — it’s about compromise, remember?
To Prep or Not to Prep?
If you’re a type-A person who plans everything, it can be infuriating when your type-B travel partner leaves everything to the last minute. Or, if the roles are reversed, you just want to relax and not have every minute planned so far in advance. Unfortunately for the latter situation, prepping before a trip can make or break the entire experience. Popular sightseeing attractions may require tickets ahead of time. With some destinations still reducing capacity due to Covid restrictions, it’s better to be safe than sorry (why, yes, dear, we are still in a pandemic).
Of course, you may not have to book tickets for every single thing you want to do, but consider the most important attractions you would be disappointed in missing out on. Reservations to popular restaurants are necessary as well, unless you don’t mind stumbling ravenously into a questionable buffet. Counter the scheduled attractions and dine-outs with some free time too. This will give the more-relaxed person a break and leave some wiggle room in case something fun comes up at the last minute.
For Schwartz, proper explanation is key. “Balancing differences in how plans are made can be challenging for many couples. Describe why certain things are important to you; help your partner understand,” she says. “Knowing why our partner does things a certain way is a gateway to improving compromise and getting our inflexible needs met so both partners can plan and travel peacefully with less stress.”
Early Birds Versus Night Owls
It may sound like a nightmare to travel with someone who is on an entirely different sleep schedule than you, but it can actually be a blessing in disguise. He wants to sleep in until 10 a.m. and has no desire to go for a run? Wake up solo and use the hotel gym. She wants to visit a famous bar and talk to pretentious hipsters? Head to the hotel, start getting ready for bed, and brace yourself for a crazy story over brunch. “Remember, whatever your relationship is, you are not joined at the hip,” says Silva. “You can do the activity you want to do without your partner and always meet up afterward to discuss your day.”
Plan mutually desirable activities during a time that works for both of you. One doesn’t necessarily need to uproot his or her sleeping pattern to appease the other, but each side should meet halfway so everyone is happy.
Picky, Meet Non-picky
Is one person exceptionally pickier than the other about plane seats, Airbnbs, what to eat? Surprisingly, this could work out since the other party most likely will concede. If both sides are picky, it could take a bit of finessing.
“Being picky is a reflection of your priorities and what’s important to you. Explain to your partner why this thing you’re picky about is important to you,” says Schwartz. “Maybe your S.O. is picky about the aisle seat on a plane because they have an undisclosed medical concern and they need to be able to get to the restroom within short notice. Maybe the type-A planner has only one vacation per year, and obsessively planning and organizing events is their way of ensuring a great vacation. We need to communicate not only what is important to us but why it’s important to us.”
Also, try to divide and take turns — let her take the window seat to the destination, and you take it on the way home. He chooses the breakfast spot one day, and you the next. Keep in mind that not every single experience has to be tit for tat, and one party may get their way slightly more than the other. The main objective is not to keep a tally of who got his or her way more, instead, it’s about each side giving a little.
And if the scale is way off-balance? “If ever someone feels like he/she is overextending themself and compromising more than their travel partner, this can lead to resentment and other negative thoughts and feelings. To avoid this, productive communication must take place; do not store things up, for this will make it worse,” says Schwartz. “Communicate your needs by calmly and nonjudgmentally describing the situation that you feel is unfair. State how you feel about it, and inform your partner of what you want or need. This is called the ‘softened start-up,’ and it’s a very effective way to convey concerns and grievances.”
Think of communication as a potential method to cause less tension down the line and a way to strengthen your bond. Who doesn’t love a great trip and an even better relationship, right?
Laura Kiniry is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist who writes about travel, food, and culture, and the ways all three intertwine. She contributes regularly to Smithsonianmag.com and Atlas Obscura.
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