Lisa Kenney is a New York City-based research assistant whose upbringing as a military brat has led to incurable wanderlust. Her favorite travel memory is watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu.
As a single 20-something armed with a few vacation days and a healthy dose of wanderlust—but without the nerve to travel alone—my friends have become my go-to globetrotters. It seems like a no-brainer: Why wouldn't I jet off with the same girls I see for weekly brunches and happy hours?
My friends and I have climbed mountains in Peru, skied in northern Vermont, gambled in Las Vegas, and driven golf carts on the beach in Panama. We've also sent hundreds of pre-trip emails, argued about activities, laid blame over crummy hostels, and stewed silently about being left out.
Traveling doesn't change people; it just makes them more of who they are. Minor annoyances in everyday life (that friend who's always late, someone with expensive taste, or a stickler for schedules) will become magnified on the road, coming to a head in major blowouts over wake-up calls or restaurant choices.
Here's a few tips for emerging from group getaways with friendships intact:
Spontaneity can be great, but anyone who's tried to get six people to agree on a daily itinerary over breakfast knows it's more trouble than it's worth—and takes up a good chunk of the morning. My friends and I are huge planners, which has been vital. Planning gets minor issues out of the way immediately—massive email chains can sort out attendees, travel dates, and a locales must-sees. Before any money has been plunked down, everyone can be completely honest about what they want to do, see and spend.
Try booking activities before arriving at your destination (show tickets in Vegas, kayak tours in Puerto Rico, etc.) so you have a basic sketch of your time before departure—leaving little room for on-the-road arguments about what to do that day. You can build the rest of your trip around those pre-set arrangements.
Communication goes hand-in-hand with planning. You're never going to get through a vacation with friends unscathed if everyone's trying to be polite. If you have any budget issues, you must, must, must lay them out early. Your friends won't judge you, and you won't end up skipping meals to afford that nice hotel you only agreed to in an attempt to avoid conflict.
It's also important to be honest about what you expect from the trip. Do you like to relax in the sun all day? Then you shouldn't travel with your thrill-seeking pal. Itching for the hostel experience? Don't book tickets with a high-maintenance friend. You'll both end up bored, resentful and annoyed at various points. Being up front about what you truly want out of your vacation will help avoid any discomfort once you've taken off.
This is the biggest key to staying partners in crime once you return to your hometown. No matter how honest you've been or how much planning you've done, there will be unavoidable compromises every day. No two (or three or four) people are going to agree on every aspect of a trip—keep your mouth shut while checking out a specialty restaurant for your vegetarian pal, agree to visit monuments for two hours instead of an entire afternoon, or be comfortable splitting up for a day. One thing that helps is to have each person list one must-see before the trip. It's a strategy that lets everyone experience one dream activity without anyone keeping score of who got to do what they wanted and who didn't. You'll be surprised at how fun it is to try jungle horseback riding without being frustrated that no one wants to check out those historical ruins with you tomorrow.
The truth is there are some friends you shouldn't travel with, no matter how much planning or communicating goes into the vacation. Even if you're lucky enough to have friends you can stand 24/7, you'll still need a healthy dose of patience and understanding to get back home in one piece. But just remember that a little bit of compromise is nothing in exchange for an unforgettable trip with the people you like the most.
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