Two days ago I bid farewell… for the second time… to my travel companion and childhood friend Marissa.
The first time was in Costa Rica, when she departed on her journey to Nicaragua and I stayed behind. We reunited in Granada after I spontaneously hopped a bus rather than return to my favorite little Caribbean jungle town.
Our time together was more incredible than I could have dreamed. She was, for me, the perfect travel companion.
Now, en route to the beautiful and remote Corn Islands off of the Atlantic Coast, I’m on my own again.
Make no mistake, I love to travel alone.
I love the freedom it allows.
I love the challenge it presents.
I love the growth it encourages.
But there is something so supportive, so comforting, so FUN about traveling with someone else. In fact I already miss having Marissa by my side.
Sleepily conversing over big bowls of fruit and oatmeal as soon as the sun rose in the sky, slathering one another in sunscreen between bouts of frolicking in the sea, dancing like fools to throwbacks from our middle school days, facing any adventure that came our way. Together. Always a team. Always on the same page.
I feel fortunate to have had amazing travel partners this past year and a half… but it hasn’t always gone smoothly. In fact there are times on the road when I want nothing more than to be free from the attachment of another person. Any person. Even those I love dearly.
It can be incredibly challenging and actually interfere with my ability to enjoy my trip.
So what makes a great travel companion?
Similar Travel Style
Do you rise with the sun or close down the club? Float in the sea or trek up a mountain? Mow on fried street meat, splurge in fancy restaurants, or assemble raw vegan salads? Are you keen to rough it in a tent in the lobby of a hostel or do you need the comfort of a five star hotel?
These are all questions of lifestyle. And traveling with someone means living with them. The more you differ in these areas, the more compromise is necessary. For me, when traveling, honestly, I like to compromise as little as possible. I want to live my life for myself. I want to feel free.
We can’t all want the same things at the same time. This means either agreeing to bend to someone else’s wants and needs, or sometimes going your separate ways. For me the best travel partners are able to communicate their needs and respect mine even when they differ.
Writing this blog necessitates I take time each day to write. I need quiet time to achieve this. I also understand that many other travelers do not have that schedule or routine. When I would write Marissa would go to the beach, and I’d meet her later. Or read a book in a hammock with a cup of coffee in the morning. Talk with other travelers at night.
When I was traveling with Andie she was in the process of writing a book. I was free as a bird. She met me in the beach in the afternoon. I went on jungle hikes with locals. We were together when we wanted to be and apart when we needed to be.
And it didn’t distance us from one another. In fact it made us closer because we offered one another the space to address our own needs first. Which in travel, as in life, prepares us to be a better partner.
One of the amazing things about travel is that it is predictably unpredictable. Life can sail as smooth as a swimming pool or as turbulent as open water. With each changing tide you must, must, must adapt. Ideally with grace and ease.
Having someone on your side who is flexible when life does not go according to plan, and let’s be real it never does, is key.
Travel teaches you to solve problems… fast.
When Marissa and I arrived at a beautiful beach, after hours of biking in the intense Pacific sun, our skin as pink as the opalescent sand, we found no shade. She began dragging driftwood and draping our sarongs to create shelter.
When we discovered that the river we must cross in our Corocovado trek was filled with crocodiles, I checked the tide schedule. Our prideful guide would not budge on changing his. Marissa and I agreed we would not cross until the water was below our knees. And we waited until it did.
You will be faced with predicaments constantly while traveling. Do you want to be the one solving all of them? When you are exhausted from travel, as sweaty as a Bikrum yogi, and simply cannot be bothered to speak one more word in a foreign language, who will you turn to? Will you be responsible for navigating every situation? Planning each complex route?
Even the best travel pal is bound to frustrate you at times. When you spend every day, often all day, with another human being
They might hurt your feelings.
They might do something you find disrespectful.
You must be able to talk about it.
Unless you decide to break your travel plans, you cannot run away from any problems that exist between you. You must address them and move on so that you can enjoy your time together. In most cases it will make your relationship stronger.
Sense of Humor
Broken down buses, stalling taxis, offensive cat callers, staggering heat, and enormous cockroaches can easily break your spirit.
You can become agitated. You can complain. You can cry.
Or you can just laugh. At everything.
When I came down with the Caribbean flu the morning after my Puerto Viejo love broke my heart, I told Andie, “I hope he gets my fever.” We laughed.
The many times we were stranded on the road back to our remote beach house we sarcastically touted “our lives are so hard” and laughed at the ridiculousness of our own happiness.
When Marissa and I pulled ticks off of one another’s gringa flesh in the jungle, we found hilarity in the intimacy of our relationship.
Because at the end of the day you want to share your travels, your experiences, your life, with someone who will stand next to you and smile.