Hitting the Road Together
You’ve carefully followed the tips in Part 1 of this post, and anticipation has been steadily rising… and now, that date that’s been circled on your calendar for months is finally here! Your bags are packed. You’ve triple-checked your travel documents. Your house has been thoroughly organized and cleaned (just me? Okay then.) At long last, it’s time to hop on a plane, train or bus, meet up with your ATB and hit the road for your long-awaited trip!This is where we separate the wheat from the chaff… or the awful, opportunistic travel buddies from the keepers. Read on for some tips on becoming one of the true greats!
1. Celebrate making it to the starting line.
Part of the joy of having an ATB is having an awesome friend to share your adventures. So as much as you’re looking forward to starting your trip, take a moment to enjoy being with your buddy again! A first-day drink, lunch or fancy coffee is a great way to kick off your trip on the right foot.
2. Take it easy for a little while.
Even though you’re eager to get started, there’s a chance one or both of you is fighting through jet lag, dealing with lost or misplaced luggage (or important items), or battling through the first signs of digestive disruption. Take some time to get your and your buddy’s biorhythms sorted out, aligned with your current time zone, and attuned to weather, water, food, smells, and all the exciting sensations in your new environment.
On that note, building in a couple of days to explore your arrival city is a great way to start your adventure at a more leisurely pace. Full possession of your faculties will serve you well, especially on a longer trip.
3. Play to your strengths and your buddy’s, too.
Your trip is all about putting the right buddy with the right skills in the right roles, to benefit the both of you. For example, Lyn is apparently comfortable driving any vehicle ever manufactured, and has an unerring sense of direction. On the other hand, I speak three languages well (and several others barely comprehensibly) and can convert currency in my head at lightning speed.
It makes total sense, therefore, for me to do the restaurant ordering and assess whether that cool necklace (priced in Euros) really is a good deal… and for Lyn to grab the keys of the camper van while I unfold the map and navigate us to our next destination.
4. Embrace the chaos and disruption.
There’s no easy way to say this, but here’s a hard truth: despite all the planning and forethought you and your buddy have put in… things will go wrong.
That hostel that looked so cute on the website might end up being dirty and peopled with unsavoury characters. That gorgeously-decorated camper van that you’ve been excited about driving through Iceland might have been recently totalled. There might be an overnight earthquake that destroys the port at the Greek island you’re booked to visit next. Your buddy might forget her favourite hat – the one covered in travel pins collected over the past dozen years or more – on a Croatian bus, and lose it forever (true stories, each and every one).
And you might arrive somewhere – let’s say, oh, PULA – during an insane heat wave, without a place to sleep or a reservation on the Venice hydrofoil leaving at 6 am the next day. (But that’s a story for a different day. Because frankly, phuck Pula).
It would be totally normal to freak out. Hell, it would be expected! The key is to make sure one of you can keep a cool, calm and sensible head about these disruptions.
Be empathetic and patient with your buddy. Be resourceful in finding a solution to your dilemma. If that fails, make the best of a lousy situation. Laugh – hysterically if necessary – about it later. But don’t let a sudden curveball derail your awesome adventure. Because it WILL happen. You can bank on that.
5. Take a break when you need one.
No matter how willing and fit you are, you’ll hit a wall at some point in your travels, especially on a longer trip. The heat (or cold), the constant packing and unpacking, the succession of unfamiliar beds, the vagabonding from town to town, the aches and pains - not to mention the 24/7 togetherness - will all get to you eventually.
This is a good time to slow down before you speed up again. Take an unscheduled afternoon off to sit in an air-conditioned bar, sipping prosecco and writing postcards, instead of bustling from one hot, crowded tourist attraction to another. You can also take advantage of that solo time you booked for yourself back in the planning stages.
Remember: this isn’t some kind of record-setting Amazing Race competition, but your vacation. Build in some restorative downtime and you’ll be energized and ready for whatever comes next.
6. Know when to shut the hell up.
This is hard to admit but here goes: sometimes, you’ll screw up seriously and badly. The end result might send you and your buddy down a scary, unpaved F Road in Iceland, in a totally unsuitable vehicle, after receiving some dubious navigational advice from a local. (AHEM.)
Or perhaps your buddy will pull your camper van over to the side of the road, onto what looks like a hard shoulder… only to watch the van’s tires sink into black sand, effectively stranding you in the middle of nowhere as the sun begins to sink behind a mountain. Oh, and there’s no cell reception - because of course there isn’t.
This is NOT the time to make excuses, exonerate yourself, or make light of the situation. This, indeed, is the time to zip your lip, keep any comments to yourself, and send waves of silent support to your buddy as you both try to deal with the consequences of your unfortunate decision.
The fact that both Lyn and I are still alive, and blogging about these events, speaks to the wisdom of this course of action.
7. First and foremost, be a friend to your buddy.
The whole point of this exercise is to travel with your best friend, so treat it like the blessing it is.
Communicate in a healthy way, step away if you feel anger rising, use every scrap of patience you have (and then go find some more). Bring tea and empathy when she’s feeling low, laugh with her when she’s feeling great, compliment her incredible camp-stove cooking skills, exclaim over her amazing photos, buy her another round at the pub, and generally put the “buddy” back into being a travel buddy.
How will you know you’ve done things right? A few days before the end of your trip, one of you will initiate a conversation about where the two of you should go next year. That’s the surest sign that your ATB relationship is healthy and strong!
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