Hello! I’m Mady, sometimes referred to in this space as Approved Travel Buddy (ATB) #1!
Some time back, Lyn generously offered me an opportunity to occasionally add my voice and perspective to this blog by doing a little writing. I’m thrilled to take her up on the offer, if only so that you actually get to hear my side of the story… I mean, so you can gain a different view on casual budget travel for us *ahem* older ladies.
Early in the life of this blog, Lyn wrote a post outlining all the reasons why YOU can’t travel with her. To me, that post was hilarious and, as she described her idiosyncrasies, scarily accurate.
What that post didn’t cover, however, is what the actual roles and responsibilities of a good ATB are. So for my first contribution here, I’d like to offer my top tips on what it takes to be a successful ATB. If done right, it will mean that even after years of memorable trips, you’ll still be invited along on the next travel experience.
Because I’m a wordy gal, I’ll split this into two. Today’s post focuses on planning before you ever leave home.
1. Figure out your tolerance for discomfort
I’ve always thought that travel is the ultimate way to step out of my comfort zone. And let’s face it – travelling provides a host of innovative ways to make you extremely uncomfortable.
Language barriers, weird food, unfamiliar beds, mysterious social niceties, inexplicable street signage, strange hours of operation… virtually everything around you will be different, puzzling, incomprehensible. Ask yourself honestly: how receptive are you to that?
Personally, having someone yammering at me in rapid-fire Croatian while eating something unpronounceable in a sunny courtyard ringed by cracked, thousand-year-old statuary is kind of my jam. However, someone else might run screaming for the nearest McDonald’s while lunging for the translation app on their phone... and wishing they’d booked that Disney cruise after all.
Either of these options is absolutely fine; it really depends on how uncomfortable and fish-out-of-water you want your experience to be. When your tolerance for discomfort and that of your buddy match up closely, that’s the sweet spot – that’s how you’ll know you picked the right ATB!
2. Be honest about your budget, but be receptive to a splurge or two.
I could just have said “be honest” and left it at that. But mismatched budgets are a sure-fire way to sink a trip – and your travel buddy relationship - before you two ever leave home.
If your vision leans more toward hostels and street food while your buddy prefers lavish four-course dinners and opulent digs, you need to pump the brakes before you drain both your relationship and your savings account. This is where the art of negotiation – and our old friend, compromise – come in.
When your budgets don’t align, a good compromise is scrimping in some areas so you can book one or more “splurges” during your trip. Your splurge can be any activity, meal, experience or stay that’s more on the decadent, bucket-list side than you would normally choose. If done right, a good splurge can really elevate your trip from great to unforgettable – and give you an added sense of excitement and anticipation that’s hard to beat.
No matter where we’re going, Lyn and I try to build a good splurge or two into every trip. So far, they include a dawn hot air balloon ride over the Moroccan countryside, an overnight stay in an actual Irish castle, and a fancy Venetian gondola ride – and each and every experience has been worth the eye-watering cost.
Do consider this option if you and your buddy bring vastly different travel budgets to the table. You’ll both get what you want this way!
3. Do your share of the research before you leave.
Don’t expect your buddy to do all of the planning and legwork. She’s not your personal travel agent and you’re not a guest in this experience.
This means you need to be an active participant in the planning process. So do your share. Research hotels, offer to look up cool tours or interesting experiences, book those trains or buses.
There are plenty of upsides to all of this research. You’ll feel confident and ready to hit the ground running when your plane touches down. Your sense of anticipation will rise as your departure date nears. You’ll know which areas of town to avoid, and which sights or events you just can’t miss. And most of all, you get to put your personal stamp on this trip by suggesting excursions and activities that appeal to you, rather than just tagging along with your buddy and doing whatever she wants to do.
Lyn and I have often said that the trip planning process is just as exciting as the actual travel. We’ve spent many happy hours on the phone, reading hostel guest reviews, figuring out the cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B, and perusing guide books on our lunch hours.
4. Plan to go solo for a while, if necessary.
On a longer trip, there will be days where you just wake up on the wrong side of the camper van. Maybe you need some alone time. Maybe you feel a cold coming on, or last night’s dinner isn’t sitting quite right.
You might be worrying about something happening back home.
True story: on one of our European adventures, Lyn was in the process of selling her family home and finding a new place to live – an ocean and continent away. Needless to say, she was a little distracted at times!
Or frankly, maybe the prospect of spending 90 minutes in an Icelandic wool shop – which your buddy has been raving about for days - just isn’t your cup of tea. On those days, remember that you and your buddy aren’t joined at the hip. You’re fully entitled to a few hours – maybe even a whole day – on your own, doing your thing and making the most of your travel experience. If that means building in some solo time, so be it.
While this might be a spur of the moment decision, adding some me-time during the planning process also works. And while this seems pretty straightforward, you should still handle this situation delicately. Explain gently and respectfully to your buddy that it’s not her, it’s you. If done right, your relationship will remain intact and you’ll both feel a sense of smug satisfaction at how great you are at adulting.
Bonus: you can then feel absolutely free to go off on your own and look at Icelandic quilts (or ancient Greek sculptures, or medieval musical instruments, or whatever else rocks your nerdy boat) completely guilt-free. It will also provide both of you with fun stories to share over drinks later.
5. Celebrate your buddy’s nerdiness – and your own.
Understand this: as incomprehensible as your buddy’s obsession with Icelandic wool might be to you, your compulsion to photograph every second doorway or street sign is equally mysterious to her.
Your preferences, passions and hobbies make you the endearing, fun travel buddy (and human) that you are. Just remember to extend that thinking to her, too.
Who knows – you might discover an unexpected passion for 18th Century British bone china tea cups. Or something.
In my next post, I’ll look at how you can continue being an awesome travel buddy after arriving at your destination. Stay tuned!
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