How to find your travel soulmate
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain
We’ve all been there—stuck waiting in line for a museum with a chronic complainer, trying to choose a local restaurant with the pickiest of picky eaters, entertaining the strict itinerary of the type-A traveler who panics when you fall 30 minutes behind schedule.
But we’ve also got friends who are truly great to travel with—you just get each other, and your ideas for seeing a new city mesh wonderfully. These friends are our travel soulmates. They complete our travel experiences.
I have two travel soulmates. One is my husband, who despises packed sightseeing schedules (swoon!) and loves to wander and try new things (be still my heart!), so it’s a good thing that our travel preferences mesh. My other travel soulmate is my friend Laura. We met during a study abroad program in college and have been friends ever since. We traveled to no less than a dozen European cities together, sometimes in the company of our other friends and sometimes just the two of us. I can say that all of our travel experiences were nearly perfect; even if things went awry, we’d figure out the problem and take it in stride.
I’ve been thinking about what it is about these two that makes me love traveling with them—things that might be helpful to others who might be selecting a new travel companion. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that it really correlates to dating. While I think that personality plays a big part in how well two people get along, there are a few other things that can make or break a travel relationship. Here is my advice for finding your travel soulmate:
1 . Initiate a conversation. If you’re thinking about asking a friend to take a big trip with you for the first time, test the waters. Ask them about a recent vacation they took, and subtly ask questions to find out if you have common interests. “Oh, you visited New York recently? Did you check out the MOMA?” If they respond with, “Ugh, I hate looking at art,” but you’re a fierce art-lover, you might want to let them go. Look for red flags that you might consider deal-breakers. If they complain about all the things that went wrong on a recent vacation (unless they just had comically bad luck), it might indicate that this is a Negative Nancy, and if your patience tends to wear thin on long trips, she might not be a good fit. However, if you find that your interests align, or that you have a common destination you’d both love to visit, you might want to take the plunge!
2. Have a first date. Take a weekend trip to the beach, or take a road trip to a nearby city to hang out and explore. Do you find the same activities enjoyable? Are your conversations dotted with long, awkward silences because you have absolutely nothing in common? Do they have any habits that make you want to run away screaming? Spending a little bit of extended time together can help you get an idea of what it would be like to spend a week with this person. If you get the feeling you are both having a great time, you’ll be more comfortable committing to a longer trip.
3. Determine what qualities are important to you. For me, these things are a laid-back nature (i.e. someone who won’t weep openly or be put in a sour mood if something goes wrong); a sense of adventure; the desire to really experience a new city (not spend too much time in tourist traps and American restaurants); a silly sense of humor; and an appreciation for beauty. Know what flaws you can deal with and which things are really important to you. I could deal with a friend who doesn’t show as much appreciation for a gorgeous view as I do, or who is a bit of a picky eater, but I can’t stand traveling with someone who is overly stubborn or critical. “That’s a dealbreaker, ladies!”
4. It’s okay to spend time apart. If you decide to take a trip together, you might discover that you have your hearts set on seeing different sights, but your time is limited, so you can’t fit in both. This is ok! Split up for an afternoon, then plan to meet for dinner. This will give you something fresh to talk about, and it will give you time to explore the city on your own.
5. Communicate. If your travel companion is doing something that bugs the heck out of you and it’s really affecting your vacation, find a graceful way to approach them about it. “I know you’re frustrated that we had to wait in line all morning for the Eiffel Tower—I am, too—but your negativity is kind of dragging me down.” Let them know in a kind way how their actions are affecting you. If you’ve selected a travel companion who’s a decent human being, they might get their feelings hurt a little, but they’ll understand. They want you to have a good time, too.
The great thing about travel companions is that, if a travel-relationship doesn’t work out, it’s not a big deal. How often are you going to take a cruise or a week-long trip together? Not often. So if you realize after a while that this is not your travel soulmate, it’s fine! Life as you knew it before will carry on as it always has, and you and your non-soulmate will bump into each other in a few weeks and reminisce about that time when you were about to kill each other on that trip to San Francisco. (Good times.)
Don’t fret if you can’t seem to land a travel soulmate right away. These things take time. It’s like your mom told you when your seventh-grade crush broke your fragile preteen heart: There are other fish in the sea!