How to travel with someone you don't get along with
March 13, 2009 4:56 AM   Subscribe

I agreed to travel with someone I don't have much in common with, travel style-wise.

I will be traveling with one other person (we're both female, mid 20's, platonic friends, and in the USA) for almost three months. Without getting into the details of our trip, we won't be able to spend a night apart or go off an do our own thing for a day. We get along well when we're not traveling but once we hit the road...

For example, I like to figure things out on my own, take the time to pick problems apart, and work out a solution. If I have a flat tire, I don't hang around for someone to pull over and help and I don't call AAA, I just fix it. I don't like using a GPS; I prefer having a map and figuring out how to get where I want to go. If something is wrong with my car, I like to try and diagnose the problem based on what I know and what I can surmise from the situation.

She likes everything explained up front and doesn't accept technical advice unless it's from someone she considers an expert. She claims to be primarily concerned with "safety," which to her entails always knowing exactly how far we are from which types of conveniences.

Trying to talk about our differences hasn't gotten us anywhere. Maybe there's some technique I'm missing?

I would like to go alone but neither of us can back out of this trip. How can I help mitigate our issues?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total)
Why on earth can you not spend time apart? Unless there is really really good reason, like she has a heart defect and needs someone around to call emergency services, you should spend some time apart. Even then, you will be traveling for a long time and you are likely to pick up other people. In Bergen, for example, I traveled with people I had lots in common with, but some days we did different things. Like my friend would go mountain biking, which I do not enjoy very much, with a bunch of Aussies we met at the hostel, while I went kayaking with another person I met.

Either way, buy a compass. I like figuring things out on myself too, but I find my travel companions respect me more if I'm holding a compass while figuring things out.
posted by melissam at 5:03 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Make sure one of you has a phone that will have internet access wherever you go. That way, she can look up whatever she wants. You can ask her to keep her knowledge to herself unless you ask for it.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:11 AM on March 13, 2009

This sounds like a recipe for ending your friendship.

There are a lot of 'can't possibly's' and 'can't back outs' in your question. You might want to follow up with more details and get an admin to post them (especially as you're posting anonymously, who's it going to hurt?). This kind of holiday can work out if there is the ability to do your own thing, but it does take a lot of work. Are you on some kind of coach tour where you can't get off?

Travelling (and I speak from experience) with people who aren't on the same wavelength as you about problem-solving, approach to issues and so on is excruciating. Things you can normally ignore about your friends are brought into stark relief, and you are in close contact with someone for nearly every waking hour, especially if you're doing something low-cost and backpack style. You need an incredible amount of rapport to make it through two or three weeks with someone on anything that's not a lie around in the sun resort holiday, so three months could be absolutely horrendous. Being with someone all the time magnifies things dramatically, so minor things blow up into big things and recurring irritations or differences in opinion turn into vendettas and shouting matches.

Finding out you find your platonic friend an absolute nightmare to be with for longer than a few hours and that you're on fundamentally different wavelengths is not a good idea on the road, especially if you're leaving the US. Trust me.

I'd examine all of your assumptions (about not being able to take time apart especially, you'll definitely need it somewhere in those three months). Think about why you 'can't back out'. Is it a money thing? Or don't you want to hurt your friend's feelings? Bear in mind you will hurt your friend infinitely more by going on a holiday with them where you end up wanting to tear each other's throats out.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:17 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

How can I help mitigate our issues?

Pick your battles. Talk with her and come to the understanding that both of you will sometimes have let the other lead or have their way. Take it on a case by case basis, trying to keep things "even"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:26 AM on March 13, 2009

She claims to be primarily concerned with "safety," which to her entails always knowing exactly how far we are from which types of conveniences.

I think this is a gender thing. If you get a flat tire in the middle of Buttfuck, AL you can walk down the road for however long to a house or a gas station or a payphone or whatever without worrying very much that you're going to be kidnapped, beaten, raped and end up dead in a basement hellhole somewhere.

She cannot.

I strongly urge you to defer to her in this area of planning. Her caution has kept her safe, and you should respect her need to take the appropriate precautions that help her feel secure.

With that said, there are still compromises you can reach to accomodate both of your preferences.

* Have the GPS, but turn the voice off. Agree that every night over dinner you'll plan tomorrow's routes using maps, but that if you get lost, you'll use the GPS to re-orient yourselves.

* Have the AAA membership and card, and agree that in the event of a breakdown or mechanical problem, you have an hour to putz around, and if that hour doesn't resolve it, you'll call AAA.

* Also agree that if the breakdown happens late at night, in the pissing rain, or anywhere you cannot safely pull over and do a repair without exposing yourself to traffic, you'll forego the hour and just call for roadside assistance.

Those all seem like very reasonable approaches to me.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:53 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

I couldn't imagine not having time apart unless you are both on a rocket to the moon and even then somebody could take a spacewalk every once in awhile.

I guess step one would be to try and put the thoughts out of your mind that the trip will be a disaster. It usually turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. Don't work with her on planning every second of the trip. Plan highlights and leave empty times when you can be on your own-even if its a few hours on a beach reading a book. Each person should have certain tasks for which they are responsible so there are no arguments over who gets to drive this stretch or who choses the restaurant today.

I can guaranty even if you spend every waking minute with the one you love, that there will be friction and you really want to avoid that at all costs.
posted by JJ86 at 5:57 AM on March 13, 2009

I think this is a gender thing.

The OP is female, as is her friend.
posted by Nattie at 6:05 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

The OP is female, as is her friend.

OK, sorry, I obviously didn't read carefully. I was actually going to go into more detail about the different ways different people carry ideas of threat and risk but I got lazy and sliced it by gender. I apologise for flubbing that reply quite badly.

I still think my overall point holds: it's important to be considerate of other people's safety boundaries. Some people are comfortable brazening through life and others really need to know what will happen if A or B occurs and what the backup plan is. Everyone should feel safe on this trip, and I think compromises are possible to achieve this.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:12 AM on March 13, 2009

Do not travel with someone you don't travel well with. Period. Traveling, especially for an extended period of time, can be really stressful and if you already KNOW that you and this person don't get along while traveling...I wouldn't do it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:19 AM on March 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can't spend the daytime apart, at least get separate rooms for sleeping. Then you can have some sanity for 8-9 hours every day.

I'm with the other commenters, though -- why are you traveling with someone whom you know will be a poor traveler? Maybe you should set up some ground rules with her before the trip.
posted by bengarland at 6:33 AM on March 13, 2009

A thought about GPS: It doesn't have to be a straight jacket. I really love driving randomly, or in a way that just looks interesting, until I can't figure out how to get to where I want, and only then using GPS. Some of my most pleasant drives in Europe have been doing that. But it is also very nice that GPS can lead you to the nearest place to get what you might need.

Your trip sounds uncomfortable. I wouldn't do that even with my spouse of 11 years! He's a planner, I'm not.
posted by Goofyy at 6:52 AM on March 13, 2009

I would be helpful if you managed to introduce new people to the group for parts of the trip. They will give you a break from your friend and perhaps help you guys to resolve conflicts. New people can also shift the dynamics of a friendship.

If you have talked openly about your differences without coming to a compromise then I don't think there is much else to be done. Who knows though? You might be able to turn this trip into an opportunity to meet heaps of new people.

I understand where you are coming from. I often feel that time spent travelling is kind of a blessing. It's expensive (you may not be spending but you're also not earning) and doesn't last long so I feel I have to make the most of it. I don't like travelling with people who are less willing to leave their comfort zone and who tire easier than I.
posted by quosimosaur at 7:05 AM on March 13, 2009

You may be spending a lot of time tussling over what to do and how to do it. I've travelled with SOs and with friends. If you have different styles, there can be endless discussions on tiny things like where to eat. Travelling requires a lot of microdecisions every day, and it brings subtle relationship dynamics into the foreground.

Try this - assign ahead of time who is "activity director" for each day. The director makes all the decisions on where to eat, where to go, how to get there. The director takes input from the directee, but has the responsibility and authority of making the decisions. The directee is bound by the agreement and does not bicker. Instead, she simply enjoys the day, knowing her turn will come soon.
posted by ebellicosa at 7:45 AM on March 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just do things her way this time. You will travel lots of times in life, and be able to do things your way. If you do things her way it will cut a lot of friction, and that in itself will make the trip more pleasant.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:05 AM on March 13, 2009

I get what you're saying about liking the adventure and sense of pride in your own abilities that comes with figuring things out yourself and not relying on others (AAA, GPS) to figure things out for you, but I have to say I think you're framing this all wrong. This isn't a matter of differing preferences, where you prefer the free-wheeling feeling of taking care of things yourself and she prefers the ease and peace-of-mind of having others take care of it. It's your preference versus what is going to make her feel really, really stressed out and unhappy.

Sometimes different travel styles really do come down to differing preferences, and those are times when I think it's fruitful to discuss the merits of each way of doing things, and compromise by doing it your way in one instance and another way in another instance, or splitting up for the day and doing things alone. However, sometimes it's just not symmetrical like that. People have different capacities for dealing with unexpected situations and setbacks while traveling, and I don't think it's particularly wise (or kind) to push someone past where they're comfortable. That sucks for you, in that it seems like her way is "winning," but really it's about being decent enough to respect her boundaries, even if they're not the same as yours and you don't respect them that much. Look at it this way: for you, doing it her way will make the trip less fun; for her, doing it your way will make her stressed, fearful, and possibly miserable. That's just not in the same league. Even if you think her fears about "safety" are overblown, they're not going to change just because you tell her what you think.

If you're really set on taking this trip with her, and you want to preserve your friendship, I think the best you can do is tell her that you realize her threshold for dealing with travel bumps is significantly lower than yours, that you'll try to respect that and do things in a way that minimize her stress and fear when stuff comes up, but that you'd really like her to make an effort to push her boundaries a little and be willing to try some of the stuff you'd like (e.g., using maps instead of GPS one day, and seeing how that goes).

I think that if you can't back off enough to do that, it's probably not a great idea to travel with this person. There's not anything wrong with your approach, and there's not anything wrong with hers--but they may not be compatible, and not everything can be compromised away. I'm guessing that if you could be extra-flexible, and make an effort to do enough to keep her comfortable while encouraging her to start to feel more confident as you go along, this might be the sort of trip that totally changes her view on how to travel. On the other hand, that's a lot of work for someone else's personal growth, and I doubt anyone could fault you for deciding it wasn't worth it. But don't go into knowing that your style of travel is going to make her miserable then insist on doing things your way anyway; that's really not fair. Find someone else to travel with.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:08 AM on March 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

On re-reading your question: I see it's not even clear that you two are friends (in fact, from your title it sounds like you're not). Is this a business trip?

I think everything I said applies doubly if this isn't a pleasure trip that you're both deciding to take of your own free will. If she doesn't have any more of a choice than you do about traveling, I think it starts to border on cruel to force her to do things "the hard way," DIY-style, just because you like the challenge. It's clear that you don't think these are actual safety issues, based your use of scare quotes, but obviously for her they are things that affect how secure she feels. You don't need to agree with them for it to be a legitimate issue for her.

Blowing up a friendship over differing travel styles is sad for you and sad for her. Blowing a business/colleague relationship, possibly irreparably, just so you can travel the way that you like to sounds like a really bad idea, if this is indeed business- or work-related travel. There are a lot of people who would probably take her view to be the more reasonable one when you're traveling for work, and you could potentially get yourself a bad reputation for being difficult if this turns out badly.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:20 AM on March 13, 2009

What are you doing that you can't spend a day or two apart per week? Even perfectly-matched traveling companions will lose patience with each other if they go 3 months straight without a break from each other. Unless someone has a gun to your head, you should give serious thought to changing your itinerary: find a time during each week when you're in a relatively safe (to your companion's mind) area, and go off in different directions during the day, even if it's just for a few hours.

For the rest of the time:

I’m a lot like your friend in terms of wanting lots of information upfront, and wanting expert opinions on everything. Nothing frustrates me more than expressing concern for safety and having person I'm with brush it off as overly-cautious. I think you can do a lot of work ahead of time in order to allay her fears--instead of trying to persuade her that she doesn't need to know, why not have the information for her in advance? Presumably you know where you're going, so you can print out a list of contact information for emergency services for each part of your trip. Alternatively, you could ask your friend to do this herself ahead of time, or collaborate on a list together.

Can you make a list of compromises to abide by on the road? Something like, if you get a flat while driving, you get to fix it yourself; but if the car starts making funny noises, you take it to a mechanic like your friend would prefer.

Regarding the GPS, can your friend use it on her own? In other words, when you're driving, she has it on silent or turned off and you set the course based on your map; when she's driving, she has the GPS turned on and directing the route. There's no rule of travel that says that your route has to be entirely set by paper map or GPS alone.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:35 AM on March 13, 2009

The two of you are a poor match. Nothing contributes to interpersonal conflict and poor moods more than a difference in dealing with setbacks.

Unfortunately for you, it would probably be best if you did the majority of compromising. Her approach can, and probably will, make portions of the trip tedious instead of engaging. But you can look at those occasions as a chore and just get through them. Go about it your way, and she may well feel insecure for much more than just those times when you are confronting some momentary difficulty. She will be confronting the unpleasant feelings that accompany uncertainty for much of the trip, potentially turning it into one long ordeal. I've also noticed that people who are very particular about seeking out expertise are prone to start blaming when an expert is not brought in. They don't see making a mistake, or an increase in confusion, or a state of frustration, as part of the learning process; they aren't looking to learn anything at that moment, they want a problem solved. In their eyes, the situation has worsened and that's about it.

If you can persuade her that being self-reliant will make a major contribution to her safety and that this trip is a great opportunity to increase her capabilities, you can both have a great trip. But I suspect that she is already emotionally invested in how this trip should go and that such a fundamental change in attitude is unlikely.

Make a second effort to see if there's any way you can change some of the parameters of this trip: everything from your traveling companion to how independent you will be from each other while on the road. Reworking some of these conditions is your best bet.
posted by BigSky at 9:40 AM on March 13, 2009

For this to work for a full three months, there are going to have to be some compromises -- and you're going to have to make most of them, I'm afraid. (I sympathize; I'm more like you when it comes to travel, and I've traveled with people like her. It's not easy, but doing it her way will be easier for you than her trying to do it your way... it's a choice between you feeling constrained or her feeling completely panicked and out of her depth.)

Most of your conflicts are likely to be around route planning. She's going to be the sort that needs you to have rooms booked and plans laid out ahead of time; you're not going to be able to just wing it, head somewhere and find a place to stay the day of. You are just going to have to live with this, it won't be negotiable. You'll probably also have to just suck it up and let her have the GPS, for "safety," though you may be able to talk her into letting you shut it off now and then and finding your own route. ("If we get lost, we can always just use the GPS to get ourselves found again.")

If you don't think you can compromise on issues like this, cancel the trip. Whatever prepaid deposit you'll lose or whatever will be nothing compared to the miserable three months (or more likely a miserable few weeks followed by the end of the friendship) you're trying to talk yourself into.

Even without these conflicts, traveling with anyone for three full months is really hard unless you take a break from each other every now and then; unless you're doing some kind of charity fundraiser or art happening which involves the two of you being literally handcuffed together 24 hours a day, you must find some time to take at least daytrips separately or you'll kill one another before the trip is half over.
posted by ook at 11:37 AM on March 13, 2009

"I must go on this trip that won't work. How do I make it work?" I hope that you'll post back with some more details about this trip, why you're going with this particular person, and why you'll be conjoined for the duration.

To play devil's advocate and help you see her point of view: You enjoy figuring out how to solve problems as they arise, etc. That's fine. So you get a flat tire. You're trying to fix it and are having a blast. What's in it for her? It doesn't sound like you two know each other that well, so a) she's just sitting there twiddling her thumbs while you take a while picking the problem apart, probably longer than it would take a professional; b) she doesn't know you and can't be as confident in your fixing skills as you are; c) she is a more fearful person for whatever reasons, and so she's nervous that you won't be able to fix the tire, will possibly break something, the two of you will be stranded in a strange place with a language barrier, maybe when you finally do get someone else to help you you'll get ripped off, etc. And all the time you're having a fun little mental adventure.

You (I'm assuming) chose to go on this trip with this person. You therefore must give up the pleasures you get from figuring things out and picking apart problems. If you can't change the trip, you'll have to compromise.

Also, maps and GPS are not mutually exclusive. You can't flatten a GPS out on the table and get a visual for how far apart things are, shortcuts, etc. A map can help you decide what exactly you want to ask the GPS to do for you. When you're planning, you both should be looking at a map. You should have an idea of the geography of where you are or the GPS will not be that helpful. When she's driving, she should be able to do what she wants, end of story. Driving in a strange place is stressful enough without having to wait for someone to figure out where you are and which way to turn. When you're driving, do what you want, but maybe put a time limit on how long you should drive around lost before pulling out the GPS.
posted by thebazilist at 3:26 PM on March 13, 2009

I terms of your specific examples, AAA is not instantaneous. If you get a flat she can call AAA and you can start (and possibly finish changing the tire) before they get there. In terms of route planing/using maps I like the "travel director" idea upthread by ebellicosa, one of you can choose even days, the other odd (yes, the odd day person gets a couple extra). If she wants to know where the nearest conveniences are I don't see how that impacts you - she doesn't have to give you a running commentary. Learning to compromise is a important skill, be grateful that you have this learning experience together.
posted by saucysault at 8:42 AM on March 14, 2009

This might or might not be ruled out by the terms you mentioned (can't go off and do "our own thing") but I wonder if you drop her off at places with well-marked restrooms, cafes and attractions (I'm thinking clusters of museums/shops, or public gardens, etc.) can you go off and explore nearby sites on your own for about 5-7 hours. It might not work for every day, but perhaps can work for 1-3 days a week with some luck, giving you breathing space, something that even traveling companions who get along very well enjoy having.
posted by PY at 3:57 PM on March 14, 2009

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