Opposites attract, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they travel well together. Just as couples and friends enjoy different activities, foods, and socializing at home, they’re bound to tote those differences abroad. Combine those contrasts with the cultural diversity of a foreign land and you have the makings of a real challenge.
The good news is that if you’re gearing up to travel, you’ve probably already prepared to confront challenge. And you’re probably well aware that facing down obstacles can be a very positive path toward growth.
Still, maybe your travel partner is a carnivore and you’re a vegetarian. Perhaps he’s an extrovert and you’re an introvert. Or one of you tends to be more cautious, the other more independent and adventurous.
I’m the second person in each of these scenarios. My husband is the meat-eating social butterfly who nonetheless feels a little anxious trying new things. I’m the quiet adventurer who’s just as happy traveling alone. Yet when we travel sensitively to one another’s styles, we shine.
So, don’t abandon all hopes of a cordial journey. Just be realistic.
Compromise—and discover. The most important travel tip, especially with a partner whose needs differ from your own, is to remain open. Stubbornness is not only a breeding ground for conflict, it also limits the possibility for new experiences. And no one should travel demanding their way or the highway. Museums may not be your thing, but if your partner loves modern art, buy a ticket. You’re sure to find variety there, and the good thing about art is you’re encouraged to critique it. No matter what, you’ll learn something.
No one should travel demanding their way or the highway.
Be adventurous but seek comfort. The flip side to adventure is knowing when to pull back and relax. Rest makes those moments of blissful discovery that much sweeter. However, many travelers don’t operate that way. They want to get their “money’s worth.” That might mean exploring the city even during the hottest part of the day, overeating to the point of feeling ill, or committing to back-to-back activities. Step back and objectively set your limits, because the more irritable you feel, the more prone to fights you’ll be, and the less you’ll enjoy your overall experience.
Tackle adventurous eating. You often hear travelers brag that they just pick something off the menu, even if it’s in another language and they have no idea what it means. That approach doesn’t work for most people or their dietary restrictions. But travel-opposites can meet in the middle, by agreeing to order at least one dish per day that neither person has tried but they both can eat. That way, you’re sure to find common ground while trying something new.
Spend down. Money can be one of the most fraught topics during travel. Try to have an honest conversation about budget ahead of the trip, but a good rule of thumb is to spend within the means of whoever makes less income. Even if one of you is willing to pick up most of the tabs, that doesn’t mean the other person is comfortable with the offer. There are plenty of ways to travel on a budget; just make sure it’s accessible for both parties.
Smile at your disagreements. Travel with anyone and you’re bound to spend concentrated time together. Their “weird” habits will inevitably emerge—hoarding airline snacks, under-tipping, dumping used towels in the sink. Hopefully you can chalk up most of these differences to idiosyncrasies rather than major dealbreakers. When you look at each other’s habits like an episode of Seinfeld, they seem more amusing. View it as an opportunity for some lighthearted ribbing rather than harboring quiet resentment. (Chances are you have your own quirks.)
Leave it up to a stranger. Agree that your next compromise will be to try whatever, visit wherever, or go to whichever restaurant a stranger suggests, rather than what either of you stubbornly insists upon. This is an especially freeing tactic after a fight and can be an exercise in letting go. Or it’s a fun way to start the day if you’re feeling particularly spontaneous. Just be safe.
Spend time apart. This might sound counterintuitive to traveling with a partner, but be honest about your needs to do your own thing once in awhile. View it as a way to recharge rather than a punitive or defensive measure. No one wants to do the same thing all the time while at home; why should travel be any different? For instance, if you have different sleep hours, consider that your free time to visit a new coffee shop or go for a solo jog.
Divide your strengths, but embrace the overlap. One of the biggest disagreements between travel partners involves planning. For some people, it’s suffocating to head abroad with a set itinerary; for others, the idea of arriving without an agenda conjures extreme anxiety. Neither personality is wrong. In the case of travel, try to see these differences as assets that can make for a balanced trip. Allow the planner to do as much research as he wants, but only book activities that sell out fast or require fixed times. Agree that all other “free time” remains open until the morning of. You’ll leave feeling both productive and rested.
We travel to embrace new cultures, ideas, and ways of life. But being in those environments can trigger our need for an anchor, something or someone familiar. Remember that even if your travel partner is very different from you, they are still a piece of home. And the best partners, whether romantic, friendly, or family, will be there for you no matter what—or where.
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Stephanie Buck Stephanie Buck is a professional storyteller. Having worked as a journalist for over a decade, she has reported on culture, gender, technology, and history, between the Bay Area and New York, where she earned an M.A. in journalism from NYU. After returning to her hometown of Sacramento, she founded Soulbelly, a multimedia storytelling project that preserves family and community history. In addition to a full-time editorial director position at the nation’s largest public pension fund, her freelance work has been published in The New York Times, TIME, Vanity Fair, and more. Along with a pair of children’s books, she began her first novel in fall of 2021.