I’m sitting on a train from Rome to Venice that seems a little too unstable for my liking. As we jerk around, an elderly Italian lady walking by grips the edge of my computer screen to steady herself. My screen flies back in response and the lady, surprised, grabs hold to a more solid object before moving on. This situation isn’t entirely funny but somehow, myself and three of my best friends have to divert our eyes, which are now filling with tears as we try to hide the quake our shoulders have developed from silent laughter. Long after she’s gone, one of us will snort with laughter and the rest will ensue. It’s moments like these, indescribable moments of humor where, technically speaking, there isn’t any humor, that makes me conclusively happy that I chose to travel in Europe with my best friends.
It’s my sixth week of traveling in Europe, four weeks of stable, structured French courses in a small city in France and now city-to-city backpacking with three of my closest friends. When I told people that a handful of my oldest friends were meeting me in Europe for two weeks of backpacking, I was met with an assortment of responses. Many who know my friends and I encouraged the trip, wishing us nothing but best hopes and safe travels. Others, however, were surprised and came equipped with horror stories about friends closer than sisters traveling overseas only to end up holding nothing but hatred for each other.
While those stories were alarming and occasionally disheartening, I went into the situation with confidence. I have been best friends with the same group of girls for almost ten years. We grew up together, conquered high school together and both continued and fortified our friendships during university when most high school bonds tend to wither away.
Photo courtesy of rorschach_test
This summer, I was lucky enough to experience both traveling alone and among friends. I flew to a foreign city, one I’d never been to, and made my way around meeting new people, creating temporary friendship circles and crafting as much of a routine as possible. I met people with whom I held similar interests and felt completely myself and comfortable around. Yet these people were few and far between. There were also those whose personalities clashed with my own, whom I found hard to tolerate for multiple days on end and found myself biting my tongue in situations where I would have been wholly honest. I have found the latter situation doesn’t occur with close friends and that there are far more reasons why you should travel with your friends then why you shouldn’t:
1. You already know their personalities.
Meeting new people is not a ten minute process in which you learn their name, where they’re from and what university they attend. It takes days, even months, to fully understand how individuals react in certain situations. When you travel with friends, days are not wasted tiptoeing around each other in attempts to avoid a ticking time bomb. You’re well aware when one friend gets quiet that she’s anxious, or when another makes a pointed look, she’s angry. You know one of you will be a natural leader equipped with a map in one hand and a tour book in the other. Another will be paranoid and throw piercing looks at anyone in a ten-meter radius. Two, when paired together, may become entirely spacey and easily distracted. These, nonetheless, are things you expect to happen, they won’t break you down. That being said, no friendship is so resilient that you are no longer able to learn new things about people. You may find one of your soft-spoken, always pleasant best friends all of the sudden whips out a pair of sassy pants that you didn’t know she owned nonetheless wore, but the surprise is temporary and ends up being a source of constant amusement.
2. You have similar interests and if not, you care about them enough to also care about their interests.
I ranted about the Pantheon in Rome for the entire duration of our stay. I spewed any facts I could assemble from my art history classes in university and was downright antsy to finally see it. While my friends shared my enthusiasm in viewing such a tourist attraction, they didn’t hold the same child-like vigor that I did. They didn’t mind, though; in fact, they encouraged it, promoting my excitement and let me comb through every section of the dome, taking pictures of every square foot when my camera unexpectedly died. I would do the same for them in a heartbeat. When you’re traveling with strangers, you feel strained to do things others want to do, pulled to wait for people you don’t know very well and anxious to put forth your own opinion when it recognizably contradicts with the majority.
3. Silence isn’t uncomfortable.
After walking for nearly ten hours, frequently in circles as you try to grasp at your surroundings (eventually Roman ruins start to look strikingly indistinctive and you find yourself wondering if you’re walking on a treadmill), you’re often exhausted. At this point, silence is a treasure. When you move through crowds, sit at a restaurant or listen to your iPod on a three-hour train ride, you don’t feel compelled to make conversation because you’re well aware no one will be taking it personally if you’re in a more reclusive mood. It’s comparable to having alone time with the safety net of knowing there’s someone willing to listen if you need it.
Photo courtesy of Toscano2011
4. They’re not afraid to tell you when you’re wrong.
The characteristic I love most about my friends is that when I’m wrong, they’re the first to pull me down from my personal high horse. When I travel with people I don’t know and they’re handling the map with misplaced authority as we walk around downright disoriented in a foreign city, I’m skeptical to take charge, inform them that they are undoubtedly wrong and to ask for directions. In Rome, we met another girl from our hotel for dinner and ended up walking in circles as she repeatedly vowed the restaurant was on the next street, for every street we passed. Needless to say, we never found it. Occasionally, it’s better to just rip the Band-Aid off and let someone know what they’re doing is wrong rather then working around their feelings and prolonging the potential damage.
5. It’s like bringing a little piece of home with you.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what travel experience you hold–occasionally living out of a backpack that is about as easy to access as a jammed door gets to you, and you start feeling regretful wisps of home sickness. You wonder what you would be doing if you were at home and concede you would most likely be lying in your own, comfortable bed in a familiar place. Having your friends with you while traveling is the equivalent of carrying a small fragment of home. These are the people you spend a majority of your time with, people whom you actually choose to know, see, and hang out with. Generally speaking, you probably enjoy their company and when you’re sitting in a hotel room with a bottle of wine laughing about the days events, where you are doesn’t necessarily matter, it’s more who you’re with.
No trip is without its speed bumps, just like no friendship, new or old, goes without being tested. The unfortunate part about traveling with people, regardless of how long you’ve known them, is you truly only find out your traveling compatibility once you land and the wistful discussion of travel becomes a reality.
Have you ever traveled with friends? Share your stories with me in the comments!
Written by Nikki Gladstone
Follow her on Twitter, @nikkigladstone!
Header image courtesy of Flickr user jadesweetdreams