How to Travel With a Near Stranger and Have it Not Suck

In April of 2015, while in the throes of a Ratatat set at Coachella, I met Jared. He was dancing next to me with his girlfriend, Judy, and, for some reason or another, we got to chatting before parting ways. When I bumped into him again, the following day, we decided the serendipitous encounter was as good an excuse as any to follow each other on Facebook and stay in touch from our respective home cities of Hong Kong and Los Angeles. The next time I saw Jared in person was two years later when we took an almost two-week trip around Japan together.

Though we’d been chatting online in the interim, neither of us truly knew one another beyond our curated social media presences. The trip was a crap shoot for both of us. You never know if a new friend, partner, or roommate has a Mr. Hyde within them until it’s too late and nothing tests an interpersonal relationship, seasoned or budding, more than the stresses of travel and long stretches of time spent together.

Fortunately, Jared and I turned out to be great companions on this adventure with the biggest gripe raised being that I called it a night too early (courtesy of jet lag) on the second day of a festival we were attending. While luck certainly played a role in our not being at each other’s throats, there were just as many, if not more, conscious decisions that made things such a success.

In the global age, with international friendships becoming more of a rule than exception, you too may someday find yourself weighing the prospects of linking up with that guy or girl from across the globe for a “why the hell not” type of adventure. Below are some guidelines to help keep you two from turning into an Amazing Race cautionary tale.

1. Have an Agreed Upon Game Plan
Jared and I went into our Japan trip with a macro and micro itinerary that we sorted out online beforehand and, because of this, we were always where we wanted to be without ever feeling rushed constrained. Because I was also checking out a few places for work on the trip, I invited Jared to tag along on those excursions I had scheduled throughout the days if he was up for them. At the end of the trip, he told me that this was probably the best of his eight visits to Japan, simply because he did so many new things that he likely never would’ve had I not scheduled them.

2. You Don’t Have to Be Attached at the Hip
Just as with any relationship, time apart is healthy and necessary, even in the middle of a foreign land. Even the most amazing person in the world will drive you crazy after a certain amount of time shackled to them, so solo missions are a good way to decompress and explore things that your individual tastes don’t overlap upon. Furthermore, even when together, there will be down time (in transit, chilling at the hotel, etc.) where it’s perfectly fine to not force a conversation and just check up on social media or pop in earbuds to listen to a podcast.

3. Keep an Eye on Payments

While nobody wants to travel with a bean counter who will be tabulating every single red cent, there’s something to be said for working to keep the scales balanced on a trip where both parties are throwing a few bucks to the other here and there for train tickets, drinks, and other minor expenses. By paying back each debt (or rough equivalent, because why fret over pennies) when the next large bill was broken or ATM was hit, Jared and I were able to bounce around the country, lending here and there, when need be, without either of us feeling like the other was taking advantage of generosity. And if you don’t trust your mental math, there are plenty of group expense apps that can get into the weeds and keep things honest.

4. Be Open to New Things

Part of the beauty of travel is getting to experience new perspectives, lifestyles, foods, and activities that you wouldn’t at home. It behooves you to put a temporary moratorium on what you know to be your likes and dislikes and just roll with whatever the trip throws your way. Just as Jared appreciated my schedule and work excursions affording him a new experience in Japan, I was grateful that he had more familiarity with some of the drinks and cuisines from the area. So, when he told me I should get this or that, I didn’t stop to weigh whether or not I’d like it, based on my “at home” palate. I just downed it and gave the thumbs up or down afterward. Not only was I rewarded with some new tastes that I might have otherwise avoided, but this also served to show that I valued Jared’s perspective and experiences and kept (us both) from feeling like I was steering the ship too much.

5. Don’t be a Dick
What should just be a baseline rule for how you live your life has extra significance in the context of travel. Your discourtesies will only be amplified by the close quarters, financial strains, and time crunches of a journey so it’s best to be on your best behavior with this new buddy in the same way you were with a new college roommate before you reverted to your usual monster self a few weeks into the semester. This covers everything from keeping your shared living space somewhat tidy, throwing your own trash away, being prompt about meet up times, and not peer pressuring the other person into whatever they might simply not be down for. It’s a simple and obvious rule, but you’d be surprised at just how many forget to follow it.

Featured image by Phillip Kalantzis Cope : Flickr.