The Great European Adventure,  Travel Tips

How to Travel With Your Friends and Stay Friends

You love hanging out with your best friends. I mean, they’re your best friends for a reason, right? Just because you love someone’s company, though, doesn’t mean you love it




That’s why sharing an apartment with a close friend can destroy the relationship. Different problems arise when you live with someone than when you get dinner with them once a week. Similarly, a new set of issues arises when traveling with friends. Just because you and your best friend love each other doesn’t mean you’ll love each other on the road.

Sometimes you'll have a friend like Katie, who you'll love traveling and being goofy with
Sometimes you’ll love each other on the road — Katie and me being silly in Athens

Recently, I’ve written a few posts about the road trip I took in May with two of my best friends from college, Lisa and Sarah. At the end of that trip, we were pleasantly surprised by how well we got along while traveling, so, I thought I might share some tips.

I’ve traveled solo, with my family, and with various friends, and, although some of these arrangements have worked better than others, I’ve managed not to abandon anyone on the side of the road.

Here are six steps to help you do likewise:


1. Discuss expectations

Where are you going to eat? Where are you going to sleep? What sort of activities interest you? And, perhaps most importantly, how much are you willing to spend? The answers to these questions may seem obvious to you, but you better make sure that they line up with your friends’ answers.

Before roadtripping down the Southeastern United States with Lisa and Sarah, we had a skype date to do some last minute planning. One decision we made was to all contribute money to a pool from which we would pay group expenses such as accommodation and tolls and, I assumed, gas. However, we were driving Lisa’s car, and she has a designated credit card that she only uses for gas. So, she kept paying with her card and Sarah and I paid her back from the pool of money. This seemed like a confusing plan to me, but it made the most sense for the group.

Another, more straightforward, example is that I only stayed in one hotel during my 14 week backpacking trip around Europe, and that was when my mother met up with me in Paris. I was content to hostel and couchsurf my way across the continent, but when it was my mom and I, we went for slightly fancier accommodations. With Lisa and Sarah, I suggested couchsurfing and maybe even camping, but my friends weren’t interested in those options, so we stayed in cheaper hotels and motels, instead.

I didn't mind spending a little more money for the opportunity to see Paris with my mother.
I didn’t mind spending a little more money for the opportunity to see Paris with my mother.

2. Prioritize activities

My mantra when traveling with a group is “Everybody gets a thing.” By which I mean, every person in the group should choose one activity which they want to prioritize as a group activity. I’m all for splitting up if group members have vastly different interests, but you chose to travel together because you wanted to spend time with each other and share the experience, so that’s where this suggestion comes in.

The first time I used this strategy was when I studied abroad in Barcelona. I went to London for a weekend and met up with the aforementioned Lisa (who was studying abroad in Florence at the time) and our friend Josh who was studying in London for the semester. The 3 of us have varied interests, and Josh was living in London so he didn’t choose a “thing,” but Lisa and I each did. Tea lover that I am, I wanted to visit the Twinings shop and Whovian that she is, Lisa wanted to get a photo of herself with the TARDIS. Neither of these activities were super interesting to anyone else, but they were important to each of us, respectively, and so the group volunteered to spend time making each person happy.

On our road trip, Lisa, Sarah, and I used this technique again and each got a “thing.” Mine was Charleston Tea Plantation, Lisa’s was the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and Sarah’s was a day at Epcot in Disney World. Now, Sarah’s thing was by far the most expensive and so we wouldn’t have agreed to go it if it hadn’t sounded fun to all of us. Similarly, if Lisa and Sarah had really thought the tea plantation sounded stupid and dull, I would have asked them to drop me off there so I could see it, but they obviously didn’t have to join me.

Everybody gets a thing! Me, Lisa, and Sarah being ecstatic about our respective roadtrip stops
Everybody gets a thing! — Me, Lisa, and Sarah being ecstatic about our respective roadtrip stops

While You’re Traveling

3. Be honest

If you start traveling with someone and realize they have a habit you can’t stand, do everyone a favor and be honest about it! Even if it’s something neither party has much control over, like a food allergy which limits your options to try the local food, putting your feelings out there in a respectful way is a much better option than pretending you aren’t annoyed when you are terrible at hiding your feelings and they can see that you’re pissed.

The thing that you’re annoyed about, once it’s out in the open, could even become a grudging inside joke. That’s what happened with one of my traveling buddies and I, and while I’d rather not go into specific details, I think our friendship is stronger and more nuanced after experiencing the joys and frustrations of traveling together.

Food is one of my favorite parts of travel -- I'm so glad I don't have any allergies!
Food is one of my favorite parts of travel — I’m so glad I don’t have any allergies!

4. Be decisive

There is nothing more frustrating than two people who can’t decide what to do next, not because they disagree, but because they’re both “totally open to whatever.” Ask yourself: what would I do in this situation if I were alone, and could not rely on someone else to make this decision for me? Make sure that your travel buddy does the same thing, and then you’ll have at least two suggestions for how to proceed.

This worked best when I was traveling with Katie because we had both been traveling solo prior to meeting up in Istanbul. Whenever we couldn’t decide what to do next we would think back on our experiences traveling solo, and decide what we would do if we were in this situation/city alone. It can be very easy to rely on another person, but knowing how to rely on yourself, and how to be reliable for someone else are important skills.

Sometimes there's only one path, and being decisive isn't too hard --Dubrovnik, Croatia
Sometimes there’s only one path, and being decisive isn’t too hard –Dubrovnik, Croatia

When You Think You Might Snap…

5. Remember why this friendship is important to you

Not everyone is your perfect travel buddy, but one trip shouldn’t have to ruin your friendship. Apologize for whatever went wrong (because no matter what happened, you’re not blameless) and plan on just getting dinner or taking daytrips together in the future.

Different friendships serve different purposes in our lives. Maybe this friend isn’t someone you should travel with, but you love seeing movies with them and hearing their opinions on media — that’s okay. Acknowledge that this person can still be your friend in other contexts, and remember that you’ll want them around in the future. Don’t burn bridges over a miscommunication on the road.

My friend Grace and me in Iceland -- she's a great travel buddy and I like hearing her opinions on movies
My friend Grace and me in Iceland — she’s a great travel buddy and I like hearing her opinions on movies

6. Seek out me-time

This could mean sitting quietly and reading rather than interacting or splitting up for the afternoon to pursue different activities. It could even mean booking separate rooms in a hostel or going your separate ways for a day or two with definite plans on when and where you’re going to regroup — because remember, communication and honesty are key.

While I’ve never personally split up for days on end, I have sat quietly with my friends reading or journaling and purposely not interacting. And, when I was in Granada with a friend, after spending a few days on edge, we split up to wander around the Alhambra and get some time apart. When we met up again 2 hours later, we were both refreshed and joked around while taking silly photos.

Impersonating a seal in Granada, like you do
Impersonating a seal in Granada, like you do

I’m far from the perfect travel buddy, but these are the strategies I’ve learned to make traveling with my friends go smoothly. I’m still working on implementing them regularly, but I think they’re a good starting point.

How do you travel with your friends and stay friends? Share your tips in the comments!

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


  • CrysJ

    Love it. I particularly enjoyed how many of your travel tips are great things to remember in different kinds of relationships in general. Fancy that :]

  • alanamorgan

    Be decisive! Sounds so simple, but such a good one. Along with prioritizing activities, figuring out budgets and how you’re going to share costs, or how you’re going to divide your budget, is important too. Sometime pooling the same amount of money together at the beginning of a trip then using it for shared costs like accommodation and transportation is a good way to go – there’s no confusion over who’s paid more, who owes extra, how much money you’ve spent, etc.

    • opportunemma

      Money is such a tricky topic! It’s so important to talk about budgeting ahead of time, and I think once you’ve agreed on how much to spend on accommodation/transportation/food, pooling money can be a great option. I’m glad you thought “be decisive” was a good tip. It’s definitely harder than it sounds!

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