Traveling - Solo or Not?
I'm back home now, and I cannot believe how surreal it feels. It is partially because my body is still adjusting to the time difference, but walking into my apartment after 7 weeks felt so strange. My brain told me that I had been here before, but there are cobwebs that need to be cleared from my memory of this place. I couldn't remember which key to use for my back door, nor could I recall the code to open my garage. Amazing how one's memory of everyday details does atrophy if not constantly put to use.
I thought a lot about my travels on the way home, and decided to post my thoughts on traveling solo versus with a companion. The first 2 weeks of my trip was spent on my own, the following 4 weeks was spent with R., and then the last week I was again by myself. There are so many factors to consider when traveling with someone, and I have to admit that I found R. and I were not ideal traveling buddies. This is not to say that we were completely at odds, compatibility is not black and white. There are ways in which we suited each other as traveling companions quite well and we definitely enjoyed many parts of the trip together, but we also had to take time apart from each other every so often. While I was completely prepared for the possibility of taking time apart, I thought I would put down in concrete terms (as much a reminder for myself as opining for others) what to consider when choosing a traveling companion.
R. and I were traveling on different budgets, which greatly affects not only what one sees but how one sees it. A lot of tourist attractions can be seen together, but certain experiences require different levels of spending. More in-depth tours or experiences come at an expense. For example, are you willing to spend extra for a tourguide that may give you a more meaningful explanation of the history and background of a castle instead of walking it on your own?
It also affects how one spends time. At times, the train will get you somewhere a great deal faster (not the case in all of Europe, though) than the bus, but will cost more. Doing laundry by hand to save money requires you to come back early enough to ensure that it dries, but means that you don't stay out in the city as late.
Accomodations are also greatly affected by how much one is willing to spend, and if solo or not. Usually, it is rather expensive to have one's own room when traveling solo. Budget accomodations are much easier to locate and less expensive for pairs or larger groups. But deciding on accomodation can be challenging when your price ceiling is different than that of your companion (especially when you are tired from traveling all day, have a heavy pack on your back, and just want to shower and rest). Are you willing to pay more for a central location or additional amenities?
I believe that R. and I made the effort to be considerate of each other's budgetary inclinations, but it still strained our travels every once in a while. Do not underestimate the importance of either finding someone with a similar budget, or clearly establishing expectations of what, where, how, and when if traveling with someone on a different budget. If it so happens that you cannot come to agreement with your potential or present companion, go it alone (better figured out before the trip actually begins to save on hassle).
Do you like to visit museums, or would you rather take a walk around the neighborhood? Do you like to break up your day by visiting a cafe, or would you prefer to hit all of the attractions at once? Do you like to be spontaneous, or would you prefer to plan it all out? Do you like to get up early and hit the sights, or stay out late and sleep in? The answers will determine whether you have a traveling buddy that will actually like to spend time doing the same things that you do. R. and I did ourselves a great service by planning our itinerary in detail before the trip, but we still had differences in how we liked to spend our days. This is admittedly less straining than budgetary concerns. If you don't want to do what your travel buddy does, you can often split up and meet at the end of the day. But it does make life easier when you can get a discount ticket for two, or you feel safe enough to walk around late in the city because you have a companion.
These, IMHO, are the two big items to consider when choosing a travel buddy. I could go into many other smaller ones, but this post is long enough already.
I do not regret traveling with R. and am very glad that we shared this experience, but it is unlikely that we will travel together again based on our different styles. This experience has taught me that while it is pretty difficult to find someone that makes the ideal traveling partner, there are ways to compromise and to handle a less-than-ideal situation with grace and maturity. And despite the differences, R. and I had many an experience that was hilarious and entertaining, and will bring a chuckle and a smile to my face every time I think about it.