To find a true travel partner, one you genuinely enjoy and who doesn’t drive you crazy, is a rare find. To find one when you’re young, is even rarer. And to find one when you’re traveling on a budget, is a one in a million.
When I was twenty years old, my best friend/ travel partner / soulmate (her name is Lauren) and I hitch-hiked from Amsterdam to Budapest as part of a competition with a group of our international friends. The rules were easy: first team to make it to a designated hostel in Budapest wins. I can’t even remember what the prize was—probably a cheap liter of alcohol and bragging rights. The trip took us 25 hours (we came in 5th) and we received 9 different lifts. I’ve traveled a lot since then, but it remains one of my favorite adventures to date and embodies many of the traits that I value most in Lauren (or any travel partner for that matter). Here they are, in no particular order.
1. Having a good sense of humor
Traveling with a grouch is the worst. Making light of dark situations, laughing when you’re stuck in a rainstorm and being able to crack a joke is imperative. Lauren and I once were at a gas station for four hours that was filled with drunk Polish people, and laughing was the only option.
2. Being flexible
I need to work on this. Freaking out about timing usually does not help you arrive at a destination any faster than you would otherwise. Take a breath. Lauren and I had a motto when traveling which was, “We’ll get there when we get there.” In any case, sometimes the journey is the greatest part of a trip.
3. Being adventurous
Memories aren’t made when you play it safe. Hitch-hiking is a dramatic example of this because hitch-hiking is inherently not the safest thing to do, but adventurousness can be found in all aspects of traveling. Lauren and I once went skiing in a blizzard on a mountain with no marked trails and had the time of our lives. Do something just for the sake of doing it.
This one is hard to come by because most people have a hard enough time understanding their own emotions, let alone someone else’s. When traveling, Lauren and I always packed a surprise for each other for on the road when we were tired or crabby or pissed off. Usually it was something like a pack of peanut M&M’s, but having someone give you a pick-me-up when you need it most matters.
This one goes along with being flexible. Sticking to the plan almost never works because, invariably, something better comes up. Lauren was always down to meet up with new friends or try a new drink just because.
6. Being able to read people and situations
The good, the bad and the ugly all exist. You need to know how to spot the differences and having a travel partner that can pick up on subtleties is more than just convenient, it’s a matter of safety.
There are plenty of tourists who see a sight, snap a picture of it and then go on their merry way without taking the time to step back and reflect on what it means. Together, Lauren and I were always good at finding the deeper significance in the sights we saw or the things we tasted, and it made our trip much more meaningful. In general, find someone you can be deep with, because certain things you see will change your perspective and you should have someone that appreciates that with you.
Lauren is the only person in the world who matches my passion for getting things cheaper than everyone else. And when traveling, that’s a good thing. You will never be attempted to be ripped off more than when you are an American overseas, and being able to get things for reasonable prices can make you trip a lot less stressful on your pocketbook. That said, you also have to know when to splurge because who knows when you might have the opportunity to try something again.