Traveling Courtesies: a guide to how to not lose your friend on safari or other long adventure

Monday, September 8, 2014 0 No tags

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Five years ago, I did something I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember: go to Europe. I had just graduated college, didn’t have a real job, was single, and most importantly, had time. I knew I had to jump on the chance or it might never happen again. I think I will always look back on my trip as one of the best decisions of my life.

When my friend and former roommate, Amy, emailed me a few weeks ago telling me she had something I might like for my blog, I was thrilled! I was thrilled to hear from Amy, yes, but also thrilled to read what she sent me: a travel manifesto written by two of her friends before they went on the trip of a life time together.

When I backpacked Europe for three weeks with my friend, Jennifer, we did not have a written code of conduct. We talked about what was most important for each of us to do on our trip, but mostly we relied on the fact that we were good friends and had the exact same taste in food. It is not always that easy, however. It worked out for Jennifer and me (we didn’t fight or get annoyed with each other), but things did come up that we didn’t predict.

For instance, a travel courtesy document would have been nice to help us address the issue of one of us twisting our ankle in Budapest and the other encouraging her to carry on (hint: I did not twist my ankle). Traveling with friends or family, no matter how much you love them, can cause tension, and a lack of communication about what everyone wants to do can result in everybody doing what they didn’t want to do.

If you have ever traveled, I am sure you know this to be true.

Don’t you think a “travel courtesies” document is a great idea? This one is thorough, and covers just about everything that needs to be covered to have a good trip that doesn’t suffer from a lack of communication. Lucky for us, we get to use the document composed by Alexis and her friend Larissa in all of our future travels. If you are planning any fall trips, you may want to print out a copy of this, and perhaps coerce your traveling buddies to sign it in blood (for bonding purposes). Or at least give it a thorough going-over as a group.

Aside from keeping you from killing each other, it might also help you to just have a better trip in general. And isn’t that all we want?

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Alexis and Larissa in Tanzania.

A note from Alexis about what inspired them to take this trip, and write this manifetso:

“Larissa and I have known each other since we were two years old and were next door neighbors. For years we talked about going to Africa before we got married and started families. Our excuse was that we didn’t have the time and we didn’t have the money. One day Larissa, in her brilliance said, “We’ll never have the time and we’ll never have the money. We have to make the time and make the money.” And that’s what we did. We went to Tanzania in Sept of 2006. The trip of a lifetime. It was fantastic. And now we’re both married and have children so doing that trip when we did was good timing.”


Traveling Courtesies

– a guide to how to not lose your friend or loved one on safari or other long adventure


  • ASPIRATIONS – Before you plan your trip, spend some time asking your travel mate what she is most looking forward to doing. Make a note of it and plan around that.  Similarly, while on the trip itself, take some time each day to check in as to what you enjoyed about that day so as to be able to learn from each other.  What one person loved and assumed the other did as well may not be the case. Knowing this may help in gauging what your next day should look like.  If you both really enjoyed the same thing, bonus!
  • WHO’S THE BOSS? –There may be days and times when it makes sense for someone to take the lead.  This should be done with agreement about who that will be, beforehand if possible, and with the day’s leader checking in to see if decisions are being handled in a way that is satisfactory to the other.
  • SCHEDULES, SCHEDULES – Schedules are important but it’s also good to plan and schedule for spontaneity.  Some people like everything planned out; some like to freewheel. Compromise and talk about each day either the morning of or the night before. Speak openly so the other person doesn’t have to guess that i.e., you need to shop for 4 hours on the last day of the trip because you forgot to buy any gifts along the way.  Don’t assume the way you planned out your day is the same as your mate’s.
  • PERONAL HABITS – Discuss beforehand what is tolerable for you in terms of neatness/messiness while traveling especially if sharing a bathroom or a tent.  While on vacation, some people like to let go a bit. This may annoy your travel mate.  You may feel the need to unpack and hang up all your clothes, while your companion prefers to live out of her suitcase. Decide what your threshold is.  Folks might not mind it being messy for a spell as long as it is agreed to be cleaned up by bedtime (like leaving dishes in the sink, fine to do so as long as they are washed and put away before bedtime).
  • PROBLEMS – Be willing to help out your travel mate in a bind. i.e.a credit card gets eaten by a foreign ATM, her luggage or wallet is lost or stolen, she falls off a boat and needs dry clothes, she gets food poisoning or she forgot to bring reading material and is twiddling her thumbs for something to do.  Remember: Bad luck can and will happen to you; wouldn’t you appreciate someone there to lean on when it does?
  • CHOICES – If given a choice between a side-trip, alternate destination or some other unplanned opportunity, ask your travel mate what she prefers.  Accept that she may prefer to stick to the plan or even not make a choice.
  • MONEY – Take a moment to gauge your own and your travel mate’s budget for how much you both want and are able to spend for a meal, a special trip, or some other presented unplanned-for opportunity.  Don’t assume your views on money is the same as the other person’s.
  • GUILT – Sometimes a friend will offer to pay for their travel mate’s share of an unplanned opportunity in order to take advantage of an experience that the other cannot afford.  If this happens, certain courtesies should apply: 1) The other can accept graciously and should not feel guilty or in debt for doing so; 2) the person offering should not and will not hold that offer in the “debit ledger” to be used to balance out other costs at a later date; 3) If one person declines the offer for whatever reason, the person offering will accept that graciously.
  • REST – Look for fun things to do together, but be willing to let your mate have “alone time” if that’s what she needs.  If you need “alone time” don’t assume your mate knows that by your giving her the cold shoulder; taking a two hour shower or saying “mmm” in response to her questions or suggestions on things to do next. Tell her what you need. Everyone will be happier and no one should take it personally.
  • SLEEP – Not everyone goes to bed or wakes up at the same time. Figure out how much sleep your travel mate needs and let her have it. If you like to read in bed with the light on, agree on a time when lights should go off each night and on every morning.  Not all days will people feel the same need for sleep so consider asking about this daily or at least often.  If your trip calls for early morning meet-times with a group, discuss with your travel mate your general habits regarding being on time. (see section on DEADLINES)
  • DEADLINES – Sometimes a travel itinerary will have built-in timelines for meeting a bus or plane arriving at a certain destination. Some people like to be 5-15 minutes early for these types of deadlines; others scramble to be the last one on the bus while still shoving their wet laundry in the outside pocket of her open suitcase.   Decide which one you are.  Let your travel mate know that she is free to be either with no judgment and let her know which category you fall into.  There should be no guilt when the bus leaves without your companion and you didn’t do anything about it.  If the bus has to wait and delays everyone due to your (or your companion’s) tardiness, be gracious the first time about it.  If it keeps happening, have a chat about it.
  • OTHER PEOPLE* – If you meet new people along the trip, be thoughtful about inviting them to share your meal and travel by checking with your mate first. She may not share your enthusiasm for your new friend/s. If you want to hang with said new friend/s, communicate that and look for ways to double back or loop in with your travel mate for previously planned shared meals or events.


*If this new friend you have met is your potential soul mate and you think you want to spend the rest of your life with him/her, inform your travel companion immediately.  This rare and unforeseen occasion is universally understood to automatically grant a “pass” for any anti-social travel behavior.   If your traveling companion is single and in her 30s, she will understand this and make arrangements accordingly to find a new travel partner and happily give you all the space you need.

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Would you use these traveling courtesies on your next trip? What is your favorite trip you have taken? Do you travel with friends?


All photos courtesy of Alexis and Larissa


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