Posted by: Brian | April 15, 2009

Nightmare in Dali: When Travel Buddies Go Bad

Most of us have been there before. You’re traveling with someone that, under normal circumstances, you would probably get along with decently well. They might be family members, or friends, or, as was my case, mere acquaintances that you don’t actually know that well. Regardless, at some point during your trip, they transform from friend to annoyance to hindrance to flat-out enemy. Your patience has been worn thin, and you’re counting down the hours until you’re rid of them. How do you survive? It’s not simple, and definitely not easy, but here are some ways to either weather your current horror, or avoid an upcoming one altogether.

Tips for traveling with someone you don’t necessarily like:

Problem #1: They like awful music

Find out what the guy means when he says, “I love music.” If that means he’s got decent taste, wonderful – the two of you will at least have something to talk about. If he means, “I really like stuff from the 90s right now, like Hansen,” you’ve got a problem on your hands.

Solution: If your travel buddy has thick skin, just tell him he’s got horrible taste and pray he drops the subject. If you think that would bring him to tears, invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Whatever you do, don’t pretend to like what he plays; it will only encourage him. You’ll have a weekend of audio torture ahead of you.

Problem #2: They’re needy

Avoid traveling with people who are spoiled, or still dependent on their parents, or demanding… you get the picture. A trip should be about balancing the desires of everyone involved, not catering solely to those of a single person. Warning signs include your travel buddy asking for your jacket because he’s cold (when you’re cold, too), expecting you to give him your laptop if his doesn’t work (you’re already using it), and wanting you to hold their bags because they’re tired (you’ve got a pack of your own, thanks very much).

Solution: If at all possible, go with a bit of blunt, anger-tinged tough love. Maybe they’ll get the picture. If not, choose activities that require little talking. Drastic measures include ignoring unreasonable requests/demands, and glaring at them whenever they open their mouth.

Problem #3: He imposes himself on you

If this travel buddy showed up without warning and expects to be given the grand tour, don’t feel even vaguely obligated. You’ve already made plans, and you’ve got a life of your own. His presence shouldn’t dictate your activities.

Solution: Explain politely but firmly that you had no intention of going anywhere this weekend, that you aren’t inclined to miss school/work just because he wants you to, and that he can travel on his own if he really wants to go anywhere. Ignore complaints that he hates doing things by himself; he should have thought of that before showing up unannounced.

Problem #4: He’s desperately trying to go native

Every so often you’ll run across people who think a trip to a foreign country isn’t worthwhile unless they drop every Western mannerism and habit they’ve ever developed and pretend they’re from the area you’re currently visiting. If all your travel buddy ever wants to eat is jiaozi (dumplings) and you’re in the mood for a juicy steak, it’ll make mealtime much more difficult than it has any right to be.

Solution: Find restaurants with a wide variety of cuisine. It’s even better if the place is run by locals and not expatriates from your own country. Your culturally-confused travel buddy will think it’s authentic local food even if that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s all about making him think he’s following local habits, not actually letting him do it.

Problem #5: He won’t go away

Sometimes you just can’t get any time to be alone, and when you’re traveling in close quarters with someone, having a bit of alone time is even more important than it usually is. If your travel buddy is clingy and can’t manage to do anything by themselves, you might need to take extreme measures to get away for a bit.

Solution: Think of something that your “friend” would never want to do, ever, under any circumstances. If that fails, just come up with something really mundane. Tell him you’re going to do it, and suggest he stay where he is and practice his Chinese/Swahili/Portuguese. This works especially well if he falls under problem #4. When you’re doing whatever you told your travel buddy, take your sweet time.

Problem #6: He’s still here. Really.

Especially if you’re being forced to play host, your travel buddy may have allotted more time for your area than you would ever want to spend with them. There’s no way you’re spending an entire week with this person, and their flight back home doesn’t leave until Sunday. The solution from problem #5 only works as a temporary stop-gap; you’re going to have to come up with something else.

Solution: Explain slowly and clearly that you can’t travel the whole time he’s here. Suggest that he travel to a location far away from where you live. Tell him he’ll make lots and lots of friend in that far away place. Help him buy a bus ticket. Make sure he gets on that bus.


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