5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Traveling With a Friend

November 1, 2016

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The first day my friend arrived in Bali, she was elated. Beyond elated: this was her first vacation as an adult and her first time in Southeast Asia. When I took her to Legian Beach in the middle of the night, she was giddy with excitement, almost ready to explore everything Indonesia had to offer by moonlight.

I, on the other hand, wasn’t feeling particularly motivated. Sure, Bali had beautiful beaches and services catering to foreign visitors, but it just seemed like another tourist trap to me: taxi drivers ripping you off, overly aggressive massage ladies pulling you into their spas. Cars darted in and out of their lanes, carefully avoiding the hundred-odd motorbikes that seemed unaware or just unwilling to obey traffic laws… typical of almost any city in Asia.

I needed the perspective of a friend to overcome this travel funk into which I had fallen over the years. My time in Chiang Mai, alone, only made me more aware that when left to my own devices abroad, I’ll probably just stay in my hotel, write, and stream a movie, only going out to get a massage and some food. With someone I know eager to push me out the door and into this promising foreign country, I have less incentive to be a sloth and more to be a glutton, devouring new experiences and craving more.

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned after traveling with a friend for the first time.

1. I’m overly cautious

I NEVER leave my bags out of my sight. Even when swimming in the ocean, I’ll either bury my valuables in a plastic bag, or keep my eyes on them from afar, calculating just how fast I can jump out and run across the sand. I hide my passport and valuables (assuming a room safe isn’t available), and almost always take my Macbook with me when I leave my hotel room. Although this is due to an unhealthy attachment to my belongings, I can’t help it; if my credit cards were stolen, I’d be screwed. If my computer were, I might as well fly back home. No computer = no work, no income, no travel.

I wish I could say this just applies to my possessions, but it also includes my physical well being. My friend accepted a ride from a security guard at our hotel in the middle of the night; he offered her a small tour on the back of his motorbike. The experience ended up being the highlight of her evening. I would have been too concerned with being lured into a dark alley and robbed… or worse.

2. I’m not willing to throw money away

I don’t consider myself a cheapskate but I will never be happy about vendors offering variable prices in Southeast Asia. If the price is 20,000 Rupiah, then everyone should pay 20,000 Rupiah, from the five-star resort tourist to the local buying something on his way home.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the way things work in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Laos, and India. When vendors see me as a walking wallet, I become disillusioned rather quickly, refusing to acknowledge their tried-and-tested method of yelling “YES! MASSAGE!” I’m infuriated by motorbike taxis even suggesting I should pay 5-6 times more than a local would pay, and feigning confusion when I point out the correct price.

Even when a price is fixed and written down as we see in restaurants, it’s still a sore point for me. Why should I pay 70,000 Rupiah (6 USD) for fried rice at a cafe on the beach when it’s being offered somewhere else – same quality, same portion – for 30-40,000? I understand this a little better – you’re paying for the ambience just as you would back home – but it doesn’t mean I’m going to throw good money away when there are smarter options available.

3. I’m not very friendly

Part of being able to work remotely means setting aside time to sit in a hotel or cafe and just stare at my Macbook for a few hours. There are always going to be opportunities to socialize, but I tend to search for organized events – Couchsurfing meetups, bar crawls – rather than just seeing someone in front of me, waiting in line for a coffee or passing the time on the beach. My travel companion has no such limitation, and will chat up nearly everyone she comes across, from our Uber driver to shopkeepers.

Maybe I’ve just become too jaded from dealing with the aforementioned vendors and people in the service industry whose intentions may be good but can’t really help me: I’m capable, and I don’t like to rely on anyone else, even if if it’s his job to help me. Nor do I like drawing attention to myself by speaking out of turn, in a crowd, or in front of other people who may just be going about their own business. While this makes me a respectful traveler, it’s not exactly the best way to socialize.

4. I like being on my own

My friend has her own set of quirks, her own personality, her own approach to travel. That’s understandable; if she saw the world the same way I do, what would be the benefit of traveling with her?

There are things other people do when they travel that I will never full appreciate, but can accept if I want someone at my side. I tend to walk fast, take pictures discreetly (as opposed to taking the time to position myself for the perfect selfie or worse… asking someone to snap one for me), eat cheap and simple meals, and keep to myself. It’s not as though walking slowly, taking a picture for a friend, splurging on a few meals, or speaking loudly in a crowd will ruin an experience for me, but it’s a matter of preference. I have my own way of traveling that is most comfortable for me, and so does she.

5. …but I also like having company

Just because I may be “inconveniencing” myself by not adhering to my habits doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate having someone with me when I travel. Meals are particularly difficult as a solo traveler; cooking in a house means a lot of effort and cost for such a simple task. Eating at a restaurant means sitting alone and finding ways to occupy your time while your dinner is prepared; in South Korea, some restaurants won’t even serve single people.

Having a friend at my side has been an educational experience for me. I’ve traveled with girlfriends and family, but never have I planned a trip around a platonic friend. I’m still learning about the experience, but based on what’s happened so far, I don’t think I’m capable of being a good friend when I’m traveling. I can be from afar and travel solo, or be involved with whomever I choose to travel.

Jealousy is certainly a factor here: seeing other couples doing the same activities as the two of us, but with just enough physical affection to make me realize what I’m missing. I think I just need some time to work through these issues and appreciate my friend’s presence in Bali. She’s not here to accommodate my needs; we’re both here to see the world together.

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