[Updated January 15, 2017. Originally Posted: October 2011.]
Traveling through Europe with your friends can create amazing life-long memories — or it can be a complete disaster. Travel is often stressful, especially when you’re in a foreign environment, and we tend to take out our frustration on the people we’re traveling with.
There are numerous stories about best friends ceasing to talk to each other for months after the trip had ended — this is way more common than you think. While you won’t be able to remove all the stress, you can take some steps to help lower the likelihood of getting into major fights. This guide will give you some tips that could save your vacation and friendships.Editor’s Note: Interested in traveling solo? See our post for traveling solo in Europe.
Here are some things to think about before you decide to travel with friends.
Small Group: If you’re going to travel with friends you should keep your group small. Anything over four people is asking for trouble. Everyone has their own ideas and opinions, and the chance for conflict grows as the group grows. It becomes very difficult to satisfy everyone’s expectations, so everyone’s enjoyment suffers in the end. Plus, trying to find places to eat becomes a lot more difficult when you have a lot of people.
Payment Upfront: Make sure everyone pays all pre-travel expenses upfront. You don’t want to get stuck with someone else’s bill.
Communicate and Compare Travel Styles: A huge source of conflict stems from when travel partners don’t know each other’s travel styles. You should sit down and see what each person expects before traveling. If things don’t match up it could be a sign that this travel partnership might not work out so well.
Here are some things to consider:
- Spending Styles: Money can be a source of conflict. One member of the group might be an extreme penny-pincher and may never want to spend money on anything—no museums, no attractions, only takes the cheapest transportation, eats cheese and bread for every meal, etc. This person could drag the group down with their unwillingness to spend any money. Alternatively, you could be on a budget while the other members in your group have plenty of cash, so you end up spending way more than you anticipated.
- Different Interest: There are multiple ways to spend a European vacation, but often each group member has different expectations. One person might want to spend a lot of time shopping, while someone else would rather go to museums and other attractions. For example, I like to wander around the city and explore, but other people could find that boring. I don’t particularly enjoy lounging at the beach, but for some people that’s the ideal way to spend the day.
- Eating Styles: Trying to agree on a place to eat can be a real pain because everyone has their own preferences. The budget traveler might want to stick to austere meals at the hostel, while another might want to eat at a restaurant. In addition, some people are more adventurous eaters than others, and some are so picky that they’ll only eat at McDonald’s. Be aware that in some countries it can be really difficult to accommodate vegetarians and vegans.
- Morning or Night Person: Many travelers want to get an early start to seeing the sights, but there always seems to be one person who takes forever to get around in the morning. This can cause a lot of friction. In contrast, some might want to stay out super late while other members want to head to the hostel early.
- Nighttime Entertainment Styles: You may prefer getting drinks at a local pub, but your friends might rather stay out until 6:00 AM at a club. Or maybe you like drinking with the other travelers at the hostel, but your buddies want to go check out some local bands.
- Speed Of Travel: Make sure your travel styles match up. You might be expecting to travel at a slow leisurely pace, but other members want to see as much as possible.
- Where To Travel: Agree on the cities and countries that you want to see ahead of time. A lot of travelers visit Europe with the “I’ll play the entire trip by ear” philosophy (which I don’t recommend) and then the group can’t come to an agreement of where to visit.
- Their Personality: Are your friends overbearing, uptight, negative, unadventurous, worriers, etc? When you travel with people their personalities, especially their negative traits, become greatly magnified and can cause a lot of friction. If something about them already annoys you, then you can be certain that it will be 10x as annoying after spending a week with them.
During The Trip Advice
Alone Time: You don’t have to do everything together. This is huge and every experienced group-traveler will tell you this. Let the group split up and have everyone do their own thing. This will help keep everyone sane and hopefully alive.
Split The Travel Costs: I prefer that everyone pays for their own stuff during the trip. Some people suggest having everyone put in a small amount of cash if you’re going to cook a meal. Settle any “debts” the same day.
Here are a few apps that will help split travel costs with your travel mates:
Communication: Everyone should speak up and give their input about what the group does. Holding everyrhing in will cause a lot more trouble down the road.
Be On Time: Your time is limited so it is important to stick to the agreed times. The biggest problems usually arise during the morning because many people have trouble getting up on time. Also, being on time is especially important when you have to catch a train/plane.
Be Flexible & Compromise: Things are going to go wrong and you can’t always get your way—but you have to deal with it. And you have to compromise about what the group wants to do.
Chill-Out: Travel is stressful and every group will have conflict. It is important to remember to step back and relax. It can be very easy to get so caught up in the “fight” that you forget you’re visiting some of the most amazing cities in the world. Don’t forget to apologize if you lose your cool.
No Funny Business
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Thanks! — Susan and James