Happy Sunday everyone! I’m writing this from my happy place – my swinging chair on my front porch, with my dog keeping me company. I LOVE my front porch – it’s my favorite place for morning coffee, meditation, afternoon tea with friends, watching the rain, or just to curl up with a good book. My husband and I sometimes eat dinner out here as well!
Two years ago, I cycled 240 miles through Austria along the Danube River with two friends. We are currently training for our next trip (biking through the Czech Republic in the fall) and this got me thinking about topics we discussed ahead of time that helped make our travel smoother. So here’s our list, in hopes that it might help someone else have a better trip! My assumption here is that you value the friends you will be traveling with and want to nurture those friendships…if not, maybe ask yourself why you’d want to travel with them in the first place!
How to share expenses – If you only talk about one thing before booking a trip with friends, talk about finances. Are you a budget traveler or do you like to stay in luxury accommodations? Are you on a super tight budget while others in the group have a bit more to spend? Money issues can cause a lot of friction if you don’t hammer out details ahead of time! For our trip, we agreed we were good with mid-level lodging except for one night of the trip when we upgraded to a hotel with a spa (after six straight days of biking, that massage felt really good)! And at our first meal, we realized we hadn’t talked about how to share food expenses. We decided that since we all eat about equally, we would put money into a communal pot from which we would pay for all meals and sightseeing. We put in 100 euros at a time, and when the pot was empty we added more. At the end of the trip, we split what was left. This system worked well for us but if you have a group where people have different budget levels, (or if one person doesn’t drink and others have three drinks every night) it might work better to have everyone pay individually. There are also all kinds of apps now which allow you to track expenses throughout the trip and the app calculates who owes what at the end of the trip. The key here is to talk about it before you leave!
**We did set rules for alcohol consumption – our rules were 1. No more than two drinks from the communal pot at dinner and 2. If someone started ordering six drinks at dinner, the other two were supposed to slap some sense into the person over-imbibing!**
Temperature preference – another important topic if you will be sharing hotel rooms. Elizabeth and I like to have it cold when we sleep – Jenn likes it warm. Knowing this ahead of time, and knowing that we would be sharing two out of three nights, Jenn brought sweats to sleep in, and Elizabeth and I packed the lightest possible sleep clothes, so we could set the room to a mid-cool temperature.
Each traveler’s need for alone time – You might need time by yourself every day; Sue might be looking forward to spending every minute with you. If you address this need beforehand, Sue won’t be hurt when you want to retreat with a good book after dinner. My friends and I each require alone time in order to function well, so we booked one twin room and one single room for our trip, and rotated roommates each night. We each got a night by ourselves every third day and shared with a different person on the other two – this kept it fun (like sleepovers!) yet gave us our valuable solitude. At the end of our trip, we spent four nights in Vienna, and reserved a three bedroom apartment for those nights. After ten days of traveling together, it was heavenly to have our own bedrooms for the last few days! We recognized that we needed to be proactive on this issue, so agreed to speak up if we wanted to be by ourselves – it does no one any good to hold back and then get resentful or cranky! We ended up with a comfortable flow during the days as well…sometimes two of us would chat on the bikes while the other rode a little ahead or behind, just enjoying the scenery and the peacefulness of the river.
Travel styles – Do you like to get up early and fill every minute with activity, or do you like a slower pace? Are you imagining short, quick meals or leisurely lunches? Do you like to shop or are you all about the museums? How do you feel about seeing ten churches in one day? This is another area where conflicting styles can cause tension. We knew sleep and fuel were important since we were biking six-seven hours each day, so we planned for adequate sleep and a full breakfast each morning, with a break for a sit-down lunch. The three of us enjoy wandering through shops together but also had a few “must see” attractions we scheduled into our plans. Another important agreement was to stop for bathroom breaks, photos or snacks any time one of us wanted, no matter what. On the rare occasions when we could have felt resentful (I stopped us once not 30 seconds after we had started back up from a 20 minute snack break because I saw some rock “people” on the side of the road and wanted to take a photo) we just reminded ourselves of our agreement and it helped us reset our patience. We also saw some fun details that we might have missed if we hadn’t stopped! And it became a running joke that no matter what, we’d have to stop twice within our first 15 minutes of biking each day – once for me to adjust layers (I was experiencing major hot flashes during this trip) and once for a restroom stop (we drank a LOT of coffee and water before setting out each day so we could wake up and stay hydrated).
Sleep needs – some people can thrive on 6 hours of sleep a night; others need a full 8-9 to be good company. Let your traveling companions know that you want to be in bed by 11, or if you can’t function before 8 am. If you are one who needs more sleep *totally raising my hand here* bring what you need to make that sleep possible! My sleep kit includes an eye shade, ear plugs and melatonin. All three of us like to read before bed, so we brought kindles, which let us read without having to have an overhead lamp on. Also consider snoring in this category – if you snore and Sue’s a light sleeper, this can cause very disrupted sleep for Sue. It might be well worth the money to get separate rooms in that case!
**Seriously people…sleep is so important when traveling, anything you need to ensure a good night’s sleep is worth every penny.**
Transportation – How do you plan to get to your destination, and around town once you arrive? Will you be walking, using public transportation or do you want to Uber/taxi everywhere? What about getting to and from the airport? Talking about this will avoid that last minute surprise when you come out wearing good walking shoes and your friend shows up in four inch stilettos and wants to take a cab. This can also fall under the financial discussion, as transportation costs can quickly add up for those on a limited budget.
Packing – Are you a diehard light packer and refuse to check a bag? Does Sue like to bring ten pairs of shoes and a huge suitcase? Are you going to be frustrated waiting at the luggage carousel or while Sue takes an extra ten minutes to haul her heavy suitcase up the stairs in the subway? Will you be resentful if you pack lightly only to have Sue ask if she can put her souvenirs in your suitcase “since you have extra room”? Will you have any group items to bring (we had bike repair equipment, but your group might have a tent and air mattresses if camping)? If so, divvy up the common gear so each person carries a little and the load is shared. Discuss luggage expectations and set the rule that everyone carries their own stuff.
And last but not least – how will you handle unexpected problems or issues that arise? Safety falls into this category – we agreed that we would stay together after dark when wandering outside of our hotel. A group of singles might discuss what to do if one of the group wants to stay out all night after meeting someone. We also agreed that if an unexpected problem arose that could be solved with a little bit of money, we would “throw some money at it and make it go away” – this agreement was very handy when we couldn’t find a laundromat for five straight days and had to pay 55 euros for our hotel to do an overnight load of laundry. After two days of biking in day old bike shorts, it was well worth that money to wake up and put on fresh clothes!
Have you ever traveled with a group of friends? What types of things do you wish you had talked about in advance, or were glad you did talk about?