I’ve always been comfortable traveling solo, but I’ve had a lot of travel partners over the years, too. My favorite travel buddy of all time went and got married, which is great for him, but royally sucks for me.
For perspective, it’s not that tough to be a good travel buddy. A sense of humor, a relaxed attitude, a little humility, a ton of flexibility, knowledge of first aid and diving emergency protocol…these all go a long way. Here are some types I’ve traveled with or met along the way–people who have made me truly appreciate the value of a good travel partner.
1. The Whiner – Nothing ever goes right. Life is so unfair!
This type is ubiquitous. I am surprised, although I shouldn’t be. Why do people think that when they travel, everything has to go smoothly? If anything, travel is dicier and more unpredictable than quotidian life. So you get these types who are outraged, outraged, at a flight delay. A bus in a 3rd world country is 6 hours late (pooh: I know countries where that is considered prompt). They got dysentery/malaria/bedbugs. Yes, well. Welcome to the big bad world. It’s not about you out here, babe.
2. The Rude Bitch – Doesn’t matter where you go, she’ll alienate everyone around you. Then she’ll alienate you.
I had planned a solo, 10-day trip to Paris for my birthday. It was my first trip there, and I was going to visit the usual highlights, walk everywhere, and eat myself into a cheesy, buttery stupor. A friend asked me if she could come along. She’d just had a rough year, including losing her mom. I was dubious, but agreed, thinking that getting out of the country for a bit might help her heal. She’d also been to Paris, so I figured it would be nice to have her knowledge on the trip.
I had a list of my “must see” places, which she immediately dismissed, because she’d seen them already. I realized that, while we’d be sharing a hotel room, that was about all the companionship I’d be getting on this trip. By my calculation, this was still do-able.
But, when we arrived, I learned I was in for much, much worse. Rude Bitch came with a chip on her shoulder. She yelled at the taxi driver. She pissed off the owner of the inn. She was rude to waiters. She was rude to other travelers. She lost her temper with me when the gelato shop she had insisted on going to was busy and the line was too long to suit her. She was relentlessly rude, and remorseless about it. I got tired of following along her wake of destruction, quietly apologizing to her victims.
The nadir of the trip was the night she got drunk and raged at me that she was “tired of having to take care of me all the time.” We talked the next day, when she’d sobered up. I pointed out that she had never actually performed any sort of caretaking activities for me. She agreed, and admitted she’d been transferring anger at her mom to me. I told her she appeared to be transferring anger to a lot of people, not just me. I ended the friendship when we got home.
3. The Selfish Asshole – Getting laid is more important than your safety.
I already wrote about the Selfish Asshole here. But to recap: Travel buddy splits with dive master, leaving me alone with his pal–who automatically expects sex because my friend is putting out. Yep. Love being abandoned in dangerous situations in foreign countries. Love it.
4. The Natterer – The person in the front seat who just spouts every thought that enters his pea brain.
The Natterer is uncomfortable with an instant of silence–the part where you’re not talking because there’s so much to see and admire. This person comes in both male and female versions. The absolute worst I’ve ever encountered was a male, but I secretly think females are more frequent perpetrators.
I spent several weeks working with a guy, let’s call him David from the Midwest. David couldn’t shut up–he would just rattle off every insipid, banal thought that went through his mind. This had nothing to do with actual conversation. Visions of ball gags were dancing in my head. Because this was a “business trip,” I was trying to be very polite to him, but dropped several million gentle hints that it might be okay to stop talking for one second. Finally, after weeks enduring his cluelessness, one day when he was being particularly obnoxious, I snapped. “If you could stop talking constantly, that would be great. I don’t really care about what you have to say. Nor does anyone else.”
He was silent for the rest of the day. I felt a little bad. But not too bad. That day was heaven. My colleagues thanked me for alleviating their suffering too, but privately, of course.
5. The Narrator – Similar to the Natterer, the Narrator never shuts up, either.
The “Narrator,” like the Natterer, abhors a vacuum. They can’t just quietly take in the scenery. Similarly, they can’t tolerate a moment of silence. They just talk. And talk…And talk. The Narrator, unlike the Natterer, doesn’t express their own thoughts, though. They narrate your trip for you. They read roadside signs. They describe the scenery that you, too, are looking at with your own eyes.
“Hey, there’s a hill!”
“Gas! It’s $7 a gallon here!”
Dude. I’m not Helen Keller. STFU once in a while.
6. The Rube – I didn’t bother learning anything about the history, culture, or language. They should all just speak English anyway.
Okay, I am proud to say I’ve never had to travel with someone like this. I just encounter them on trips. They are not a rare species. My all-time favorite was the couple from Texas in Venice, who ordered a “peppahronee peeezzzah.” And then were infuriated that they got bell peppers. ‘Nuff said.
7. The Jingoist – Nothing’s as good as Amurica! (Close cousin, possibly kissing, of Rube.)
The Jingoist might actually be the worst. I run into these on my travels pretty frequently. They’re obsessed with comparing every little difference, and finding the American way “superior.” Fine, okay, we have some good shit going on, man. But, theoretically, that’s not why we’re here.
The absolute worst ever was a Mormon missionary I had to talk through a literal mental breakdown (grown man sobbing beside a fountain on a patio) because he thought Honduras was too “dirty.” I’m like, “Dude. Look around. Poor people. Chill the fuck out about hand sanitizer.” He went home. (This disappointed me, because I thought the guy had a shot at some actual spiritual growth. Alas, he pussied out.)
8. The Package Tourist – Nothing spontaneous allowed!
Ah, look. This is an entire industry. I’m going to pick on Americans again, because I can…but it’s possible the Japanese may be the worst about this. What is up with the 30-countries-in-7-days trips? People, this gets you nothing. You do not see the country, the culture, the landscape. You spend your days with a guide telling you what to see and what to think. Your ankles swell from spending 8 hours a day in a bus.
Why do you sign up for hell? And, why do you insist on showing me the PowerPoint?