Tips for Knowing If You and a Friend Would Be Good Traveling Companions.

I’m way behind on reading my magazines (are we the only household in American who gets The New Yorker magazine every day?), so I only just read an interesting piece from the March 21 issue of New York magazine, The Complicated Part of the Friend Trip.

In a subsection, “Whom Do We Invite?” the article cites psychologist Michael Brein’s compatibility scale, which asks:

  1. Do you have similar activity levels?
  2. Do you have the same day/night patterns? Say, does one person want to get up early and start the day, while another person wants to party late into the night?
  3. Do you have the same sense of “time urgency”? In other words, does one person want to make a plan and stick to it, while another person wants to keep things loose?

I think these are three terrific questions to ask.

For several years, my family has taken a summer trip with another family, and it’s really important to think about compatibility — and also to accept that your family’s way isn’t necessarily the right way, or the wrong way.

For instance, the family we travel with has a higher group energy level than my family. Before ending the day, they’ll often squeeze in an extra museum stop or historical site. My family — right or wrong — needs a lot of down time. I used to feel bad about the fact that we were missing out, and wimping out, but now I accept the fact that our families are just different.

Also, I’m different from the other adults on the trip: unlike the rest of them, if there’s a schedule, I really, really want to stick to it. Upholder that I am! But the other adults, and also kids, are fine with last-minute changes. Even though it makes me uncomfortable, I remind myself, “The point is to have fun together. Even if we’re not seeing this giant fountain.” That helps me remember not to nag or complain when the plans start to change.

Do you find these questions helpful? What other questions are useful to consider, when you’re planning to travel with someone?

  • Another important consideration is what is each person’s level of spending — for restaurants, hotels, activities — and how much shopping they want to include in the trip. Incompatibility with either of these can make for an uncomfortable trip.

    • gretchenrubin

      EXCELLENT point.

  • Gail Minichiello

    Also, your eating preferences is important. Eat early or late? Willing to wait for seating or not? Two or three meals a day? Snacks? Adventurous or more plain cuisine? Price range?

  • Marci

    You will seldom match up perfectly with your traveling companions, but as you point out, you can make the situation work for you. The key is understanding the differences when going in and adjusting your expectations accordingly. For example, I like going on trips with higher energy people because they push me to do things that I would normally not do. (My idea of a good time is a book and a drink next to the water, but I don’t have to travel 1,000 miles to do that.) It works out for me because I have some unexpected adventures, and it works out for my traveling companions because I’m a flexible, go with the flow sort, who lets my strongly opinionated friends make the decisions. (Because, you know, if I made the decisions we would be sitting in silence, reading together.)