I have travelled so many different ways. I have travelled with my whole extended family, with one of my teenaged children,
with all of my children, alone with my husband, with large groups of friends, with a small group of friends, with one friend, and with work colleagues. Every single one of those trips was enjoyable in their different ways. And every single one of those trips came with tremendous challenges.
You may live with people day in and day out and feel like you get along quite well generally. At home, you have your routine and each family member has space and time to do their own thing and to have some privacy. Families will do some things together and other things will be done individually. When we get upset with each other we stomp into our rooms, slam our doors, scream into our pillows, and eventually calm down and move on. It works. It’s fine. Put that same family together in very close proximity for two weeks on the same schedule and they are more than likely to exhibit mass suicidal or homicidal tendencies.
Here are some examples of problems I have had while traveling with others:
- I am having a horrible nightmare that involves flashlights going on and off. I wake up in the middle of the night to find that my hotel room companion cannot sleep and is checking out Facebook on her mobile phone. The light, although emanating from beneath a blanket, is blinding me in my sleep. I ask her to turn it off otherwise I’ll never be able to sleep. She does so reluctantly. At 7:30 in the morning, my normal waking time, I wake up while my traveling companion is in a deep sleep. I turn on my iPad to get the address of the place I want to go visit that morning. I’ll be going alone because my travel companion has decided she needs more sleep. As soon as the iPad light comes on, I am rebuffed. “Nadia! You didn’t like it when I turned my phone on last night! Turn it off!” “That was in the middle of the night, for goodness sake!” I reply. “It doesn’t matter! I’m sleeping now!” she returns. I turn the damn iPad off, shower, dress, and leave in much less time than I normally would have taken. I want out of that room!
- We fly into our transit airport – known for its great duty free shopping area. According to my calculations, I have at least half an hour for some serious duty free shopping before our next flight. According to my travel buddy’s calculations, we have no time at all and we need to rush to the gate otherwise we won’t catch our flight. This irritates the both of us to no end. “He always needs to get to the airport four whole hours before a flight,” I think. “She’s always shopping!” I’m sure he is thinking. We rush to the gate instead of shopping in order to avoid a relationship crisis and it turns out we really do have a decent amount of time before the flight leaves. I am livid because he always gets his way and I don’t (I think. He would tell you otherwise).
- The whole extended family is flying together this time, with all the children in tow. We’re sitting inside the airport terminal near the check-in area, waiting for someone to run a quick errand. My kids, who were quite young at the time, have discovered they can keep themselves occupied by riding wildly in the suitcase carts. They are having a grand time. The adults in my family are not. “Your kids are creating mayhem in the airport, Nadia!” I’m told. “They are just enjoying themselves while we’re waiting. It’s better than having four whining kids on my hands,” I reply, rolling my eyes. “They almost hit that old woman!” someone remarks. “But they didn’t, did they?” I reply, getting angry. Then I hear mutterings about how badly I am raising my children while I remember how much fun me and those same family members had running around wild and crazy in airports and all sorts of other places when we were young.
- We’re all sleeping in a tent. One of us wakes up tremendously early. His circadian rhythm is like that. He goes to sleep very early and wakes up very very early. He is itching to get out and do stuff. Everyone else is still asleep because it is barely after dawn and let’s just say it, we’re tired! “When is everybody waking up??” he asks rather loudly. “Well certainly not at 6 in the morning!” is my reply. He stomps off angrily and I can’t go back to sleep because I was woken up. The whole day is ruined for the both of us.
- I’m travelling across the UK with a teenager. This is my attempt at parent-child bonding. In my head, I believe we are going to have a great time and we will be like sisters travelling together. In my daughter’s head, she has no idea why she has agreed to this idea and she so wishes she was around someone her own age rather than this old lady. I take her to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, a sight to behold. She doesn’t even see them. She decides she would rather sit in the car in the parking lot reading her Hanna Montana book.
- After a long day of hiking, we settle into our tent, which turns out to be quite small. We struggle trying to find the best way to organize all our stuff in the limited space we have. She thinks we should both put our duffle bags where our feet are near the tent’s opening. I think we should put them behind our heads. When we put the duffle bags behind our heads, she says it is not giving her enough breathing space. When we put them at our feet, I say I’ll not be able to leave the tent at night in the dark to go to the toilet. An intense argument ensues. She says something very mean about how big my duffle bag is. It feels as if she’s calling me fat. We hate each other for the rest of the night.
- We’re crossing a scenic bridge in Europe. I want a picture of me I can share with friends on Facebook. He takes one. I look at it. I decide that I look ugly in it and ask him to take another. I still look ugly, I think. I ask him to take another and yet another until I finally give up, exasperated at his lack of ability in taking good pictures of me. “What do you think you look like?” he yells back.
- I have some really good pictures of us from our recent trip that I share on Facebook. “Take that picture off of Facebook NOW!” she yells at me in a Facebook message. “My knees look fat in that picture!” she says. “I’m never travelling with that woman again,” I think.
- We are in the center of a major European city. Everything is within walking distance of everything else, is my thought. So I walk. After two hours, my travel companions tell me that they cannot walk a single step more and they want to spend the rest of the afternoon in the hotel. I have barely started doing the things I was planning on doing. I am later told that this group never wants to travel with me again because I walk too much.
- A work colleague and I are sharing a hotel room on a business trip. “Nadia, I am going to need you to always escort me to and from our hotel room. I am afraid I will get lost in this maze of a hotel,” she instructs.
- We are spending a few days at altitude. I am taking a diuretic to help prevent altitude sickness. I get up at least five times at night to go to the toilet. My roommate barely gets a chance to sleep properly.
- I walk into the hotel room and immediately turn on the television so I can have some background noise. My travel buddy is at the end of her rope with this lousy habit of mine.
- I walk into the hotel room with a different travel companion and she immediately turns on the television. “PLEASE turn that thing off! I need some quiet after that long day!” I say in exasperation.
Despite all this, I still enjoy traveling with friends and family and sharing experiences with them. But I now go into that sort of a trip expecting that none of us will be completely comfortable nor will we all manage to do everything we might want to do on the trip. I make agreements with travel companions that we can do things together but it is also all right if every now and then one of us decides to go off and do something alone. We don’t have to eat at the same restaurants, or visit the same attractions, or shop together. It’s all right. We all need our space and our privacy sometimes. I realize that there will be arguments. I will probably be the one starting many of them. But I also have learned that I can’t hold onto grudges for long while traveling with other people. It ruins the whole trip for everyone.
Because of all this, I love traveling alone sometimes. It is absolute freedom. I can sleep when I want to and wake up when I want to. No one wakes me up in the middle of the night or hogs the shower for ridiculous amounts of time. I get to choose where to go and what to do. I choose what to eat. No one judges me for my spending habits. I get peace and quiet when I need it. I can walk as far as I want to. And I can take a taxi instead of the metro when I feel like it. I have found traveling alone to be pure bliss – except for those moments when I am experiencing something particularly special and I wish that my husband or my children or my sister or my best friend were there to experience it with me, because I just know they would really love it.