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Drama-Free Gap Year: How to Survive Backpacking With Your Best Friend

Written by Jenny McWhirter on 16 / 02 / 2016

Gap Year Advice

We all love our best friend...

We’ve done lots to remember with them and we’re super excited to head out to wherever it is we’ve decided to explore together. However, no matter how well you get on with someone there will be struggles when you start travelling together on a gap year.

You won’t know quite how things will pan out until they happen and what once seemed an endearing habit can become a motive for murder.

There's no denying that being around the same person 24/7 is difficult and comes with a range of challenges. But through the tears and hardship comes the opportunity to become better friends and closer than you ever thought was possible.

After spending two months with my best friend travelling around the USA, I’ve got a few hints and tips to help smooth out your trip and ensure you stay best of friends...

Discuss Goals Before You Go

As much as you might think you know everything about each other it’s vital that you discuss the details of your trip before you leave, per thisbatteredsuitcase.com. This goes beyond the fun stuff of where you want to go and what different outfits you’re going to pack.

Instead it’s discussing the nitty gritty travelling details that are essential to get straight before they become fuel for a massive argument. Some of the things you might consider discussing include:

  • • Accommodation; will you be staying in luxury hotels or bargain basement hostels?
  • • Transportation; how will you get from place to place?
  • • Sightseeing; which tourist hotspots will you visit, and which will you skip?
  • • Spending; what's your daily or weekly budget?

Remember: it's always better to discuss what each of you wants out of the trip before it even becomes an issue.

What Pace Do You Travel At?

Exploring a new city, that national park or just a weird quirky town in the middle of nowhere can mean completely different things to the two of you.

Whilst you may like to explore a city over a few days and sit in a café for hours soaking in the atmosphere, your friend may prefer to whip round the city and fit as much as possible in to the time.

As thesavvybackpacker.com notes, make sure your travel styles match up. You might be expecting to travel at a slow leisurely pace, but your friend may want to see as much as possible.

These differences don’t mean that you categorically can’t travel together, but it does take a discussion before you leave to find this out. Again, better to know before you go.

What Type of Activities Are You Both After?

From lying on a beach to shopping the entire day to heading to the local museums there is so much on offer in a new place that there are bound to be things you’d prefer to do and some things that just don’t float your boat.

It’s good to have an idea of what you both mainly want to do, whether your both museum buffs or prefer to hang out at the beach, being on the same page is really important for a smooth and fun travel experience.

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What's Your Budget and What Are You Prepared to Do?


Personally, I think this is the most important aspect to get out in the open at the very beginning. I’m not alone in this, ask anyone who has travelled with friends and they will quote money being a potential for disaster (but remember, you there's plenty of ways to travel when you have no money.

In order to not have this turn into a big argument, be sure to set a budget and stick to it. See the video for some great tips on how to budget! Ensure you both have the same budget in mind, there’s nothing worse than you wanting to keep the spend down and your friend happy to spend £50 each meal you have.

It’s not just about agreeing the budget though, make sure you know how you both travel. Are you happy to rough it? Are you wanting to eat out and taste the local food every meal or are you happy to head to the local supermarket and pick up your dinner ingredients?

Rachel and I were sure to ask each other what our priorities were. We both agreed that a few nights in the car wouldn’t kill us and we preferred to save on things like food and accommodation leaving plenty of our budget for ‘experiences’.

We still hit some rocky moments whilst away but having discussed it before it made it a lot easier to ‘roll with the punches’ when we rubbed each other up the wrong way.

Keep Track of Your Spending


On a related note, make sure you keep track of your spending. This is helpful in two ways; it will allow you to keep on track with your budget on a day-to-day and weekly basis. It will also reduce arguments over who owes what.

Ideally splitting the bill reduces confusion but sometimes this doesn’t happen. The great thing about travelling with your best friend is you can rely on them to help when you get stuck.

Maybe your bank card has stopped working or you’ve been caught out as they don’t take card and you have no cash on you. No problem your mate has your back!

Just make sure you make a note and pay it back as soon as possible to avoid confusion and arguments down the road, you may swear you’ll remember but trust me it will be the first thing to forget.

Be Prepared to Compromise and Do It Graciously

With the discussions you’ve had about pace of travelling, activities and budgets hopefully you’ve found a lot of common ground but there are bound to be differences.

When you travel with your best friend, you become closer than ever before and this is partly due to helping each other out and learning that in the hardest times you can lean on the other.

However, that said it is also about not always putting your needs first. Maybe there’s a museum of paperclips that your travel buddy really wants to check out. Learn quickly that sometimes you have to compromise and spend a few hours doing something not high on your priority list in order to keep your companion happy.

You never know you may really enjoy it. But if not rule number one of compromising – do it graciously! If you drag your heels around the museum you are going to have a lousy time yourself, ruin it for your friend and probably end up bickering before the afternoon is over.

If you say yes then throw yourself into it, you never know what may come out of it.

Open Communication Is the Key to Success


Rachel and I learnt very early on that if we were both going to enjoy this trip to it’s full we had to learn to speak up and say what we were thinking and feeling.

Bottling up your emotions not only doesn’t help the situation but actively helps to make a situation worse. A stew over a few days ruined a couple of lovely sunny days in beautiful places for both of us, simply because neither of us had the confidence to say what we were thinking.

You’ve both worked hard to afford the trip and you’re both wanting to have the time of your life so say if that’s not the case.

If you’re not happy about something, if you speak up you can both come to a compromise and ensure that you both enjoy your time. This open communication is the biggest factor that is guaranteed to make you closer.

If that cute habit has started to annoy you, say something. Note here don’t moan about it or rant to your friend. Instead just highlight you’re finding it difficult and then let it go.

However, do a little check before pointing out how annoying that habit is – are you hungry? Are you tired or jet lagged? Are you too hot? Too cold? If you answer yes to any of these then perhaps leave it a while till these other factors aren’t affecting your judgment.

Know When to Apologise


Related to the open communication, make sure you own up when you are in the wrong. Apologizing for being grumpy, rude, unreasonable or for making a bad judgment call doesn’t make you weak but instead is guaranteed to get your travelling partner on your side.

We’re all grumpy we all have bad days, so just make sure to acknowledge it and then you can both move on to having a great time. On that note if your friend is grumpy try not to get frustrated just try to do your best to make their day better – in a few days it will be you!

Spend Time Alone

I have to admit in the 2 months Rachel and I spent travelling we didn’t actually really spend any time apart. However, this doesn’t work for everyone and it helped us that we knew we didn’t have to.

Be prepared to go off by yourself for a few hours or even a whole day or two. This can help if you both want to do different things but it can also give you a break. Spending 24/7 with someone is taxing no matter how well you get on!

Whilst you may be ok to head off by yourself, don’t take it personally if the other person heads out alone. I went for a walk on my own just because I wanted my own head space. It wasn’t a personal insult to Rachel and it helped both of us that we knew that.

Learn to Laugh Through Thick and Thin


Ultimately, through the bickering, fights and disagreements you’re in for some of the best times you’ll have and you’ll end up with a friend like no other. So make sure those arguments and disagreements are blips, learn to laugh about them quickly and don’t hold grudges over your friend ordering you the wrong coffee a week ago.

When the going gets tough, just focus on the positive, remind yourself why you love them. They have your back and they look after you, you can lean on them and they understand what you are trying to say when you are too tired to construct a sentence.

Those good times, when you focus on them will far outweigh the annoying habits.

A Partner in Crime

Voila, it is possible to travel and not kill your best friend. You work together and you’ve got someone who will help you through it all! When you turn up at 1am and your place to stay turns out to be empty, rather than have to figure it out yourself your friend is there to help you through.

And when you return home, you’ve got that someone to reminisce about all the incredible things you did.

Have you ever travelled with your bestie, what would your top tips be? We’d love to hear and it’s always great to help out fellow travellers that are heading off to travel the world with their friends.

Know who you’re travelling with but not sure where? Then download our comprehensive gap year advice guide: The Gap Adventure Blueprint, which contains several chapters that will help you get your head around all the options and offer advice on how to raise funds, plus much more.

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