By Lisa Sugarman
You’ve been friends for years. Great friends. You’ve eaten enough dinners out together and seen more shows and concerts and movies than either one of you can remember. You’ve taken countless shopping trips and had enough café lattes and Pinot Grigios together over the years to fill an Olympic-size pool.
You know each other’s deep, dark secrets, neuroses, personality flaws, bra sizes, and garage-door codes—enough personal information that you might as well be their Emergency Contact #1 on every health form.
But there’s one thing you still haven’t done—one place your relationship still hasn’t gone. It’s that place of true intimacy, where few friendships can go and survive. Where our true selves are finally exposed, for better or for worse.
I’m talking about taking the leap from spending an afternoon together shopping at the mall or side by side on a yoga mat or on a day hike. I’m talking about packing your bags and actually going away together. To a place where you’re stuck together, in the same place, for as long as you both shall travel.
Traveling with friends can make or break a relationship, it’s as simple as that. Because as far as we delve into our friends’ personalities and histories and idiosyncrasies over a shrimp scampi dinner or during an afternoon hike, there’s absolutely no way of knowing whether or not your compatibility will extend from a short, finite amount of time—like a meal or walk or a playdate with your kids—to a multi-day trip away, where true personality quirks can’t be as easily concealed or overlooked. In other words, you’re stuck with each other for the night or the weekend or the week. You’re in it to win it and there’s no turning back once the hotel room keys have been issued.
Sitting here on the return flight home from my first real trip away with my daughter—her best friend, and her best friend’s mom—it occurred to me how badly our otherwise lovely five-day trip to Florida could have gone if we hadn’t been so travel compatible. Fortunately for us, we were.
Now being best friends, the girls have, of course, spent insane amounts of time together over the years. And while her mom and I have been great friends almost as long as the girls have, this trip was a baptism by fire for both of us, launching us by catapult to the next level of our relationship. And it was damn lucky for both our sakes that we ended up meshing like chunky peanut butter and grape jelly. Damn lucky. Because our experience traveling together could’ve easily torn our friendship apart if we hadn’t been in such great sync with each other.
See, that’s the thing about traveling with friends; to the naked eye, you may have what appears to be a completely harmonious relationship—one that gives the illusion of being fully transferable to suitcases and an itinerary. But looks can be deceiving. Just because you enjoy each other’s company over raw oysters or a cool lime refresher does not guarantee that you can cohabitate in a timeshare or a hotel room for a weekend. And that’s because people only see a very short glimpse of who we really are on a walk or over a drink or over dinner. The real fun begins when we go away with someone and we’re forced to share a space or collaborate on decisions or make concessions. That’s when things often go horribly awry. That’s when peoples’ true egocentricity often takes over and they reveal themselves to be impossible travel companions.
I mean let’s face it, the average person can usually control their impulses and urges and selfishness to a point. And that point is often the length of a movie or the duration of an afternoon shopping spree. But hogtie two people together for a few days and everyone’s true colors come spewing out. People start imposing their opinions and preferences and then, ever so subtly, the inflexibility begins. Almost without warning, the person you boarded the airplane with doesn’t want Chinese food anymore. Doesn’t like to get up before 11:00am anymore. Orders three mixed drinks at dinner and Crème Brulee to your Pellegrino with lemon and still wants to split the bill straight down the middle.
The unfortunate reality here is that there’s legitimately no way of knowing if you and your friend are trip compatible. It’s kind of like when you send your kids away to overnight camp for the first time. They may be the poster child for day camp but crash and burn once they’re dropped off at overnight camp for a month, away from their family and totally on their own. You just never know.
So I guess the takeaway here is simply this: some people are good travel buddies and some people aren’t. And that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, we all have a pretty diverse roster of friends that we can count on in many different situations. And that’s exactly the way it should be. We have lots of different people that we spend our time with in lots of different ways. It’s just important to remember that a square peg isn’t supposed to fit into a round hole. And that even though it doesn’t it’s still a great peg. It just works best under the right circumstances.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and select Whole Foods Market stores.