Navigating the Friend Zone

Travelling with friends is often a recipe for disaster—or is it?  
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Photo by: Vasilyev Alexandr/shutterstock

Where do we go next? Croatia? No, four days is too less. Spain? Too far. Italy? Hmm, maybe. Taking that as a resounding yes, I go back to hunting budget deals. Slightly expensive, but Rome, Florence, Vatican should be worth it. Right S?

S, though, declared she’d rather not travel at all. We had been hopping through Europe non-stop over the last few weeks, and she’d like a break. May be just a day trip from Münster, the German city we were based in. I stared at her, dumbfounded. Not travel? We were on our last two weeks. Who knows when we’ll come back, powered by a student visa!

But S was firm. Nothing I said could persuade her, causing a giant rift between us. Awkward, considering we were joined at the hip until then. We had travelled through France, the Netherlands, Belgium and most of Germany together. Our tickets for the next weekend were ready. S wasn’t wrong—we were both tired—constant redeye travel can wear you down. But I learnt that travel also makes you selfish. For me, the exhaustion was a small price to pay for the joy of discovering of a new place. Eventually, I found someone else to travel with (I hadn’t evolved to solo travel then), but brought back kitschy souvenirs for S. I had missed her terribly.

My first brush with travel discordance almost cost me a dear friend, a price too steep even for Italy.

***

Over a year later, my sister egged me to join her and a group of her friends for a trip to Himachal Pradesh. Now, if there’s one thing I have learnt, it’s that group travel is not my style. (Not to be confused with eat-laze-repeat vacations—for which groups work just fine.) Being dependent on eight-odd people to jumpstart my itinerary seems like a colossal waste of time. Let’s not start on splitting expenses. And god, vegetarians. But, my sister knows how to twirl me around her little finger. With the promise of inexpensive travel in the mountains, a desperately needed break from a job that was wearing me down, and new friends, she dragged me along.

To be fair, I did make a new friend. However, all my fears of group travel also came true. I resented that we set out to explore McLeod Ganj only at 2 p.m., and definitely did not enjoy partying in over-crowded Delhi at 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve. It was the bed and breakfast by the Parvati River in Kasol that redeemed everything. Here, I was not dependent on anyone—I woke up early, took long walks by the riverside, wrote a lot, and by the time the group wanted to be a group, I was (almost) ready to be a part of it.

***

There are endless lists on the pros and cons of travelling with friends. Everything sounds like a cliché and is dismissed easily. We imagine ourselves to be above those—all our trips are going to be as smooth as the Goa road trip in Dil Chahta Hai, or the fun bits from Spain in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. It takes some stumbling around to figure out who you’re okay with, and what you’re comfortable with, and that’s alright. You might learn that you, an indie music lover, will not be able to laugh off “Wakhra Swag” and “Manali Trance” for 10 days straight, and that headphones are your best friend. Or that, as a map-and-scour sort of traveller, staying holed up inside an Airbnb (no matter how cosy) would make you want to murder the same people you’d once excitedly made plans with.

But, if you’re lucky, you’ll find someone like A—who will understand why after over a month in Europe, you might choose aloo parathas over crepes as your first meal in Paris, and will make them. Despite different food preferences, you will build a rhythm thrumming with contentment. There won’t be a lack of accountability in decision-making. You won’t worry that your partner’s a spendthrift, when your budget is limited in the surprisingly expensive Pondicherry. And if plans go astray, making a new one will be an adventure, not a chore—even in a network-less Hampi. If you’re lucky.

***

Travel has a way of bringing people inexplicably close, or tearing them apart. No wonder they say travelling together is the true test of a relationship (those Internet listicles are written by someone).

H and I will be married in a year. I know he loves hiking, surfing and seizing all adventures, while I love tracing a city on foot, art museums, and library trails. We both love food. I haven’t travelled with H yet, and who knows what will happen when we do? (We can’t seem to agree on a country to start with.) But that’s a story for another day.

  • Lubna Amir is Assistant Digital Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She travels in the search for happy places (which invariably involve a beach) and good food. When she’s not planning her next escape, you can find her curled up with a book or researching recipes.

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