Josh and Alicia were eyeing luscious fruit at a Bangkok market. Suddenly, Alicia felt jostled in an alarming manner. She gripped Josh’s hand and said softly, “It’s vamoose time.” Without hesitation, the two turned and melted into the crowds. “I don’t know if it was serious,” said Alicia to Josh when feeling safe again. “It just didn’t feel right.”
The couple, traveling together for the first time, had made a resolution. Any time either felt the slightest threat, they would depart instantly, no macho grandstanding, no debate. They’d even chosen the “vamoose” phrase as their safety term.
Many of us in our senior years travel as couples, with friends, or solo. This can range from hostel hopping in Asia to a “double occupancy” stateroom on a European river cruise shared with a total stranger. Travel brings out the best and worst in people or just simple incompatibilities that don’t always show up in other circumstances.
I travel with my husband, David, on a sailboat, where life takes place in two hundred square feet and you must be heedful of tides, currents, rocks, heavy weather and other boats. We’ve developed principles promoting teamwork and harmony while aboard. And when we visit foreign places on land, we do our level best to follow the same rules.
Managing a crisis
If we get into a crisis, our first job is to solve the problem. It’s easy to get into the blaming mode, “Why did you …,” or “how could you be so stupid …?” We want solutions and then debrief after the problem is solved when we’re calm and can discuss things rationally. This principle helped us when the mast on our 40-foot sailboat broke in a storm. Despite the fear engendered by the jagged mast pieces, with rigging and sails dragging in the sea, the wind at 50 knots, we remained relatively cool, focused on avoiding further problems and saved our boat and us.
Carolyn and George were distracted while bickering about some minor issue. Taking advantage, a pickpocket lifted her wallet. Just because you’re hot, or tired or have visited too many cathedrals, put off the fight until later.
If you can agree to delay quarrels for, say, four hours, you can argue in private and often find you’ll have less to fight about. Above all, never stomp off leaving your traveling companion alone, potentially putting either one of you at higher risk.
Tempers may also shred while one person is behind the wheel of a car and the other is trying to help navigate in unfamiliar territory. Arguing over missed turnings is not only distracting from the purpose at hand, but also potentially lethal. Save the dissection for later, maybe over a glass of wine when suitcases are safely stowed in the hotel room, and some of the “incidents” will take on a more comic perspective.
Sharing the “double occupancy” room or cabin
Whether you know your roomie in advance, or meet him/her during the trip, setting ground rules in advance or when you first meet can save headaches, even your whole trip. Gail met her Scottish roommate on a cruise to Alaska. “We sat down and discussed what we each like to do,” Gail said. “She liked shopping, I preferred museums and totem parks. We opted to go on tours individually. We decided we didn’t need to eat three meals together every day. And we agreed on bathroom etiquette. Like, should we flush the toilet in the middle of the night?”
While sharing, be as tidy as you can. Sue is a neatnick, while her sister drops things everywhere. “We’d come to the room and I’d get angry because I just don’t do well in chaos,” said Sue. “There was never room for my toiletries in the bathroom. I love my sister but there’ll be no more sisterly trips.”
Being on time
For Gail, putting on her makeup is important so she rose before her roommate to avoid hogging the bathroom. And she was a stickler for being on time for tours. “Being late can jeopardize your bus tour,” she said. “They often won’t wait. And it infuriates others having to cool their heels. Cruise ships actually leave people standing on the quay if they don’t return on schedule.”
What can we do about someone who’d be late for his own funeral? Try a pact. Charge him $1 for every minute he’s late. Putting the clock ahead 10 minutes may motivate. Having an alarm go off—every watch and smartphone has one—well in advance before departure may help. A straightforward discussion that his lateness proves that other people’s time matters much less than his own, and that there’s no such thing as being “fashionably late,” may make him get into high gear.
Then there’s personal timing. My husband is a morning person; I’m not. So I use a camping headlamp to read so I don’t disturb him when he sleeps earlier than me.
Planning how to spend your time together—in advance
Friends chartered a sailboat in the Mediterranean with three other couples for the vacation of a lifetime. Two couples got up early to set sail. The other four slept in, had elaborate breakfasts and got ready to sail at 11:00. The conflicts grew each day, with both sets claiming what they wanted was the essence of a relaxing vacation. “It got into passive-aggressive stuff,” said Richard. “It became intolerable.” The mistake these people made, of course, was not discussing their expectations in advance.
Spending money while traveling with friends
Do your travel companions wish to eat in five-star restaurants while you’d like Brie and a baguette? Broken relationships over money are rife. We traveled with friends in the Bahamas who liked two cocktails each with lunch, while we drank water. They’d ask the server to split the bill, adding at least $20 to our lunch ticket. After this happened twice, we told them we preferred to pay our own bill. We should have agreed on the bill paying process beforehand.
Two couples plus one pair’s relatives, a sister and brother-in-law, travelled to Greece on a shared holiday. All went well until they reached an island known as a gay mecca. The relatives believed homosexuality to be a sin and were deeply disturbed both by the island’s atmosphere and by their travel companions’ acceptance. It caused a deep rift.
Assessing Energy Levels
Travelling is often physically demanding. Recently I visited two adjacent totem parks and by the third hour of walking, my energy flagged. Now that I’m a mature traveler, I’ve learned to pace myself and no longer feel I have to see every worthwhile sight. I do what I can handle. It’s the same for my husband. When he tires but I want to see more, we agree to meet in a café at a designated time. He has a cup of coffee and people watches, while I continue exploring.
We like classical music and have been fortunate to serendipitously find concerts in unusual places. We stumbled onto an outdoor opera gala on Saarema, an Estonian island in the Baltic, and listened to gorgeous voices under the ramparts of a medieval castle. In Peenemunde, Germany, we accidentally found Finnish maestro Essa Pekka Salonen conducting in a compound where Germany developed the world’s first weapons of mass destruction during World War II.
The incongruity of that industrial site fusing with the ethereal music by Sibelius still evokes tears. We also got lost in Seville and happened on a troupe of gypsy flamenco performers in a hole-in-the-wall café. These memories are forever. We now have a rule: if there’s an opportunity for a one-off experience, one that will never come again, we must seize it. Mature travelers, especially, might ask themselves, “If not now, when?”
What’s the bottom-line message for joyful travel with your companion? Plan and communicate. Stick to the agreements you make. Be flexible. Be tolerant. Be considerate. Don’t grump. Experience the unusual. You’ll increase your joy and may even come to like your companion better.
Based in Victoria, British Columbia, Marianne Scott writes for numerous publications in the U.S., Canada and the UK. She also writes as a volunteer for some non-profit organizations. She’s the author of Naturally Salty — Coastal Characters of the Pacific Northwest, and Ocean Alexander, the First 25 Years. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy other articles by Marianne Scott in our feature article collection:
A Walk Through Berlin’s Public Art
Spain’s Self-Catering Apartments or Hotel Accommodation
An Annual World-Class Music Festival on British Columbia’s Remote Pacific Coast
Geological Adventures in Utah’s National Parks
An Exploration of Oregon’s Coast