Dealing with travel-partner conflicts
When one vagabonds alone, there is a sense of ease, of freedom. There is no one to answer to but yourself. Want to stop for half an hour to take pictures? Want to climb that mountain? Want to hit that bar? Want to jump off that waterfall? No problem! One just has to know what they want to do and take action.
A number of vagabonders travel with their partners or families. This opens up new levels of experiencing a place. More than one set of eyes can navigate better or see additional details in the surroundings. Traveling in pairs can be safer, and it’s harder to be taken advantage of. Not to mention that being able to share in the beauty of a place can be something special in and of itself, bringing you closer to your partner and providing rich memories that last a lifetime.
However, as soon as it’s not just you out in the world alone, interpersonal conflict is bound to occur. You want to stop and take pictures, but your partner is bored. You want to climb that mountain, but your partner is tired. Maybe they are dehydrated, underfed, underslept, homesick, not feeling well, or just plain cranky. Maybe they are just having a bad day. How you choose to deal with the situation can make the difference between something that is gotten over quickly and laughed at later over dinner, and something that lingers, builds resentment, and sets a gloom over the trip that can last for days or weeks afterward.
Of course, there are no set of rules that work for every person, couple, or family. Everyone’s needs are different. Some prefer to talk things out, others prefer to be left alone. Some need to vent their frustration and get it out of their system, and others need to be calmed down.
That said, here are a few tips that make common sense to consider in any conflict;
- Don’t ignore the situation. No one likes to be ignored or feel like what they are going through isn’t important. This means being aware of your partner, reading body language and listening for clues in their conversation that something might be bothering them. Ask if they’re ok. Ask if they need anything. They might still say they are ok if they aren’t, but you’ve at least reached out to them.
- Offer some food or water. Low blood sugar and dehydration are common problems when traveling, as you’re on the move and often in physically challenging places. This is especially important in hot or dry climates. It’s a great idea to use a Camelbak and have a supply of energy bars handy.
- Listen. If they say what they need, be it food or space, give it to them. This may sound simple, but “Ok, we’ll get food at the next town.” may not be soon enough, and pressing them to talk things out when they need space will only make things worse.
- Check in. If something doesn’t resolve itself quickly, check in after awhile. If someone is stewing, they might not be able to calm down on their own. If they weren’t willing to talk about it before, they might be now.
- Validate. Whether you understand what’s going on or not, even if you think they may be completely irrational, calling that out will never help. Often they might know deep down that they’re over-reacting, but other factors are giving the feelings more weight. Tell them that you understand, that it’s ok, that you’re sorry that they are feeling that way, and what can you do to help them.
- Provide a goal. Some situations can’t be gotten out of easily, but it’s important to look forward to the time when it is over. Whether that’s the next town or the next bus stop, give them a time and place to hold onto where they will be safe, fed, and rested. This can make getting to that place easier, whether it’s minutes or hours.
Following these simple tips can help anyone get through a bad situation with their traveling partners, and minimize the time spent being angry or upset with each other. Especially when vagabonding, spending weeks or months abroad in challenging circumstances, maintaining solidarity is key. While traveling alone avoids these issues, the value in sharing the world together easily outweigh such interpersonal difficulties. I know that my wife and I tend to have a bad couple of hours every week or two spent abroad, but our relationship is that much stronger for both exploring the world and weathering the storms of discomfort together.