Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Travel Buddy

Travelling brings out different aspects of your personality.  Some people find their element in the unknown, and some people… don’t.

I’ve gone traveling in a variety of different dynamics: class trips, large groups of friends, small groups of friends, one friend, on my own.  For the most part, I prefer traveling on my own.  It seems that most of my friends and I can only be together for four days maximum before we start to annoy each other.  Put us together for a whole week and we become slightly homicidal – or maybe that’s just me.

Truthfully, I can be a difficult person to travel with.  I recognize that and accept it.

Last weekend, I went to the Drakensberg to hike Cathedral Peak with a girl that I hang out with but don’t know very well.  I was a little unsure about how the weekend would unfold: a 4 hour car ride together Friday night, 9 hours arduous hiking on Saturday, a 3 hour drive back to Jozi on Sunday (no traffic plus I feel comfortable driving faster in the daylight) could go really badly if we our personalities clashed.

On the drive to the Amphitheatre, however, I quickly discovered that we would get along fine.  First, when we stopped for dinner in Harrismith and the restaurant’s milkshake machine was broken, she found my sulky response amusing and didn’t hold it against me.  Second, we drove along a 10km stretch of road construction in the pitch black and she didn’t freak out at me.  At one point we were driving along a section without any potholes and I got frustrated with the slow speed at the car in front of me so I zoomed past.  Right afterwards we went flying off the pavement and onto gravel.  I immediately reduced speed and laughed, “Whoa, I thought we were going to die!”

She started laughing too and said, “The car behind us must think we’re really funny.”

We were obviously a good match for each other.

The next morning we drove to Cathedral Peak hotel and went to the reception to check in for our hike.  The woman told us that weren’t allowed to hike Cathedral Peak on our own.

“Let me see if I can contact the guide for you,” she said as she picked up the phone.

“I’ve done lots of hiking before,” I started to explain, but she ignored me.

“Hello, I’ve got 2 people who want to hike Cathedral Peak… mmm hmm… two… two young girls… mmm hmm… ok… ok I’ll tell them.”

My friend told me later that as soon as the receptionist said, “two young girls” I had a similar expression on my face as when I found out the milkshake machine was broken: pissed off.

The receptionist told us that it was too slippery and dangerous to hike to the peak, but that there are various other hiking trails and to pick one then she’d give us a map.  I chose one that had the same starting point as Cathedral Peak, wrote it down in the registry, and we set off.  As soon as we were outside I told my friend, “We’re hiking the peak.  If worse comes to worst and it’s too slippery to continue, then we’ll turn around, go back to the hostel, and drink.”

She thought that was a great plan.

Unfortunately the signage wasn’t very good and we soon discovered that although we could get to the peak on the path we started, it would add an extra 3 hours to an already 9 hour hike.  My other friend told me that that proves that we needed a guide, but I told him that if we had started on the right path at the beginning we would have been fine.  We still ended up having a great day, however.  It was cloudy and the tops of the mountains were covered so we stayed about 100m below the cloud cover and walked the mostly flat “contour trail.”  For the weather, it was perfect.

Anyways, like I said, I’m a hard person to travel with.  I’m going to Malawi in 6 days on my own for a week and only started looking at what to do/where to stay today.  Last minute planning (also known as no planning and sending a couple emails right before you leave) doesn’t always translate to the best trip – surprise surprise.  At the same time, however, I’ve found that although you can make a detailed itinerary before you leave, once you arrive and actually chat with some locals then the whole plan gets thrown out the window.  So what’s the point in wasting time beforehand?

My attitude drives most people crazy.

However, If you can find someone that you travel well with – that person is worth more than their weight in gold!

I have one friend that I travel well with.  We spent two weeks doing the Garden Route and Cape Town and didn’t want to kill each other once.

Neither of us like detailed plans, we both like meeting people, activities and partying, but can also sit at the beach for an afternoon with a book.  Furthermore, we’re independent enough that we can spend time on our own without having to worry about the other person.  For me, clingy people are the worst traveling companions.

We’re also both a little crazy.  In Cape Town we climbed the Lion’s Head on a night of gale force winds.  We had to crawl on our hands and knees because we were honestly afraid of being blown off the mountain.  The guy with us, an American we’d met on a wine tour that day, told us, “I never thought I’d meet two Canadian chicks as stupid as me in South Africa!”

There's only one way to get a photo like this: risk your life.

There’s only one way to get a photo like this: risk your life.

Like I said, that girl is worth more than her weight in gold in me!

Some people think it’s safer for women to travel with at least one other man – but I disagree.  What are you willing to sacrifice for “safety”?  Whenever I’ve traveled with a guy, I have met way less people.  In addition, I usually have to pay for more of my own drinks – laaaaaaaame!

I’ve also been told that it’s best to go with a lover.

As one friend told me about his trip to India with his girlfriend, “I’ve never had more sex in my life.”

“That…um….hasn’t been my experience,” I responded.

“Then you’re going with the wrong men.”

But, honestly, if attractive young women go partying and stay in hostels – we could still have as much sex as we wanted.  And more variety.  So I deem his argument null and void.

If you can’t find that ideal traveling buddy, however, go on your own.  Go on your own, chat with strangers, and make new friends.  It’s way better than being stuck with someone you don’t get along with.

When I traveled through Spain – my first time completely on my own – I found that I felt intensely lonely whenever I entered a new city.  But that feeling quickly faded as soon as I settled into my hostel and met other travelers.  Sometimes, though, I would experience something and think, “I wish someone was with me right now to share this.”  Even if you don’t have a friend in the moment, however, you’ll eventually have someone to share the story with – whether it’s a stranger at the bar that evening or your dad when he picks you up at the airport months later.

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