Who Should You Travel With? Part 1 of 3: Why Traveling in a Big Group will Make you Crazy and Possibly Homicidal

(This is a subject that deserves serious thought. Who you decide to travel with affects your trip experience in many large and small ways. Traveling in a group, traveling in a pair and traveling alone, I’ve done all three and will give you my personal advice over the next week.)

It is so easy to end up in this situation: you invite a friend to travel with you, they invite a friend or two, it snowballs and all of a sudden you are descending upon Italy like a gaggle of geese.

Please feed me!
Creative Commons License photo credit: Daveness_98

At first glance this may seem like an awesome idea: all your friends, an exotic location, it’s a walking party This logic, which works so well when you are renting a beach house for a week, doesn’t apply when you are backpacking for a month.

In my more naïve days I went on a reading week trip to Prague and Hungary with three of my study abroad buddies. On day one we were all excited, happy, the best of friends. By day three there was some serious drama brewing. One person thought it would be safest if we were all back at the hostel before dark. Another wanted to relax and do some exploring. Personalities clashed. Word’s like “uptight,” “inconsiderate” and “bitch” started getting thrown around. It was uncomfortable to say the least.

We were four nice girls who were normally pretty easy-going. We’d gotten along just fine back in England! Things change when you are on the road. It is nearly impossible for four people to all be on the same page regarding price points, activities and nightlife. Add in some incredibly close quarters and personalities get out of control.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jsome1

I remember a lot of awesome things from that trip: the autumn leaves in Budapest’s City Park, the Museum of Communism in Prague (you can find it next to McDonalds). But I also remember the stress of traveling in a sleeper compartment the size of my bathroom with three people barely speaking to each other.

Nowadays I am reluctant to travel with more than one or maybe two other people. Even then only ones I am pretty sure will get along under duress. In a group everything is a major effort: where to go, what to eat, when to sleep. If I’m spending the time and money to get away, I don’t want to waste my time playing people-pleaser.

Has anyone else had positive or negative experiences traveling en masse?

Coming up Thursday: Traveling in pairs…

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5 thoughts on “Who Should You Travel With? Part 1 of 3: Why Traveling in a Big Group will Make you Crazy and Possibly Homicidal”

  1. Oh man, I had this happen once! A couple years ago in college, I did a semester abroad in the Netherlands. We had class four days a week and could do short travel breaks for three days in between. Additionally, there were two “big breaks” in the semester where all 80 of the class traveled somewhere together (to the same city, but we didn’t mob around with 80 of us together obviously, haha) for 5 days, before breaking into smaller groups to travel for another 5.

    During one of the short 3 day trips, I was planning to travel with one good friend (we’d been roommates for a year and a half in school) and a student who had been looking for a group to trip with. They were great! The problem came from another group of NINE people who also ended up going to the same place and said we should meet up for drinks, which actually turned out to mean spending the week together. TWELVE PEOPLE MARCHING AROUND BRUGES WAS HELL. There were only two big fighters in the group, but even so, it was just too many people to keep track of and move around with (the only good thing was with so many people, when arguments broke back, you could just drop to the back of the group and ignore them). My roommate, I, and the guy, our original group were fortunately staying in a different hostel and managed to break off relatively quickly every day.

    On the other hand, while I realize this is still a short vacation, I had a great time traveling in groups of 3 and 4 and a couple times even 5 on some of the 3/4/5 day breaks. I think this was because we were all looking for the same things though–to explore, and have fun, and not spend too much money.

    Anyway, I never want to travel in anything bigger than pairs to small groups again.

    PS. An interesting side note, some of my closest friendships while traveling/living abroad fell apart when we returned home–sort of the opposite of friendships being killed by travel arguments, we just didn’t get along once we WEREN’T traveling together!

  2. Group travel some of the best and worst moments of my travels!!! I think the worst moments I had were travelling in large groups. It becomes a bit like high school popularity contests and rumors. Not to mention you spend so much time either focusing on only a few people or trying to get to know everyone just a tiny bit that it’s difficult to make really good friends. I much prefer travelling with just two other friends. A small gang who are all able to accept that we all have different interests and need to sometime pursue them on our own!

    1. Yeah, I think a small group makes it easier to focus on the places you are visiting as opposed to being distracted by social forces.

  3. Ah… the joys and nightmares of traveling with a group. I’ve had both — fabulous trips with small groups of girlfriends and family members, and not-so-great ones. You’re SO right that just because you get along well with folks in one setting, it doesn’t automatically follow that you’ll have a good time on the road. And if you happen to be the friend who knows the other parties well — but they don’t know each OTHER well — you could be in for a rough go.

    I’ve also had my trips “hijacked” by folks who, as your post said, told two people, and they told two people, and so on, and so on…. These days, if I don’t want company or “add-on” travelers, I keep my big mouth shut and don’t tell folks when I’m planning a trip. If they find out about it, it’s too late for them to buy a ticket and come along. I’ve also become a HUGE fan of flying solo, as you eliminate all the drama inherent in traveling with other folks.

    My advice: Talk things through BEFORE you leave. Find out if your friends will get offended if you occasionally want some “alone time.” If they’ll be judgmental if one of you meets a guy and wants to go off on a date. (I’ve had friends act quite unpleasant when that’s happened to me.) And sort through your “roles” (who’ll be the navigator, the foreign language translator, the timekeeper when you’re heading out together). This can eliminate a lot of the misunderstandings and hurt feelings later on.


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