How to Spot Your Ideal Travel Companion

You may not be able to choose your family, but most of the time, you can select your travel partner. So it’s up to you to screen prospective matches with an unflinching eye.

You may not be able to choose your family, but most of the time, you can select your travel partner. So it’s up to you to screen prospective matches with an unflinching eye. Because what’s great at the office or on an occasional night out may be a nightmare by day two of an eight day vacation. Here are some of the key attributes of great travel companions.

Universal Good Signs

There are some personality traits that bode well for travel. The best travel companions tend to be:

Flexible: Train strike cancelled your ride? A flexible travel companion will recommend the bus, or maybe a flight. Or that you two just spend another day exploring your current city.  

Resourceful: All the hotels are booked as you arrive in a new city, but it’s no problem because your travel companion is already scanning AirBnB. Travel regularly requires creative problem solving, and is a great trait in a travel companion.

Cool Under Pressure: Taxi driver yelling at you in a language neither of you understand? A cool-headed traveler whips out Google Translate, figures out what the problem is, and then, as the driver strongly suggests, pays in U.S. dollars instead of the local currency. Everyone is happy, especially you for traveling with this person.

Curious: The world is so much bigger when you’re exploring it with a curious person. And curious people tend to make good conversationalists, which is a nice trait in someone you’ll be spending a lot of time with.

Compatibility Issues

Sometimes, the most important thing is to make sure you’re in sync with your travel partner. Here are some key aspects of compatibility to consider:

Eating Style: Food oriented or food averse? Super picky or hyper-adventurous? You don’t have to judge the food habits of your travel mates, but you should be aware of them before you agree to spend three meals a day with them for the length of a trip.

Speaking Volume: If you’re loud-talking and proud, you won’t be bothered by a travel companion who always communicates one decibel below a yell, even in quieter cultures. If you’re sensitive to drawing attention to yourself as a tourist, though, this volume disparity can quickly grow intolerable.

Budget: Mismatched budgets can create a lot of tension. If your travel partner’s budget is significantly higher or lower than yours, you may want to rethink the trip. Because everything from hotel preferences to activity choices are influenced by the bottom line. And if one of you wants every meal to include a Michelin star and the other is budgeting for street food, even eating is going to feel uncomfortable.

Activity Level: If you’re an early riser who prefers to turn in early but your travel companion is thinking in terms of nightly trips to bars, both of you are going to have a hard trip. Activity preference mismatches—say you’re go-go-go and your travel partner likes to take things slow—can make both people feel judged and unhappy, even though it’s purely personal preference.

Yellow and Red Flags

You should know your travel companion well enough to be able to spot these yellow and red flags:

Hanger: Hanger—hunger-based anger, not the wrinkle-fighting device—is a yellow flag. Travel with a predictably hangry person and you’re going to start fixating on their blood sugar levels rather than on your destination. However, if they travel with snacks to keep them stable between meals, hanger may not be a problem.

Irritating Personality: It’s not so much about whether your potential travel partner is objectively irritating, rather it’s whether you are easily irritated by them. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with them, so if you already dread meals because of a constantly clicking jaw, or if chronic complaining gets under your skin, consider it a red flag and look elsewhere.

(Photo: Getty Images/Nicolas McComber)

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By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at

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