You might want to have your best buds along on that memorable trip to the ends of the earth.
But you probably wouldn’t have wanted them hanging around outside your honeymoon cabin.
If you’re planning a special trip this year and you’re thinking it would be fun to have your best golf pal and his wife along, you might want to rethink before you turn a trip-of-a-lifetime into a disaster of epic proportions.
Our own personal vacation disaster had nothing to do with shabby lodging, awful food, stormy weather or, because we’re seniors, the possibility that we’re pickier than we used to be .
It had to do with thinking good friends back home always translate to BFFs on the road.
Let us explain.
A few years ago we visited close friends who had moved to Tucson. For nearly two decades we had shared precious vacation time as sailing companions, happily island hopping from summer sunrise to sunset until we had to go back home to work.
When they retired and moved to Arizona, we missed our good times together. So we flew to Tucson to pick up where we had left off.
We all drove out to the nearby Biosphere, an under-a-dome research project begun in 1984 to study how plants and humans might survive and thrive together in space or on other worlds. It was something of a failure in that effort but has evolved as a center for research and life-long learning about the Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe. The public is welcome for daily tours.
We loved it. It held the promise of changing the world in ways we’d never thought of and we were quickly engrossed in the exhibits and demonstrations. We could have spent all day inside, absorbing every detail of that vision of the future.
Our friends didn’t share our enthusiasm. They hung back with us for 15 or 20 minutes, then sped past the exhibits, bored senseless and ready for lunch and an afternoon of shopping for Southwestern knickknacks.
We felt guilty and quickened our pace to catch up.
We’ve felt ever since that we shortchanged ourselves.
And, while we still love those friends, we haven’t tried to mix inquisition and acquisition with them since.
There are trips and then there are trips. And not all trips hold such a possibility for regret.
We had a wonderful time with other dear friends (we had been in each other’s weddings) celebrating our 25th wedding anniversaries on a cruise to Mexico. The trip didn’t star the ship or its destinations. It was just an opportunity for the four of us to get away from the day-to-day and focus on friendship. We’d meet for breakfast and reminisce until the waiters had to ask us to leave so they could set up for lunch.
Some trips — like that one — are perfect to share with others who are on the same page. And there are other examples. We’ve spent week-long trips to tennis tournaments with friends who love the sport as much as we do. And football fans would welcome like-minded company at the Super Bowl.
But it may not be as easy as it seems to decide whether you’d rather go it alone on your next trip. Here are a few tips that might help:
• Be selfish. You may never get back to that museum or that village halfway around the world again. If you’ve always wanted to spend hours with the treasures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, think long and hard before inviting your golf buddy and his wife along. You may love his sense of humor on the course, but they may not share your love of art.
• Consider your own level of expertise or curiosity about a site or subject. We’ve always been fascinated by the history of famous art, but we don’t know enough about the finer points of design and color to expect an art collector to enjoy going to the museum with us. Likewise, we can’t expect a cricket devotee to enjoy spending a whole match explaining the game to us, even though we might love to see the game in its British homeland.
• If you’re shy about exploring a foreign destination on your own, consider booking a tour. The others on a tour are as interested as you in the sites and activities, but you won’t hurt anyone’s feelings if you decide to break off on your own for dinner.
• If you want your trip to revolve around a special anniversary, by all means invite the people who would celebrate with you. But everyone might appreciate it if you carved out some time for folks to explore on their own.
Lots of people have told us that their trip-of-a-lifetime — a roots visit to the home of their ancestors, maybe, or a trip to Rome to absorb some culture — was lacking because their companions weren’t on the same page.
We’ve learned our lesson.
Our good friends are our good friends in part because we understand we don’t see everything in the same light — they stimulate us to see things from another perspective.
But while they may be wonderful companions on our home turf, it might be best to leave them behind come travel time. Especially since a trip-of-a-lifetime likely comes with no do-overs.
John and Sally Macdonald are freelance writers who live on a houseboat in Seattle.