Selecting Your Friends And Travel Companions


What's a diving excursion if your friend can barely muster the doggie paddle? What's a French pastry making class if your sister eats only gluten-free? Whatever the theme of your getaway, the companions you choose are just as important as what you do. Here are five things to consider when it comes to picking the right mix of travel companions.

1. Talk budget. Money creates great divides. Would your foodie-friend forgo the three-star Michelin restaurant for 2-for-1 tacos? Make sure that you're all able and willing to shell out for the same experiences, and "talk about finances upfront," advises Dr. Irene Levine, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. If you do opt to travel together, "clarify budget limitations and make sure that your companions are comfortable staying within those limits."

2. The Flexibility Factor. Travel is all about discovery -- it's a given that things won't always go as planned. "You want to travel with people who can roll with the punches, compromise, and be flexible," says Karen Schaler, author of Travel Therapy: Where Do You Need to Go? You don't want to travel with the "prima donnas, drama queens, and Debbie Downers" who will cry apocalypse if the hotel pillows don't meet her standards, or if she has to get up for an early hike.

3. Play the numbers game. Let's face it: size matters. The larger the crew, the less intimate your trip will. Fewer one-on-ones, yes, but a sizeable bunch also accommodates varying interests. "By its own chemistry, a group of 6 or more will break down into subgroups, allowing opportunities to pair up to do different things," says Peggy Goldman, president of the tour operator Friendly Planet (www.friendlyplanet.com). Similarly, a traveler may feel more restricted in a group of just two, notes Dr. Levine, as each person depends on the other for her social needs. A special consideration for traveling with odd-numbered groups: Besides creating rooming issues (Who's going to pay for her own room? Who's going to sleep on the cot?), there's a risk of exclusion, particularly in groups of three when two women know each other better than the third.

4. Mind the (generational) gap. "When there's a significant age difference between members of the group, some may be bored by the pace of the activities; others may feel pushed too quickly," says Dr. Levine, noting that families may also replicate roles and dredge up old arguments. Goldman adds: "When you vacation among friends, you know you're going to be among equals. Once you involve multiple generations, a boss emerges."

5. Don't be afraid to leave someone off the list. "Women don't have every five minutes to take getaways for themselves," Goldman says. "It's important to invite only the people who can handle informality and get along with others. It only takes one person to disrupt the dynamic -- and potentially ruin the entire trip."