Thank God for Travel Buddies

In the beginning, we have our families. Then our circle widens as we meet friends. As we conquer roads, we may encounter a travel buddy.

In the tour I joined in Dec 2009, I found her. 

By the end of the 7-day trip, we were exchanging details so we can continue planning online for a getaway the following year. We picked Morocco – her childhood dream destination which suits me fine since we didn’t need to obtain an entry visa. Our virtual collaboration did not bear signs of incompability. It would be my first time travelling with a “stranger” and things were going well.   

In Oct 2010, it was the moment of truth. We embarked on a 10-day trip scouring medinas from north to south Morocco, staying in riads and embarking on a Sahara Desert experience. We had a blast! Proof of that? Before we parted ways, we already had a blueprint for a Kenya trip the following year 🙂

One thing that made us click instantly is our shared taste in destination. We are both fascinated with off-the-beaten-paths instead of going for popular itineraries. We are both outgoing, adventurous and playful which made our trips fun (stress on clean fun). I finally met somebody who brings a hair dryer or a curling iron on trips, I don’t. I finally encountered someone who chose to tag her luggage with her to Mombasa instead of conveniently leaving it with our tourguide in Nairobi. In turn, she encountered somebody who brings a lot of stuff (read:heavy luggage) in her trips and who seems to be hungry all the time. I who is “always hungry” found a buddy that is “never hungry” (she can get by with just caffeine and cigarettes). I who does not spend a lot of time in the mirror enhancing my beauty, met a vain woman. She’s weird, and I am too! I guess we bear witness to the saying “Travellers of the same feather flock together”.   

I have learned a lot from our trips which added value to my own adventures. She has contributed in my conversion and maturity from being a tourist to being a traveller.  

1. Looking for an authentic experience? Visit local markets. She loves souks and medinas. Our trips always includes visits to local markets to people-watch, challenge our olfactory senses with the various scents, gorge in local cuisine and streetfood, enjoy the inherent chaos of markets and shop and haggle for souvenirs ourselves. I enjoyed the experience and began including markets on my own itineraries. How thrilled I am testing  my haggling skills and leaving the store feeling victorious getting the price that I wanted. How it delights me that simple conversations allow me to pull a word or two from my foreign language hat that I strive to learn a few everytime I travel. I am fascinated by how their eyes light up by simple greetings like “Marhaba” or “Jambo”, or when their curiousity about our features leads to a “Guess my Nationality” game. 

“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.” – James Michener


2. Lacking in patience? Go on train travels. She adamantly wanted us to ride the Jambo Kenya Deluxe from Nairobi to Kenya amid reviews that the trains are old and poorly maintained and it is likely that we will be stuck in the middle of nowhere. She was so into it so I obliged and we went anyway. Inspite of the 4-hour train malfunction that caused us to be stuck in the middle of a village and the uncomfortable sleep in our 2-berth compartment, we enjoyed the 16-hour ride. Who said there is no place to people-watch? The train station was a good bet and the dining car where we were seated for meals with other passengers. Who said there was no good setting for pictures? We had our berth, the dining car and the train corridor (which we did not let pass).

Our trip to Morocco was not lacking in train rides either. Train was our primary mode of transportation, from Casablanca to Tangier to Fez to Marrakech. Along the way we have collected more anecdotes to tell. She told me she saw a ghost passing by our berth on our train to Tangier, she befriended a local lady on our way to Marrakech and she got the guy we shared a compartment with to show us how the seats convert to improvised beds.

Train travel is not for everybody. Some could just be plain bored with slow travel, some are pressed for time or some just prefers to take the plane or the bus. However, I hope you do not ignore train travels just because you think there’s nothing exciting about it. Remember, it’s you who create your own journey and you could choose your own adventure.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

2. Wanna be one of them? Wear a traditional or local costume. When we were in one of the medinas in Morocco, she told me she wanted to buy Aladdin pants so we went looking. She found a shop but the price was steep that she negotiated with the seller. I got “tired” watching them haggle back and forth, that I butt in and asked for a lower price if we got two. In short, we walked away happy with the price, she happier with her purchase, and me wondering what to do with the pants. Haha… Turns out I would enjoy wearing them and regret not buying more.
My travel buddy collects costumes. She went to India and departed to UAE wearing a complete salwar outfit. She is contagious! I went to Taj Mahal this year on a sari and I was able to convince my friend to wear one too.  
Surely, looking like “one of them” is one of the surest ways to catch attention and hopefully be an icebreaker between you as a tourist and them as locals. My story? I got more attention than needed when local Indian women in Taj Mahal noticed I was not wearing my sari properly, with the back worn in front. Hehe… In Agra Fort, we met another Indian group amused by our Indian get-up that they suggested having our photos taken together. An incredible gesture of their hospitality 🙂 
“Tourists went on holidays while travellers did something else. They travelled.” ― Alex Garland

Travelling is a baptism of fire for any relationship. The natural uncertainty that comes with exploring new places, individual differences in priorities, opinions and tastes, physical discomfort, among other things, are potential causes of friction moreso between strangers. However, travel has its way of teaching you the art of compromise and communicate. Travel has its way of making you build bridges and establish connections.  

My travel buddy and I are planning our third trip next year to a country which took me 2 years to convince her. What antics will she drop from her sleeves? Who knows? But I am sure our itinerary will include the constants – a visit to a local market, an overnight train ride and our parade in the local costume 🙂

How about you? What experiences did you share with your travel buddy?   


“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.” – Mark Twain



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