Travel Partners, or, The Gentle Hate Cycle


Hong Kong: land of OH GOD IT’S HOT OUT HERE

It was approximately 475039 degrees celcius in Hong Kong, and I was just about done with Tony and Will.

Almost none of it was actually their fault, of course. It was disgustingly hot outside. There was a toxic, hazy fug in the air that made it near impossible for me to breathe. I am terrible at sleeping on planes, and thus our twilight jaunt from Indonesia to our stranded waylay in HK had left me woozy and sleep-deprived. When outdoors, I couldn’t walk up our downhill without feeling disoriented and weak. I think maybe also my liver was failing, and my bad hip, and also my terrible whooping cough. I was in a bad way.

Also, we had been spending roughly 24 hours a day with one another for the whole week, and I was beginning to think I hated them.

Not a real hate, actually. I consider them both amazing friends, people who I cherish and was excited to go on vacation with. It was a gentle hate. A hate that would eventually wash away. A hate borne of familiarity and enclosed spaces, of time and proximity, of exhausting nearly everything we could possibly say to one another. It was a hate of stumbling over their bags, of figuring out bills, of waiting to use the bathroom. It was a hate of circumstance, a hate that was directed at their being physical humans in my space, rather than at them, the people. It was a hate they probably had for me.

You have to love the people you travel with. For one, you’re going to be confronted with an enormous degree of intimacy and close spaces: cramped rooms, shared beds, bathroom doors that barely close. As a matter of odds and convenience you will be exposed to great masses of their naked flesh, and them yours. You will have to plan your schedule around their need to defecate, and know when to politely leave the room so that you are not treated to any of the audio.

But you also have to love them because you’re certainly bound to hate them.

I don’t know if it’s possible to travel with someone for any length of time without hating them at least a little. You spend all of your time with them, you take meals and drinks together, you journey and hike and hoof and walk together. You say goodnight before you go to sleep, and good morning not long after you wake up. You share everything, and talk constantly, and rapidly exhaust every topic of conversation. Going through Vietnam and Cambodia with my friend Bobby, we were both overjoyed to meet some old friends from Korea. In about a week we had already dispensed with everything we could think of to talk about: we knew one another’s life histories, our likes and dislikes, our hopes for the future. We had recalled most of our university careers. Our formative memories. Favourite foods. Previous haircuts. Running shoe brand preferences. We simply had nothing left to talk about, and the injection of outside entities made it possible to enliven these topics once more, to finally give us something to discuss. When you’re around your travel partners for so long, you talk about everything until there’s nothing left to talk about.

Moreover, travel involves stress. You deal with trains and planes and taxis, and inclement weather and angry locals and people trying to get your money all over the place, and people are screaming and staring and calling the fury of the gods upon you. All of the problems of travel, all of the things that might wear you down and make you brittle and petty, happen while you are sandwiched extra-close to your best friends. You are tired, and so are they, and they are right there, and suddenly your tolerance for everything, including people who you consider your best friends, wanes. Your patience is thin. Your personal space is thinner, and dear god, did you just fart again?

It’s not a condemnation of them, or you, but such a greater intensity of closeness can be wearying. While at home you spend a few hours together once a week, suddenly on the road you are around one another all the damn time. Under such proximity, your ability to forgive foibles, to subsume tics and obnoxious habits under a wave of affection, diminishes. You can’t help but notice little oddities, and with stress and time and no personal space, you mutate those oddities into crimes against you, the world, and humanity in general. Travel doesn’t allow for rationality. The little things become the big things: how they floss. How they commonly begin or end their sentences. How they sleep. How they walk. How they hold a fork. You have no choice but to notice, because you just have more chances to watch it happening, and with time, a sunburn, and someone trying to gouge you, suddenly these things become hideous and scornful.

So you need this buffer of good will, this wellspring of pre-developed affection, in order to fend off the hate. To smother the fire. You need to realize that these people you are travelling with are also people, people who are used to having their own morning routine, used to waking up and going to sleep on their own time, to eating what they want, doing what they want, being what they want. People who are used to not spending all of their time with you, either.

You need some time apart.

Once I had reached the end of my tether with Tony and Will, I bid them farewell at the dock on Peng Chau. They wanted to hike, and I wanted to nap, preferably somewhere with air that didn’t taste like the inside of a steam engine. I rode the boat alone, and the subway alone, and walked the streets alone. I visited convenience stores, and mapped out my routes, and read a book. I lived life as a person on my own for a few brief, glorious hours. I travelled and was fine.

When we reunited again, I was ready to see them, to ask them about the rest of their time on the island, to share what I had done with my day. I had needed the interval of alone time, of being away from them, to realize that I didn’t really hate them, but that I would hate basically anyone who was physically in my space for as long as they had been. I needed some alone time to decompress and go back to being a separate person, not a constant, functioning member of a triad. I needed to not be around them for a little while, so that I could remember why I enjoyed being around them in the first place.

18 thoughts on “Travel Partners, or, The Gentle Hate Cycle

  1. Yeah man, I think a lot of how enjoyable traveling is comes down to the stranger factor. You need good stranger contact. It helps break up the monotony of talking with the people you came with, plus strangers bring out that wonderful charm in your friends that made them your friends to begin with. Otherwise, you’re right – gentle hate.

    • Yeah, a stranger’s never heard any of your stories before, and suddenly they’re exciting again!

      Like you say, they do also bring out the charm in your friends. “Oh, yeah, this is why I’m friends with you.”

  2. Two summers ago I departed on a road trip up the coast of California with three friends along for the ride–three goofy, dear friends I’ve loved and known since childhood. We ate together, slept in the same bed together, gossiped together, laughed together. Midway through the trip, I was about ready to roll over and suffocate them in their sleep with my pillow. Lovingly, of course. It’s such a relief that I’m not a complete bastard for entertaining such dark thoughts–or that I’m not alone in them, at the very least. Your observations on the human being are so spot on, and this was just a big YES.

    (I did decompress at a movie theater and we arrived home with souvenirs and happy smiles abound)

    • You’re definitely not alone, and I think people really underestimate the need for decompression. “But I love Tom and Jane! They’re my best friends! Spending every waking minute with them will surely not be a problem!” Tom and Jane can have their surly moments, too.

      I’m going on a long trip very soon, and with the two friends I am going with we are already incorporating regular away times into the schedule so we can adjust and feel okay around one another.

  3. Excellent dating advice can be distilled from this. Never mind moving in together before marriage to see if you’re compatible. Just travel together! If that doesn’t break you up, nothing will. 😉

    • The friends I plan on travelling with have been dating for five years, lived together this entire time in Korea in a single apartment, and travel together regularly. I think it would take nuclear war to separate people like that.

      But yeah. Lock yourself together with another person for several days. If you haven’t actually killed and eaten them, you’re basically meant for each other.

  4. I think this post nails why I had such a good time in Korea. Vacationing in someone else’s real life is perfect for that alone time because it’s built in.

  5. Pitch perfect post. So relatable. I’ve also joyfully ditched some traveling friends for the afternoon. (and been very happy to see visitors board planes back home…shh don’t tell)

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