The Science Of The Travel Companion

I’ve often been told that the fact I would rather travel with a companion is a mistake on my part.

In my early to mid-twenties, I realised that I hadn’t been on holiday for a long time.  I think I went on a family holiday when I was 14, and then had roughly a decade off.  It wasn’t that I hated holidays, I just didn’t think about going on them.

Eventually I decided I’d take myself off to the capital city and go watch some tennis at Wimbledon.  “That’ll be grand,” I thought, “strawberries and cream and sunshine and Ana Ivanovic, all under my own steam.”

I booked a cheap and not-quite-as-cheerful-in-real-life hotel, jumped on a train with a bag and headed south.  All fine and dandy.  I watched a day of tennis and got on the tele, and Ana turned down my serious-but-not-serious marriage proposal.  I showered at the hotel and wandered off in to the Big Smoke.

I went to a restaurant – on my own.  I went to a bar – on my own.  I went back to the hotel – on my own (oi, you, quiet). I woke up on my own, got on a tube on my own, had breakfast on my own, watched more tennis on my own and repeated the previous night’s events until the point I realised that I wasn’t enjoying myself because I would rather be there with a travel companion.

This isn’t a post about making friends.  (I can hear a particular someone telling me that such a thing is actually possible!)  However, I don’t want the success or otherwise of a holiday that I’ve not organised as part of a group to be judged on my ability to make acquaintances, which is where a pre-organised travel companion comes in handy.

The travel companion has numerous advantages:

  • You have someone to watch your stuff when you want to pee.  (By “stuff” I mean your bags, not your, you know, “stuff” while you’re actually peeing which is a whole other subject.)
  • My mother would point out that there’s someone to ring home when I end up in hospital or get abducted by terrorists.  (Let’s assume my travel companion isn’t Liam Neeson!)
  • It’s great having someone there to have fun with who you know shares the same interests, or is at least interested in you.
  • There’s someone to split the cost with, or to complain at when the cost is really high!
  • You don’t need to lower yourself to a selfie stick and…
  • As I found, you don’t get lonely.

However, apparently there is actually science behind the desire to share amazing experiences.  The Atlantic report on a study conducted in Psychological Science in 2014 where the authors note:

Extraordinary experiences are both different from and better than the experiences that most other people have and being both alien and enviable is an unlikely recipe for popularity.

They basically split 68 people in to groups of 4.  One from each group watched an amazing film, while the other 3 watched a boring one.  After they’d been reunited, the one person who watched the amazing film felt 10 points worse (in a range of 1 – 100) and 30 points more excluded from the three who had companions.

When asked to score how they thought they would feel when watching something exciting or something boring, obviously the excitement scored higher which shows why we still choose adventure.  It’s the expectation that it will make us feel great even if the reality of a shared boring experience appears to have been proved better.

There is also a thought that those who have amazing experiences can actually be alienated due to a combination of strangeness, jealousy, and abnormality that can leave you feeling lower than when you started.  While we can grow accustomed to “nonsensical pleasures”, one thing we always want, after all, is to fit in.

This sounds like it’s just suggesting we sit at home and watch the TV with our friends all the time! However, it should be read with another Psychological Science study which asked the subjects to rate shared positive and negative experiences by eating chocolate.  Those who ate the predetermined nice chocolate reported it being nicer when they ate it with someone else, while those who ate the predetermined horrible chocolate reported it to be worse when their testing companion agreed.

These studies show how people bond in social interactions when they can relate to someone, rather than simply being impressed with what the other person does.

However, I think they also back up my reason for holding back on my dream holidays until I find my dream travel companion.  Whereas doing things our own can become isolating, so doing things together can increase closeness.  If something boring is better when it’s shared, just think how amazing that amazing experience is when that is shared.

So the next time someone tells me to go to New York at Christmas on my own and I tell them that I don’t want to because I want to be able to hold hands and cosy up to someone in Central Park or kiss them on the top of the Empire State while we wear woolly hats, I now have science to back up my need for the ideal travel companion to make the holiday extra special.

Everybody’s got themselves a plan,
Everybody thinks they’ll be the man, including the girls.
The musicians who lack the friends to form a band are singer-songwriters,
The rest of us are DJ’s or official club photographers.
And tonight I’m playing another Nambucca show,
So I’m going through my phonebook, texting everyone I know,
And I quite a few I don’t, whose numbers found their way into my phone,
But they might come along anyway, you never really know.

None of this is going anywhere –
Pretty soon we’ll all be old,
And no one left alive will really care
About our glory days, when we sold our souls.

But if you’re all about the destination, then take a fucking flight.
We’re going nowhere slowly, but we’re seeing all the sights.
And we’re definitely going to hell,
But we’ll have all the best stories to tell.

The Ballad Of Me And My Friends by Frank Turner

Comments 4

  1. Liberty Henwick

    So true! I went backpacking on my own as a student and found it terribly lonely. I think one feels so much better when our best and even our worst experiences are shared. I’m so glad science has caught up with intuition!! 😀

    • I lasted barely two days in London. I can’t imagine what backpacking must have been like!

      I know some people like going on their own and I know that some people see meeting new people as the bonus of travelling. I get that, but if I can go with someone and meet people that seems better.

  2. Liberty Henwick

    Yeah, I went for about a month and came back broke and balling my eyes out. I had to beg for a few coins to get to my cousin in Balham from Victoria station, not a high point in my life, although I did meet some memorable characters. My brother went for a year on his own. I think if you go in a group you are less likely to meet the locals which is always the best part of a trip I feel.

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