In these crazy modern days of co-ed schooling and cootie vaccinations, it’s not unheard of for girls to be friends with boys. In fact it’s pretty common. Shockingly – now that us gentle ladies no longer need chaperones to prevent any hot-blooded menfolk from taking advantage of us poor innocent souls – it’s even now acceptable for girls to go traveling with their male friends!
I’ve travelled with my fair share of female friends, as well as on my own and as part of a group, but it’s my many trips abroad with one of my good male friends (shout out to Howard!) that have made me realize that there are a few points about traveling as half of a mixed pair that are worth talking about…
Everyone is Going to Assume that You’re a Couple
You think we’d have grown past this point, but for some reason it is still the common assumption that a guy and a girl traveling together must be romantically involved.
If you’re traveling in more conservative countries then this can actually be in your favor – even if it sometimes does involve pretending to be married, you might find you receive less hassle than a single woman in the region might.
However, a lot of the time it can be a disadvantage, namely as it severely damages the chances of either of you pulling a sexy foreigner on your travels.
The solution: come up with a strategy early on. The best way is to try and establish early on in the conversation with new people what the reality of your relationship is. Be sure to explicitly introduce and refer to him as your “friend”, make reference to one of your partners back home if there is one, or mention in passing how annoying it is that everyone keeps assuming you’re together.
If all else fails, just tell everyone you meet that you’re desperately trying to help him pull (for some reason Howard has never appreciated this). That should do the trick.
What your Partners Make of It
The first time someone expressed surprise that my boyfriend was OK with me traveling with a male friend, I didn’t know how to respond – it was something I hadn’t even thought about. However, after discussing it with other travelers, I now understand that my relationship lacks a healthy amount of jealousy. Apparently it is normal for people to feel irrationally worried that their other half might get caught up in the romance of the open road, what with all the beautiful sunsets and sex in dorm rooms it has to offer.
If yours or your friend’s partner (or both!) seem a little off about the idea, that’s OK – they’re allowed to feel that way. We’re all a little bit mad and neurotic when it comes to affairs of the heart. The important thing is for couples to communicate with each other beforehand about how they’re feeling. It might be that the partner is fine with you traveling with your friend – but not with the idea of you two sharing a double bed in hotel rooms (even though it’s so much cheaper!). That’s not entirely unreasonable, and easy enough to comply with. The important thing to remember is that it’s not for your partner (or anyone else) to tell you what to do and who you can and can’t travel with. A blanket ban is not cool, and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.
If it’s your friend’s girlfriend who’s causing problems, then obviously that’s none of your business as it’s not your relationship. The best course of action, if you know he has a jealous girlfriend, is probably to be sensitive when it comes to taking photos and plastering them all over Facebook – photos of the two of you with your arms around each other, or you giving him an affectionate peck on the cheek, might be perfectly innocent but probably won’t do your friend any favors.
Hostel dorms are generally fine, but when it comes to private rooms what’s the best course of action? Double up? Twin beds? Separate single rooms? The choice is up to the two of you and what you’re both comfortable with. Make sure you discuss this beforehand though, as it will affect your budget!
In some countries you might find it’s unacceptable for an unmarried man and woman to share a room. Often the mere fact that you’re an unmarried woman traveling with an unmarried man might be an unusual concept amongst the locals. If you don’t want to lie about being married, it might be easier to claim that he’s your brother or cousin, as being accompanied by a male relative is unlikely to raise that many eyebrows (and it’s not too much of a stretch of the truth – he’s practically like a brother to you, after all!).
The experiences we had when sightseeing on our own, as opposed to with guys we’d met at the hostel, could not have been more different.
It’s difficult to go from living in a society where women and men live on (generally speaking) equal terms, to one where you might be harassed, disrespected or ignored because of your gender. In Morocco I got incredibly wound up because on several occasions the local men would speak to the guys we were with, rather than us, even replying to things we were saying but addressing them to the men! Of course objectively I know that in many cultures it is considered discourteous to address a woman you do not know, but that doesn’t mean it’s not infuriating or upsetting to encounter for the first time.
Try not to take out your rage on your friend if you feel he’s getting treated more fairly than you – it’s not his fault he’s got a Y chromosome. Also keep reminding yourself that, in countries with very clearly defined gender divisions, you’re actually getting the most out of the experience by travelling with a guy as he can speak more openly with the men and you can speak more openly with the women. Together you’ll be able to get a clearer picture of the culture on both sides of the gender divide than either one of you could on your own!
Don’t Sleep with Them
I know it’s obvious, but it always pays to repeat it. Man, that would be awkward.
(I feel it’s important to finish by clarifying that Howard has always been a perfect gentleman through all of our many trips. Go Howard!)