Dear Literary Lady,
I’m planning a trip abroad with a friend. I’m a big reader, but my friend isn’t. What are some ways I can do some literary sightseeing and my friend can do the sightseeing she wants to do, without boring each other to tears?
– S.G., Minneapolis, MN
I love traveling with people who have vastly different interests from my own. It gives me a chance to see things I would never have found for myself and broadens my perspective on a country beyond my own areas of interest.
True, it’s a bit harder to come up with a travel itinerary when there are competing interests at stake, but there’s a lot you can do at the outset to make sure everyone’s happy.
First, communicate with your travel companion even before you start planning your sightseeing itinerary. You both know you want to see different things, so have a candid discussion about what you each absolutely have to do on this trip. You can each make a list of the top 10 things you want to do or see, in order of importance, or you can go through the guidebook together and discuss what activities to prioritize.
Second, communicate any deal breakers you each have. For example, you may not want to spend more than a certain amount of money to go to a museum that you aren’t that excited about. Or your friend doesn’t want to wait in line for an hour to get into an author’s childhood home. You may draw the line at waking up at dawn for an activity, and your friend may balk at hiking two hours to see the gravestone of a celebrated poet. Put it all on the table so you know what to avoid.
Third, you should each do your research. Look up the surroundings of each of the sites you want to visit. You might discover that there’s a great restaurant near the historic library you want to visit, or an art gallery that appeals to your friend. Your friend might find that one of the museums she wants to visit houses a rare manuscript that you’d like to see, or that there’s a famous bookstore in the shopping plaza she wants to visit.
Look for places where your interests converge, but don’t rule out the possibility of going your own separate ways for an afternoon. Traveling abroad requires spending a lot of time together and a lot of compromise, so it’s natural that you’ll want a break from each other. Build that into your schedule, so you both know that there’s time to do whatever you want do.
Take some time to learn about each other’s interests. Ask your friend about the significance of the places she wants to visit. Tell your friend why a particular literary site is meaningful to you. Develop your own curiosity about a place or an activity, so that you’re not just tagging along with your friend.
Lastly, be open-minded and flexible. Traveling is difficult, exhausting, and it almost never goes as planned. Some places will be crowded, some places will be less impressive than you had hoped, and some will be inexplicably closed. If you both keep an open mind, you’ll always find something new and unexpectedly fascinating. The inevitable snafus you’ll encounter while traveling are a great excuse to wander away from your itinerary and see more than you ever expected.