Thursday, June 30, 2016

Six Travel Companions You Should Avoid At All Cost

Lac Rose, Senegal
Photo: Shayera
There are a million ways to ruin a dream vacation. Getting sick, having your money, or worse passport, stolen or a terrorist attack are some of a few examples that top most people’s list, but how about a travel companion? Yes, your travel buddy can turn your highly anticipated holiday into a regrettable, unfulfilling experience and leave you smarting long after you’ve returned home, especially if it was your idea to invite them. If you’re skeptical about how a wrong pairing can steal the magic from your magical getaway, this post will convince you otherwise.

The Cyborg: This individual cannot be separated from their hand-held device. They are a couple on an eternal honeymoon, interested more in each other than in you or anything else of interest happening around them. Your questions to them would most likely be answered with an ‘Em, what did you say?’ or silence. If breath-taking experiences are better shared, the Cyborg will leave you feeling you’ve embarked on a solo trip because they have no opinion, or worse recollection, of the Mount Hombori caves you both visited earlier. With eyes permanently glued to their screen, what do you expect?

The Photo-obsessed: While taking pictures to document sights, tastes and sounds of a foreign place is expected, it can easily devolve into a case of looking without seeing when overdone. If your friend spends precious minutes every day photographing every ant, artifact and animal in sight as if they’re on a National Geographic assignment, make no mistake they’re not fully present in the moment as you. So why bother with such a person? And if you’re busy being nice, taking perfect pictures of your friend for their 80th Instagram shot in the last 48 hours, when you’d rather be exploring the sand dunes of the Kalahari, then you’re in trouble. How much was that flight ticket to Namibia again? Meanwhile, somebody better tell Uche with the camera some memories exist better in the head.

The Gourmand: Animating the palate with foreign flavors is one of the most integral aspects of travelling. But if your companion loves to stuff their face every five minutes, their habit may interfere with your plans if you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to pay the transport fare to places of interest by yourself.

Case in point: Imagine your day tour of the Great Pyramid of Khufu is cut short because they’re hungry. And you guys ate a hearty meal, like what, two hours ago? Of course you want to object, but you swallow your anger. You swallow it whole even as it burns your throat, and acquiesce to your friend’s stomach because a solo ride back to the hotel will cost you more. Sated, you both decide to stroll through Khan el-Kahlili, and just as things are starting to get interesting, you hear a murmur, I’m hungry.

The Shopaholic: We all have that one friend who has a black belt in shopping. And if your idea of a good vacation is to shop till you drop, then by all means bring them along. But if you desire to soak in the local ambience, watch the fishermen in the soft glow of sunset cast their nets in the Indian Ocean, or stroll down the alleyways of Stone Town, then you’re in for a rude awakening. You will waste hours collecting material objects that are largely forgettable and whose novelty is sure to wear off, than saving relivable treasures.

Sunset in Zanzibar
Photo: Harvey Barrison
The Whiner: Among travel companions from hell, whiners take the biscuit. They are energy vampires who will suck the fun out of an adventure with their stream of complaints. ‘The hotel room is small.’ … ‘I’m tired of walking.’… ‘The shower isn’t powered.’ … ‘This chicken isn’t dry enough.’ … ‘I don’t like the weather.’ … ‘The air is drying my skin.’ …  ‘My feet are aching and so are my eyelashes.’ By the end of the first day, you’re drained by the whining, and all you want is for your five-day trip to Cote d’Ivoire to end so you can go home and rid yourself of the gadfly.

The Scaredy Cat: Scaredy cats don’t realize the inherent link between travel and risk. There’s the risk of getting lost, and the thrill of stumbling across a hidden historical gem barely touched by tourists along the way. There’s the risk of choking on roasted locusts and the pleasant surprise of discovering they gel with your palate. There’s the fear of being unable to communicate verbally or being misunderstood, yet the joy of sharing a laugh with the little boy who slowly threads your mangled Hausa before handing you the quantity of tiger nuts you requested.

Encountering uncertainties and seeking unknowns, but managing to enjoy every minute outside your comfort zone is the essence of travelling. Nothing is more uninspiring than studying a map so no wrong turns are taken or secluding oneself from the locals. Or sitting across the table from the Scaredy Cat, watching them eat only the same kind of food as you do back home.

One of the benefits of having an intrepid travel companion is that they can order an exotic dish. You can have a portion of their cachupa and they of your ndolé, and both of you get more bang for your buck.

Ndolé - Cameroon's National Dish
Photo: PRA

To be sure, the fear of contracting a stomach bug or upsetting a sensitive belly is a valid one. But that’s why you draw a line on certain foods. So, while drinking cow blood, eating live squid or fermented shark meat—oh, and anything that’s a primate or looks like a rat, even if it’s cooked—are off my list, I’m open to everything else... And if it doesn’t taste good, hey, it’s never that serious.