Some friendships work best in certain contexts: the friend you party with, the friend you walk your dog with, the friend you go to dinner with. It can feel particularly special when friendships work in any context. You might decide these friends are the ones you want to travel with, especially now, as festival line ups across the world are being announced and January payday might have instigated conversations around summer travel plans.
But many of us have learned the hard way, friendships that run like clockwork in regular life can take a turn for the worse on holiday. Comedian and actress Savannah Gracey, 23, created a character for a popular TikTok video that many would see as a holiday nightmare: wants to gym, won’t allow anyone to explore in the meantime, and gives the cold shoulder. We’re all laughing along, because we can relate to the comedy. Gracey tells Refinery29: “I’ve never been on a group holiday, but when I was 16 I went to Reading Festival and that was hard enough trying to keep tension low over four days. Of the friends that could afford to go away together, they always seem to have some major drama to share once they were back.” Thousands of people have been tagging their friends in the comments, reminiscing about a bad trip with a particular mate.
Approaching holidays with different goals in mind can be a source of conflict. Lily*, 28, from London had a terrible experience when travelling with a close friend. The cracks show from the start, as Lily had to “plan everything”, from the itinerary to the accommodation. Then Lily’s friend asked to borrow money as soon as they got to the airport. “I thought it was odd considering we had planned that trip for months and it was also her birthday so I presumed she would have some money saved.” The next blow was “realising how messy she was”, as Lily’s friend left the hotel room “a tip”. “I was very uncomfortable and by the end I felt like I didn’t know her at all,” she says.
@savannahgraceycomedy Sometimes you have to go on a holiday to really test the friendship 🤪 #girlsholiday #comedyskit #holidaymayhem #girlsholidayideas ♬ original sound – Savannah Gracey
Against the backdrop of high inflation and a cost of living crisis, the expense of a holiday can weigh heavily on a person’s mind. Liz Kelly, psychotherapist and author of This Book Is Cheaper Than Therapy, says that “going on holiday can be exciting and fun, but travelling involves unique stressors”. Changes in routine, expenses, navigating new time zones, transportation cancellations or delays, and disruptions to sleep schedules can test even the best of friends, she explains. “When we are stressed or exhausted, our emotional capacity to be patient with others is limited,” Kelly adds, so tolerance might be required.
Social media is also a currency on holidays, at least among those who hope to post dreamy photos afterwards – which, let’s face it, is a lot of us. For Lily, this is where she and her friend really clashed. “She got me to take pictures of her on her birthday for over an hour,” Lily adds. “She’s a micro-influencer so she was really upset at the images and wouldn’t let us leave the hotel until she had her ‘money shot’. I felt like we just have different ideas of what being on holiday means. I wanted to go to the museums, see cultural sights and I think she was more concerned with looking like we were having fun on holiday for the ‘gram.”
After the holiday, Lily and her former friend drifted until the friendship didn’t exist anymore. “I think carefully about who I travel with now. I did want to raise it with her, but I kept putting it off and then the moment passed.” Psychotherapist Caroline Plumer says the intensity of a holiday can reveal clashes between friends that normally aren’t so apparent. “We don’t generally spend 24 hours a day with our friends. Even if we live together, we might be focusing on work, spending some time alone, or going out to spend leisure time with other friends. On holiday, we often put ourselves under pressure to live in each other’s pockets and spend all our time together,” Plumer says. Perhaps we need to loosen those expectations and allow our friends moments of space when abroad to explore individual interests.
It gets tricky when people don’t want to do the same things. Rachel*, 36, from London went to Copenhagen with a university friend. “We had so much in common, so we thought a trip away for a weekend might be fun – it took me by complete surprise when it didn’t go that way,” she says. “We chose Copenhagen as we both wanted a foodie destination. Unfortunately for the three days, instead of eating the food that the city is famous for and its little known gems, we ended up going shopping to buy things for her new flat.” After trying to suggest they split up so that Rachel could explore the sights alone while her friend shopped, the friend said they needed to be together so she could get Rachel’s opinion on the new furniture she was buying. To rub salt into the wound, the friend later sent Rachel pictures of her newly decorated flat afterwards, oblivious to the annoyance caused, and “never paid for her share of the accommodation, saying she’d spent a fortune on the shopping”.
Heading out alone and travelling without compromise will be the answer for some. A survey by Solo Traveller found 40% of women who travelled without others in 2023 did so because they have different interests to their friends. Rachel has since made a list of places she wants to go back to Copenhagen for, and she says she’ll probably go alone.
How to heal a friendship after a holiday gone wrong
Rachel and Lily have both seen their friendships deteriorate since returning from their holidays. It’s okay to realise a particular friend isn’t right to travel with, and still maintain a friendship. Although it’s awkward, communication is the way forward says Plumer and Kelly. “Find a way to talk openly but kindly to your friend. Plan some of the things you love doing together and use those activities to get you back on track. If there has been a fundamental breakdown in trust, communication or respect, this may call for a deeper and potentially more difficult conversation,” Plumer says. It’s key to start sentences with “I” in these conversations, over “you did” as it takes away the element of accusation, leading to a calmer discussion. “Be open to hearing your friend’s side of the story and remember that you might both need processing time – you may not resolve things all in one sitting,” she adds.
Your friends don’t have to be everything to you all at once. Travelling might be where the line is for you.
How to travel peacefully with your friends
It’s uncomfortable, but both Plumer and Kelly recommend starting with an honest chat about money before anything is booked. “Address your budget and remember that if a friend earns a lot more or less, it might affect how the holiday will take shape,” Plumer says. “Sometimes those who have less money to splash than their friends, may feel embarrassed to admit it, and overstretch themselves in a bid to keep up. Both scenarios can cause a lot of added stress as well as a build–up of resentment.”
Then it’s vital to tackle expectations. Kelly recommends establishing realistic expectations. “Everyone handles being on holiday differently. You might fill your days with activities while your friend prefers to keep their schedule open and lounge by the pool,” she says. “Talk about what activities you want to do together and when you might spend time apart on the trip. You might also decide that this person isn’t someone that you chose to travel with after establishing differences. Not all your friends will make good travel companions, and that’s okay!”
If the friend you love going for coffee with goes about holidays very differently to you, maybe just stick to those coffee meetups – you know it’s always going to be an enjoyable time spent together, and no bridges will be burned.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
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