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Yes, yes it is.

Design Festa Performance © 2006, Juniper Stokes

Design Festa Performance © 2006, Juniper Stokes

Taken at Design Festa, a celebration of weird Japanese art held bi-anually in Odaiba, Tokyo.

For more: アートイベント デザインフェスタ | Art Event Design Festa.

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For this Photo Friday, I decided to take  trip back to New Zealand, where i spent about a month in 2008. New Zealand is a beautiful country (as most people probably know, given the number of movies filmed there). One part of the country I found to be especially beautiful was Doubtful Sound, a large fjord in the far South. I toured the area by boat, and we were blessed with abundant rainbows.

Somehow, all seems right in the world when a rainbow graces a landscape like this. And when it happens twice on the same trip, well . . . .

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

A scenic view of the sound

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

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I took this photo at the Día de los Locos (literally “Day of the Crazies”) festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Día de los Locos takes place in mid-June, when people from various neighborhoods parade through the streets wearing all sorts of elaborately crafted costumes. They parade from the Church of San Antonio to El Jardín, the central square. Some ride old, decorated trucks, while others dance-walk the entire route. Small children line the streets awaiting the Mexican candies that will be tossed to them, and nearly everyone wears a mask.

Luchadores Locos © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Luchadores Locos © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Mexican wrestlers in suites=classy.

Another especially luminous luchador . . . no so classy . . .

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

A bit of a tribute to Asia

 © 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

And some very crazy shoes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

Vendors carrying massive amounts of balloons and cotton candy

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

Evidently it’s a cross-cultural phenomenon that anytime men need costumes, they will cross-dress.

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

Happily awaiting candy

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

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Life has been a bit hectic lately, and I haven’t been able to post nearly as often as I would like to. I’m working on a few longer posts that should be finished soon, but for now, I at least wanted to add another “Photo Friday” . . . even if it is Sunday. Maybe I need to rethink that category name . . . .

Anyway, with life’s rapid pace and winter on its way, this photo of an idyllic summer picnic caught my attention. I took this photo back in 2006 while wandering through the open spaces behind Meiji Shrine in the Yoyogi/Harajuku area of Tokyo. It never ceases to amaze me that in Tokyo you can be struggling through a crowd of tourists and anime-esque teenagers one minute, only to find yourself in a park like this the next. Tokyo truly is an amazing city.

A Perfect Picnic © 2006, Juniper Stokes

A Perfect Picnic © 2006, Juniper Stokes

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Happy photo friday! You’ve heard the rumors, and they’re true: Tokyo is crazy-crowded. Here is a shot of Shibuya Crossing . . . on a quiet afternoon.

Shibuya Crossing © 2006, Juniper Stokes

During my first three months living in Tokyo, knowing I would have to face crowds like this was often enough to prevent me from venturing outside my apartment. By the time I left, this was nothing, and I can still “crowd walk” like a pro. It’s amazing what we can get used to as humans.

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As I discussed in Travel Buddies Part 1, traveling with a buddy can be a wonderful way to travel. But you really need to have the right travel partner. Your travel partner is someone you will be spending a lot of time with, as well as enduring many unnaturally stressful events with, all potentially exacerbated by culture shock and new environments. The person you are with during your travels will greatly influence your trip for better or worse, so it’s important to end up with the right travel buddy for you. A bit of awareness, about both yourself and your potential travel partner, will go a long way toward making your trip (and your relationship) a success.

To help you decide if you and your potential travel buddy are good match, I’ve created a list of my top 10 areas for both of you to consider. I highly recommend that you examine each of these areas before jumping into any new travel relationship.

1. Comfort Level

What’s your comfort level? Do you prefer luxury, or do you like to rough it? Or are you somewhere in the middle? For me, location, cleanliness, and safety are my comfort priorities. I like to spend as little as possible without sacrificing these basic needs. Still, I’m more than willing to splurge on a bit of luxury now and then. I like to discuss this with potential travel buddies early on in the planning process. If a luxury splurge is on the menu, I find it’s best for both parties to agree to it in advance.

2. Budget

Related to comfort level, budget issues are perhaps the biggest challenge travel partners encounter. To start with, it’s just not possible for some people to pay for certain comfort/convenience levels, no matter how much they would like to upgrade their travel styles. No amount of negotiation is going to make more money appear. On the other hand, many travelers seem to believe that traveling is some sort of a budget game–their goal is to do as much as possible for the least amount of money possible, and if you’re not interested in playing this game, this style of travel will drive you insane. (I would much rather pay $10 for a taxi than walk for an hour in 100 degree weather . . . not everyone agrees!)

Working out budget issues ahead of time is key–you both need to know not only your total budget, but also your budgetary priorities. You don’t want to feel like you have to miss out on an experience because your partner doesn’t want to pay for it. And if one partner wants to spend more on accommodation and other more on experiences, there might be uncomfortable conflicts if agreements aren’t worked out in advance.

3. Goals

Why are you taking this trip? Do you want to do a lot of sightseeing? If so, what type? Do you want to focus on learning something, such as a language, how to make local cuisine, or more about the history of the country you’re visiting? Or are you more interested in nature, ecotourism, or adding more animal sightings to your life list? Some people want to do as much as possible in a well-planned, action-packed trip, while others will be more interested in relaxing on a beach and enjoying cocktails and spa treatments. Or for some, travel is part of their spiritual practice, and travel priorities may involve deepening a practice through retreat. If you’re anything like me, you are open to a combination of these activities. Clarifying how much time you’d like to spend on each goal, and how much both of you are willing to compromise on these activities is key!

Conflicting travel goals is one of the most important areas to reflect on ahead of time, and probably the number 2 area (after budget) for distress between travel partners. One person wants to go, go, go and make the most of the travel destination, while the other needs time to not do anything but relaxing and soak up the vibes of the place. This doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, so long as both partners are willing to compromise. Set aside part of the trip for active tourism and part for relaxation, and stick to the plan.

4. Food

How often do you like/need to eat, and how much? Do you prefer street food, or do you live for high-end dining experiences in different countries?  Do you count on splitting meals for the sake of your budget or for tasting a variety of dishes? Or do you like to order what you want and know it’s all yours? What about dietary needs? If you’re vegetarian and your buddy wants to eat every animal the country offers, you need to know ahead of time if this is something you’re okay with. Try to eat out a few times with your travel buddy before the trip begins–then multiply that meal times 20. Can you handle it?

5. Activity/Fitness Levels

You need to be honest about your activity levels before committing to a trip with any travel partner. Most travel involves a lot of walking at the most basic level, and sometimes simply mismatched walking speeds can drive travel partners crazy. And this isn’t even touching on differences in hiking styles or interests in extreme sports. Checking in with how active you’d both like to be before the trip begins is another helpful aspect of a healthy travel partnership.

6. Planning and Organization

This can be another make it or break it area to question. Many travelers like to leave themselves with maximum flexibility and see what the trip brings. Amazing experiences are allowed to sneak into your trip when there is extra room for them, and a bit of flexibility can lead to some great last-minute deals. However, too little planning can leave you stranded and needing to spend even more money, or can make you miss out on important experiences because of timing, crowds, or other unforeseen circumstances. If you’re the free spirit, your parter’s need to plan ahead may drive you crazy. But if you’re the planner, there’s a good chance you’ll feel the burden of the travel workload on your shoulders. In reality, a combination of these preferences can work well, provided that both people enter the relationship with open eyes.

7. Photography

It might seem a bit strange to see “photography” as its own section here, but I swear, picture-taking can be a huge issue when you travel with other people! People who like to take pictures often really like to take pictures. If you are on a hike together, be prepared to stop and wait and stop and wait and stop and wait while your buddy gets the perfect shot. Ideally, both of you will have the same photographic needs, but if not, the one who takes less pictures needs to prepare to be patient, and the photographer might want to have some awareness of the other person’s time expenditures.

The other issue with photography relates to taking pictures of each other. In the age of Facebook, great travel photos can be a must. And you want to prove you were actually at the location, right? If you are the photographer and constantly taking pictures of landscapes, of your friend, and of landscapes that your friend happens to be in, you’ll probably be pretty disappointed when you go through your photos and count one . . . two . . . only three photos of yourself!? Of course, you also don’t want to have your travel buddy constantly interrupting you to take his or her photo again and again until the shot is profile-worthy. I’ve been on both sides of this coin, and neither one is fun. Try to be fair.

8. Competitiveness vs. Cooperation

This is an area I never would have thought would be an issue before I experienced it myself. I’m a natural cooperator, and I find that this is one area where I really need my partner to be on the same page. For example, if I get first choice bed at one location, my partner gets first choice the next time. If my partner has the window seat on one bus ride, I get it the next time. It still shocks me, but not everyone thinks this way. I’ve had travel partners who would rush ahead of me into every hotel room in order to grab the prime bed, would naturally end up stepping onto every bus ahead of me and therefore with the window seat. This area relates to choices, too. One person chooses the restaurant the first night, the other chooses where to eat next time. At the least, a discussion takes place. If you’re both naturally competitive and like to make a game out of getting what you want, then the trip might work out. If only one person is the taker, however, the trip is destined for disaster. I believe cooperation is key and simply can’t travel with people who have no interest in fairness. The important thing is that I know this about myself, so I can clarify this issue with partners before conflicts arise.

9. Togetherness vs. Solo Time

If you set off to travel with a partner, do you expect to do everything together, compromising and communicating as necessary in order to make sure both of you have a positive, joint experience? Or do you have travel priorities that go beyond what your partner can accommodate? Are you willing to spend a day (or more) doing different activities, or would this symbolize a breakdown in the relationship to you? This is a hugely important area to consider before taking off with a partner. In my experience, communication is key. If you know you need alone time, communicate this openly and honestly to your travel partner. Let your partner know that you  simply want time to yourself.  And if you prefer doing everything together, it’s important to accept that your partner might not feel the same, and that it has nothing to do with you personally. If you feel like you would be lost if your partner takes off without you, this is something to discuss before you ever take off together. Again, communication is key here!

10. A Sense of Humor

You could have the perfectly meshed partner in all of the above areas–you have the same budget, eat the same food, and both want to do the same activities. But if you can’t laugh together, what’s the point? This is soooo key. Laughter is the magic ingredient for any successful trip. No matter how difficult the situation, or even the day, if you can go back to your hotel room, open a bottle of wine (of course), and laugh at life and each other and yourselves, then all is right with your travel world.

***

When reflecting on all of these areas, perhaps the most important thing is to know how important each category is for you, and how much you can compromise. Maybe the food category won’t make a big impact on your ability to enjoy the trip, but you need to know that your partner wants to spend the entire time together. Or, maybe you’re a complete foodie and having someone to split fancy meals with is a must. The important thing is to be aware of where you’re willing and able to compromise, and where you simply can’t. It’s okay if you have travel deal breakers, just acknowledge and accept them.

It’s also important to talk to your partner openly and honestly about these topics. What are your partners’ priorities? What can they compromise on, and what are their deal breakers? You both need to know what you’re getting into. And it’s important not to force a partnership that has too many differences and red flags from the beginning. If there are serious differences in your travel styles, you might both be better off doing solo trips than forcing something that just doesn’t want to happen.

Again, in all cases, communication is key. Add a bit of flexibility, acceptance, and cooperation to the mix, and you’ll find yourself reaping the rewards of partner travel. Enjoy your travel buddies!

I’d love to hear from all of you about your experiences with travel buddies. Have you had a good one, or one that broke a friendship? Please share!

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I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica and covered ground in 39 countries. I did much of this travel solo, joined some tour groups in a few locations, and met up with groups of friends for other trips. I could go into the pros and cons of all these types of travel, but for now, I want to focus on one specific type of trip–that done with a “travel buddy”.

Solo travel offers freedom and independence, and it has been widely romanticized in travel literature. There are countless articles and guides expounding the benefits of traveling alone. And while solo travel truly is wonderful and should probably be on all travelers’ bucket lists, I don’t think we should overlook the perks of traveling with a partner. I’ll admit it, traveling with a partner can totally suck. But a bit of awareness in choosing the right person to travel with can lead to a wonderful travel partnership.

In Part 1 of my article on travel buddies, I’ll discuss the often overlooked benefits of traveling with a friend. In Part 2, I’ll go into more detail about how to make sure you end up with the right travel buddy for you.

The Perks of Travel Buddies

Cost

Traveling costs money. No, you shouldn’t let financial concerns alone stop you from traveling, but in most places, gone are the days of living on $10 a day and the kindness of strangers. So buddy up. Split some costs and extend your adventures!

Sharing a room with a friend is almost always cheaper than doing it on your own. I’m at the point now where I want to stay in hotels and private rooms rather than hostels (I paid my hosteling dues and them some in my early twenties), and often the cost of a room is the same whether one or two people stay there. Even if you do prefer hostel travel, sharing a private room with a friend is often only slightly more expensive than both of you paying for beds in a larger room. You’ll still have the social benefits offered by common areas, yet you’ll also have the security of being able to lock your own door while you’re out.

Beyond accommodation expenses, it’s also great to be able to split the cost of renting vehicles. While I tend to go with public transportation whenever possible, there are certain places where renting a vehicle opens up a new world of freedom and possibility. In Greece, for example, my travel buddy and I rented the cutest little yellow car on the island of Ikaria (the only public transportation on this island was the school bus–I guess that could have been interesting . . .). By renting our car together, we were able to drive to hidden beaches and ancient ruins that we never would have had access to otherwise.

our little yellow car, the only automatic on the island © 2012, Juniper Stokes

I also recently returned from South America, where two friends and I rented a car for a three-week road trip through Chilean Patagonia–no way could I have afforded a trip like that without sharing the cost. Not to mention, I’m a much better navigator than driver :)

you can’t get a shot like this without your own vehicle © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Often a big part of traveling is needing to eat meals in restaurants. This can add up quickly. Sometimes portion sizes are big enough to feed more than one person.  At other times, too many things on the menu look too delicious to choose just one. In both cases, a buddy helps. Splitting meals cuts costs, and being able to taste a variety of dishes is an integral part of travel. And even if you go to the store to buy and prepare food yourself, you’ll save money doing so with a partner.

Argentine parilla is much better split between two–salad, proveleta (grilled provolone deliciousness), and assorted grilled veggies © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Safety and Health

Safety is another huge benefit of traveling with a partner. When you’re out at night, having a buddy to walk or even cab home with can be crucial. Also, as a young, blond, smallish, American woman, I feel much more comfortable having a companion with me in many parts of the world. I have a feeling Egypt would have been a very different trip if I wouldn’t have had a great guy to travel with.

Best photo-bomb ever, plus a fantastic travel partner (thanks Russell)! 

And on any trip, weird, difficult things happen. Your credit card might suddenly stop working (and, as I’ve learned from experience, if you don’t tell the bank that your plans have changed and you’ve added another country to the list, the card really will stop working), or worse, your important documents could get lost or stolen. In these cases, a trusted friend to help out is invaluable.

I also have made expeditions to pharmacies for friends in need, and have sent buddies out for supplies when local bacteria decided to take over my body, as well. Traveling in so many different countries has given me a pretty strong stomach, but on my last trip to Indonesia, something in the Gili Islands made me ridiculously ill. Nothing would stay in my body, and I would have become dangerously dehydrated if my wonderful travel buddy wouldn’t have trekked out to buy sports drinks and crackers for me.

Gili island fun before the amazing Hanni brought me life-saving hydration

Skill Sets

Another great perk to traveling with a partner is taking advantage of differing skill sets. I don’t relish the idea of driving in other countries, but I’m an excellent navigator in a car. But I’m a terrible navigator by foot–I always think I’m following the map perfectly, only to look up and have no idea where I am 10 minutes later. My travel partners who have been willing to take the wheel and get me from place to place with minimum distress have been huge assets on my trips.

For my part, I am crazy-organized. There have been times when my less organized partner has introduced me to new adventures and possibilities that I would have missed out on otherwise, but an equal number of times where my organization and preparation have saved our booties. I’m also great at communicating with non-native English speakers, probably from years of teaching English as a foreign language. While I may need my braver friend to be the one to initiate a conversation, I will always be the one to see where communication breakdowns are happening, and what type of linguistic strategies are needed to restore clarity in communication.

I know my strengths and weaknesses as a traveler, and I am forever indebted to those buddies who have balanced out my traveling skill sets.

enjoying a private Vietnamese boat ride with Kay and Lea–each of us definitely contributed something different

Companionship

Companionship is also an obvious yet often overlooked benefit to traveling with a partner. There is something to be said for being able to share new experiences with an old friend. As amazing as an experience in a foreign country may be, sharing it only with your travel journal isn’t quite the same as sharing it with another human being. You will always have that time together, and your relationship with always be at least slightly enriched by your new shared experiences.

Also, as any experienced traveler knows, sometimes traveling is just hard. You miss your train. A local treats you like sh*t and you don’t know what you did to deserve it. You get lost . . . for hours. You end up in a hotel room that looks like a murder scene, and you’re pretty sure the guy at the front desk is responsible.

Or, you find yourself in one of those many difficult situations that can only be resolved by spending half of your travel budget. (Like trying to save money by spending the night in the most uncomfortable airport ever, only to realize the next morning that you’re at the wrong airport, only to realize that busses aren’t running because of the snow storm, only to realize that this will make you miss your flight, and then to realize that you’ll have to pay a million dollars on a taxi and new flight  . . . and yes, this did happen to me during one of my first trips overseas.)

These things happen. And you know what makes them easier to handle? A friend. Going through difficult situations together offers you both the chance to be each other’s strength, to take turns shouldering the pain and lightening the mood. And just as with positive experiences, negative experiences also give you shared memories that I have found tend to evolve into comedies with time. It is much easier to laugh about taking a train for eight hours in the wrong direction with a friend than by yourself!

Greece might have been one of my favorite trips, but only because my travel buddy Katrina made the tough times easier 
*twin outfits were totally accidental*

You’ll Still Meet New People!

One of the most common responses I hear to the travel with a buddy or travel alone question is, “But you meet so many more people when you travel solo!” This is simply not true. The only way you’re going to not meet people while traveling is if you really just don’t want to meet people. In fact, I tend to meet more people when I travel with a partner than when I travel solo. We can take turns being the friendly one who initiates conversations, and since we still tend to meet people individually, we end up having twice as many new connections as when traveling solo. Also, it’s often easier to befriend other people who are already traveling together when both parties are groups of people, rather than individuals. Of course you will meet people traveling on your own, too, but really, it’s just as easy, if not easier, with a buddy.

friends are fun for stateside trips, too . . . in Washington State’s Hoh Rainforest, with Ginger and Katrina (photo credit)

There are many perks to traveling with a buddy. But, it really does need to be the right buddy. Ending up with a travel partner that you don’t quite mesh with can absolutely ruin an otherwise wonderful trip. So how do you find the right travel partner? Read Travel Buddies Part 2!!!

By the way, I’d love to hear your feedback about this subject. What types of experiences have you had with travel buddies? Good and bad! Please share! Do you enjoy traveling with a buddy or prefer solo travel? I’d love to hear from you.

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