Traveling with Friends: You better have Balls of Steel!
It’s been a while since my last trip took place but fortunately, I’m back on track and with some great company around! We’re a group of 8 male friends, all of us with busy lives who have been wondering about traveling together for some time. This is something we really wanted to do but girlfriends, work, money and other complicated life stuff have postponed it. Well… I guess until now!
Considering that one of us is currently living in London, “why don’t we go there for a visit? 5 days. Who’s in?” 5 out of 7. On the one hand, quite a good score right? On the other hand, traveling with such a big number of friends could easily become a mess. So, everything needed to be carefully planned so as to avoid last-minute surprises. But guys, let’s be frank: that rarely happens.
KARSTENGATE: A MYSTERY TO UNCOVER
Supposedly, we’d get free accommodation from a friend of a friend who owns a flat in London. Karsten is the guy: “We’re not going to London in August, would you like the key to our place in Notting Hill? We have 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms.” Hell yeah!! We were all imagining ourselves living like fucking kings of England. Some were already talking about arranging big parties, champagne, and all the crazy things you can think of. To make it even better,
“London is fully taken care of you, a friend of ours is going into the place this weekend to stock up the wine shelf, make the beds, put out shower gels, body lotions, toothpaste, etc. You’ll be able to show your friends a five-star experience, I promise!”
Karsten told us. “Oh boy… It’s gonna be awesome!” With the flights booked and accommodation set, everyone turns attention to London’s touristic attractions. One says “I’d like to go to Churchill War Rooms”. Other goes like “I need to trade some money at Camen Town”. “What about pubs?” Anyway, expectations were high and nothing could go wrong. As one of us mentioned, “guys, this needs to be well-planned. Are we all going on the same flight? Where are we heading afterward?”
Existential questions start to arise and, as you probably know, answering them on a WhatsApp group is quite a challenging task.
Everyone starts to swear, say bullshit, share non-sense memes, emoji’s and so the mess is in place: check-in; rides to the airport; stuff to do in London; and every other topic. A handful of days before getting to London, “Karsten only arrives in Portugal this week due to unforeseen circumstances… We’ve been talking to each other by email and he ensures that he’ll arrive on time to give me the keys.” Then, the most introspective of us all comes up with the following thought:
“How likely is Karsten unable to give us shelter and so we become homeless? Ehehe”
“Lololol loved this comment,” another said. Do you guess what happened next? Karsten stopped replying and was no longer reachable. The group hadn’t arrived in London yet and the party had already started via smartphone:
“I’m having doubts about this thing but I’m talking to other people.”
“I’m gonna pass in front of his house after work. Will I see dead people there?”
“I believe Karsten’s courtesy wasn’t in vain…”
“I don’t care… Our destiny is in the hands of God. Let Him decide.”
“I’m already checking bridges and shelters in case Karsten fails.”
“In the extreme case, we go to the Portuguese Embassy and ask for asylum.”
“If Karsten fails my parents will make fun of me.”
“No worries. 20 guys sleeping in my bed is fine.”
“At school, I also had those friends who lied as far as they could for others to believe in their stories. Is Karsten like this?”
“This is something that can change our lives. Disbelief in the goodness of men exposes us to dangers.”
“£3,000 mini Cooper. Sounds good?”
“I’m getting nervous. I don’t wanna sleep with you.”
“Any news from Karsten? Nothing… Shit!”
This is certainly a case for the Interpol to investigate! I guess you can have an idea of our mood. The good thing is that the Portuguese always end up finding a way out! One day before departure, we had no option but to rent an apartment. Bye bye kings of the castle! Hello karstengate.
HI LONDON: GOOD TO SEE YOU!
As you may agree, traveling with friends requires a diverse set of skills, including a great deal of tolerance and patience. Our flight was scheduled for 6:40am and with the check-in done, arriving around 5–5:30am would work out perfectly. Yet, thrilling adventures were awaiting us one more time. In fact, they returned to the bosom of our group on the way to the airport.
The moment I was about to arrive there my phone rings and, still half asleep, I answer the call. “Tomás, where are you?”
“Shit…” I had forgotten to pick up one of them.
“I’m so sorry my friend! Is there any way for you to get here?” I felt really bad about this… How many of you would freak out before my momentary amnesia? He not only did not as we laughed about it as soon as we met. Chapeau to him!
Furthermore, the remaining 4 who were supposed to join me on the plane hadn’t given an account of themselves and my phone had died by then. As I am getting through the gate, I look behind and don’t see anyone coming… 6:20am. “Jesus where are they?” Seated on my place I finally see them arriving super chill as if nothing had happened. “There you are!” After all, the 5 of us were all set and ready to go.
2 hours and a half later, we’re at the Gatwick airport trying to find the right train to the city centre. Texting with our expatriated friend, he recommends over and over that we purchase the famous Oyster card and then head to the Thameslink area. But guess what? Shit happens again.
We go into an empty train and after a couple of stops, “guys we’re moving away from the centre!” After multiple “fucks”, we leave at Three Bridges’ station in the middle of nowhere and the jokes come back stronger than ever: “this is exactly as I imagined! We can go back home, it’s enough” or “if we die here we’re gonna appear on TV news as the Portuguese golden generation who missed a brilliant future.” Tragedies aside, our emigrant asks “where are you guys? Berlin?” “Yes, but on our way to London Bridge.”
FRIENDS ON A TRIP: ALL ONE OF A KIND
In theory, you’d expect me to sum up our 5-day trip to London by telling you how amazing the British capital is; what to do there; the best places to go and where to eat. Nevertheless, I believe you find better travel guides out there alongside the fact that you’ve probably been in the city already so it’s better to skip that useless part anyway. What I’m really keen on sharing with you is the friendship dynamics between 6 guys who turn out to be as different as they’re equal.
More than that, I want to convey to you some of the important learnings one can take from traveling with friends and dealing with its inherent challenges.
As you may have noticed, the above-mentioned examples highlight this exact point: going on a trip with friends isn’t a bed of roses for those who decide to do it. At the same time, it’s a fucking awesome experience that I’m sure you’ve been through somewhere in your life.
Given this background, let’s get our hands dirty next to the 6 travel buddies. I say dirty because it’s almost impossible not to hear a swear whenever we talk to each other! Easy and affectionate insults are indeed unifying elements of our enduring relationship. Guys being guys, right? That explains a lot.
Another thing to bear in mind is the loud noise we make wherever we are: street, restaurant, car, metro, bus, train… Every place is ideal to let other people stare at us with a condemning look before such a lack of good manners. But do you know what? I don’t think anyone of us gives a damn honestly. That doesn’t mean we don’t respect whoever is around us though. Just for the record, our parents did a great job and some of them have witnessed us grow up over the years.
Despite knowing some better than others, we’re all quite comfortable with showing genuine bonds of affection as much as sharing our deepest states of mind between the 6 (and 8) of us.
Now try to imagine us together 24/7 for 5 days in a row in a new country. Looks promising? Sure it does! First of all, it’s worthwhile mentioning that we are all smart guys so we understand each other’s personality and way of behaving quite accurately. Back to my entrepreneurship classes, we used to apply the “persona” tool in order to describe the different consumer segments of a business. In regard to the 6 travel buddies, the same can also be done!
There’s the easy-going shopping lover who’s knowledgeable of different product categories and who always strives for finding a good bargain.
There’s the intellectual, introspective guy who’s into art and culture of almost any kind as long as it feeds his mind and soul.
There’s the bon vivant who enjoys the best things life has to offer, setting up the tone of nearly every conversation.
There’s the down-to-earth “father” of us all who tries to have everything under control just like in the good old days.
There’s the frenetic critical-thinker who says “yes” to all crazy ideas without any fear of the consequences that may arise.
And there’s me: the storyteller who puts all the friendship pieces together into a cohesive, compelling narrative for many years to come.
FIGHTING FOR LOVE: THAT’S HOW WE FRIENDS ROLL
Now that you have a good grasp of who we are and what makes us unique, it’s time to get down to London’s business. So where should I start… Perhaps by the place we called home during our stay: the second floor of a building located in the creative, hipster neighbourhood of Brick Lane. The difficulty we had in getting its keys in our first day is very well illustrated by the European Union flag hung on top of our 2 windows (sorry, Brexit joke).
“Do we have to pay what? Are you crazy? Hold on, listen to me. You can’t ask that!” Apparently, the flat’s owner didn’t get all the money so he wanted us to give him the credit card numbers by phone. If not, bye bye again! “Ok, tonight we’re gonna sleep on the street” one joked. Fortunately, everything worked out fine and everyone’s luggage was in the right place. “Hurry up guys! We’re going downstairs!
I’m sure most of us believe that the best way to get to know a city is simply by walking. Therefore, this was exactly what we did although one of us would prefer to stay seated all day long. Metro, bus, or train: you choose! As long as he can rest comfortably. With this in mind, he was more than happy to go to the Borough Market as our first stop! Seat, eat, coffee and cigarette. What else could he ask for? One of the most epic sentences of this trip was:
“I was not made to walk but to eat!”
The guy tried hard… When passing by “Baker Street” metro station, “isn’t this cultural? Of course it is!” In spite of his effort, we walked 23.4kms just in the first day. And the pace wouldn’t stop so soon.
From Shoreditch (chorizo for us), Convent Garden and Westminster, the more we walk the more we argue: “but where are we going after all? That’s too far! Let’s catch a bus… What the hell are you talking about?” Not long after, random stuff starts to get in the way: “why aren’t there any bins in this city? I need to go to the bank! You and I talk in bed tonight…” Add the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ and welcome to our lives.
Savage men walking in the streets of London singing “Mafiosa” and criticizing everything and everyone.
In particular, the metro turned out to be the worst of all. Imagine this pigsty in opposite to British people’s politeness, order, and quietness. Some of them must have been in total shock! As one of us said, “our luck is that they think we’re Romanians.” We thus get to a point where we just say “please shut up! Can’t hear you anymore.”
Moreover, the long distance walks over the first few days were making us tired so we decided to take public transportation more often. When we all thought the “lazy” friend would be over the moon, he goes like “ah! Now you want to go by bus… Bastards! You know what? I feel like walking today.” Remember tolerance and patience? An extra dose for me urgently.
Tell me the following: when you’re traveling with your friends, how long does it take for you to decide where to eat? 1h, 2h? If there’s one thing the 6 of us agree is that the meal time is extremely important. Besides stretching our legs, we really enjoy eating and preferably a lot. Does this make our life easier? Not at all. We have different tastes, wallets, and moods like any human being. As a result, you can’t please everyone and a consensus needed to be reached.
For instance, I’m more into healthy stuff so I’d avoid fast food as much as I could. In turn, we had those who loved greasy chicken wings with fries and mayonnaise sauce. To make things spicier, our bus/metro lover is a man of traditions. For this reason, “I want to eat a bitoque!” Portuguese big steak accompanied by fries, rice and a fried egg on top.
One day, we decided to give democracy a chance. “You can choose where we’re going to have lunch.” He kept silent and smiley while following Google Maps’ directions. Again, bad luck! Every McDonalds we crossed was totally full. He still got a big burger though. Given his peculiarities, we couldn’t stop teasing the guy: “c’mon, you need to open yourself to the world!”
Guess what: we ate British, American, Italian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican and Greek. “He’s a new man! As soon as we arrive in Lisbon, the first thing he’ll try is Ethiopian food.”
Furthermore, no one wanted dessert until one of us decided he wanted. “Hum… Therefore let’s order this, this, and this.” 6 spoons from the table to the mouth and vice-versa. The only difference between us and cavemen is that we were dressed and used cutlery. Yet, we behaved like real gentlemen when having dinner with a female friend of mine living in London.
After dinner, we tried to diversify our nightlife agenda around Soho, Chinatown or Shoreditch: casino, disco, blues pub, upscale bar… It was a moment to unwind and contemplate the beauties of the city of London. But contrary to what you might think, these 6 friends were far from party animals. In the words of one of us,
“We came here not to have fun but to visit our friend.” The general answer to this was a weird sound like “eh! eh!”
The truth is that as soon as we arrived home the party was not over. First, we used to get into a “fight” because there were only 3 chargers for more than 5 phones and everyone’s was run out of battery. Since most of us wanted to post cool pics on Instagram the day after, arguments were ready to be fired: “I brought mine from home!”; “we bought these 2 here!”; “irresponsible!”; “which phone is this?”; “always the same shit!”
Minutes later, lights turned off and windows closed. “Hihihihihi” one of us shouted. Predictable as we are, the laughter multiplies one after the other. “Do you want to me to go there or Karsten instead?” Then someone farts and the smell is just unbearable. “Are you rotten or what?” In addition, we talked a lot about sex (mostly in a funny way).
Besides feeling ok with nudity among each other, the sexual tension would arise whenever we promised to do everything to everyone without ever leaving our bed corner. Here, whenever means all the time. Better avoid getting into greater detail.
TRAVELING: SURROUND YOURSELF BY GOOD FRIENDS
Hard times these ones! Unfortunately, one of us had to leave a couple of days earlier. Back to Lisbon, his first questions were:
“Are those pigs still sleeping? Did they leave you alone?”
“Are you guys taking 2h to make a decision?”
“Did the group break and fall apart?”
And the answer was:
“We don’t understand each other and where to go. We’re arguing in the street, everyone is screaming. Eh!”
By this time you’re probably thinking that we are enemies more than anything else. In reality, I’ve been hiding the other side of the story. The 5 days living in London allowed us to get to know ourselves better and learn from each other at an intense pace.
Whenever one travels with (or without) friends, there’s this magic thing of creating your own social dynamics that give shape and support to the in-group interaction. Along the process, there are several variables which have an impact on how these relationships come together: values, beliefs, motivations, personality as well as social class, culture, or previous experiences.
Accordingly, the 6 of us are chameleonic enough to play different roles without putting in danger the bonds of friendship uniting us. In this regard, our playfield is the same. Being with someone 24/7 has nothing to do with grabbing a coffee or having dinner. It involves dealing with a huge number of challenges that, in London, were overcome with flying colours.
It’s all about people and showing them what you’d like to receive:
Mutual respect, understanding, tolerance, patience, compassion and a huge deal of flexibility so as to make concessions in your own will.
Sometimes it’s a matter of paying attention to small details… If someone is left behind, we wait until he’s with us again. If our legs hurt, we give a hug and share the pain altogether. If someone wants to visit a particular spot, we make the effort to include it in our daily plan.
Having said that, it was way more than joking around. We saw and talked about serious stuff. There was a lot of poverty in the streets, especially at night. Homeless all over the place; people shaking and drugging themselves on the sidewalk; someone being punched hard and end up falling to the ground in a snap. Whether in small groups or all together, we discussed social reintegration politics, the efficiency of public transportation, along with our own personal lives.
I remember us chilling in our living room at late hours. It was our last night in London and there we were: sharing our doubts, plans, and expectations for the future with a cup of hot coffee in our hands.
That felt good … Like we were at home.
If you’re surrounded by good friends, it’s like Bob Marley sings: everything will be alright. It doesn’t matter if we go by foot, metro, bus, train or airplane. The friendship journey will always keep us on track of each other. Because friends are the family we choose:
Afonso | Alexandre | André | Francisco | Miguel | Tomás | Diogo | Frederico
I’m looking forward to traveling again with these guys with balls of steel. By the way, does anyone know where Karsten is?