We’ve all been there. One minute you’re lying back, finally beginning that summer read. The next you’re lost in a Greek hospital, broken flip-flop in one hand and dead phone in the other, wondering why your best mate thought it would be funny to try and jump into the pool from the hotel balcony.
Travelling with friends isn’t always the 24-hour fun-fest that you’ve envisaged. One of my friends told me about a group trip to Barcelona which cemented the death of her friendship with another girl. “It started when she threw a strop when, sans lift, we’d had to carry our suitcase up to our apartment. Things crumbled completely when she pulled our shower from the wall and refused to pay any of the €300 damage deposit.’ At the end of the week, they took separate cabs back to the airport and never spoke again.
It’s not exactly the dream. But how do you avoid it; enjoy travelling and keep your friendships intact? I spoke to Salma Shah, a psychologist and life coach, and Hilda Burke, a psychotherapist from West London, to get advice on how to keep your shit together.
Why do friendships often breakdown on holiday, even between close friends?
Salma: No matter how close a friend is in real life we only see a snapshot of the ‘real’ them. We all have personal rituals and daily habits around what we like to do when we wake up, go to bed, getting ready to go out, eating habits. One of the reasons friendships break down is that in real life the majority of these rituals are hidden from even close friends. On holiday when we have high expectations of a great time being these rituals can start to grate.
Seeing someone intensely day in day out can be very claustrophobic and even worse if you’ve decided to share a room to save costs. If one of you is introverted and the other extroverted this may be ok in real life but on holiday the introverted friend would feel overwhelmed by intensity of having no down time while the extrovert friend would start feeling lonely if the introvert friend needed lots of quiet time.
Hilda: Most of us, on holiday, let down our guard, we just let ourselves be and if a ‘close friend’ hasn’t lived with us they may not be aware or our little habits, idiosyncrasies that lie just beneath the surface. The other issue is that you may not give each other enough space, particularly if you’re close or even ‘best’ friends. You don’t think you need time apart. You do though, even on holiday.
What are the most common reasons for a friendship breakdown on holiday?
Salma: Mostly because of expectations of what we want from the holiday – eating, partying, having a fling, drinking habits. Our personal holiday rules could be different to how we behave in real life. Sometimes we may cover up or be wearing a mask about how we feel about our lives. So someone who is always happy go lucky in real life on the odd night out, on holiday they can’t keep up the happy act and you may find yourself with someone who when you get close feeling a bit down.
Hilda: You have different agendas and neither is prepared to compromise. Where issues can occur is if one ‘goes along’ with the other’s wishes yet feels resentful. This will inevitably come out later in a fight or fester throughout the holiday.
Have you ever had any personal experience of friendship breakdown on holiday? How did you recover from it?
Salma: Oh yeah. In my 20s I had a friend who was great company on a night out and I had known her nearly all my life so when we spontaneously decided to go for a week away to Bejing, it was a no brainer. To my horror I realised that she was very obsessive about food and weight. She would wake up at five every morning and head for the gym.
The first few days after each meal she was obsessed with walking off the calories. This wasn’t sightseeing walking but obsessive marching. After the first two days she wanted to spend all her time in the hotel gym rather than venturing out. In fact I spent most of the time on my own with a tour guide which was great but strange. As I returned from sightseeing the atmosphere was very frosty and she wanted to be asleep by 9pm to be up again by 5am.
We hardly spoke on the flight home. The friendship did recover after a healthy distance but changed forever as we both realised were not that similar.
What are the golden rules to prevent friendship breakdown on holiday?
Salma: Take a small break first, like a weekend to see how that works out. Don’t go on an expensive once in a lifetime holiday as your first trip together, If money isn’t an issue have separate rooms then at least you can get away from each other. Have a chat about what you want to do and be open to time away from each other. Don’t tempt fate by spending 24 X 7 the whole time.
Not even a loved up couple would sustain this and having some time away during the day from each other will keep it fresh and fun. Communicate before you go and have a chat about what you’d like to, so research where you are going. So if you want to do sightseeing and your friend would rather lie in a beach, if you know beforehand there are no surprises or disappointments and you can navigate around these differences.
Is it possible for a friendship to recover from a disastrous holiday, and if so, how?
Salma: Yes, give yourself some time and distance once you get back. Once you’ve had time to reflect you may want to discuss what happened or often if the friendship is strong even if you don’t talk about it after a while it will heal. However, it takes two to accept that you aren’t the best holiday buddies and move on.
Hilda: It’s important to put a fall out (even a big one ) into the larger context of the friendship – has this person been a positive feature in your life overall?. Also it’s worth bearing in mind that when there is a big fall out generally it isn’t the fault of any one person..It’s important to reflect on how we too played our part and to take responsibility for that. If you can both discuss it, after you’ve both cooled down, there could be some space for real honesty and a more authentic and closer friendship to develop a result.