Our epic two-week trip to Italy had been planned for months, with my friend and I obsessively adding to the itinerary every time something caught our eyes online. Throughout our nine years of friendship, we had always dreamt of embarking on an Italian journey together. The one thing we didn’t plan for, though, was fighting over the itinerary we had worked so hard on. If we had had some idea of how to avoid arguments while on vacation, perhaps things would’ve turned out differently.
We were a few days into our trip, exploring the charming and majestic city of Florence, when conflict arose: I wanted to check out the nightlife by popping into some bars in the area; my friend wanted to call it a night and wake up in the morning to catch a museum tour. Our itinerary had accounted for both, but in a last-minute change of heart, my friend expressed disinterest in partying and wanted us to lay low, and was upset that I was willing to venture out without her. The argument put a damper on what would have otherwise been a great night. We fixed everything the following day, but the fact that we had a fight on our longtime dream vacation left a bad taste in my mouth.
Fighting with friends on vacation is not a new concept — plenty of people have experienced this while attempting to enjoy a “relaxing” getaway — but what is it about vacations that creates such a sensitive, volatile environment? Why do the stakes feel higher? And why do many friendships experience difficulty, or seem to end altogether, when they’re away from home?
Elite Daily talked to Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, about why you might be more likely to bump heads with your friends on vacation. More importantly, she shared tips on how to avoid the sometimes-inevitable conflict from boiling over.
Why do friends fight more on vacation?
The main reason why vacations tend to be a hot spot for conflict has to do with the very nature of vacations — because, let’s face it, they can actually be super stressful. Think about all of the planning that goes into a getaway: flight tickets, car rental, hotel reservations, dinner reservations, research on activities, landmarks, tours, etc.; plus packing, wrapping things up at work, finding a pet or house sitter, and more. If you’re traveling with a friend, it’s all of this times two, meaning that the environment is set to be taxing from the start.
“We know from a psychological perspective that vacations can cause stress,” Bockarova tells Elite Daily. “So something to think about [during arguments while traveling] is, is there a preexisting strain in the friendship or it is a spillover effect from the stress of traveling?”
Another aspect to consider is that your friends may have completely opposite goals and desires for the trip, further creating the possibility for conflict. If you’re spending all of this money and time planning a trip, you’re going to want to do everything on your vacation bucket list, but so is your friend, so likely, compromises will need to be made to accommodate everyone’s preferences.
“When you’re planning a trip with someone, it’s more stressful than when you’re planning a trip by yourself,” Bockarova adds. “Different people are going to have different needs, wants, and expectations. That’s going to weigh in a lot.”
Bockarova cites a 2012 exploratory study on vacation stress published in Tourism Analysis, surveying 110 U.S. residents who had recently taken a vacation. The study found that the planning phase of the vacation was the most stressful for a majority of those surveyed, but that stress increased when the traveler was accompanied by another person (although it was usually a spouse or relative, rather than friends). Lastly, the study found that younger adults experienced more stress while actually at the destination.
Despite the scientifically proven stress that surrounds vacations, it’s not all doom and gloom. You can steer clear of — or even resolve — conflict as long as you and the people you’re traveling with familiarize yourselves with Bockarova’s tips and tricks before and during your trip.
Here’s how to avoid (and resolve) fighting with your friends on vacation:
Assess whom you’re going on vacation with.
Sure, you may get along with your Type A friend in every other situation, but if you’re more of a go-with-the-flow type, consider whether this pairing would work while traveling. Likewise, if you’re an early riser who loves to seize the day but your friend is a bar-hopping night owl, you should probably think about how a vacation would work with such different priorities.
“If you can evaluate what the personality is of the friend that you’re considering going on vacation with, you can consider whether they would be a fun person to travel with,” Bockarova says. She points to the Big Five personality traits — extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism — as factors to consider when deciding whether you and your travel buddy are well-matched. “If they’re high on neuroticism, they’re more likely to engage in conflict, [whereas] people who are high in openness tend to have less conflict, for example.”
Lay down your boundaries before the trip.
Let’s say you’ve decided to take a gamble and book a trip with a friend who has different travel goals. Or maybe you’re just vacationing with a friend who tends to be pushy or stubborn. It’s important to make your boundaries known before you get to your destination. Completely writing off alcohol while going to Mexico? Say it out loud. Have a nonnegotiable goal to visit the Louvre in France? Your friend may want to do something else. If something is important to you, set it in stone verbally.
“Before even going on the trip, you should have a conversation with your friend,” Bockarova says. “That way, they’re clear on your boundaries beforehand, and when you’re on vacation, if they keep pushing your limits, you can be firm with what it is you want. Creating boundaries is great, but not if you can’t follow through on them by being assertive.”
Had my friend and I followed this tip, we could have stated our nonnegotiables and limits from the very beginning; I would have known in advance that she wouldn’t want to go out the night before a morning tour, so we could’ve moved things around.
Step away if things get heated.
OK, so you pondered who you’re traveling with, set your boundaries, and now you’re miles from home, but conflict still arises. What now? If you feel yourself getting increasingly agitated during an argument, Bockarova suggests that it may be best to step away from the situation temporarily.
“When we’re stressed, biological and physiological [elements kick in], meaning our fight-or-flight response,” Bockarova shares. “We may sweat, our pupils will dilate, and our heart rate will go up. The best way to hijack your biology and not engage in conflict is to tell your friend, ‘Hey, I need a 20-minute walk. Everything’s OK, I just need to calm down. I’ll be right back and we can discuss it then.’”
She says 20 minutes is a great number to keep in mind, since that’s how long it takes for our bodies to return to baseline level.
Learn effective coping strategies.
After you’ve settled down, return to the situation at hand and aim for a calm conversation. Bockarova emphasizes that an essential tool for resolving conflict is learning effective coping mechanisms. She points to the EVLN (exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect) model, which gauges how one responds when one is dissatisfied, as a tool to help you resolve things. Exit and neglect are the most negative of the four, with someone choosing to mentally or physically check out of the situation (exit), or continue to be upset but without vocalization or an attempt at a solution (neglect). Loyalty is not the most effective strategy either, with someone refusing to share how they feel in hopes that the situation will somehow resolve itself.
“The most constructive of these is voice,” explains Bockarova. “Voicing in a calm way, in a way that you’re not attacking your friend, what it is that you need and want, as well as what your expectations are, is the best way to manage conflict.”
Admittedly, I didn’t employ the healthiest of these mechanisms during the conflict in Florence; drinking away my woes at a bar was my way of not dealing with, or exiting, the situation. Instead of spending the whole night being upset with each other, we could have temporarily separated and then regrouped to effectively talk it out.
Reach a healthy compromise.
The goal of a difficult conversation should be to reach a satisfactory outcome for all parties. Sometimes there’s no completely agreeing with your friend, but if you two are willing to work on a fair solution, it could be a win-win situation.
“Sometimes it’s OK to say, ‘Let’s agree to disagree,’” says Bockarova. “That’s a totally appropriate phrase because in both cases, people feel as if they’ve won, right? In some cases, you’re maybe going to want to compromise just to keep the peace, but don’t compromise if it means that you’re going to become resentful because that will ruin your friendship long term. So [try to reach a] win-win compromise where your friend gets what they want, you get what you want, and you're staying firm to your boundaries.”
A great way to do this is to ensure from the very beginning that you and your friend have a mutual destination where you can choose to split up and do your own thing. Tackling this potential issue from the planning stage should help to smooth out any potential arguments over the itinerary. You and your friend will both have your solo time to look forward to and an agreed meeting place to meet up and share your experiences with each other. In the example of my Florence trip, a great mutual destination could have been Piazza del Duomo, which offers museums, cathedrals, and other attractions, but also restaurants, bars, and dessert shops.
There are plenty of options for compromise stateside as well. Take Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida, a low-key, nonpark piece of the Walt Disney World resort destination. Nick Regueiro, a spokesperson for Disney Springs, suggests that the outdoor mall and entertainment center is the destination for a group of friends to split up and pursue their own interests.
“It’s an open space and there’s something for everyone,” Reguerio says. “It’s divided into multiple areas where if you’re into fashion, you can come to the west side and shop; if you’re looking for something very Disney-specific, you can go to the opposite side of Disney Springs; or maybe your friend has a sweet tooth. They could go check out Salt & Straw. There are definitely spaces where everyone can chill, relax, and do their own thing.”
Setting a day for everyone to do their own thing at a mutual destination is a great way to avoid conflict. Everyone gets to knock things off their bucket lists without any resentment.
Enjoy the rest of your vacation.
Although my friend and I didn’t take a 20-minute walk during our Italy conflict (we probably should’ve, at least to walk off all that pasta), we eventually did come to a compromise the following day. She agreed to come out with me to some more laidback bars as long as we didn’t return to the hotel too late, and I promised to accompany her to a pasta-making class in the evening. Nobody likes fighting with their friends, but if a peaceful settlement can be reached, everyone wins and the vacation can resume without additional bumps in the road.
Of course, if you’d rather ditch the friends and avoid the potential stress altogether, there’s always the option to travel on your own, as long as you follow safety tips for solo travel. But given that adding a friend or two to the mix can make a trip even more memorable, it’s worth giving Bockarova’s tips and tricks a try before opting to fly solo.
Mariana Bockarova, M.A., Ph.D, professor of psychology at University of Toronto
Crotts, John C., and Anita Zehrer. “Vacation Stress: The Development of a Vacation Stress Model among US Vacation Travelers.” https://doi.org/10.3727/108354212X13473157390920