The travel contract: How to make sure vacation expectations sync up before you go

You love your friends, you love your spouse, but what happens when your expectations for a trip don’t match up?

Everyone travels and relaxes differently. Some see vacations as opportunities to lounge by the ocean or pool while reading a book. Others get their enjoyment from being on the move. Many travelers have very different ideas of what the pace should be and how much downtime is appropriate. Desired activities can vary wildly, too, from shopping to bar- and restaurant-hopping to checking off historical sights.

As I have discovered many times, just because you get along with someone well at home doesn’t mean you will while traveling. If it’s a first trip together, you and your travel partner may not realize your incompatibility until you’re already on the ground — arguing.

Strong feelings are understandable; many people only have one or two chances to get away every year, and vacations are significant time and monetary investments.

One strategy I’ve deployed is what I call “the travel contract.” Before I go on a trip with someone I haven’t traveled with much, I’ll talk through a number of factors with them. Desired budget, itinerary plans and how loosely or strictly we hope to follow our agenda are all on the table. Most important: If we can’t decide on a particular activity, do we each feel comfortable doing it solo?

Whatever you agree to ahead of time, stick with it. And if your expectations don’t completely align, embrace the divergence.

During a recent trip to San Francisco, my two travel companions wanted to spend a Saturday morning shopping and on the touristy pier. I, meanwhile, was craving a visit to a local weekend market — an outing they had no interest in. So we went our separate ways for a few hours, and met up later for happy hour. Squabbles were avoided, we all got our wishes and over cocktails we had plenty of tales to share.

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