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Travelling as a University Student: Friends Edition!

Writer Megan shows the fun... and the pains of travelling overseas with her friends.

The trip made it out of the group chat but… could it cost us?

Ignoring the looming finals and anticipating the approaching holidays, you probably have plans for the summer, whether taking up an internship (for the hustle!!) or simply taking a break. I know what I have my eyes on - a trip with my university friends.

We have been discussing going overseas together since last semester, but can the trip make it out of the group chat? And what happens if it does? The possibilities are endless.

While we all dream of an overseas trip that’s sunshine and rainbows, we can’t guarantee it. To make things worse, TikTok videos of how friend groups fall apart overseas aren’t setting up our trips for success but can indicate how things can go south quickly.

Differences can make or break your overseas trip

One prime example of my fear is Anna and her friend’s sabotaged Bali trip that blew up on TikTok.

Known as @sparklycarebear, Anna took to the platform to express her grievances over her ruined friendship and the circumstances that led to it. As a viewer and even mentioned by Anna, it was clear that differences in travelling styles played a part in the trip getting botched and the friendship turning sour.

Besides travelling styles, personality, habits, preferences, and even values can also turn the trip upside down. I know this because I had taken trips with my secondary school friends.

We recently went to Penang (our second time travelling together). Luckily for us, our travelling styles were similar as we wanted to maximise our trip, so there wasn’t much of a clash here. Our clash was in our personality, but we eventually navigated it out.

If you know a bit about MBTI, "J"s are structured and "P"s are more spontaneous. My friend group just happened to have one extreme "J", with the rest being "P"s.

At first glance, this is quite a disaster, as my "J" friend loved to create itineraries and follow them religiously. But "P"s aren’t the best at sticking to the plan…

So how did we compromise? We let my "J" friend plan the itinerary (which he happily did so) but told him to leave enough buffer time. In our case, buffer time is for us "P"s to do whatever we feel like doing at that moment. But of course, we assured our "J" friend that he was always welcome to join or reject us.

A case in point is on day 2 of our Penang trip, where we set off to parasail in the afternoon. You bet we had a fun time. So much so that we (the "P"s) thought of the idea of jet skiing (riding on pure adrenaline here), which was made possible due to the buffer time given. Our "J" friend even joined us! Our method worked miraculously, and in the end, no one felt forced to follow along or do something they disliked.

Why friendships fall apart

1) Not being able to compromise

Whilst my secondary school friend group was fortunate to survive and even enjoy our overseas trips, it can’t be said the same for many already broken friendships.

This begs the question: Are differences that huge of a factor? Should I just go overseas with friends who are similar to me?

I say that the root of the problem isn’t so much differences. After all, it is what makes us unique. Friendships consisting of different people make life more interesting since certain aspects can be complementing and even uplifting. The crux is not being able to compromise.

2) Not deconflicting well

When you’re in a foreign country, everyone ends up more sensitive. Emotions are heightened and easily triggered. However, this is inevitable. It’s the fact that you’re out of your comfort zone and that you have to be more careful.

Why so? Many things are out of your control - language barriers, activity and weather disruptions, and even accidents. People can react to such uncontrollable factors differently - perhaps they shut down, flare up, or cry.

Another portion is conflict management, where friends get into an argument. Instead of de-escalating it, it gets worse.

3) Taking for granted your knowledge of one another

However, there’s something we neglect. The fact that we are multifaceted (and I don’t mean two-faced) is a boon and a bane.

To illustrate my point: On an overseas trip, you’re stuck with one another 24/7. This is worlds apart from simply meeting in school to study, eat, or have CCA. The time you spend with each other increases exponentially, allowing you to discover new, perhaps nasty, sides of your friends.

Well, of course, your friend you meet in school isn’t going to act the same at home or overseas. You don’t see how they rest and relax, and you don’t see the way they get impatient or worried when their flight gets delayed either. Taking in all of this can be overwhelming because the friend whom you thought you knew is instantly unrecognisable.

But not to worry, this isn’t the end of your trip.

Preventing friendship breakups

Friendship breakups hurt, especially if it’s over something that can ultimately be deconflicted. Here’s how to nip unpredictable problems that may arise overseas in the bud:

1) Learning to compromise

When conflicts arise, being able to compromise is incredibly important. This is something my friends and I had to learn the hard way since we all have different wants and needs.

Unless you’re planning to go solo , you most likely can’t have everything go your way. It is crucial to find the middle ground and reach a decision that the parties involved can all agree on. Whether it’s deciding on budget, destination, or others, extending grace to each other is not only helping to bring your ideas into reality and move plans forward and yet also a sign of respect.

2) Talk it out

Before the trip, voice out everything under the sky. Ideas, concerns, and expectations. Unpack things you typically wouldn’t. This works as a pre-empt so your friends can understand why you’re acting the way you’re acting. Don’t shy away from being vulnerable because you can’t run away from each other (unless you end the trip that is).

This applies during an argument too. Talking it out allows everyone to view the issue from another perspective instead of being silent.

3) Prepare

I can’t stress this enough. Most people think a simple itinerary with hotels, activities, and flights booked is sufficient. It might work if you’re travelling with a small group of friends. However, when you’re travelling with a large one, it’s a logistical nightmare. From figuring out reservations to understanding culture, it’s best to research.

My secondary school friend group didn’t realise Bali had a public holiday called ‘Nyepi’, also known as the Day of Silence. As you could probably tell, silence reigns on the island as Bali cuts off all lights, traffic, and activities. No one was allowed out, so we practically had to spend the entire day in the hotel, an oversight on our part.

A trip to remember, together

Well, I hope none of your trips becomes: ‘The trip makes it out of the group chat, but the group chat didn’t make it out of the trip’.

If you’ve managed to mitigate your problems as a group, I’m sure it will be lots of fun with memories that last. And I’ll leave it to you to experience it!

Of course, it is easy to write about the fun and glamorous side of travelling, but I’d like to think acknowledging and highlighting the reality of what can happen to trips - the good, the bad, and the ugly - is pivotal.


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