11 Tips for Surviving and Thriving on a Long Road Trip With Difficult People

June 9, 2020

Caravan Sonnet
Over the last 7 years of writing on this blog I have talked about tons of travel adventures, stories, and beautiful places to visit. I have been so blessed with tons of amazing trips with family members and friends and have treasured each trip for different reasons. 

One subject though I have never discussed here on the blog is how to travel with difficult people. I receive at least a hundred emails a week about this question and for the most part I have just responded simply and avoided the question because it feels very personal. But a couple of weeks ago I received an email from someone who was approaching a long road trip this summer and they were desperate for any tips due to a variety of circumstances. This reader also stated that "she knew that I never had been part of a difficult road trip" but was hoping for any tips I could offer.

I hesitated and delayed answering for over a week. I knew that here on the blog I have always made it seem that things have been "perfect" with regards to traveling companions and yet there was a very difficult and painful (and wounding) experience that I had a couple of years ago that I had never discussed outside my family and closest friends. I wrote back carefully and selectively to this lovely reader and offered some practical tips that I hoped would help.

It was the first time that I specifically admitted to a blog reader that I had been part of an incredibly difficult trip a couple of years ago. I had long ago forgiven this person but realized that my experience wasn't as "unique" as I had once thought. The blog reader encouraged me to write a post about it and so after much thought and prayer I have decided to in hopes that this will help others who may experience what I did. 
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As a bit of background and disclaimer... because I have fully forgiven this person I won't be going into specifics regarding all of the things that took place. I have refrained from sharing anything very personal, but instead chose examples to help others in a similar situation. 

Forgiveness to me means that you have placed the entire situation in God's hands and have moved on, which I have. I also want to say that as a disclaimer around Thanksgiving this past year this person contacted me and asked for forgiveness for her actions, words, and behavior on the trip, to which I expressed I had already done. While it would be unhealthy (for me) to continue a close friendship with this person, I truly wish them well and treasure the memories from our friendship. 
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Also- The road trip that these situations took place while I was on a writing/work trip in Alaska (my first trip in 2018). Because of the remoteness of where we were there was not the opportunity to just "drop" my friend off at the airport so we were together in a car for 6 days and thousands of miles. I couldn't cancel where we were and change things because of the contracts and commitments I had made to my clients. This added a level of complexity as it was a job for me, and wished that my travel companion had respected and honored that and been professional and mature. 

All of that to say, a couple of years later here is what I wish someone had suggested to me and tips that I hope will be helpful and encouraging to you to help you survive a long road trip if you are stuck with a very difficult person:
Caravan Sonnet
(1) Be Firm About Who Pays for Things (even if it causes tensions)
It is always wise to talk about who pays for things before a trip, but what happens if a traveling companion changes the guidelines set out after the trip has begun? 

Before our trip I had clearly laid out what my guest would be responsible for. I had explained that the hotels were covered (as part of my work), which meals would be included, the rental car was covered, and her return flight was also covered (as I offered to pay for that because she agreed to take pictures of me for the blog... which turned into a headache as she didn't really want to do that). She would be responsible for her flight to Alaska, her meals/drinks, her snacks, splitting gas/parking fees, souvenirs, and anything else that she wanted to purchase on the trip. 

As a tip I think that having this clearly laid out ahead of time is key... but what happens if you have laid this all out and the person agrees... but then changes their mind on the trip?

Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened on this trip. I quickly began to see that she expected me to pay for everything. Anytime I would discuss what her portion would be she would sigh, roll her eyes, and literally cause a ton of tension. At the beginning of the trip this quickly became apparent as she went to the bathroom at the airport, I bought us some waters and snacks and she never even offered to pay. At first I didn't think anything about it, but the next morning when we went to Target to grab some supplies for the trip she told me what snacks to get her while she wanted to go shop for some clothes. I was a bit stunned (this hadn't happened on our first road trip together) and after I bought our supplies (because I was a little caught off guard on what to do) I decided to mention it in the car. What I was hit with shocked me... she said that she couldn't pay for things because she was preparing to get engaged and be married and I wasn't so she had to watch her money more carefully then I did.

To say I was stunned couldn't be a better response. I knew immediately I had to lay down a few ground rules and explained that we had to stick to the original budget that had been discussed, etc. I was happy to try to save money in places that we could but I also had a budget to stick to and even though I wasn't on the cusp of getting engaged my money was extremely tight also. She threw a bit of an attitude (like one would do if you are a teenager) and was quiet for a good 30 minutes of the beginning of our road trip. It didn't make it a "fun beginning" to a trip that was a once in a lifetime trip for me but it did set the ground rules. 

I tried throughout the trip to treat her with different things like snacks, ice cream (which she loved), a fun souvenir or two, etc. but I still stuck to my budget. Did she seem to be fine spending money when it was things she wanted? Yes. Did I still receive snide comments? Yes, but I was able to stick with my budget which was crucial also for me. 
Caravan Sonnet
(2) Let Things Go For Your Sanity
Throughout the trip I noticed that my traveling companion and I (who lived in different states) over the year since we had last seen each other had changed in extreme ways. I honestly felt like I was traveling with a stranger (and one that I wouldn't have picked to be frank) and it was difficult. There were some things that were easy to ignore or let go (her insisting on doing things her way and not embracing traveling or her preferences on how she "always got ready the same way" in the morning and if she didn't it would exacerbate her anxiety) but there were some other things that were not as easy to let go of. Again, as I stated above I am not going to go into every detail out of respect for her, but I quickly had to learn to let the things go that could be and yet respectfully stand up for things that were important to me/or necessary for my own health. In doing this it kept my sanity and urged me to focus on the incredible experience and beauty I was seeing despite the difficulty traveling with her.
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(3) Embrace the Opportunity to Focus on What You Are Seeing /Be Fully in the Moment
One of the things that was difficult and unexpected about our trip was that I fully expected the trip to be an incredible "girls trip" like the previous trips we had taken together. These were beautiful blessings because we lived so far apart and I was looking forward to our conversations (which I had always valued) and was shocked to discover that she really didn't want to be on the trip (something she hadn't shared before coming). She was content to sleep as I drove, listen to her music (which was the same repeated songs again and again from "The Greatest Showman") and be on her phone or instagram the entire time. I definitely felt like a chauffeur. It was the loneliest road trip I have ever taken.

She snapped the picture above and it is ironic because I remember that we were only in our first 4 hours into the long car trip. I remember standing there thinking... what am I going to do? Am I going to let her ruin this incredible opportunity for me or am I going to embrace this and be fully in the moment of what I am experiencing?

I am SO glad that I chose the latter. I deeply fell in love with Alaska on that trip and the time to focus on what I was seeing (as I was being ignored) allowed me to be uniquely in the moment in ways I have never had on a trip. 
Caravan Sonnet
(4) Understand that it Might be a "Thankless" trip
If you are the planner and organizer on the trip then it might feel hard if you don't hear any recognition for the time, effort, and stress you have dealt with in getting all of the details together. For long car trips like this trip to Alaska it takes months to plan so that every single detail is in order. Months of research, contracts, discussion with companies, etc. and it can be long and a lot of work. 

I didn't mind at all (I like to plan) and when she expressed that she didn't do planning (because she was used to her mom doing all of the planning and organizing for family trips) I went about doing it. It was fine, I tried to run things by her and she kept saying that "anything was fine". On previous trips this had happened and she had been excited and thankful for the work that had been done. On this trip she never acknowledged or said "thank you" for anything. In fact as I was taking her to the airport for her return flight home (I stayed in Alaska for a couple of extra days), she was busy on the phone talking with her parents. We got to the airport and as she was leaving she says, "my dad says that I should say "thank you" for the trip". I almost laughed out loud, because it was so silly, but just said, "tell your dad he is welcome"

This was definitely a lesson to learn in travel... thank everyone. Thank people for driving, thank them for putting gas in the car, thank them for everything. It is just polite to do. Understand though that your traveling companion might not do this and let it go (or thank their father - hahaha)!
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(5) Find the Laughter Wherever you Can
Laughter is incredibly important and even if it is laughing with those outside of people you are traveling with, find it, fight for it, and just choose to laugh. I did this starting on the first day of the trip and was so glad that I did. This picture above was during one of those moments on the Denali Highway. We had been driving for about 6 hours already that day and I stopped to take pictures at this beautiful spot with the lake in the background. Needing to get out of the car for a bit of time, I decided it would be fun to walk down to the lake. I was sure it would only take about 10-15 minutes, 20 minutes at the most and yet, it quickly became obvious this was not the case. I couldn't stop giggling and laughing about it.

As I hiked back, my reluctant traveling companion didn't find it funny at all but I didn't want to let that steal my joy. I just kept giggling because it was funny. At the top of the hill by our car a couple was there and they immediately started talking to me as my traveling companion went directly to the car not acknowledging them. I stood there for about 10 minutes and learned that they had attempted the same thing a few years ago and after 3 hours of hiking were no closer to the lake either. We all laughed about it and it just was such a breath of fresh air on the trip. This happened numerous times throughout the trip- I just looked to find laughter, wherever I could even if it was with strangers at stops. Do the same thing- you will be grateful you do. 
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(6) Split Driving
Although its not always possible, if you can split the driving it is important to do so. This way one person is not driving for hours and hours on end while the other can zone out, sleep or just watch the scenery go by. On this trip it wasn't possible for me to do (for some personal reasons my traveling companion said she had) but if it is possible, this can help a road trip with difficult people.
Caravan Sonnet
(7) Share the Music (Or Invest in Ear Plugs or in Ear Phones)
As I mentioned above my travel companion was insistent on choosing all of the music for the trip. That is fine... I honestly am flexible with any music as I love it all, but even I after 20 hours of hearing only one set of songs (or mainly one song) had a limit. *smiles* I am fine if I never hear music from "The Greatest Showman" ever again. Finally when we were at hour 43 of our road trip I insisted that she wear her earphones as I was going to play different music. (I hadn't played any up till this point as it seemed to cause her to pout and throw a mini temper tantrum when I suggested different music.) She sighed and put on her earphones and turned up her music so loud so the car was still filled with the music but at least it put a degree of separation to it (somewhat).
Caravan Sonnet
(8) Take a Break from Each Other Whenever Possible
It's hard when it is just a trip with one other person to not feel that you should do everything together, but let that go and take a break from each other whenever possible. It can allow you an opportunity to do things even if your traveling companion doesn't want to. I started this the second day in Alaska and was so glad that I did. 

Each day after that I would always invite my traveling companion to come along on something I was doing but chose to not be offended if they didn't want to come. One time she didn't want me to go but I stayed firm, saying, "I am going to do this, you are welcome to come with me if you would like"

Each day I had some amazing experiences and even though it would have been great to have someone along, I met new people (even some I have stayed connected with), experienced the beauty of Alaska, and had time to decompress and make phone calls privately with loved ones. I never did anything dangerous, but the adventures that I had alone during those times gave my heart a much needed chance to regroup, pray for my traveling companion, and decompress from the stress of traveling with her.

One of my favorite adventures was the hike that I took at the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge (you can read about it HERE!). It was so gorgeous and it was simply enchanting. It was such a precious time of connecting back to nature, with God, and with loved ones who gave me such encouraging words as my heart was really hurting at that point in the trip.

"Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God's handwriting."
// Ralph Waldo Emerson //
Caravan Sonnet
(9) Stay Polite Even If Your Traveling Companion Isn't
With the way that technology is it is tempting to be on the phone all the time, even when you are traveling. I was shocked that even though this was a work trip for me and I got up early and stayed up late to complete assignments so that I could be fully present for my traveling companion she didn't return the same courtesy.

 She would pull out her phone all the time while I was driving, or when we were eating meals, or even when we were exploring to be on it or talk to people. Once when we were hiking on the beautiful Winner Creek Trail (click HERE to read about it) she spent 98% of the hike on her phone talking extremely loudly. We would pass people and they were giving her tons of looks as no one was doing that and everyone was just trying to enjoy nature. At this point it was the last day of the trip with her and I just ignored it but felt badly that she had disrupted so many people. 

It was tempting to return the same behavior to cover over the hurt, but instead I chose to embrace politeness and ignore the craziness and her rude comments. It almost became comical as she at one point said that "her instagram connections would be worried about her if she wasn't checking in with them all the time".

Despite her comments which included comical ones (like the one above) and more hurtful and wounding ones, I chose to not do this and stay polite. Her rudeness didn't need to affect me I realized. My mom raised me to be a gracious woman where we are to always be polite, no matter what someone else is doing. And I was glad that I did- it truly helps me look back and be glad that I didn't resort to that type of behavior.

It also gave me a chance to be fully present, talk with our waiters and waitresses at our meals (or even people at different tables) and to experience things even if I was being ignored. It was tough (and very hurtful) but it was also a reminder to me to never repeat the same behavior to someone else.
Caravan Sonnet
(10) End the Trip Early If Possible
If at the end of the day things are at a point where they have deteriorated beyond repair consider ending the trip early. This wasn't an option with my job but if it had been I would have taken it. As it was I chose to drop my travel companion off several hours earlier than her flight check in was as it was truly time to bring an end to the trip. 
Caravan Sonnet
(11) Apologize for Your Companion's Behavior But Recognize It Doesn't Reflect On You
There were numerous times throughout our trip that I found myself apologizing for the actions and selfish behavior of my traveling companion and worried that all of my clients felt it was a reflection of me. One specific instance changed my viewpoint on things.

On the second to last night of our trip we checked in to our last hotel and for the first time my traveling companion decided to check in with me. At the check in process we were informed that internet on the property was "spotty" except for it being guaranteed in our cabin or in the main lodge/dining areas. My traveling companion proceeded to respond not well and after saying something like, "I can't believe this" she proceeded to stomp off out of the lodge and back to our car. I stood there red-faced and incredibly embarrassed as this particular site was a writing job and I was mortified at the behavior. I admit that I felt like it reflected on me and didn't even know how to respond.

As I started to try to stammer out an apology (and could feel everyone in the lounge area watching me) I was near tears. It had been a long day in the car with her and this was just the last straw. The manager came over and was the most gracious person that I have ever met. She quietly asked if she could talk with me. I said yes and silently followed her to an edge of the room where no one could hear our conversation. As I prepped myself to be fired from the job, she proceed to ask if I was okay. I nodded as tears fell from my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I tried apologizing again and she said to me, "while it is kind you are apologizing, her behavior doesn't reflect on you, it just gives us a great compassion on what you are dealing with". It was the kindest words and I immediately felt embraced by kindness. 

Everyone at that lodge was incredibly kind to me in the time that we were there. People went out of their way to say hello, talk with me, and just offer words of encouragement. It's made me realize in the future since then to really pay attention to the people who are apologizing for others and remind them that while it is kind, to give them greater compassion.
Caravan Sonnet
It's always hard when a road trip is different due to difficult people, but hopefully these 11 tips will help this experience to be the best as possible for you! Also- hold on to the hope and knowledge that just because you have one difficult road trip with someone future ones (like my Alaskan Road Trip last summer with my sister and a dear friend) will be incredible!

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