When to fly solo

Author's lounge in the historic Mandarian Oriental Bangkok - once home to Somerset Maugham and Liz TaylorI want comfort and location when I travel. I have a fetish for posh hotels. I get a deep discount on their steep rates by shopping well. I don’t stay at beds-and-breakfasts. I have tried a few and they are not my style. My husband doesn’t like them either. In some cities, I might choose a slightly grand hotel, if it has a location to die for, but you can bet it won’t be a dump.

I want my own room and my own bath — so I am seldom a house guest.
Spoiled? Maybe, but I know what makes me happy.
Are you planning a summer getaway with friends? It may seem like a good idea when some one floats it over drink, after a good dinner. Think again. Travelling with friends can ruin a costly vacation, and worse, it can end a good friendship.
Vacationing successfully with others demands compromise and discipline. Ask yourself if that is really how you want to spend your vacation. I know it is not how I like to spend mine. Don’t get me wrong, darlings, I enjoy time with friends for a weekend or a few days. I love to have houseguests and enjoy pampering them. But when I travel, I want to do it my way.
I love elegant old hotels with history. I find them romantic, but not everyone shares my fascination. If friends don’t exhale with pleasure when entering the impeccable and historic Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, why pressure them to stay there? If they are not soothed by the flawless understated service and entranced by the hotel’s fascinating history they will just resent the bill.
My hotel and the ambience of the neighbourhood I stay in are intrinsic parts of my trip. I like to steep myself in the history and culture of the area before I leave. I will have read dozens of histories and biographies before my departure. When I arrive I want to “sink” in to the place and soak it up. Some people find this approach delicious; others think it is torture. As the French say — chacun à son goût — each to his own taste.
A couple of dear friends visited us in Moscow. The husband is a brilliant, very busy doctor. He has many hobbies, but still managed to brush up on Russian art and culture. He even learned to speak some serviceable Russian so he could get out on his own. His wife was also was also well-versed on the culture. Our intellectual staff went mad for them.
Other friends visited us in Moscow, also doctors. A busy couple with children, they barely had time pack their suitcases — never mind reading up on anything. We scheduled more tours for them and hit a famous Moscow night club. They had a fabulous time and we had fun hosting them. The key was letting the all do want they wanted.
When we travel, my husband likes a full English breakfast. He goes off and eats it in some small local places. He often brings me back something small, or I eat a little cheese and fruit in my room while I dress. Even when an early morning departure is on the schedule, as it often is in Asia or Africa, I prefer a quiet, leisurely morning. This eccentricity is easier when you are a just a couple. It also makes it easier to schedule afternoon naps and decide if you want a light dinner in local joint instead of an elaborate meal because you need a night off. I find it is the small daily decisions about dining and scheduling that chaff on travellers. After all, friends can usually agree that everyone wants to visit the major attractions or hang out at the beach.
The fabulous Taj Rambaugh Palace in Jaipur --I love the luxury and historyA friend has told me I am spoiled and need to relax my rules. I still like her, but I am not about to try it her way. Her attitude amuses me; she and her husband often vacation with friends. After each vacation they have a litany of complaints against their traveling companions. I have learned to say little, as after a few months the acrimony blows over. Sometimes they even decide to do it again.
As we have mutual friends, I have often heard the story of their bittersweet getaways from both sides. It seems everyone tries to get his or her own way about everything all the time. When they don’t, they view the others as “selfish.”
Another dear friend vacationed for years with another couple. Both couples are foodies and spend freely for a good time. But my friends often felt pressured when the other couple demanded a five-star dinner every night. It burdened their waistlines and budget, but the other couple sulked at the suggestion of taking a night off from their “Michelin Guide regime.” No one was being deliberately demanding or insensitive, but no one really wanted to compromise. Even a week can be too long to go along with things you don’t want to do, especially when you are paying for them.
It is easy to be accommodating for a weekend or few days, especially is if everyone is easy-going. Be careful about vacationing with friends with forceful personalities no matter how much you like them at home. They will try to boss you — and it may be hard to resist their managing gracefully.
Traveling together can work out beautifully for some young families and couples. Sharing resources can help stretch tight budgets. To make it work, be sure expectations are clearly understood. These arrangements are best for those who have similar discipline, dining, and housekeeping styles. We vacationed with friends on Cape Cod for years. There was never a problem. Sometimes we took a house nearby, and once or twice we stayed together. Everyone had impeccable manners and similar expectations. Bliss!
Whether you decide to keep group travel to short weekend getaways as I do, or decide to brave a longer trip, here are some rules to make it go smoothly and keep friendships intact:
Assume nothing
Your friends may not want to stay at the same type of hotel as you. They may take taxis or buses to save money. Find out before you go. There is no reason to stay the same hotel. People also want to use their points, so why force too much togetherness? Discuss everything — dining, touring, etc. — before you decide to go. Do not assume. If there are too many differences, you many want to travel alone and stay friends.
Carry your own bag
Problems and resentment brew when friends impose on each other when travelling. Don’t stand back and let friends carry bags or do other small tasks for you. They may oblige because they were brought up well, but after a time they will resent it. Be a grownup. Be prepared to take care of yourself. Be respectful, your friend is not your servant.
Pay your own bill
Unless you are specifically invited in advance and explicitly to be a guest, pay your own bill. Learn to divvy up and tip correctly quickly and quietly. That’s how real ladies do it.
Speak up
Learn to state your preferences clearly. Don’t sulk or complain later.
Be independent
Travelling together for adults doesn’t mean that you are joined at the hip. Take a few hours off to rest if you are tried. Go see an exhibit or cooking demo alone if no one else wants to go. This does not mean you should dump you friends – that’s bad form.
Don’t dump your friends
This applies to women travelling together especially.No one likes to get dumped. Unless you and your friend have an arrangement about meeting men before leaving home, don’t ask your friend if she minds if you leave her alone to go out with the new guy you just met. She did not plan a trip with you so she could sit alone. And a gentleman, understanding the situation, would include your friend in any invitation rather than leave her stranded for the evening. And she would insist on paying her check and then tactfully leave you two alone after dinner.
A vacation is for rest and relaxation. Travelling can be one of the most enjoyable pastimes in life, so learn to do it well. Friends are precious, but not all friendships travel well. So darlings, learn to distinguish good travelling companions from a bad –and learn when it is best to fly solo.