Hot! The Third Wheel

I didn’t start out as a solo traveler. My first times in a foreign country were with friends who knew the ropes and spoke another language or two. But it wasn’t until I went out on my own that I really started to learn the art of travel. The better I got at it, the more I liked the freedom of calling the shots, the more confident I got at trusting my own judgment, the more people I met, and the more I saw when I didn’t have to wait for others.

Still, as any lone wolf will tell you, there are times when being on your own sucks. There are days when you’d like someone else to make the decisions. There are views and moments you can’t share in a photo or explain in a tweet. There are a lot of meals at bars when you don’t have a sit down dinner companion. And there are luxuries that turn from splurge to budget when you split the bill.

But after hosting friends and family in Italy this spring, I think I’ve stumbled onto something that gives me the best of both worlds: Being the third wheel.

Before you shake your head at the thought of being the tag-along to a couple straight out of the latest chick flick, think about the upside. I was the sassy sidekick to two very different pairs this year. In both instances, I helped negotiate trains, secure hotels, and chat up the locals. For my traveling companions, my knowledge and advice of the cities and language made their experiences even better. For me, I got to see new and old places in a different light. I was able to skip past old missteps and see different things.

By far the best part about being the odd gal out? Once we were settled, I could easily step aside and have a day to myself. The couples were fine doing their couples thing, giving me the freedom to wander a city on my own, get lost without worrying about anyone, spend hours in markets without boring others, chat with strangers or just hole up and write in my journal.

Even though I helped navigate the terrain for my friends, I was hardly a tour guide and this is very important. We all shared in making our plans for the day and in the decision-making. Like any traveling companions, we still all had to get along for it to work. If you aren’t compatible, it doesn’t matter how many people in your group.

Traveling with someone is one of the easiest ways to find out how well you jive, but before you hitch your wagon to a pair ask yourself some essential questions: Do you all need to have every step planned out? How do you deal with the unexpected? Do you look at mistakes as a chance to meet new people or as disaster? If you’re on the same page about what you hope to get out of your trip, then take the odds and enjoy the ride.

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