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Travel buddies Noah Vardon and Amberly McAteer.
Travel buddies Noah Vardon and Amberly McAteer.

A friend with (travel) benefits Add to ...

He brings a half-empty suitcase in the knowledge that I will buy too much and need the space. He snaps a billion photos of me in “just the right light,” then – always – admires his shot: “This is so your next Facebook profile picture.”

I pack an abundance of patience for his hourly bathroom breaks and record-setting time needed to get ready for continental breakfast.

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I prod him to splurge on the souvenirs he thinks he doesn't want (that Athens 2004 Olympics T-shirt, that chocolate in Brussels). I demand spontaneous adventures, when he wants to nap. I begged him to climb an endless dirt road in Costa Rica after dinner – up a completely uncivilized mountain, with dozens of monkeys yelling at us. The brilliant sunset made us both stand still. You would think he was my other half, but he's not. He's Noah, my old friend and ultimate travel buddy.

Noah: How easily you forget, Amberly. You, in your flip-flops and denim skirt, demanded we turn around halfway up the mountain when we started to hear the “coyotes,” which turned out to be howler monkeys. If it weren't for me pushing you, we would have never made it. But you're right about that sunset.

Every year, the two of us plan a trip. Sometimes it's big: exploring every nook and cranny of Greece, like we did after high school. Sometimes it's small: camping in Algonquin in 72 solid hours of rain last summer.

Live blog: Follow us live in Belize here

We’re not afraid to fight. Like an old married couple, we drop the gloves and hash it out when necessary. “No, Amberly, you cannot leave your underwear to dry in the shower.”

And, we know when to let it slide. “Yes, Noah, I want guacamole for lunch for the sixth day in a row. Deal with it.”

We’ve been through Greece, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Florida and Costa Rica. We’ve fought on a cruise ship, cried in a tent, and belted our hearts out on countless road trips.

It all started 10 years ago: We were 18, and booked a five-star, two-week cruise through the Greek islands of Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes. Sure, sounds lovely, but it nearly killed us. Noah has an unbending desire to travel high-class, where I take a strange pleasure in getting off the beaten path.

Noah: Sure, Amberly, how was your sleep in that Amsterdam hostel, bustling with cockroaches, dirty sheets and even dirtier tourists?

Because Noah insisted on five-star posh, we cruised with wealthy retirees, staying in ultraluxe lodgings everywhere we docked. Day trips were peppered with singalongs, and the parties – karaoke, if things got really wild – ended at sunset. Travelling in such elevated surrounds with no one our age, things got tense after a few days.

Every little thing – Noah’s hatred of olives, my desire to photograph every possible second – added to the tension, waiting to blow like an ancient Greek volcano.

The breaking point? A wet bath mat in a boutique bolthole in Rhodes.“I hate you so much,” reeled a half-naked Noah, wielding the mat I’d failed to hang to dry.

Ever the drama queen, I burst into tears, darted out of the hotel and spent the afternoon alone, sobbing on the beach.

Noah: Did I really say I hate you? Sorry. We’ve come so far.

***

A decade later, we had matured as a travel couple.

We were in Costa Rica, high in the rain forest, zipping from one tree to the next. Yes, it’s adventurous and liberating. The first time. And the second. But after the third I was panicked, shaking and demanding solid ground – with seven zip lines to go. There was Noah, right behind me, cheering me on with each trip across the expansive jungle.

As we squeezed one last time onto a mere suggestion of a platform, secured with rusty nails, strapped to the same rope as several large, sweaty Americans, Noah’s expression said it all: “I’m feeling exactly the same way. We’ll do this. It’ll be over soon.”

On our last night in Costa Rica, we walked home after a postcard-perfect dinner and watched two scorpions dash into our room. My hero, Noah didn’t sleep (he had little choice, considering my screams) until he had crushed both enemies in the shower.

With each trip, we take in the stunning moments with the daunting ones, the beauty with the adventure. But it’s the understanding we have for one another’s quirks that makes us work like a well-oiled travel machine.

Noah: Agreed. Weirdly, with experience, I now find your multiple drink orders (and other travel nuances) endearing…

We’re perfect for each other.

***

And now, we’re a week away from our ultimate travel test: Nine days in Belize, with no hotel. Just a kayak, snorkel gear, friendly guides and rustic cabanas on remote islands. I’ve never kayaked; Noah’s a pro. I love the open air; Noah will be sleeping in mosquito nets. It’s an adventure I’d never do with anyone else.

So why does it work for us, and not with, say, boyfriends? Maybe, ultimately, it works because we aren’t a couple. That pressure just isn’t there. Yes, we’re spending a small fortune on a trip, but when it’s over, we both go back to our own lives, in our own condos, with our own friends and workplaces and separate identities.

I love Noah, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with him. I just want to see the world with him.

Follow Amberly and Noah live on their kayaking adventure at tgam.ca/travelbuddies. They’ll take your suggestions, answer your questions and share photos and videos (stingrays, anyone?) as they journey by kayak across small islands off the coast of Belize.

Follow us on Twitter: @tgamtravel

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