I started writing this post on gay backpacking last year before we began our trip around the world. However, I decided it would be best to post it after our year abroad to share our actual experiences.
Being gay backpackers, Auston and I had talked a little bit before we started traveling about what our plan would be as to whether or not we'd come out to people we meet while traveling. The general consensus was that we'd just have to feel out every situation. So from the beginning, we told everyone that we were friends from college which is how we actually met anyway. We also didn’t wear our wedding rings while abroad just to avoid any unexpected questions.
When we stayed with our host family on our first stop in Mexico City, we didn't come out. The obvious problem is that many people have strong opinions on being gay and we didn’t know where she would stand. Since we had to stay with her for two weeks, we didn’t want to risk creating a difficult environment between us. Looking back, I feel like she would have supported us. Still, I don't know that I can say I regret not coming out. Our home stay was a positive experience that could have been otherwise.
By the time we were two months into our trip, we had stayed at a number of hostels but had not come out to a single person. Depending on the conversation, some people must have caught on (I’d be surprised if they didn’t) while others may have not. This whole scenario didn’t bother me much as we hadn’t stayed at any one hostel for a particularly long period of time. We were constantly traveling and weren’t getting to know people very well anyway.
But when we stayed in a hostel in Antigua after leaving Mexico, we met great people there. They were so friendly, out going, and willingly shared their life stories and adventures with us. It was the first time we realized what the hostel community could provide – how easily you can make friends abroad if just put yourself out there. I could't help but feel that by not telling our story – our complete story – we only prevented ourselves from really getting to know people and sharing those incredible experiences.
On the other hand, if you've ever backpacked, you can really see that it's a straight person's world (a single, straight person’s world to be exact). We hadn’t been traveling long, but in those first two months of our trip and we didn’t meet anyone from the LGBT community let alone another couple (gay or straight). Overall, it really did't matter. The whole experience was about getting to know anyone and everyone from all different backgrounds. But it made me wonder whether it was common for couples or individuals from the queer community to travel in this particular way. It seemed not to be the case.
However, this was only the beginning of the trip and we had only gone to Central America. In the months to follow we learned that we were so wrong about backpackers. Single straight people may dominate, but there are plenty of couples backpacking together and plenty of travelers from the LGB community (I leave off the T because we never came across a transgender backpacker which would be a whole other post in itself). What really prevented us from realizing this in the beginning was ourselves. We were so cautious with who we told and so unwilling to leave each other’s sides that we weren’t exactly an easy duo to approach.
The more we stepped out of our “couple bubble” to meet the travelers around us, the more comfortable and trusting we grew. We felt less and less necessity to be wary of coming out to people, especially travelers. You have to notice that travelers tend to be of a certain mindset (generally speaking). They’re typically very open minded. It’s a ‘come as you are’ and ‘let’s learn from each other' kind of crowd. The more you open up to it, the more you stand to gain from it. In the end, we just became less willing to hold back.
Of course we were always cautious and respectful with the cultures we came across while backpacking. We weren’t out to make big statements or to change deeply rooted ideologies. However, we always enjoyed sharing our life just as much as we were anxious to learn about the cultures of others. So the question is, as a gay backpacker, a gay traveler, should you be out of the closet?
…and sort of no.
Basically you have to take it on a case by case level. You decide what you’re comfortable with while being respectful of the way other people live. Sometimes you’re just there to learn and interact with a new culture. Sometimes you're there to share and improve. Either way, one of the things I learned most while traveling is that people are kind. People are loving. People are helpful. People are grateful Some different beliefs may divide you, but there is so much about just being a human being that connects you. There are of course exceptions to that, but if you hide parts of yourself then no one will really know you or learn from you. So be you! Whoever that is.
And remember that if you’re an LGBT traveler feeling lost in the straight crowd, there are definitely other queer backpackers out there. Just a little fewer and farther between. Besides, traveling isn’t just about finding like-minded people. It’s about challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. Meet new people. Not always easy, but ALWAYS worth it!
Now let's play a little game called “Guess When TwoBadTourists Were & Were Not Out & Proud!”
1. When we celebrated Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil…
2. When we volunteered at a children's orphanage in Ghana, a country where same-sex relationships are illegal and can be punishable with 5-25 years of imprisonment…
3. When we went to a Lady Gaga concert in Sofia, Bulgaria…
4. When we were in Mykonos, a gay haven in the Greek isles…
5. When we were in Addis Abba, Ethiopia where same-sex relationships are also illegal and punishable with 1-10 years of imprisonment…
6. Or when we met this obviously anti-gay monkey in Rishikesh, India…
Here are some other sites/blog posts that more or less explore the topic:
- 1 Dad 1 Kid: The Travel Closet
- Dart Strikes Map: An Interview with Tony and Thomas
- Gay Backpacking: A Contradiction in Terms?
How do you handle being LGBT abroad? What are your experiences being out of or in the closet? Or if you know of other good websites and blog posts that discuss this topic about gay travel, please feel free to share them with us in the comments section below!