Thursday, April 5, 2012

Guest post: Gay travelers and comfort zones

I've got a fantastic guest post today from Robert over at Leave Your Daily Hell, all about traveling as a gay person.  Robert's point of view is from that of a gay man, but I think his advice rings true for a lot of other folks (myself included).  As always, if you like what you read, then send my guest post-er some love by commenting or visiting his site!

Why You Should Avoid "Gay" Destinations

Fun fact: I've visited 40 countries during my seven years of travel, but I can count the number of gay backpackers I've met on two hands. Of course, this isn't because gay men don't travel -- gay men make up one of the travel industry's most important demographics, after all.

Rather, I don't focus my travels on stereotypically gay destinations, such as Barcelona, Miami, the Greek island of Mykonos and Rio de Janeiro. Although visiting cities, countries and regions popular among gay men might make you feel more accepted, less lonely or simply safe from discriminatory laws, I urge you to avoid "gay" destinations whenever possible to make sure you get the most out of your travel experience.

What is a Gay Destination?

Tel Aviv gay rights
Liberal cities like Tel Aviv attract gay travelers from all over the world

I try to avoid generalizing whenever I can, but the fact is that gay men gravitate toward a particular set of destinations when traveling internationally -- if they ever get off their gay cruise ships, that is. These destinations are typically warm and situated on the beach: Miami, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Tel Aviv and Barcelona are classic examples.

A defining characteristic of gay destinations is that they're expensive, which isn't an issue for most gay travelers, one of the most affluent traveler demographics. Upmarket cities like New York City, Paris and London also top the list of gay travel destinations.

One reason destinations like these are popular among gay male travelers is that they are gay meccas, home to large populations of local gay men and thus, plenty of clubs, bars, coffee shops even complete "gayborhoods" where gay travelers can feel like they belong.

The gay traveler's desire to belong isn't always born out of hedonism, either. As I'll detail in a few paragraphs, being gay is actually a serious crime in some countries and regions. In this way, choosing a "gay" destination can also be seen as safer, the extent to which is might make you feel less like an outsider notwithstanding.

Gay Travel and Loneliness

Morocco Gay Travel
Use any loneliness you feel as a gay male traveler as an incentive to explore more

Of course, my favorite part of traveling internationally is feeling like an outsider. And to be fair, gay travelers aren't the only ones subject to feeling "different" while on the road -- even the straightest Western men and women will feel isolated in conservative Muslim countries like Egypt and extremely poor nations like Myanmar and India.

But this isn't to say that having scant contact with other gays isn't detrimental.

One way to overcome the loneliness you might feel being the "only gay" is to stay in hostels whenever possible. In my experience, gay travelers tend to avoid hostels as much as they avoid non-gay destinations, since they usually have the money to stay in hotels. As any backpacker will tell you, however, the advantages of staying in hostels far exceeds the lighter burden on your wallet -- they're fun and social, a veritable antidote for even the most profound loneliness.

Hostel staff are also usually great at helping you explore the city or region where you're traveling, which is another great way to combat loneliness. While many traditional gay travelers are "on the prowl" for sex, drugs or great parties, you'll have your sets sight on riches that are much more rewarding in the short- and long-term alike.

Gay Sex in Non-Gay Destinations

Gay rights in Lebanon
Finding other gay men when you travel isn't always this easy

Unfortunately, being a gay boy or man traveling in "no (gay) man's land" is sometimes more depressing than it is refreshing. Mot being able to flirt with other men or, by proxy, be flirted with, can seriously mess not only with your game, but also with your general confidence levels. And good luck not getting jealous of all the straight people in your hostel, who so readily hook up with one another.

Until very recently, meeting other gays on the road could be a tedious, imprecise affair. Even if you were able to locate gay bars, clubs and other meeting places, it could be difficult to determine which ones were best on which nights, and which (if any) catered to the types of guys you like. Thankfully, technology has made finding gays for sex, romance and whatever else you desire when you travel easier.

My personal favorite means of indulging my inner homo when I travel is Grindr, a mobile app available for Android, BlackBerry and iOS products like the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad. Employing GPS technology, Grindr displays all of the men adjacent to you in order of closeness and uses a simple interface that's conducive to quick, no-strings hook-ups, actual dates or even platonic encounters, but without the hassle of having to doll yourself up and buy expensive drinks.

Laws Against Homosexuality

Is Being Gay Illegal?
Be mindful of local laws against homosexuality to avoid legal punishment

Whether your goal is finding hot sex, a romantic date or just the occasional public companionship of other gay men, you need to be mindful of any laws against homosexuality that exist in the country where you're traveling. Gay rights movements in the U.S., Europe and Australia have taught us that it's OK to wear our sexuality on our collective sleeve but unfortunately, this isn't the case everywhere.

Think I'm being stubborn? Try cruising for sex in Morocco, where you can face up to three years in prison if someone so much as suspects you're gay. Penalties for being gay in other Middle Eastern countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Iran, can be even harsher. In many cases you'll just get deported, but having a deportation stamp in your passport can actually prevent you from being admitted to certain countries, so in some ways this is actually the worst punishment of all.

A good rule of thumb is to Google "gay rights in (country you plan to visit)" before you embark, to gain at least a general idea of what you can expect the situation to be like when you get there. If you come across even a single instance of the word "illegal," use the utmost discretion when pursuing anything gay, including hookups at a stranger's home -- it isn't uncommon for police in certain countries to pose as gay men looking for sex.

At the end of the day, you shouldn't let fear get in the way of traveling where you want, whether you're afraid you'll feel lonely, be unable to find sex, or even face punishment. Indeed, gay travelers who stick to "gay" destinations completely miss the point of travel, even if they have more sex or party more often than you. If you put travel first and "being gay" second when you're on the road, I promise you'll wind up on top -- or bottom, if you prefer to catch rather than pitch.
Robert Schrader is a writer, photographer and travel coach who has been frequenting non-gay destinations since 2005. He is the creator of Leave Your Daily Hell, a blog to which more than 20,000 travelers per month turn for expert advice on how to travel more often. Follow Robert on Twitter, add him to one of your Google+ circles, "Like" Leave Your Daily Hell on Facebook or subscribe to email updates for destination guides, practical advice and inspirational essays delivered daily.

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