Travel opens up a world of possibilities, but with new experiences, come new destinations, cultures and people with minds that I've found may not be as open as you'd expect. Even with the modernization of most of the world, I've found travelling can come with its fair share of obstacles to overcome, especially for LGBTQI travellers. For those visiting destinations where homosexuality is not yet accepted, I've discovered a whole other set of challenges that straight individuals don't necessarily need to consider.
When preparing for a big adventure, my most important rule of thumb is to always be prepared. Know what you are getting yourself into and where your travels may take you. While it's not totally necessary to have an itinerary mapping out every minute of every day, it is important to have some idea of the goals of the journey you are about to embark on — like deciding if you want to learn the language, or experience a new cuisine or art form.
Throughout my many years as a nomad, traveller and coach driver, I've come up with a few tips for others in the LGBTQI community while travelling.
It's OK to rage against these cultures for their lack of diversity and archaic values, but do it in your own time, on your own turf.
Do your homework
At the very start of planning my next trip, I've found it beneficial to do research on the country you're travelling to, the food you're going to eat, the people that you're going to meet, etc. While language barriers can be tricky, sometimes the biggest challenge can be the way we interact with each other. If you are a gay traveller unaware that you're travelling to an LGBTQI unfriendly country, you may not realize the importance of blending in. Without jeopardizing your beliefs and values, it's important to be sensitive to the laws of the land and avoid ruining your holiday over a cultural misunderstanding.
At all times, travellers must be culturally sensitive by monitoring behavior and dressing appropriately to avoid conflict wherever you go — especially in LGBTQI unfriendly countries. For example: I have a rainbow T-shirt which says, "Say I do Down Under," in support of the same-sex marriage plebiscite in Australia. I wear it loudly and proudly as often as possible, but would never wear it in a place with an anti-LGBTQI culture. Something so simple could cause unnecessary conflict with people whose values do not align with mine because of ingrained cultural differences. It's OK to rage against these cultures for their lack of diversity and archaic values, but do it in your own time, on your own turf.
It is also important to note "peak seasons" for the places that you are visiting. For example, July and August are commonly peak season for gay pride events and celebrations across Europe. Planning your trip around events like this is a great way to experience a city and meet people that will be out celebrating in the streets.
Follow the buddy rule
For first-time travellers and experienced travelers, booking a tour with a group travel operator can be a great option. Not only does group travel provide you with a built-in community of likeminded individuals who are interested in similar activities abroad, but it also provides you with a trip leader and coach driver (like myself!) who can share insider tips and tricks and be your designated buddy. Some of the best local experiences I've had travelling was from simply wandering around, sitting down at a bar, café, restaurant or hostel, chatting with different people and learning from each other's experiences and beliefs.
I've found that for those who aren't as comfortable going out and doing this alone, travelling in a group can relieve that anxiety and make the whole trip more enjoyable. One of the greatest weekends I've ever had was at Gay Pride in Amsterdam. I had just arrived in Europe, and was travelling completely alone. But I did my research and chose Pride as my first stop. I went to the oldest lesbian bar in Amsterdam and started chatting with the bartender. Within minutes I discovered she was the owner and by the end of the evening, I had an entire group of new friends, invites to a bunch of Pride events, a plan for the weekend and a huge amount of happiness.
I've created one big family and shared bonds with people that will last a lifetime.
For the brave of heart: turn your vacation into a career
When I was 24 years old, I realized that I didn't have to live my life the way others expected me to live it; go to university, find a job, settle down, etc. I decided to take a leap of faith and went on my first Topdeck 17-day European Pathway adventure and it changed my life in the best way possible. Traveling gave me the opportunity to break away from the mould and escape the daily grind that I was fed up with back home. I came back from my trip, packed up all of my belongings and went right back out into the unknown to embark on a journey of travel with no "final destination" in mind.
If you're also looking to set out on this alternative lifestyle and live a full-time life of travel, you must be up for the challenge of not having a home-base and finding fulfilment in never needing to settle down.
I've found that by travelling with a group as my career, I've created one big family and shared bonds with people that will last a lifetime. It is the perfect stepping stone for those who are looking to take that leap of faith and leave their normal routine behind. And as my next mission, I am aiming to support efforts to gain further ground in the LGBTQI demographic so that more young, gay travellers feel comfortable venturing out abroad.
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