What’s it like travelling the world as an LGBT couple?

In conversation with: travel bloggers Meg & Lindsay Cale, who document their experiences and share advice for other LGBT travellers on their blog, Dopes on the Road.

How long have you been working the blogger hustle full time?

Meg: I’ve been blogging for almost five years. The first couple years were pretty casual but I started taking it very seriously in 2014 and went full time. I’ve been a full-time blogger since.

Lindsay: We started the blog together when we were living in South Korea. I ended up having to return to the US early due to some family issues and Meg stayed in Korea. We were apart for six months and I quickly realized that I didn’t want our relationship to be overtaken by business meetings during the few minutes we had to talk. It was a 14 hour time difference so when I was waking up she was sleeping and vice versa. So I stepped away from the blog and for a few years DotR was Meg’s passion project. I always helped behind the scenes with photos and lots of visual stuff, but I came on full time six months ago.

Has travel helped you overcome any personal barriers in your life?

Meg: Before we started DotR I was living in New York City and working as an LGBT activist. I loved my job and was wildly passionate about what I did. My whole life centered on LGBT policy change. Honestly, it was all I ever talked about and all I ever did. I was always speaking, volunteering, doing some community building event or networking.

It got to the point that it was difficult for me to see outside the tiny queer bubble that I had created for myself.

When I first started traveling I had zero straight people in my life. Not because I had anything against straight folks – but because I had siloed myself off into a self imposed and limited social group. Travel forced me to make friends who weren’t queer but it also helped me to see through the eyes of other people. It made me view the world through a more even pane and gave me some diversity in my interests. I still love LGBT policy work and I’m still actively involved – just in different ways now.

Lindsay: I was a terrible student in school. It was hard for me to stay focused in class and I always prioritized sports. When I started traveling I realized that I wanted to know more about the world.

I wanted to learn things. I wanted to grow and expand beyond my mostly white middle class American perspective.

For a long time I thought I was stupid because I didn’t get or care about school stuff. As an adult I know I’m not stupid and I know it wasn’t about not being interested in what we were learning but rather how the information was presented. I’m an experiential learner. I have more fun when I’m tactile – I’ve gotta be doing something and touching something, rather than just reading about it or listening to a teacher. Travel is the ultimate experiential classroom – it allows me to learn what I’m interested in, at my own pace, and I get to skip the boring bits I’m not interested in without getting a lecture.

Me too. #mothershipfest

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What are your experiences of travelling as an LGBT couple?

Meg: Honestly my experiences vary widely depending on where we are, if I’m traveling with Lindsay, how I’m dressed etc. Sure, there are countries that are more friendly than others to LGBT folks but even within some generally friendly countries there are some anti-LGBT spots. I’m very traditionally feminine so if I’m not with Lindsay, most people wouldn’t know. I pass as straight. Passing is a huge advantage in the travel world because it helps us to avoid potentially awkward or even dangerous situations.

Lindsay: I don’t pass – not even a little lol. People generally either think I’m a man because I’m 6’ tall or they immediately know I’m gay. It’s nearly impossible for me to hide it. For the most part people leave us alone but there are a few annoying things that happen on every trip. Figuring out if it’s safe to go to the bathroom is a daily battle. I’m always afraid I’m going to use the bathroom and some kids’ dad is going to kick the crap out of me for going in the women’s room because they think I’m a dude. I’ve had little old ladies hit me with brooms in bathrooms before and I’ve definitely got my share of dirty looks from confused people. The TSA is always a nightmare too. They always have to use the body scanners twice because inevitably they’ll choose the wrong gender setting the first time.

My issues are less about me being gay and more about how people perceive my gender expression.

How do you handle negativity towards you as a couple?

Meg: I’m very direct and confrontational – to Lindsay’s horror. She’s really shy and tends to be more passive. I’m a New Yorker – what can I say? I have no problem speaking my mind and letting people know that I see them staring at us. If it’s a situation where our safety could be at risk I tend to tone my rage, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Lindsay: Meg gets really worked up about it but as long as we’re safe I don’t give a shit what people think of us. It can be uncomfortable at times but I’m not going to let it ruin my day. We have these interactions nearly daily – if we always let it bother us it’s all we’d be thinking about.

Have you ever been in a difficult situation as a couple, and how did you handle this?

Meg: The only time I’ve ever felt truly unsafe while traveling was one time when we were in South Korea. It was Pride weekend so folks had a heightened awareness of LGBT people in the area. We were followed by a group of American military guys and ended up ducking into a restaurant to avoid them. They were drunk and yelling things at us and we got scared so we just opted for the most crowded public place we could find near us.

Most of the issues we get are around eroticized lesbianism or the complete lack of understanding that gay women exist.

In some countries the concept of gay people is so underground that many people have heard of the LGBT community but believe they’ve never actually met a queer person before, so all of their understanding comes from pop culture or porn. Lesbian porn is made for straight men so it creates a hypersexualized view of what lesbians are. Spoiler – porn isn’t real.

Why is so important for LGBT travelers to get out there and see the world?

Lindsay: The only way people will accept us is if we put ourselves out there and experience new cultures. I think there’s a lot to be said for overcoming the fear of difference.

More times than not, I’ve ended up being surprised by how we were perceived in different places.

We tend to prepare for the worst but usually end up pleasantly surprised. Honestly, we typically deal with less issues on the road than we do at home. Even if you’re just traveling domestically within your own country you can gain an entirely different perspective of your own country. For some people, finding other people like us is a huge thing. If you’re from a small town and don’t have a large LGBT community visiting a place like Brooklyn – where Meg’s from – can shift your entire perspective.

What are some of the concerns you hear from LGBT travelers about why they don’t travel?

Lindsay: The biggest one is probably that it’s not safe for LGBT people to travel. I’d definitely encourage anyone traveling to do their homework on where they’re going. What’s the local custom for PDA? What’s the appropriate way to dress for the culture? We created a guide with 8 questions LGBT people should ask before traveling abroad and 40 safety tips for LGBT travelers to help folks really understand what they’re getting into when they’re on vacation. The more informed you are on the place you’re visiting and how LGBT people are received there, the easier it is.

What is the biggest misconception about LGBT travel you’re tired of hearing?

Meg: Oh this one is easy – I’m so tired of hearing people say LGBT people shouldn’t travel to countries with anti-LGBT policies in place.

 

People are not their governments.

I can say with 100% confidence that a Venn diagram of political opinions the Trump administration and I have in common would actually be two independent circles. There are places that have amazing attitudes towards LGBT people but their policies lack behind. Germany and Australia are great examples. They were a little late to the marriage equality table but they’re both friendly LGBT travel destinations. It works the opposite way too. On the flip side there are places in the US who technically have solid LGBT protections that I wouldn’t consider socially friendly towards LGBT people.

Everyone said we shouldn’t go to Egypt ???????? they had good intentions – mostly they were worried about our safety but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see one of the worlds most incredible wonders. If LGBT people never traveled to anti-LGBT countries we’d lose out on more than half the world. Even more if you include places without explicitly anti-LGBT laws but clear anti-LGBT social sentiments. How can we ever convince the world that they should be welcoming and affirming of our community if they’ve never been exposed to our people? I don’t expect every queer person to travel to the far reaches of the globe but I do hope that @lindscale and I are able to touch the hearts of the people we meet around the world and open their minds to supporting our community. Our goal is to unlearn fear and hate and teach kindness and respect. What we’re doing isn’t special or unique to us. Anyone in our community can spread love and help touch the lives of those they meet on the road. Most people are afraid to go behind their comfort zones which is 100% normal – you don’t have to start by traveling to a country far outside of your comfort zone. You can take a bit of pressure off your anxieties by traveling with a tour group like @contiki – making sure you have travel insurance and by staying with @iglta member hotels. These are a few of the ways we take the stress out of travel while still being able to see the parts of the world that make our hearts sing. #TheTravelProject #Contiki

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If you had one piece of advice for LGBT travelers, what would it be?

Lindsay: My biggest piece of advice would be to do your research on your destination but don’t fixate on all the things that could go wrong. Be informed but not neurotic. Knowledge is power, but having too much knowledge is a slippery slope. Everyone has googled the cause of their paper cut  and ended up on WebMD immediately thinking you have a rare form of cancer. It works the same way with travel. If you’re fixating on the negative it will just ruin your trip. You get my point – be informed, but also trust your instincts and allow yourself to experience the culture.

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