Travelling as a solo female can come with its challenges, particularly in countries that have a machismo culture or where it’s just not common for woman to travel on their own, but I never have to face the reality that in some countries it’s illegal for me to be who I am.
Astonishingly there are 76 countries around the world where it is illegal to be gay and in some cases the penalty is imprisonment or even death. It’s a fact that’s prompted a lot more research and discussion every time I’ve invited my gay brother to join me on my adventures, particularly when we visited the Middle East together, and his partner at the time joined us.
But it’s not something I have to consider every day.
Despite the homophobic views of too many countries and people around the world, I’m continually inspired by the gays travellers (single or in a couple) who refuse to let these discriminatory rules prevent them from pursuing their dreams of seeing the world. In this interview, fellow travel bloggers Stefan and Sebastian of Nomadic Boys have kindly agreed to share with us what’s it’s like to travel as a gay couple.
What’s it like to travel as a gay couple?
Over to Nomadic Boys…
Tell me a bit about yourselves
We are gay couple, Stefan and Sebastien. Like you, we quit our jobs and London life to eat our way around Asia and we plan to make travel a long-term lifestyle.
Stefan, 32 is a former lawyer born and raised in North London to Greek parents. Sebastien, 33, is an IT geek, originally from Lyon, France and moved to London. London is where we met in February 2009 and have been together since.
How did you boys first meet?
We first set eyes on each other on Tuesday 24th February 2009 at the GAY bar in Soho, London. Sebastien was meeting friends to discuss moving to Spain to start a new life and Stefan was meeting a friend to chat about a career change. We were too shy to speak to one another and it was Stefan’s friend who helped break the ice. The rest is history.
Over the 6 years of our relationship, we have travelled extensively together and also moved in and lived together. We figured if we can survive that, then surely we can survive travelling together long-term.
What is your Nomadic Boys blog all about?
Travelling and cooking were the two things we had in common from the outset. Sebastien was on the verge of leaving London and Stefan had hit a lull in his legal career and was looking for something new. We had always aspired to travel, earning money along the way to fund it and making it our lifestyle/career.
After many years of saving and planning, we decided to go for it in June 2014. We set up the blog just before we left and it has become our baby.
The blog has been an excellent way to keep a record of our travels. It’s great because it has forced us to be more involved with our travels, such as with what we’re eating and in particular trying to meet as many locals as possible.
The main aspect of our blog we’re particularly proud of is our Gay Stories. We always try to meet local gays to see the gay scene from their point of view and learn what it was like for them growing up as gay.
How do you successfully manage to continue dating as a couple whilst travelling and working together all at the same time?
Travelling together has brought us closer in good ways and bad. Back home we would leave the house for work and be reunited in the afternoon – you have that separation. On the road, we are constantly together.
We’ve found the best way for this is to split everything and work on things independently to prevent (minimise) clashes and arguments.
This has happened quite naturally over the past year: Stefan manages the content and photography for the blog and Sebastien the IT, SEO and produces all of our videos.
Alongside this, Stefan manages our social media platforms and Sebastien deals with all our travel planning. This has helped create a sort of healthy separation needed (and minimised many tantrums).
What are your plans for Nomadic Boys?
Since we set up Nomadic Boys, it has grown exponentially in terms of traffic and followers, particularly amongst the gay community in Europe and North America. In addition, we have recently started to be contacted by hotels, tour companies and other tourist related businesses offering sponsorship and advertising.
Our dream is to be able to continue travelling using income from our blog (and other jobs we do along the way to supplement this). It is extremely hard work keeping on top of it along with all the travel planning, but we are certainly not complaining!
Which has been your favourite destination so far in Asia?
We have loved Mongolia, Nepal and Cambodia the most. But overall, we’d both agree on the Philippines.
In London, we have many Filipino friends. In addition, during one of our ‘admin’ base rest stops in Bangkok we developed a large group of Filipino friends. We love them a lot and because of them we heard so much about the Philippines.
We therefore arrived in the Philippines with extremely high expectations. These were not only exceeded but also left us with a craving to return. We have fallen in love with the country, particularly the Filipinos who we have a massive soft spot for: their faces just exude this wonderful friendliness and warmth.
What have you learnt as a gay couple travelling in Asia?
Gay rights are unfortunately far behind ‘the West’, but catching up. We found Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam to be the most gay friendly, leading the way. Japan, Thailand and Vietnam are slowly waking up to gay union/marriage legislation (albeit very slowly). Thailand had its first 3-way gay marriage take place on Valentines earlier this year!
The October Taipei Pride (in Taiwan) is the largest gay Pride Parade in Asia, attracting crowds of over 80,000. This is miniscule when you compare it to the millions that attend Pride parades in San Francisco, London or Sao Paolo, but for Asia, this is wow.
On the other hand, countries particularly in South Asia, like the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan are less LGBT friendly and you could technically be arrested and charged for being gay! (The likelihood is you will not and at worst, the police just use it as a way to gain a bribe).
Despite this, we never felt discriminated in any way or felt any fear of being discriminated against even in places like the Maldives or Sri Lanka. In addition, we never felt uncomfortable to request double beds in hotels.
The acceptance of ladyboys in society as a norm was a pleasant surprise in the Philippines and Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia. In comparison, ladyboys in Europe are unfortunately discriminated against in society, particularly so in the gay communities, and dismissed as prostitutes.
We have a very good Filipina friend called Regina who now resides in Bangkok who taught us more about what life is like as a ladyboy in Asia.
What was your initial itinerary and where to next?
We started in early June 2014, entering Asia with the Trans Siberian railway through Russia and subsequently spent a month in Mongolia followed by 6 weeks in China.
We then travelled through South Asia starting in Nepal, India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. We arrived in Bangkok in December 2014 to celebrate Christmas and take a break from travelling for a few months and catch up with our blog.
We picked things up earlier this year, travelling through the rest of Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and most recently, the Philippines.
We are now based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a few months for another mini break from travelling, to work more on the blog and plan the next leg of our travels.
The remainder of the year will be exploring Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan for Taipei Gay Pride and eventually back home in December to visit our families for Christmas and of course work more on the blog.
We plan to visit South America extensively next year, but this will largely depend on how the blog grows and if it makes enough money to justify this.
Would you advise gay travellers avoid visiting countries which have a terrible reputation on LGBT rights, like Russia, Sri Lanka, India or Indonesia?
We learnt that you should not restrict or limit your ambitions just because of what people say. Before setting off, we were warned about travelling as a gay couple to places known to be anti gay, like Russia, or even worse, places like Brunei and Sri Lanka where it is technically illegal and an arrestable offence.
Yet we have learnt that as a gay couple, most people are completely indifferent to us. Booking double rooms has never been a problem and if anything, people would simply think we are brothers.
We believe that LGBT tourists should never restrict their travels to places where gay rights are still stuck in the medieval ages. If anything, we think visibility of external gays in such countries is important to help locals there see homosexuality as a norm and not a perversion. In addition, our presence in such countries offers important support and visibility to the local LGBT community.
If you want to read more, check out the Nomadic Boys’ gay travel blog and if you have any questions about gay travel, I’m sure the Nomadic Boys would be glad to answer them in the comments below.