I knew I was gay in secondary school – I was 15 years old when I came to realise that I liked guys. Yet I kept that part of myself hidden for a very long time. It was something I lied about to other people and myself; throughout my 20s, I tried to convince everyone I was straight.
By the time I reached the age of 30, I knew I had to bite the bullet and share the truth. People underestimate how much of an issue it is to open your mouth and say the words, “I am gay.” It’s a big deal, especially if it’s something you’ve carried by yourself, like me, for 15 years.
I started to tell people about myself
The first time I shared my sexuality in a group travel setting was on an adventure trip to Vietnam with Flash Pack three years ago; the same year I came out. I had done group vacations in my 20s but I hadn’t let on to anyone that I was gay. On this particular trip, we were onboard an overnight train from Hanoi to Sa Pa, playing cards and having a few drinks. I started to tell people about myself, but I couldn’t get the words out.
Eventually, with some coaxing from the others, I managed to. Within five minutes of telling everyone, I felt so relaxed and comfortable; it wasn’t an issue at all, which was a huge relief. The same was true for my loved ones back home. They said they were happy if I was happy. Coming out hasn’t changed who I am to them.
There is often an issue of safety for the LGBTQ+ community
On my Flash Pack trip to Bali earlier this year, our wonderful guide Yogi went the extra mile to make sure the trip was inclusive. He knew that me and another girl on the trip identified as LGBTQ+ One night he announced as a surprise that we were all going to a gay bar. We headed to this packed spot in the beachside neighbourhood of Seminyak; there were drag queens, lots of dancing and everyone had a really great night.
It can be quite daunting to arrive somewhere different and not know how much of a stigma there is associated with being gay; there is often an issue of safety for people within the community. While there are some tolerances towards to LGBTQ+ in Bali, some aspects are still quite taboo. Yet, there we were in this amazing local gay bar that our guide had gone out of his way to arrange. It put me at my ease and made me feel so welcome.
The group travel structure brings a level of security
However, you do hear horror stories of places in the world where gay people are persecuted. For example, I’m a big football fan but I won’t be going to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. There’s no way I’d be allowed to express my sexuality openly there.
Even in places that are less prohibitive there’s always an education process that’s required to work out whether it’s safe to be openly gay. So, as someone who doesn’t want to hide who they are, the group travel structure brings a level of security I don’t have on my own.
I went on Grindr and got some great tips
Before a Flash Pack trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year, there were a lot of political problems going on, with anti-government protests breaking out over the island’s economic crisis.
On the WhatsApp chat that was set up prior to departure, a lot of people were asking questions about whether it would be helpful to locals for us to travel or, in fact, stay away. I went on Grindr, dropped a pin in various locations and started chatting to some local gay guys about the situation and what life was like for them. I got some great information and tips to feed back to the group which put everyone at ease. They also thought it was amusing that I’d used Grindr to get an update.
When I’m travelling with a group, I feel free
There’s also something pretty special about group travel. When you’re a small set of people from all over the globe exploring together, you get to know one another pretty quickly. Everyone’s on the same wavelength; super-open, friendly and liberal in terms of their outlook on life. That makes it a lot easier to comfortably be who you are.
If I compare who I am on Flash Pack trips to who I am at work – I am a London-based investment banker – it’s very different. I’m open about my identity at work, but when I’m traveling with a group I feel free to relax and open up with my new group of friends.
My last vacation to Bali was epic; it was a really good bonding trip. Over the course of two weeks together, we became really close. It was like having a small family, getting to know everyone’s quirks and forming great friendships. I’ve since planned a sabbatical from work, during which I’ll travel with Flash Pack to Costa Rica, Colombia, Argentina and Peru.
It’s no longer something I try and hide away
For anyone who is LGBTQ+, you shouldn’t be concerned about going on a group trip and being exactly who you are. The whole point of these trips is to go and have an amazing time in other places, meet and learn about new people.
Being gay is not something I’m shouty about; but it’s also no longer something I try and hide away. It’s simply who I am.
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Images: Courtesy of Peter Catterall & Flash Pack