Before my boyfriend, Glen, and I embarked on our group trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year, my biggest concern was whether being a couple would be an issue for the group. After all, Flash Pack has a lot of messaging around single, solo and independent travel – and I wondered whether our fellow travelers would assume we’d spend the whole time sticking together.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Glen is my first official boyfriend – we’ve been together for 20 years. I feel fortunate to have had that stability. But at the same time, when you’ve been with someone that long, the last thing you want to do is sit next to them at every occasion. Instead, Glen and I were quite happy to move around and talk to everyone else. In fact, we were probably the most social people on the trip.
I suppose it helped to play off our dynamic in a group setting, too. We didn’t say anything about being a couple to begin with but then our group put two and two together – word spread fast – and that helped to break the ice.
Glen and I always felt safe and secure traveling in Sri Lanka
Officially, Sri Lanka is included in the list of countries where LGBTQIA+ rights aren’t recognized. Homesexuality is only just starting to be decriminalized by the Sri Lankan parliament. However, as a gay couple, Glen and I always felt safe and secure traveling within its borders in a group. We weren’t openly affectionate in public but I’m not a big PDA person anywhere.
We both really enjoy group travel. We’ve been to around 40 countries and on tours together over the course of our relationship. It’s a format that brings out the most relaxed, carefree version of me – it’s a recipe for the ultimate vacation.
I love the fact that with group travel, I can just sit back and let someone else take charge. I don’t have to worry about any of the normal admin that comes with travel; how to get from A to B, whether I’ve wandered into a bad part of town or which places do the best food.
I was able to really be myself within the culture and landscapes
Instead, it’s an opportunity to recharge while connecting with people from all over the world. In Sri Lanka, we really hit potluck with the group dynamic. The people we traveled with were just as good as the place itself; we had so much fun. It felt like we were like-minded. We’d all chosen this trip as an opportunity to reset and take a break from the daily grind.
I was able to really be myself within the culture and incredible landscapes of Sri Lanka, too. The safari at Yala National Park was a pinch-me moment, and I loved the amazing hotels we stayed in. Accommodation was next level, to the extent that it became just as much a part of our journey.
Plus, Sri Lankan people are so friendly and will go out of their way for you. That included our tour leader, Raz; his passion for Sri Lanka was infectious. I’m a bit of a foodie so I loved the ability to eat like locals through authentic experiences, such as farm lunches and cooking over an open log fire.
The group were fascinated by our long-term relationship
Most people in our group were women and there were a lot of strong personalities in the mix. Some were fascinated by our long-term relationship given they’d had their own bad experiences or just hadn’t found the right person yet. Others joked that, “All the good guys are gay.”
It’s funny as when Glen and I are out with a group of women, we all get on so well. You’d be amazed at the amount of straight men that sidle up to ask us “What’s your secret?” They’re bewildered. But truthfully, there’s no mystery to it. It’s just that women don’t feel threatened in our company. They’re comfortable and can relax because they know that we’re not trying to hit on them.
I think this speaks to having respect for women more widely, too. Unfortunately, we’re at a point where many men are still threatened by the presence of successful, independent women. I was raised in a household of powerful women, including my mum and my sisters, so I embrace that vibe – and I think women can pick up on that.
My sexuality is just one part of me
Despite my open upbringing, being gay wasn’t something people spoke about in my childhood – unless it was in the form of terrible slang. I grew up in a regional town called Dubbo in New South Wales, Australia. There were no openly gay people and nothing on TV that I could identify with. So I never had that moment where I sat down and thought, “I’m gay”. I suppose I pushed that side of me down for a long time.
By the time I did come out in my mid-20s, it was something of a non-event. Even my own family members were like, “You’re gay, okay.” It turned out everyone already knew and wondered why I hadn’t said anything before.
I’m not afraid to talk about my sexuality, but it’s also just one part of me; I’m the same person, no matter what. On the other hand, I’m almost constantly coming out to new people. Most will assume you’re straight unless you say otherwise and have that conversation.
If my LGBTI podcast can help just one person, I’ll have done my job
Back in Sydney, I have a busy life that combines my corporate role in customer relations with my podcast LGBTI Conversations that I run as a passion project on the side.
Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community in Australia means I’ve heard so many stories over the years. People really struggle with finding their sexuality and that feeling that they somehow don’t fit society’s mould. That’s why, two years ago, I decided to use my background in broadcast journalism to launch the podcast. I run it in my own time as a labour of love to spotlight the unique and important stories of the global LGBTQIA+ community.
It’s had a great reception and listeners tune in from all over the world, including China, India and Cambodia – places where the rights of sexual minorities aren’t protected and active discrimination is often rife. If my podcast can help just one person in one of these destinations – or anyone anywhere going through a rough time because of their sexual identity – I’ll have done my job.
A group tour will change the way you vacation
People are who they are. As I traveled in Sri Lanka, my gaydar told me that there are lots of people who identify as LGBTQIA+ in that community, too. And that’s precisely why my podcast exists, to support those who perhaps feel like they can’t come out for whatever cultural or religious reason. But I do also think globally it’s becoming less of an issue, especially for the younger generation.
For anyone thinking of joining a group tour, I’d say it will change the way you vacation. You’ll get so much out of it, not only by being able to fully relax but also by meeting new people. The worst that can happen is you’ll have too much fun – but you may also make lifelong friends. My time in Sri Lanka was just beautiful. It’s right up there as one of the best trips of my life.
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Images: courtesy of Anthony Doick and Flash Pack