Debunking the Myth of Dangerous Gay Travel

In 2011, when I traveled to Mongolia by myself at the tender age of 28, my mother told me that the phrase, “dangerous gay travel Mongolia”, was her most commonly searched term of the year.  In 2013, I joked with my now-husband, David, that the only places in the world I would ever take him were the places whose gay pride marches required military escorts.  In 2017, I find myself aching to get to Grozny, Chechnya, the site of a current attempt at gay male genocide.

Travel as a member of any minority group is tricky at best.  It’s something that David and I, to be honest, have had a rather easy time navigating.  We’re not people of color, or in an interracial relationship – our minority status is largely hidden (aside from when I feel the need to vogue down a bus aisle, but that’s another story…)  We can assert ourselves as NOT gay, rather just brothers in law or friends or some platonic association of two men.  95% of the time we get no questions.  4% of the time, we come out to very warm, receptive people, who accept us as we are.  The other 1% of the time, we encounter homophobic graffiti, hotel staff who insist on giving us a room with two separate beds, or taxi drivers who don’t accept or believe that our “wives” are back in America.  

Homophobic graffiti in Novi Beograd, Serbia – on the bottom left of the building it reads (translated) ‘Stop the Gays”

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Balkan Kismet: Bosnia Transport (Mis)Adventures

Our day had started much like a typical one on the road for us.  We had woken early (it happened to be New Year’s Day) in Mostar, done a bit of perfunctory sightseeing, and were anxious to get back to Sarajevo.  We had only stayed overnight in Sarajevo previously, and were eager to explore the city more thoroughly.  We were thrilled to get dropped off at the bus station just as a bus for Sarajevo was departing.  We threw crumpled bills at the ticket kiosk and boarded the bus to see a group of passengers none-to-thrilled by our shenanigans, costing them time that could be spent going home.

Our transportation in the Balkans previous to this had been smooth, easy, and relatively on-time.  Save the fact that the Sarajevo Airport had been closed for the three previous weeks due to heavy fog in the city.  Apparently this happens every year – a fact that clearly eluded our outdated travel guide.  Luckily for us, however, the skies parted in Sarajevo the day before we arrived.  Until this point, our transportation luck felt like kismet. Read more

Traveling as an American in the Trump Era

It’s been a rough week since the events of last Tuesday in the Hippie Homo Household.  While I am first to admit that I live in a very liberal bubble, and that the people I surround myself with pretty effectively shield me from any pro-right wing speech, I went into last Tuesday thinking that a Trump victory was unthinkable – that our country couldn’t possibly elect such a narcissistic, hate-mongering, perverted, month-old rotting pumpkin/sexual predator as our next president.  And yet here we are.

But, as opposed to ranting about my personal political beliefs, I wanted to use this platform to elucidate the very real potential threats to traveling the world as an American under a Trump presidency, and to gesticulate on what we might be able to do to ameliorate those threats. Read more

Off the Beaten Path in My Google History: July 2016

As a full time employee of Corporate America, I spend a lot more time daydreaming about travel than actually traveling.  I toyed around with the idea last year of posting about the places that take me down wikipedia and travel blog rabbit holes, but with little follow through.  And as I’m kind of spent talking about Southeast Asia for the moment, I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit my various wanderlustings.  So without further ado, find below the five spots keeping me up at night, planning adventures well into the 2020s.

Mozambique

I have never been to Africa.  And while there are a million places I would love to visit there, Mozambique is at the top of the list.  I know a few people who have had the privilege of traveling there and I have only heard amazing things.  From the unspoiled Indian Ocean beaches (the country stretches from South Africa in the south all the way to Tanzania in the north – that’s an impressive coastline), to a fascinating and tragic history of Portuguese colonialism, to the diversity of people found there (like many places on the Indian ocean, trade routes catalyzed cross fertilization of cultures belonging to the nations surrounding the body of water), everything about Mozambique is attractive to me.  There’s even a healthy dose of modernist architecture to be found in the larger cities of Maputo and Beira.

Well, maybe everything but the million hours and several thousand dollars it takes to get there from Seattle.5984289274_0b89e1edfd_z 23533936000_f4703e77f9_z Read more

Anatomy of a Perfect Travel Day: New Years in Mostar, Herzegovina

I have let my feelings known regarding off season travel (I love it), and nowhere has reinforced my opinion of this more than Mostar, Herzegovina.  Walking through Mostar’s Stari Grad, it’s clear why the place is known to become such a hot tourist mess in the Summer.  The combination of the medieval atmosphere with cheap prices and great food has doomed many places once off the beaten path (looking at you, all of Croatia), and Herzegovina’s largest city is no different.  Day tour buses come in droves from Dubrovnik or Split from Spring to Fall – allowing tourists to spend a couple of hours in Mostar before returning to greater relative comfort  and development on the Adriatic.december-balkans-944jpg_24215588351_o december-balkans-954jpg_24002522610_o december-balkans-973jpg_24215619781_o Read more

In Defense of Fast Travel

I travel fast.  When I am on a trip, unless a more relaxed beach-type of vacation, I create itineraries to see as much as possible in the limited amount of time I have off.   In a perfect world, I’d have as much time as I wanted to travel, and be able to get to know the ins and outs of every street, town, city, and country I visit.  But the world’s not perfect, and as I don’t list “Travel Blogger” on my professional resume, I am only able to travel in the time my professional life allows.

Here’s an example of a single day in the life of one of our whirlwind trips:

Travel bloggers across the web are unanimous in their praise of slow travel – the act of taking time to truly get to know every place one visits.  And I agree.  I am not here to bash slow travel.  But I am of the majority of the population for whom slow travel is not a logistical possibility – I have a family to support, and a job that requires me to be in an office for around 50 hours a week.  The key here, also, is to understand that I wouldn’t change that.  I enjoy my work and the lifestyle it affords me and my family.  David and I wouldn’t be able to travel in the way I like to travel without it.  But it does make true slow travel a non-option for us.  And while we’d love to spend a week exploring a single place, our life’s travel ambitions (especially those for the short term) make a week getting to know the ins and outs of a single place impossible. Read more

How We Didn’t do Saaremaa Justice

We went to Saaremaa with the best intentions.  We had a list of things to see and a finite amount of time to see them.  We were also coming from a long day of driving, and sightseeing, on the Estonian mainland.  The day we left Saaremaa, we had a similiarly long day of driving ahead of us, and a similarly long day of sightseeing.  And somehow, amidst the general craziness of the two stacked days of traveling, Saaremaa got lost in the fold.honeymoon-jpegs-256_21287806198_o honeymoon-jpegs-266_20854531713_o honeymoon-jpegs-259_20854538053_o

I am not a slow traveler, and yet I am an advocate of slow travel.  My travel style is necessitated by the amount of time I am able to travel yearly (15-20 days, generally) while still keeping my corporate job.  And because I am generally an ambitious traveler, I try to pack as much into my vacation days as possible.  It’s an unfortunate circumstance that will be remedied whenever I get out of the corporate rat race.  I think I have about ten years left in me before I make that change. Read more

Gozo Beaches: Comparison is the Thief of Joy

It may be unfair, but when I’m on a beach vacation, I always end up comparing my current location to past vacations I’ve taken.  The beach vacations that have defined the way I look at  beach vacations are those I’ve taken in Latin America (in Mexico and Nicaragua) and, even more so, Southeast Asia.  It was therefore that comparative lens that I had to look through when my husband, David, and I went to the island of Gozo, in Malta.

Sigh - Ko Nang Yuan, Thailand.
Sigh – Ko Nang Yuan, Thailand.
Fresh fish on the beach on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.
Fresh fish on the beach on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.

It may be that Gozo and its beaches were doomed from the get go. Read more

Honeymoon > Wedding

I proposed to David on Christmas Day, 2014, high in the Caucasus mountains straddling the Russian-Georgian border, next to a fourteenth century church.  There were no other people around, but for our chain-smoking driver who had happened to pick us up on one his routines jaunts between Vladikavkaz, the capital of the Russian state of North Ossetia, and Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.  These types of crazy adventures have come to define a large part of our relationship, and so it seemed like the perfect place to take the figurative next step in our relationship.

Where David and I got engaged - pretty perfect.
Where David and I got engaged – pretty perfect.

But we are not having a wedding.  Not in the traditional sense at least.  We racked our brains as to how we should celebrate our marriage, and both came up with the answer that the best way to do so would be to not get all gussied up and rent out an event space for a bunch of people somehow tangentially related to us – but to go on another adventure.  We see so many of our peers killing themselves deciding between travel or wedding, travel or wedding, travel or wedding.  To us, the choice was incredibly simple.

Weddings today are big business, and while we think it’s great that some people go down the traditional route – with the wedding parties, and table settings, and videographers, etc. etc. etc. – it just isn’t us.  We are of modest means, and trying to save for a potential future where I won’t be a corporate wage slave and he’ll be able to run his own enterprise.  And to us, the traditional wedding price tag left us with sticker shock.

The mason jars at your wedding are basic, by the way.
The mason jars at your wedding are basic, by the way.

I’ve read in different places about the cost of the average American wedding hovers at around $30,000 today.  I think about $30,000, and think about a down payment on a house, saving for retirement, hell a year spent on the road around the world – but certainly not a wedding.

This might sound odd, as I am a person who will happily spend $10,000 a year on various travels for the rest of my life, but not that same amount (or really, a small fraction thereof) on a day to commemorate my wedding.  I am all about paying for experiences, but don’t feel the need to pay lip service to the fanfare around what society has deemed a wedding to be.

Weddings, to me, have become this strange cultural phenomenon that seem almost inescapable.  And I do consider myself lucky that, as a gay man, I am not held to the same ridiculous wedding tropes that apply to straight couples – especially those applying to women.  I do feel that weddings are a cultural leftover of a time when men felt the need to enforce some aspect of control over women in their lives (whether that woman is a daughter or a wife), and that lots of the folksy traditions that make up the foundation of a wedding (dad giving away the daughter, etc.) are anachronistic leftovers of a time when women were possessions.  Needless to say, I believe women have a harder time navigating the cultural norms around weddings and marriage, and that often times it’s easier to just buy in to the hoopla around weddings than to fight against them.

Brb guys, getting hitched! ✌😃🌈

A post shared by Nick M. ✌🏽❤✈️ (@concreteandkitsch) on

I think it also helps having grown up never thinking marriage was going to be an option for me.  I never fantasized about a traditional wedding because it was out of my realm of imagination.  And while this may have stoked desire for some in my community, for me it enabled me to write it off altogether.  So when it became legal for gays and lesbians to marry in Washington State in 2012, I didn’t immediately start planning my hypothetical wedding.  Instead, I recognized the importance of the change in laws, and went on my merry way.

And so when David and I decided to get married, we chose to eschew the typical wedding conventions in favor of something that felt more like us.  So far this has meant no registry, no fancy printed invitations, no wedding party, and certainly no tuxes.  Instead, to celebrate our union, we’ve gotten matching tattoos that celebrate our love for one another as well as our love for travel, invested a ton of money into landscaping our backyard (and, in all transparency, with a LOT of financial help from my parents), and rubber cemented invitations on the backs of old postcards we have purchased along various travels we’ve taken together. 

The mountain is a portrayal of Mt. Kazbegi from a 1980s Soviet Intourist poster of Georgia.
The mountain is a portrayal of Mt. Kazbegi from a 1980s Soviet Intourist poster of Georgia.
Yeah, we Holly Hobby'd the sh*t out of those invites on the back of postcards I bought at the church where we got engaged. And YES, our wedding website was a tumblr.
Yeah, we Holly Hobby’d the sh*t out of those invites on the back of postcards I bought at the church where we got engaged. And YES, our wedding website was a tumblr.

So our wedding celebration?  We had about fifty people over to our house for a backyard party – not for the wedding ceremony, that happened two weeks ago, with just my family and David’s oldest friend.   There were no bridesmaid dresses, no speeches, no DJ.  Our big splurge was hiring the quesadilla people from the farmer’s market to come make food for everyone (at $8 a head).  And we were privileged enough to be largely funded by my parents for the big day, the total cost for the event wasn’t anywhere close to what most people pay for their wedding venue alone.

The best part about the whole thing is having friends and family who know us well enough to know that a traditional wedding wouldn’t be our style in the first place.  They understand that our speed is more jeans and t-shirts, maybe with some rescue dogs thrown in – not so much readings from Corinthians, Vera Wang, and the chicken dance.

The week after is our real splurge – you’ve probably read about it here already – a week and a half in the Baltics and a week in Malta.  One week of exploration travel in the former Soviet bloc, and one week to run trails and sun our buns on the remote Mediterranean island of Gozo in Malta.  To be completely transparent, our honeymoon, when all is said and done, will cost us around $8,000.  And I will be the first person to acknowledge how truly privileged I am to spend such a sum on a two and a half week trip.   But I have to say, I can’t imagine the memories there won’t be worth more than a day of stress in stuffy clothes with a bunch of relatives I don’t really care for in the first place.

Confession: I am NOT a Backpacker

There is a lot of talk in the travel blogger community that glorifies frugal travel.  And I get it – the more cheaply one is able to travel, the more time one is able to spend on the road.  Short term travel is more mainstream and often times more expensive.  Cheaper travel also allows for slower travel – often times with accommodation getting cheaper the longer one stays in a single place.  These strategies are great for the long term traveler.   For many travel bloggers, whose bread and butter relies on traveling and writing about new places prolifically and in real time, frugality and finding ways to cut corners on costs is a great strategy for maintaining that lifestyle.  I totally get it.

I wouldn't mind taking things slowly here, on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.
I wouldn’t mind taking things slowly here, on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua.

But that’s not for me.  And, I would argue, the majority of people traveling in the world – especially those holding down 9-5’s.  For my family and almost all of my peers, life only allows for short term travel – a fact that doesn’t have to be as reviled as it is in the travel blogging community today.

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