Out and About – Holidays and Holiday Romances

Vacations are a good way to break the daily grind and go looking for romance, be it with your partner or with someone you hope to bump into repeatedly at your final destination. They are also undertakings that can lead to stress however. How do you avoid stress, find an exotic hottie and what are nice places to visit?

Final destinations
To decide on a good place for your holiday, it’s important first of all to know what kind of holiday you are looking for. Being gay won’t always be a factor, of course. If you don’t have a boyfriend with you and won’t be looking for a hot affair locally, then being gay won’t matter, practically speaking, so you can go wherever you please. If you plan to have a romantic holiday, however, you need to be pickier, whether you are bringing your partner along or hoping to find one during your trip. In either case it’s advisable to do some research online before you book, to check out the attitudes about love among men at your potential destination.

In most African counties and large parts of the Middle-East, homosexuality is illegal and can lead to jail time or corporal punishment should you be arrested for ‘indecent’ acts. The laws aren’t always strictly enforced and there may even be a tolerated gay scene, but you have to be on your guard. Generally, authorities will take it easy on a tourist to avoid international conflict, but it will be the local who is left behind who is made to suffer the most. Even if you are not breaking any laws, you will have to be careful. Just as you can get beaten up in a relatively tolerant city like Amsterdam for holding your lover’s hand, something similar could happen in many comparable, liberal countries and European cities, if you happen to stray into a bad area. If possible, ask a local what the safest spots are. If you lack a local source of info, you can try to do your research online. Should you have any doubts, err on the side of caution, unless you are in a gay bar or in an obviously gay-friendly neighborhood.

“When you’re safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”
– Thornton Wilder, writer

Local attitudes about homosexuality can be complex and hard to follow for a foreigner. In Africa and in many Arabic countries, open physicality between men is more common than in the Western world, be it in the form of enthusiastic embracing, touching, a kiss on the mouth or handholding. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that love and sex among men is therefore something that can be talked about in public. When it comes to sex, it will almost certainly take place behind firmly closed doors and the Western label of ‘homosexuality’ will not likely be attached to it. Again, this taboo doesn’t necessarily preclude there being a gay scene. Even in some countries where homosexuality is illegal, you will be able to find a tolerated, vibrant scene, using some insider knowledge. The question remains whether you feel like having a ‘relaxing’ holiday in a place where being openly gay is barely tolerated or even actively prosecuted. Maybe it’s better to spend your money somewhere else.

For many it’s preferable to visit a place where gays are welcomed with open arms. In a lot of European cities, you won’t have to control your limp wrists all that much and there are exotic locales that are only too eager to attract gay travelers and the pink pounds that come with them. Some traditionally popular places are: Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Paris, Sitges, Barcelona, Madrid, New York, San Francisco, Provincetown, Sidney, São Paulo, Mykonos, Curaçao, Playa del Inglés and Cape Town.

Bitter pills
It is thankfully getting increasingly rare, but some countries still discriminate against people with HIV and may bar them entry. So if you are going abroad and have HIV, check the local laws. (Find an overview of problematic countries here.) The United States and China have been guilty of this in the past, though these countries’ policies have since changed. Other offenders are Russia, Fiji, Moldavia, South-Korea, Iraq, Brunei and Armenia. The risk of you getting caught and sent back is ultimately minor, but if you want to totally avoid the chance of it happening, book your holiday somewhere safe.

Should you have to visit one of these discriminating countries,  you should consider sending your medication ahead to a local address or bring your pills with you in a nondescript container.

“It is easier to find a travelling companion than to get rid of one.”
– Art Buchwald, writer

True (holiday) romance
A bit of romance during a holiday can be a good thing if you’re single, whether you are travelling alone or with friends. Mobile dating apps are perfect for this. If you have a profile on a dating site, you can go public with your travel plans and temporarily change your ‘location’ into your holiday destination. This will make you visible for the online locals and, as a new face or body, you will likely get some attention, which doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up actually meeting someone, be it for a drink, sex or a potential relationship. Just a drink, without the option of something more, isn’t worth the effort for a lot of guys if they have to go through a lot of online foreplay. A hot, exotic affair is something many look for in theory, but when it comes right down to it, these tend to not feature high on the list of priorities. Be prepared for the meet-up to be cancelled at the last moment or for your potential lover to suddenly stop replying to your messages. And a relationship is generally not sought with a tourist who is just passing through, unless there are unromantic hidden agendas, like a residence permit or a financial contribution. Long-term planning is generally futile because of how flighty online contact tends to be.

Don’t let a holiday plan depend entirely on a romantic long-distance internet contact. If your love interest is in a place you had been planning to visit in any case, then be sure to drop by and see if you click in real life. But don’t be too dependent on that click. You may be disillusioned when you meet and be out of things to say within an hour. Be sure to have a room at a hotel and set things up in such a way that you would be able to have a great time by yourself if it turns out that way. Having to take a flight back earlier than planned would suck.

Once you have ended up somewhere in the company of eligible men, it’s best to take a moment to observe how people around you interact while cruising. Some countries favor a very direct approach; in others, you have to be very circumspect. Choosing the wrong method can lead to defeat. You can also decide to leave the initiative up to the other party, who may have already figured out he is dealing with a clueless tourist. Make eye contact to signal your interest, and then let him take the first actual step.

Chances are that you will feel more adventurous during a vacation than in your regular life. You don’t have to justify your actions as you are only passing through, and you are temporarily liberated from your job and possessions. For men who suffer from a fear of commitment, it can be easier to open themselves up to a hot hunk they meet abroad, as there is a natural end to the connection; the end of the vacation. It’s ironic however, that the very fact that they throw themselves into the affair emotionally, means there will be a temptation to keep the relationship going after returning home. This tends to be problematic. Not only does it take a lot of effort to keep a long-distance relationship from going stale, but the partner was not initially recruited with a long-term match in mind. He was chosen to serve as an exotic vacation anecdote, which means that the regular requirements for a partner went out the window. For just a week or two, it doesn’t really matter that you don’t speak the same language and that communication is difficult, or that you have different interests and that you don’t quite understand his cultural background.

But in the long run, these things may start to annoy. You may be able to clear those hurdles, in time, if you are both motivated enough. But even then, one of you would ultimately have to turn his life upside down by moving out of his own country. That will often be a sacrifice which upsets the balance of power in a relationship; one of you will always ‘owe’ the other person. In many cases it is best to end the romance with a passionate kiss at the airport or train station and leave it at that, keeping in touch a bit, so you can reconnect without any obligations during a next trip. If both of you are still pining for each other many months later, you can always decide then to have a go at what could be a complicated relationship.

When visiting a less developed country, you should be especially on your guard for hidden agendas. If someone starts declaring his eternal, undying love for you after one night together, you should take a moment to examine if he truly feels a connection to you, or rather to your wallet or the country you come from. If you figure out in advance that you are being used, you could decide that using him right back for your lustful desires is fair play. But that is likely to leave behind a bitter taste and not a sweet memory. It’s usually best to keep your distance from users.

It won’t always be easy to find information in advance about the diseases that are circulating at your holiday destination, but give it a shot in any case. Some places have a more active pool of STDs than others. Before you end up naked with someone, it’s best to know what kind of risks you are running. The romance generally won’t be worth a treatment with antibiotics, or something worse. Despite rampant passion, never let yourself be talked into having unsafe sex. Because you may both see each other as a pit stop rather than as partners, both sides will be tempted to think of their own needs first and disregard those of the other person. This can end up badly for both sides.

“There ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
– Mark Twain, writer

Travelling in tandem
Heading out on a holiday together for the first time as a couple can be an interesting challenge. After all, the routine you have built together in your daily life will be thoroughly disrupted. You will be in a new environment, likely without your friends, and totally at each other’s mercy. You will get to know each other in a different way, which can be good, but can also lead to trouble. Not surprisingly, an alarming amount of break-ups take place after a vacation — comparable to the amount after major holidays.

Have realistic expectations. Your stay won’t be an idyllic, romantic montage as seen in the movies: all sunrises and sunsets, standing smiling in front of a statue one moment, walking on the beach hand in hand the next and then finding yourself at a candlelit dinner in a charmingly authentic restaurant mere seconds later. In between those highlights, there will be less picturesque moments during which you will still have to deal with stress, just like at home. To make sure both of you will have a good time, negotiations have to take place about activities. And those activities will often have to be planned. Someone may even get sick from food poisoning or a local bug. Just as you were planning to have a thoroughly relaxing time, you find you have to take care of your sick partner.

Picking, planning and arranging activities can all too easily lead to tension within a couple. If your tastes have enough overlap with regards to entertainment when you’re at home, and if you have come a good way to balancing your needs there, you may be surprised to find out that he now suddenly wants to hang-glide and snorkel, while there are some museums you really don’t want to miss out on. Or you may want to head out into the jungle, while he’d rather go people-watching on a terrace in the city. You and you partner may have different goals for a holiday. One may want to use the time to relax and catch up on sleep, while the other wants to do the adventurous things he normally doesn’t have the time for. These issues can only sink your relationship if you decide to let them. After all, you won’t be on vacation your whole life. If you are perfectly happy with each other in daily life, there are several ways to circumvent major holiday stress.

You could simply decide to take your vacations separately, with friends instead of your boyfriend. That is sometimes judged to be unromantic or sad, but especially if you are living together, it can be healthy to not see each other for a week or so, once in a while. It gives you an opportunity to miss your boyfriend, which can be a nice feeling, and make you appreciate what you have. It also allows you to remember who you are on your own, outside your role within your relationship.

Taking a holiday as a couple together with some friends can be fun too, assuming it’s a group in which everybody gets along. You can then pursue the things you want to do with people who share your interests, while your boyfriend can do the same, all gathering in the evenings. Be sure to take a poll before your trip to check how interests are divided, to make sure that one person doesn’t end up being the odd one out.

Finally, you can decide to alternate the kind of vacations you take, agreeing not to complain if your own interests are put aside for a moment. That way you can strike a balance. However, if this arrangement results in one of you growing an ulcer when he can’t follow his own path, you should go with a different solution. Vacations should ultimately be relaxed trips, not obligations under threat of punishment, as that will leave both parties with a sour aftertaste.

“Going on holiday separately can be romantic. When I haven’t seen my boyfriend for a couple of days, I remember clearly why I love him. It reminds me of the beginning of our relationship, when we had to overcome obstacles to see each other. The yay-we-are-back-together-again sex afterwards isn’t bad either!”
– Tyson

Final edit: 27-10-2018 Dutch version here.