Life on the Road as a Gay Couple

By Nomadic Matt | Published July 21st, 2014

auston and david from two bad touristsOne things we haven’t focused on this site is LGBT travel and, as we bring in a wider range of reader interviews, I wanted to highlight LGBT readers as I’m curious learn about their experiences traveling around the world, as many countries have harsh anti-gay laws. So when Auston e-mailed me about being the next reader profile, I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to know how he and his husband face or have dealt with any discrimination and his advice for others. He sat down with me virtually over e-mail to talk:

Nomadic Matt: Hi, Auston! Tell everyone about yourself.
Auston: David and I met in 2005 when I was 23 at Arizona State University. We quickly started dating in 2006 and got married in 2010. In 2008, I was offered a job in Chicago, so we moved and started planning our ultimate our escape from normal life. Our original plan was to travel for one year and then return to the US but, that never happened, and now we’re living in Spain. I’m working freelance as both an engineer and travel writer. We continue to travel and write for our blog, TwoBadTourists.com, where we provide our readers with travel tips and stories about festivals, events and gay-friendly destinations.

What inspired your trip?
I’ve always been inspired by travel from a young age. I was always motivated to travel and learn about different cultures. David traveled abroad many times for volunteer work in places like Mexico, Dominican Republic, Tanzania and Belize. Upon moving to Chicago, I knew that our stay would only be temporary. As much as I loved the city, I couldn’t handle those brutal winters and wanted to move to the West Coast. The idea of traveling for a year suddenly came into my head and we started saving immediately in hopes that we could actually last a year on the road. We left in May of 2012 and planned to travel through Central America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. But after our trip was over in 2013, we decided to move abroad and continue traveling from our home base in Spain.

auston traveling

How did you save for your trip? 
We saved for our trip in just about every way possible. I created a strict budget and cut out all the unnecessary luxuries like cable TV, eating out or buying new clothes. For a while, I even clipped coupons – the bane of my existence! Every extra penny went into a savings account. The only traveling we did during this time was occasional trips back home to Arizona to visit family. We sold all of our belongings and earned some extra cash by putting higher value things on eBay or Craigslist. Our final push to get enough for our trip was holding a rummage sale. We passed out flyers in our parents’ neighborhoods and asked friends and family to donate any household items they wanted to get rid of. Between two yard sales, we earned an extra $1,500 in just one weekend. But the biggest saver was definitely getting our flights for almost free. We booked two round-the-world tickets through US Airways with 4 years worth of saved airline miles and only paid $550 in taxes total for both flights. In the end, we saved nearly $35,000 total and hoped our savings would keep us on the road for a year. We nearly met that goal- the money lasted 11 months before running out.

auston traveling

What advice on savings do you have for others? 
You really need to think about your priorities when you’re saving for a big trip. If you’re motivated, you can save a lot by cutting out daily expenses. If you eat out frequently or have a daily Starbucks habit, cutting these can save you a lot of money over time. You’ll probably need to save for a least a year or more for a long trip, so start planning early. It’s best to have a total savings goal for your trip and then create a monthly spending budget so you can track your progress. It may not be the most fun, but the payoff of taking a long term trip is worth the effort.

auston traveling

How did you stay on budget when you traveled?
Staying on budget while traveling can be difficult, especially when traveling as a couple. David and I each have different ideas and values about how much to spend and how much to cut out. David is the spender while I’m the saver. We fought a lot over this issue – the most ever in our 8 years together and the stress of the trip really threatened our relationship. The trick is to find the right balance between making your money last while not cutting out the elements that make your trip exciting and worthwhile. In general, we stayed in hostels or budget accommodations and even couchsurfed to save money. We did the typical backpacker thing – cooked our own meals, took public transportation, and would always pre-drink in advance before we went out for a night of partying.

auston traveling

A lot of people say my site is too focused on solo travel. As someone traveling as a couple, did you find that to be the case? 
There’s a space in the blogosphere for every type of travel. Naturally, when you travel solo you tend to write about travel in that way and it’s your expertise. For me, I’ve mostly traveled with David so I know the ins and outs of traveling together. Traveling as a couple has its own challenges that you won’t face alone or when traveling with friends. It can be both an experience that strengthens a relationship or one that pulls you apart. I got a lot of valuable information from the site that helped me plan the trip. I even saved $200 on Eurail passes from one of the ebooks I downloaded. Luckily, the planning process for traveling solo versus as a couple is not all that different, so the site is useful for either situation.

You and your partner are gay. Did you face a lot of prejudice on the road? If so, how did you deal with it?
We were lucky to face very little prejudice during our year-long trip. But we did take special steps to avoid problems when traveling to places like Africa or Asia, where gay rights don’t exist. In fact, during most of our trip, we didn’t wear our wedding rings because we didn’t want to call attention to ourselves. In extreme cases, like during our time in Africa, we had made up basic stories about how we knew each other, pretending to simply be friends traveling together. There was one time when I got caught in a very awkward situation while taking a bus in Ghana. A local was very intrigued that we were visiting Ghana and wanted to know everything about our personal lives. It ended up turning into a conversation full of lies which became especially awkward. I immediately turned my Facebook profile completely private after that incident. There were also a couple times in Africa where we were forced to book a room with single beds since we were two guys together.

auston traveling

What advice do you have for other LGBT travelers?  
Being gay should never be a reason not to travel. So long as you take the right precautions you can still make the most of your trip while staying safe. If you’re traveling to less developed countries, it’s important to know how LGBT people are treated in that country. For Americans, Travel.state.gov is an excellent resource that provides up to date information for LGBT travelers. It’s also a good idea to remember to respect other cultures when you’re visiting, even if you don’t agree with their laws or customs. For example, if you’re traveling in a religious or conservative country you need to be extremely careful not to be affectionate in person. Not only can this make locals uncomfortable but it can actually endanger your safety in some places.

auston traveling

What advice would you have for others trying to do what you did?
The abundant amount of information available to travelers can sometimes create a challenge when trying to sift through it all. I did months of research just to decide what to pack for our trip. I thought everything was perfect but, within a couple weeks of traveling, I realized that my priorities were different from others and I ended up buying more clothes and shoes while on the road than everyone recommended. With that said, the best advice is to plan your journey well but also be prepared to be flexible and make changes as you decide what is or isn’t important to you.

What was the hardest part about travel?
The hardest part for me during our year long trip was being constantly on the move. It was amazing to see and experience all the places we traveled to, but the inconsistency that occurs as a result is a difficult. When I had a home, I had a routine. But when you’re constantly staying in new places you never know the availability of facilities or how to get around. Sometimes we would spend an hour just finding a supermarket to cook a simple meal.

Now that our year of being nomadic is over, I have a nice balance but continue to face new challenges. Since we’re now expats living in Europe, there is the constant struggle of trying to apply for visas. David and I initially applied for a long term visa in France when we first moved to Europe. But now that we’ve decided to live in Spain, trying to obtain a residence visa is a huge pain. If same-sex marriage was legal in our home state of Arizona, we could have applied together as spouses when David obtained his visa to teach English in Spain. But given that our marriage was never legally recognized, I have to apply on my own which is much more difficult, expensive and time consuming.

auston traveling

The easiest? 
Ironically I thought the hardest part of doing our trip would be selling all our belongings and moving away from the US, but that quickly turned out to be the simplest. Once we made the decision to get rid of everything, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. There was no more worry about where we would store our stuff, how we would move it across the country or how much it would cost. Knowing that the only important belongings were what I carried on my back was an amazing feeling and it was so freeing to know that I could pick up at any moment and go somewhere else.

Living in Madrid has been easy. David always wanted to live here and I wanted improve my Spanish. Plus, there’s a thriving gay community with some of the best gay nightlife in Madrid and plenty of gay friendly accommodations for LGBT travelers.

auston traveling

Any parting advice?
I hear all too often from people that they wish they could do what I do and how lucky they say I am. But the reality is that I made a life decision – a drastic life decision that allowed me to travel and live the way I want. Most people are not willing to take this step. And the truth is most middle class people from developed countries have just as much opportunity as we do. The difference is we seized it.

Many people (especially Americans) say that they can’t travel because of school, work or family. But my advice to people is to think about what is ultimately important. Who’s to say you can’t travel because of work? Have you ever asked your company for more time off? Why can’t you travel with a family? If it’s too expensive, try house swapping to avoid paying for accommodations. Can’t afford international flights? Sign up for a credit card that earns airline miles. There are so many options that make travel a possibility but the number one problem people have is acknowledging that they can do it. So if I can leave one final piece of advice, it would be to change your perception and tell yourself that you can travel. Challenge yourself and find a way to do it.

You can read more about Auston and David on their blog TwoBadTourists.com. They cover a lot of LGBT issues on their website and have some wonderful advice for travelers about the subject.

comments 28 Comments

I love this article! This has been one of the most inspiring articles I have read in a long time. Major props to Auston and David!

Great article. And I totally agree: while you might not agree with another culture’s laws and ethics, it’s important to respect them. And to look after your own safety.

And your rummage sale sounds amazing! Can’t believe you made so much in one weekend… Definitely need to go home and have a clear-out!

It was a ton of work but work it! We collected donations for a month and were so grateful for everyone that helped.

It is fantastic to hear Auston and David’s story. It is a shame there is still prejudice in the world, but it is good to know it has not stopping them from traveling! Great post!

Never. Stop. Traveling!

Nate

Great article! I agree that it is totally possible to stay true to who you are, and respect a local culture at the same time. Nice job!

Yep…it’s all about finding the right balance.

I love these guys. They’re even more amazing and super fun IN REAL LIFE!

Great Article! It is a shame about how some countries have no gay rights. I think it is also important to avoid conflict with the locals in those countries by taking the steps you guys did.

Yes it’s all about smart travel, no matter who you are.

What a coincidence! We love them!

TonyMnLA

Great article/interview! My partner and I (18 years) had the chance to move to the UK for a few years due to my partner’s work leaving Los Angeles. We had already traveled to parts of Europe together so we knew it would be a good move for us. During the 3 years there we managed to see 13 different countries from Ireland to Turkey. Never once did we feel uncomfortable traveling any of the places we went. Europe has a much higher tolerance than the some other parts of the world and making hotel reservations asking for a room with just 1 bed was never a problem.

We’re back in the US now, again my partner’s work got us home, so now we’re looking south for our next trips.

Agreed…we have rarely faced any challenges in Europe. We’ve never really felt unsafe and in most cases can be ourselves without consequence.

Scottie G

I enjoyed your piece. In researching my 3 months, (initial plan was 4.5 months), around the world,I would have said 35k was much more than enough money for a year. Possibly even enough to travel rather luxuriously.
That was then. This is now
I think you did well for first timers at that kind of travel. much better than myself. Congratulations
I do think the reader comment about “respecting” other cultures is progressively naive.
During my time wandering through the streets and alleys of Asia, SE Asia, and the Middle East, as a straight man, I was witness, and mainly made aware by listening, how dangerous it was, and would be for an openly gay couple to wander freely, and somewhat respectively through much of the world.
I know you want to avoid scaring people, but a very healthy dose of wariness would be appropriate. I learned, as I’m sure you did, that the USA and much of the West can be bubble producing.
I hope to meet you both someday. Europe is next.

Perhaps “respect” is not the right word. The unfortunate thing is that being out in a country that doesn’t accept it culturally is outright dangerous. The fact is that we won’t change any people’s minds by walking around the middle east or Africa holding hands and likely we’ll go to jail or worse. Some people choose to stay away from places like this but it would seem a shame to not experience a particular country or cultural just because of their LGBT policy. So while I don’t necessarily “respect” their decisions on LGBT rights it’s sort an accepted tolerance of something I don’t agree with.

Globetrotter

I love this

“I hear all too often from people that they wish they could do what I do and how lucky they say I am. But the reality is that I made a life decision – a drastic life decision that allowed me to travel and live the way I want. Most people are not willing to take this step. And the truth is most middle class people from developed countries have just as much opportunity as we do. The difference is we seized it’.

I get the same thing so many times and mainly by people who work in front of computers all day. If you do that most of the time you can do it anywhere. Life is short and for living!

Yep! The most annoying comment we typically get from people is “it must be nice.”

Great interview – love the topics you covered. And really surprised at the amount you were able to save up before your year of nomadic travel!

We were lucky to have high paying jobs during the years saving. And now our income is 1/3 of what it used to be, but we’re much happier and wouldn’t change it for the world!

Hi Auston,

Great sharing! i just know ur web now and i think its inspiring and big of you. well, knowing i come from asian country where gay still seen as taboo. i hope you got the chance to go to indonesia. would love to meet u both. meanwhile, i put ur blog in my blogroll. super love it!

cheers!

Thanks Shabrina. No plans for Indonesia just yet but we definitely want to go sometime in the future.

Great content. And I completely agree: while you might not believe the fact with another culture’s rules and values, it’s essential to regard them. And to look after your own protection.

guineveruca

This is very timely! Up until now I have been a solo traveler, and am about to take my first international trip with my girlfriend, to Nicaragua, and “traveling while gay” is very much on my mind. In some ways I think women traveling together get fewer questions, but I also anticipate a couple of single twin bed rooms. Totally agree that adhering to local customs is both respectful and important for personal safety.

Jay

Nice article but a bit erk’d at the ignorance of this couple. In the sense when I hate the fact that they paint every country in a continent with the same brush! I guess traveling doesn’t open up your eyes to see the realities and prejudices enforced by the ‘western mind’. They speak of Africa… Yet South Africa is very pro gay and the only African country that not only recgnizes but protects gay marriage and gay rights! It’s probably one of the best constitutions in the world. Yet, not everywhere in the US recognises gay marriage. So dies that give me the right to paint the whole of America as antigay? Take a trip to SOUTH AFRICA as a gay couple to experience what it’s really like in Africa to travel as a gay couple. The same with Asia… As the couple paint the same brush in comparing it with anti gay laws. Yet their ignorance is baffling. They obviously haven’t been to nor heard of Thailand??? Yes, they don’t recognize gay marriage but you are NOT discriminated against for being gay or a married gay couple. One of the best vacations ever for a gay couple is Thailand!!! So get the facts right. Further more large Asian cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong have a thriving gay scene … With many American (amongst others) gay couples who have no problem living there as normally as you want. You obviously don’t go advertising that you’re a gay married couple but can you go to a gay bar? Yes! Are there drag queens… Yes! It’s like any other place. Don’t get me wrong you must be careful because gay rights are not protected in these parts of the world but with proper research… You can find amazing travel opportunities in Africa and Asia not just Europe! This couple obviously prefers Europe and that’s their choice but don’t make out other continents as bad because you’ve found your nervana. State facts and stick to them.

Keep it up guys! I recognize the spot – Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City in one of your photos ;)

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