Gay Travel, Straight Travel: What’s the Difference?

I am on a flight from Chicago to Puerto Rico, where I will board a mega-yacht to explore Caribbean islands.  For over 15 years, my company, Zoom Vacations has been designing luxury gay group trips to points all over the world, and this is one of our tours.  It will have many of the components shared by all of our gay group trips: gay travelers, luxury accommodations, incredible food, attention-to-detail, and special events.  It will also have something else: straight travelers. 

More and more, companies such as mine are noticing a trend: more straight travelers are joining our gay group trips.  There are several reasons why, but as I crack open my laptop to write about the changing world of gay travel, one question pervades my thoughts: what is gay travel, and what does it mean for today. How is travel empirically gay or straight, and how can one even address this issue without the use of copious stereotypes? The short answer is, you can’t; so if stereotypes bug you, you may want to go back to your vente machiato latte and cranberry orange muffin and see what’s trending on Twitter because this article isn’t for you.

Now, even though Zoom Vacations specializes in gay group tours, we design separately for the straight, or, mainstream market as well, and yes, there is a difference in the look and feel of the travel experience.  

Generally speaking, one of the biggest differences I have noticed is laughter.  From an early age, LGBTQ people hone their comedic muscles in an attempt to mask a societally enforced internal shame.  Or, it’s done because “if I’m funny enough, they won’t notice that I’m different, or my difference will be looked at differently.”  And, our comedy is reinforced as a coping mechanism to feel joy and happiness in a world where many despise us for who we are. Cheerful stuff.   Whatever the case, you get a bunch of LGBTQ people together, and inevitable laughter will ensue.  Put them on a fantastic vacation with their worries back home and it will seem as if you’ve stumbled upon a funny episode of Saturday Night Live.

We drink a lot.  We’ve all heard those stories about gay cruises where they run out of liquor because the cruise-line didn’t planned accordingly for the increased consumption of booze.  I have created events around the world for gay groups where dismayed staff members have literally commented, “Bryan, they drink so much. If I didn’t see it, I wouldn’t believe it”.  While leading a tour, when I am trying to find a member of my group, I find the most success if I head to the hotel bar, where I will see it disproportionately packed with my gay travelers.  During lunches and dinners, there is at least one bottle of wine prominently displayed at every table. And, if there is ever a problem on a gay tour, such as bad weather or a vehicle malfunction, get drinks.  Get drinks as fast as you can. 

When hotels see a bunch of men on their rosters they think, “our spa revenue will be down”.  Yeah, well, if it’s a gay group, then they couldn’t be more wrong.  I think this is a much bigger deal for gay men than lesbians, and during our gay group tours, the spas are packed.  Now, I haven’t been able to fully psycho-analyze in depth why we like spas so much, but I have a few ideas.  For one thing, I think that gay people just really love to pamper ourselves, especially on vacation.  A lot of us are over-achievers, and in a constant attempt to prove ourselves, we run ourselves ragged at work. So, on vacation, not only are we going to make the most of every second, but we are also going to take special care of our necks and backs, which are often in knots from stressful jobs—the vacation-relief is desperately needed.  Getting a massage is that moment where we do something loving, just for ourselves.   

Another thing to consider is the fact that some people have issues with being touched. Well, I can tell you that as a gay man I have had my hands all kinds of places, and have been touched everywhere imaginable.  Yeah, so for most of us, the touch of a massage therapist is child’s play.  Now work those kinks out of my back!

Conversations Abound in Their Variety
While on a gay group tour, you may be surprised at the wide range of topics shared with your fellow travelers. How is this different from straight trips? One word: sports.  Now, please note my comment above about stereotypes, and read on. When you are on a trip with a lot of straight men, you talk about sports, and then more sports, and then sometimes you fit in some conversations about sports.  I’m good for about five minutes of this, and then my sportameter maxes out, and it becomes painful.  And obviously there are gay men who are as obsessed with sports as straight men, and straight men who are just not into sports, or at least not into talking them all the time. Do you know what I call this kind of straight man?  A client. These are the straight men who take my tours, and when on tour they literally seem liberated, and completely engaged.

When on a trip with a lot of women, one hears mostly about their kids. Come on, you all know women who do this, and yes, some men do it too.  Most in the LGBTQ community do not have kids, so this isn’t something that pops up that often.  Those who do have kids soon see the disinterested faces around them and move on to more inclusive topics including, but not limited to the following: architecture, cuisine, movies, fitness, politics, culture, destinations, TV shows, theatre, technology, the housing market, the stock market, investing, cooking, favorite hotels, landscaping, nightlife, pets, animals, flowers, comedians, adventures, air travel, art, fashion, diving, sex, psychology, race-relations, global history, holidays, sports, and parenting.  We like to talk a little bit.

Nightlife at any Age
Nightlife can be a big deal on gay tours, but admittedly, with the birth of “hookup” apps, this has lessened in recent years.  Still, no matter the age, gay travelers love to hit the town, and check out the hot-spots, from popular restaurants to the gay bar and club scene. Straight people do this too, but as we all get older, this doesn’t wane for us as much as it does for our straight counterparts.  Maybe this is due in part to the fact that gay men have friends of all ages, and we will not yet something as minor as a hip replacement stop us from keeping up with newest batch of gays.

Trends are Always Trending
Piggy-backing on the topic of nightlife, on a gay tour, reservations at the hippest restaurants are not only desired, they are essential.  This may be because gay people love bragging rights, and we have “fear of missing out syndrome”, big time.  This is not just limited to restaurants.  Gay people on vacation will flock to the “in” hotels, museums, exhibits, excursions, touted “bucket list” items.  Of course straight people will check out these things as well, but gay people will take this to an extreme.  Go to Sydney and not do the Bridge Climb?  No way!  In LA for the weekend? We’ll see you at the Abby.  

Shopping is Off the Chain
Again, this may be more for gay men than for lesbians, but daaaaaamn, gay men can shop. If shopping were a sport, we would rule supreme.  And if you are thinking that on straight trips the woman will shop just as much as their gay counterparts, you’re wrong.  We take this to a whole different level.  A year ago I led a gay group in India where we had to make a special stop at a luggage store because literally every traveler had to buy an additional bag to accommodate their purchases. 

Hotel gyms see an increase
Ok, this is only marginally increased compared to straight tours, but it is worth mentioning.  When I am leading a group, I am usually the only one in the hotel gym, and if there is another person there, he is usually one of my gay travelers.  However, the stereotype that gay men are all in shape and physically fit is not entirely accurate…..damn it.

We Get to Know the Locals, Especially Staff
Our gay groups, in general, are really, really friendly, and not even on a merely surface level.  I am always surprised at the things my gay travelers know about guides, hotel and restaurant staff, etc.  A comical friendly waiter is going to do especially well at a gay table, especially a sassy one who is comfortable with “the whole gay thing” and knows how to tease us.  If buying a piece of art or other craft, we will often get to know the artist, and likely even invite them into our homes if they are ever in our respective cities.  I wrote the first draft of this article while on the plane on my way to Vieques, where I met up with some travelers before boarding our yacht.  Ironically, they had arrived the day before, and when I joined them for dinner, they already mentioned three staff members by name, including our waiter, who they informed me was Syrian, and had moved here 20 years earlier.  I am telling you, these generalities are true…generally.

Gadgets and Gismos A Plenty!
I have perhaps saved the biggest for last.  I learn so much about the latest apps, technologies, camera equipment, etc. from my travelers.  I honestly do not know why, but LGBTQ travelers are truly techno-aficionados.  Sex In The City joked about “gays” being trend setters.  They weren’t joking, and nowhere is this more evident than in our techno-devices.  Well, that and fashion. If you ever feel like it is hard to keep up with the latest apps and gadgets, come on a gay group tour, and we will get you up to speed.

So, if you’ve made it this far, then you have read my ten observations about gay gravel.  I am no mathematician, but I am 100% sure that the above is true 92% of the time.  If you’ve been on a gay group tour, what generalities could you make about the experience.  Is there a difference between a gay or mainstream tour?

Next month, I will discuss the reasons why more straight people are joining gay trips, what they are like, and how a gay group trip is different when straight people are on it.  You may be surprised.

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