Above: A gay cycling trip in France took this group to a secluded lake and a refreshing hour of skinnydipping. Would it have been as much fun in a non-gay group? Different people answer that question differently.
The author: Sasha Alyson is the founder of Alyson Publications, the country's leading publisher of gay and lesbian books. He sold that company in 1995 to start Alyson Adventures, which specializes in active and adventure vacations for gay men and lesbians.
Table of Contents of Venturing Out columns
Whenever you plan a vacation, the process involves more decisions than you might realize. Some of these choices are made consciously; others may be resolved without your ever realizing that you had a choice.
Will you travel by yourself, or with a friend? Independently, or with a group? A big group or a small one? Go back to a favorite spot, or visit a place you've never been?
Do you want total relaxation, with no challenges and no stress; or something more active? Will you choose a destination where you speak the local language, and therefore can interact with the locals; or one with a language barrier, offering more new experiences, but more limited interaction?
If going as a couple, do you look forward to meeting other people, or do you primarily want time together? If single, are you seeking to maximize your odds of a little romance?
For lesbians and gay men, there's one more choice. Do you prefer to be amidst other gay people (i.e., on a gay or lesbian tour, or in a gay resort town), or is a straight environment just fine?
I asked a number of gay and lesbian travelers whether they would prefer a gay or non-gay group. Many were open to either, depending on circumstances.
Among those open to a non-gay environment, three reasons were voiced repeatedly:
Attitude. Several individuals found too much "attitude", or aloofness, on gay groups. Yet a larger number said it had never been an issue. (As I note below, the "comfort" of a gay trip was the top reason given by people who preferred that option.) My conclusion: Gay attitude does exist, but it's often in the eyes of the beholder. If you frequently feel you're "getting attitude" in gay situations, you'll probably feel the same way on a gay trip. If it hasn't been a concern before, it's not going to become one now.
Variety. Tina, who waits tables in a predominantly gay restaurant, said quite simply, "I needed to get away from where everybody's gay. It's refreshing to see other types of lives." She goes on biking tours which -- unlike bus tours -- draw a higher percentage of younger people.
Cost. "I looked at a gay trip to Egypt and a similar one with a regular tour company. The straight company charged $700 less," reports Matthew. "I went with them and had a great time." Not everyone reports such price differences, and it's tricky to be sure you're comparing similar trips. RSVP cruises, for example, may cost a bit more than others, but the entertainment is a lot better. Do compare; but don't assume gay trips will cost more.
As for those who preferred a vacation with a gay and lesbian group, four factors stood out:
Comfort level. Jim told me, "When I was more closeted, I preferred gay trips because I didn't have to watch what I said. I'm now out to everybody, and I still prefer gay groups. It's just more comfortable." That word "comfort" came up often in my interviews.
New friends. "I've never made long-term friendships from the straight trips I've been on, whereas I have several good friends I met on gay trips," says my officemate Strider. Others made the same observation.
Romance. Whether you're looking for sex or love, or both at once (You optimist!) the benefits of a gay or lesbian group are obvious. In addition, look for trips with activities that serve as ice-breakers. "I got to know fewer people on a cruise with 700 people than when I went to China with 25," says Ellen. "The China trip's tour director understood group dynamics, and how to get people to interact. I'm still in touch with many of them."
Age. "I took a mainline bus tour in Switzerland. Half the people were retired married couples, and most of the others were single straight women," recalls Marc. "I never really connected to any of them." Some mainstream tours draw a younger crowd, but for many, the breakdown that Marc experienced is typical. Ask blunt questions (but without revealing what answer you're hoping for) of a tour company before making a decision.
Next Month: The Dinah Shore Women's Weekend in Palm Springs.