A monthly column about gay and lesbian travel

Big Groups, Small Groups, and a Caribbean Paradise

by Sasha Alyson

Big groups, small groups, twosomes and solo travel. Each offers benefits, and potential drawbacks. Have you thought about what works best for you?

Above: The Caribbean island of Saba is known as a scuba diving paradise. It's also a remarkably gay-friendly getaway. Here, would-be gay divers learn scuba skills in the cliffside pool of Captain's Quarters.



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

When you plan a vacation, you make a number of choices -- often unconsciously. One such choice is: How big a group do you want to travel with? Your decision will greatly shape your experiences.

Anonymously Big. In a group of over 75 people, you won't get to know everybody by name on a week-long vacation. (If it's over 300 people, you'll see faces at week's end that you could swear you've never seen before.) Amongst this many people, there are undoubtedly quite a few whose company you'll enjoy. But will you find them? If you're on the shy side, ask the organizer what type of opportunities will exist for breaking the ice.

Somewhat Big. In a group of 20 to 50, if you make an effort, you'll know most people by name within a few days. If you're traveling alone, you'll probably have no trouble finding others to join you for an excursion, dinner, or whatever. Unless "whatever" is a hot date -- as the group gets smaller, the odds of finding that special chemistry diminish.

Small. My favorite experiences are with groups of 10 to 20. Everyone knows one another within a day, yet you can sit next to someone new at dinner every evening. It's easier to make friends in a group of 15 than in 50. But again, if romance is your primary goal, the odds would improve with a bigger group.

Just below this in size, but much different in group dynamics, falls the awkward number of six to eight. This group is small enough that people may feel excluded if you don't do everything together -- yet big enough that it's not always fun to do everything together. As long as you're aware of that tension, however, you can make it work out.

Very small. Just as a group of 10 to 20 works well, so do 4 or 5 -- but only if you're already good friends. In such a small group, a little bad chemistry goes a long ways.

Two friends. Years ago, I spent two weeks in Europe with casual friend. Toward the end of a six-hour train ride to Barcelona, he revealed his only interest in this beautiful city: He wanted to find out if the french fries at the Barcelona McDonalds were as perfect as when he'd visited five years earlier. When he had his answer (sadly, the food quality had had gone downhill), he was ready to leave town.

We found ourselves often going separate ways on that trip. Traveling with a friend can be fine -- but discuss your goals, interests, and travel styles first. A weekend together is a good investment before you commit two scarce weeks of vacation time.

One couple. That advice goes for romantic twosomes, as well. Naturally you want to vacation with your new sweetheart. But spend a couple of three-day weekends traveling together before planning your week abroad. Discover any incompatibilities. I've seen several couples whose joint vacation outlasted their affections. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't fun, and it wasn't cheap.

Solo. Many people would never think of traveling alone. But there are three good reasons to do so. (1) You don't know anybody with a compatible schedule, destination, and travel style. (2) You're looking for romance, and you're headed to a destination where you just might find it. (3) You want to experience the culture and people of another country, a goal accomplished far more easily if you're alone. Yes, the single traveler may have moments of loneliness -- but he or she also has the best chance of making some wonderful new connections.

* * *

A gay cruise ship has been refused entry to Grand Cayman; and anecdotes of homphobic treatment in the Bahamas and Bermudas regularly filter through. So it's refreshing to report on truly gay-friendly Caribbean island.

The tiny Dutch island of Saba, near St. Martin, has grown famous in the past decade as a scuba diving destination. I've just returned from my company's first gay dive trip on Saba, and we could not have received a warmer welcome.

Our accommodations were at Captain's Quarters, a gay-friendly guesthouse rated by Out & About as one of their five favorite romantic getaways. Some twenty gay islanders and visitors showed up to greet us at an opening night reception -- among them, Saba's director of tourism, sporting Freedom Rings around his neck and a rainbow flag on his cap.

The handsome skipper of our dive boat, fresh out of the Scottish Navy, was straight, to the great regret of many aboard, but he accepted our compliments (and bad kilt jokes) with good humor and grace.

Saba has no beaches, so it won't be everyone's idea of paradise. But if you enjoy spectacular diving, want to learn scuba skills, or simply want a quiet and friendly getaway, check out Saba. (Captain's Quarters: same website as Saba, or call 800-446-3010.)

April, 1998

* * *

Next month: Searching the Search Engines.