“Travel far enough, you meet yourself” – David Mitchell
Travel lets you learn more about yourself, helps you build confidence and boost your self esteem.
Traveling and living abroad certainly helped the both of us to come out years ago. And we’re not the only ones… Meet Leslie, the lovely Canadian lesbian blogger behind Les Talk, More Travel, to whom travel helped to come out of the closet.
How I started travelling
In the fall of 2008, I left Canada for a one-year Working Holiday in Australia. The previous year, I’d spent 2 months living with a very big host family in a very small town in Senegal, and it had cemented my love for travel. Senegal had been the first time I’d flown overseas on my own. And Australia would be my first move outside my home province of Ontario.
When I made that move, I had a secret mission: I was in the closet, and I wanted – at the very least – to move into the doorway. I’d figured out that I wasn’t straight earlier that year, after becoming obsessed with The L Word (obviously there was a little more to it than that)! But I was really shy, and hadn’t been able to summon up the courage to talk to anyone about it.
In Melbourne, I kept a lookout for obviously queer folks. But I couldn’t think of a non-awkward way to strike up a conversation. I would take the train after work to neighbourhoods that my guidebook claimed were popular for gay people, but… I didn’t really know what to do when I got there. In the meantime, I streamed every lesbian TV show I could find!
I was in the closet in Australia, but it didn’t hold me back from travelling enthusiastically. Once I had saved enough money to leave Melbourne, I was off, and I fell in love with solo travel! I loved that I could make spontaneous decisions without compromising. After heading to Tasmania, Sydney and the East Coast, visiting crocs in Darwin, and sleeping under the stars near Uluru, I ended up in a small town in South Australia. That’s where I started a fruitful career: picking grapes and oranges!
Although I was technically a queer traveller that year, I really didn’t operate as one. I played it straight, and I didn’t have to deal with any of the challenges that are so common in our community. Obviously, I missed out on all the perks too! Of course, this was in the days before smartphones (or long before I would have a smartphone, anyway). I travelled with a guidebook, and visited internet cafes to send emails back home. Facebook was still young; Instagram didn’t exist, and dating apps were yet to make an appearance. I’m not THAT much of a dinosaur, but I think that if Tinder had been around then, or if social media existed to the extent it does today, I might have managed to connect with other queer travellers.
When I came back to Canada, I thought: “time to start my life!” Surely NOW I’d have the courage to come out! But it took over two more years. Eventually, in 2011, I was bubbling over with a desire to finally be gay, and I gave myself an ultimatum: I couldn’t leave the country again until I came out! Being travel-obsessed, that’s what it took!
Coming out to my family and friends was a fairly positive experience, but soon I realized that I desperately needed to travel again. Moving to South Korea had been on my mind since my fruit-picking days in Australia. I’d made some cool Korean friends at my working hostel there; they taught me how to read Hangul (the Korean alphabet) and make kimchi and dumplings, and I’d been looking into English teaching jobs overseas ever since. So in 2012, I was off again! I headed to Seoul, where I taught English for two years.
This is where my lesbian travel story really began! This time, I took full advantage of the internet and social media: I spent lots of time researching the queer scene before moving to Seoul, and jumped right in! Maybe 24 hours after I’d arrived, I went out to an LGBTQ Halloween party I’d found out about on Facebook. I connected with other queer women through a Facebook group, and spent a great weekend camping with some of them on a beautiful island. These new friendships led to lots of nights partying on “homo hill” (an aptly-nicknamed alley with a row of gay bars in a big expat neighbourhood), and at lesbian bars in the Hongdae neighbourhood.
My gay Korean friends often talked about how unacceptable homosexuality could be in Korean society; most of them chose to stay in the closet with their families. For that reason, I kept my sexuality quiet around my Korean coworkers, but as I became more comfortable with my foreign coworkers I learned that some of them were also not-straight! Even though I wasn’t always overtly gay in Korea, it was amazing finally being able to travel with more self-awareness, confidence, and pride.
Travel with My Girlfriend
I’m lucky now to live in Victoria, Canada, one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities I’ve ever been to. It’s common to see queer couples displaying affection in public, and there are lots of gay-friendly spaces (although only one gay bar – it’s a small city)! A lot of the first people I met when I moved here in 2015 were in the queer community, including my girlfriend, Kyla! She’s proudly gay. And I’ve enthusiastically jumped into her world where we wear rainbow at Pride parades (or any day) and, you know, hold hands in public! Sometimes she’ll even let me ride the back of her motorcycle!
Although Kyla and I are different in a lot of ways, we share a passion for travel. The two of us travel a lot in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. On the West Coast, we’re almost always an obvious couple. However, we recently spent 3 weeks in Cuba, and we chose not to be affectionate in public, because of what we’d read about attitudes towards homosexuality there. When we travelled to beaches and bigger cities where there was a bit more diversity, we felt more comfortable being affectionate. In Trinidad, the few times we held hands, we’d get men yelling “trio?”, which definitely didn’t make us feel comfortable showing affection in public.
We also love hammocks! We’ve just started making Youtube videos of some of our local and overseas adventures, for a series called Hammock Time !
Being a Lesbian Traveller
As a lesbian traveller, some of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered have been: finding queer-friendly events, accommodation, and community in cities or countries where being gay isn’t widely accepted, finding lesbian-specific spaces, and having to hide my relationship while watching straight couples all around me show affection. However, I feel like these are minor challenges compared to those of queer folks living in places where their sexuality and gender identity is not recognized or legal.
I always do lots of research ahead of time to find out about laws, attitudes… and if there are gay bars where I’m going! Before we left for Cuba I looked up gay bars in Havana and wrote down their addresses, because internet access there is limited. Still, the information was outdated and they were hard to find!
My favourite thing about being a lesbian traveller? Connecting with other queer people around the world! I love seeing other lesbian travellers and local queers in the places I visit. It feels special to be able to give that nod of recognition (that says ‘I see you’ or… ‘hey, you’re cute’, whichever!), and share a moment of connection.
Travel has been something I’ve always loved, before I ever considered my sexuality. But coming out and travelling as a lesbian has definitely had a huge influence on the way I travel. All along the way, I’ve been writing about it! My current blog is Les Talk, More Travel – please stop by and say hi!
Wow, can’t believe I’m only just seeing all of these wonderful and kind comments! Thanks again for posting this and for asking me to share my story, Mei and Kerstin!
Mei and Kerstin
You’re very welcome Leslie! Thank YOU for sharing your awesome story with all of us! 🙂
Wow, you’re incredible! One day soon I pray that queer folk won’t have to worry about where they travel to. Also, I fell in love with solo travel too 🙂
Aw thank you Carmen! I really hope so too! And so great that you also love solo travel!
Super sweeeeet! I feel that travel brings out the best in us – including courage and personal honesty. I lived in the US for a year and when I returned home, I was able to come out to my parents and friends. Just like Leslie, coming out had been a fairly positive experience for me. Now, as I travel far and wide, I stay with host families, do Workaway projects, and Couchsurf, and I feel that most people are more open-minded now. 🙂
Mei and Kerstin
Yep! Travel definitely brings out the best in us, and gives us courage. And we’re really happy to learn that travel helped you to come out to your parents and friends after your year away from home! 🙂
This is so cool! I love that travel also helped give you the confidence to come out – it’s amazing how many surprising advantages come from travelling! It’s wonderful to hear that most people have been open-minded 🙂
I love how traveling played such a huge part not just in you finding yourself, but in getting to know yourself in this new(ish) part of your life – and even helped you come out! Wonderful inspiration, and adorable pictures. Safe travels, and keep having so much fun!! 🙂
Thank you so much, Luke and Meagan!
A very touching story 🙂 You girls are an inspiration to so many around the world 🙂 have a blessed life and keep travelling the world
Thank you, you’re so sweet!!
Great post! I love the picture of you picking oranges in Aus 🙂 It looks like you’ve got a solid niche here, keep up the great work!
Thanks Erica!! Picking oranges in Aus was pretty fun work! Of course, it came with its share of unique challenges… like meeting massive spiders on the job! (They weren’t the poisonous kind though :P)
I enjoyed reading your post. Hearing about others experiences while traveling opens your eyes to many things. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you Laurel!
Beautiful post! Love is Love! Keep sharing your story 🙂
Aw thank you Stacey!
Great story! Happy travels!
Such a touching story! I cannot even imagine what it meant for you to not come out for such a long time. But glad that your stay in Australia helped you in making the step. And your girlfriend Kyla seems like a nice person so I hope you two will enjoy as many travels together as possible!
Thank you for the kind words Andra!! And yes, my girlfriend is pretty fantastic, and we’re constantly planning our next adventures together so I think we have lots of travels in our future!
I hope someday soon you won’t have to worry about finding queer-friendly places! If you’re ever in California, West Hollywood (I lived there for 3 years) is queer-friendly and in San Diego Hillcrest is amazing and open to everyone 🙂
Mei and Kerstin
Oh yes! West Hollywood is so cool! 🙂
Thanks Candy!! I would love to go back to West Hollywood! I went once after I first came out (knowing that’s where the L Word took place :P) but I was with straight friends! Less fun! And definitely putting Hillcrest on the list 🙂