Travel and tourism were hit hard by the COVID pandemic. Cruise ships, widely attacked as “floating petri dishes,” were the first to go, followed by air, rail, and road travel.
Travel destinations closed their boundaries and most of us stayed home. No one was sure if the changes brought about by COVID would be permanent. Four years later, we know the answer. Travel and tourism have made a spectacular comeback. People tired of staying home and with money to burn were ready to see the world. Cruise ships are now sailing at full capacity and travel destinations with sinking economies have once again opened their doors. At the vanguard of this new travel boom are LGBT travelers.
Historically, gay travel has been part of sex tourism, in which wealthy, white Europeans or Americans would travel the world in search of sex partners, often prostitutes. The Guide, the long-gone magazine of gay travel, culture, and politics, called gay tourists “the free radicals of social life,” noting that “the great pioneers of homosexual identity – Oscar Wilde, Wilhelm Van Gloeden, André Gide – were sex tourists.” (It was safer to be gay abroad, as Wilde would attest.) Though I have no personal experience with sex tourism, I knew some men who, in pre-AIDS days, traveled to the Dominical Republic to sample the local youth. The HIV epidemic put a break on gay sex tourism, as did COVID a generation later. I doubt gay and bisexual men travel abroad with sex on our minds as much or as often as our ancestors did. Though some of our brethren continue to look for love in faraway places, the rest of us travel abroad for other reasons. (For more about gay sex tourism, read The Seduction of the Mediterranean (1993) and Colonialism and Homosexuality (2003), both by Robert Aldrich, as well as Michael T. Luongo’s entertaining collections of gay travel erotica.)
On the other hand, while sex tourism declined, LGBT travel is back with a vengeance. Not a day goes by that I do not receive an email from a travel agency, a cruise ship line, or a popular gay resort. I personally know men who spend most of their lives cruising the seven seas. They are retired and they have plenty of money. Those of us who are not as well-off financially travel as often as we can, even if the frequency and direction of our travels are more limited. Many of us take advantage of services offered by LGBT-friendly travel agencies, cruise companies, or resorts. Ron and I recently returned from a Mediterranean cruise, a bucket list journey from Barcelona to Rome, hosted by Pied Piper Travel. Most of our fellow travelers were, like us, older men in stable relationships and a desire to see the world. Not a sex tourist in sight.
Travel and tourism are not for everyone. Some of us would rather stay home, happy in our comfort zones. Others want to get away from our humdrum lives, and look forward to new opportunities to visit new places and meet new people. If you are one of those, there are many ways to fulfill your desires. Go out and see the world, before the next pandemic comes along.