Here’s how to travel without partying all-vacation long

I can’t remember the last time I took a vacation with queer friends and wasn’t sh*tfaced or hungover the entire time. Whether it was Fire Island, Los Angeles, or Berlin, almost every recent trip I’ve taken with gay people ended up being long, dissociative alcohol-induced blurs. 

Obviously, I’m part of the problem. Wherever I travel in the world, I love to see how other queer people live, and the most accessible place to do that tends to be a gay bar or club. There’s always that night early on a trip when my friends and I get hammered at a gay club and then continue to drink the next day to nurse that hangover. From there, we pretty much never stop drinking. As tragic as it sounds, I accepted this way of traveling until a friend’s birthday trip to Medellin last month, when, five days deep into a bender, I realized I had hardly seen any of the city. In my head, I blamed my queer friends; they party too much and maybe I was outgrowing traveling with gay people.

Let me clarify that I’m not sure that this is a uniquely queer problem. What I do know is that oftentimes, queer spaces become a central part of many of my trips, and those spaces are almost always confined to nightlife. But even at home in New York, my queer friends are out almost every weekend, looking for their next hookup or just trying to blow off steam from their busy lives. When we travel, our search for connection in a short amount of time heightens that impulse. 

I wanted to talk to queer experts for some advice on how to find more balance when traveling with gay friends so that every trip doesn’t end up feeling like a budget Wolf of Wall Street experience. Scott Wismont is the founder of Rainbow Gateways, a travel service that helps LGBTQ+ travelers plan their vacations, and he confirmed that a lot of his clients typically consider the local gay nightlife when traveling. He says that many queer people prefer to stay in gay neighborhoods, which is in part a safety thing, but also because it allows them to have easier access to bars and clubs. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with clubbing when you travel, but Wismont says that if you know you’re going to do that, treat it like any other activity, which means planning ahead of time and creating some guidelines around it. For example, he tells me that it’s essential to incorporate days that are dedicated to just resting after a night out.

“I always plan ‘down days’ during [clients’] vacations. The temptation to go, go, go the entire time is strong, especially if it’s a bucket list trip,” Wismont said. “But for most, after a few days of tours and nightlife, they start dragging, and by the time you get home, they need a vacation from their vacation.”

If you want to cut down on drinking, the ‘down days’ could be dedicated to not drinking at all or cutting out anything that might be hard on your body, including going to that one gay bar down the street. That way, you’re only taking one day out of your trip to reset, as opposed to spending the entire trip half-hungover, trying to catch up on rest.

Counterintuitively, Wismont says if nightlife is an important part of the vacation, it might be good to stay near the places where you want to go out. That way, the nights you do go out, you don’t end up losing more time traveling back to your accommodation, which takes time away from your sleep. If you want to dip early while your friends are still at the club, it’s easier to do so if you’re staying a couple blocks from where the nightlife is.

I also found some validity in what I was feeling by talking to Andrew Lear, the creator of Oscar Wilde Tours, a queer travel agency.

“When you’re traveling, you might want to focus on the things which you cannot do, right? You’re spending both time and money to be somewhere else,” Lear says. “Moderation is a good thing.”

When we’re choosing to go out every night of our vacation, we’re really just doing what feels familiar to us. It takes intentionality and effort to break out of those cycles. Lear pointed out to me that there are other ways to connect with queer people and culture outside of going out, which is something I embarrassingly don’t think much about.

For example, you can learn about the queer history of a place by joining a queer tour, or make your entire vacation inherently queer by going there with a queer travel company. Although I’m not a group tour type of person, it’s a potentially cool way of connecting with queer culture outside of partying.

“I do see people become really quite good friends on our tours,” Lear says. 

And then, of course, there’s the option of completely reimagining what you could prioritize on your trip. Antonio Pablo, who spearheads a queer travel agency called The Queer Travel, focuses on planning things to do outside of nightlife, like outdoor activities and wellness retreats. Pablo tells me that whenever he works with clients, it’s important to him to recognize that there’s a wide range of things that queer people enjoy outside of getting hammered.

“Balance your trip by planning a diverse itinerary that includes LGBTQ nightlife, along with cultural, outdoor, or wellness activities,” Pablo says.

A big part of the allure of going to the gay club is to meet other gay people, but you could seek out sober activities that were guided by and attended by other queer people. Although it involves a little bit more effort than just spontaneously showing up at a gay bar, it sounds like the payoff — making queer friends without an accompanying hangover and post-trip regret — is probably worth it.

In all, it seems like the consensus is that planning ahead of time and communicating with the people you’re traveling with about your intentions is key. If you’re just on autopilot during your trip, chances are, you’re just going to end up doing the things you usually do at home to have fun, which, for a lot of us, is just partying. As silly as it might sound, planning your partying ahead of time and booking tours is essential to help you put some boundaries around nightlife. If, for example, you book an early morning tour weeks or months in advance, it gives you an automatic excuse not to drink or go out on a particular night. Resist the urge to play everything by ear, because that’s a recipe for a hangover disaster. 

Next time I travel with a group of queer friends, I’m going to take it upon myself to create an itinerary with days where I know I’m not going to drink or go out. If my friends still want to do those things, great. If they want to join me in my future wholesome activities, even better. Not everyone needs to be on board, but it’s important to stick to a plan if you’re committed to having a balanced trip and feeling good afterwards. To me, that’s worth more than any validation I might get from friends who just want to party the whole time. 

I’m going to give traveling with my queer party friends another chance, but this time I won’t be mindless about it.

Verdict: Into it, but with planning and communicating your boundaries ahead of time. You shouldn’t let pressure from your queer party friends turn your hard-earned vacation into a hospice experience.

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