When LGBT couples begin to plan their vacations, they often check to see if the place they plan to visit is open-minded when it comes to same-sex or transgendered couples. While there was a time when LGBT couples felt the need to hide, today these couples realize they are welcome in many areas and that there’s no reason to put their love on hold just so they can travel the world. LGBT Travel bloggers Constance and Melissa of Lez Backpack have embraced this attitude and, as a result, have travelled all over the world, learning about different cultures and helping other LGBT couples find the courage to do the same. Recently, they sat down with us to explain what drives them and what they hope to accomplish with their website, their journeys and their lives.
Equali Blog (EB): Introduce yourself – what’s your name and blog?
LezBackback (LB): We are Con (Constance) and Mel (Melissa) and we run a blog called “LEZ BACKPACK”. LEZ BACKPACK just turned ONE and we are super excited in the direction it’s heading and continue to enjoy working on it together.
EB: Where are you from originally, and where do you live now?
LB: We are both Texans but Melissa was raised on the East in Connecticut and I was raised all around, my father was in the Air Force. We have just finished living and working in Seoul for 2 years and we are now wrapping up our 4 and a half month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia. We have plans to visit friends and family stateside and hopefully settle for a bit in Austin, Texas.
EB: How long have you been traveling, or what was your longest trip?
LB: We’ve been traveling for 4 months now and THIS trip has been our longest. Our second longest was 5 weeks through Bali about 3 years ago.
EB: When did you leave your home country for the first time? Was it by yourself, with friends, or family?
LB: I have moved around extensively with my family, mostly stateside. But I spent majority of my teen years in Tokyo, Japan. I left my home country about 3 years ago with Mel to pursue traveling. We ended up picking Seoul, Korea as our home base because it allowed us to earn some cash and also, half of my family lives in Korea. Mel has traveled extensively as a solo-female traveler. She studied a few months in Beijing while attending university. She won’t mention this so I like to boast about her. She holds two degrees, one in English and one in Chinese language. She will tell you her Chinese is rusty, that might be true, HOWEVER, her knowledge of Chinese literature and culture is still very much retained and she articulates her knowledge of these things beautifully. So, if you ever want to converse with her about Chinese or literature, prepare to be thoroughly impressed. Mel lived in Busan, Korea for a year before meeting me (we actually met in Korea while I was visiting family for a couple weeks) and made trips to Malaysia and Shanghai.
EB: What do you remember about this experience, how did you feel?
LB: Leaving the US for Korea was more exciting than scary for me. I was pumped to be with Melissa in this capacity, where we could be expats and make new friends together. Our first teaching job also allowed to us to work at the same school, so that was really comforting in a way. I also had this great chance to reunite with some family members I hadn’t seen in 10 years! I was excited to reconnect with my cousins whom I’d grown up with and introduce Mel to this part of my family most people will never have the chance to meet. Leaving the US was a life break for me but also an opportunity to save money and figure parts of myself out without the entanglements of “real-life” work and relationships.
EB: What’s your travel style? Backpacking, slow travel, permanent travel, digital nomading, lux travel, frequent vacations?
LB: We’ve done long-term backpacking and short-term flashpacking. Our preferred way of travel is luxury! In terms of sleep and food, we love to be comfortable. We are adventurous eaters and we know how to be uncomfortable, but we also love having the funds to do all of the recreational activities. It would always break my heart when we’d have to forgo something because it wasn’t in the budget and then it would make me nervous when we’d forgo the budget and do something anyway! Just bad feelings all around! JK, forgoing the budget to do something cool was/is something I don’t ever regret.
Melissa and I are also heath conscious, in both body and mind. Backpacking on a strict budget gets complicated when you’re striving to be your best self in all these ways. Personally, I’ve found there’s always something that is sacrificed when you’re watching your money. Mel is some breed of digital nomad because she writes for the South China Post as a freelance gig and gets paaaaaid! Mel and I want to take more vacations and create some sort of hybrid, flash-pack-lux-perma-trip. Something like that.
EB: What has it been like travelling as an LGBT person/couple?
LB: In the Southeast Asian countries we’ve visited, it’s been great. People around here tend to mind their own business. They respect your privacy and I feel like we’ve been treated really well. It’s like, why would they ask us if we’re together and if we tell them we ARE in fact together, would it matter?
On the other hand, sometimes they don’t know, they assume both of us are straight, or even that I’m a man and that easily fits into their mental construct. While we were in Thailand, we would joke that Melissa was seen as this white woman that was super into this small Thai guy, me. And no one would ever ask her questions or ask her if she wanted to buy something because she was with her Thai boyfriend. It’s been easy, surprisingly accepting, but at the same time, we still remain careful and make sure we are in safe spaces when we do want to show each other affection. One year we went to Carlsbad Caverns in west Texas and the ticket booth dude was mean, we suspect he didn’t appreciate our relationship. We’ve been experiencing PTSD ever since.
EB: How open are you about it when you travel?
LB: We come out to most every traveler we meet, only if it’s someone we’ve spent an extended amount of time with. Over drinks, dinner, or long bus rides. We don’t hide the fact we are a couple, or that we are even gay individuals, but we don’t really talk about it unless it’s relevant. “How much is water? I’m gay.” I also always think people just assume we are together. When we book rooms, we book double bed rooms but backpacking is so common here, I feel like that can be interpreted as a couple people wanting to save money on accommodations. We are respectful when it comes to other people’s space, so we don’t tongue kiss or grab butts when others are enjoying their morning coffee. We’re classy, ladies but we DON’T JUDGE so if that’s your thing, that’s cool, too.
EB: What are some of the most and least LGBT friendly places you have traveled to?
LB: Best: Hands down, Thailand. They have a great culture that is accepting towards people in the LGBT community. Least friendly? Definitely parts of the US and Korea, unfortunately, OUR HOME COUNTRIES! Damn it.
EB: What are some of your most memorable travel experiences?
LB: We had an 8 hour layover in Shanghai before heading to Phuket, Thailand. China recently started providing a 72 hour visa for in-transit travelers. We took advantage of the opportunity to view the city for free and spent the afternoon in the Yuyuan Gardens and on the Bund. We squeezed in that extra country! We ate delicious soup filled dumplings and tried the infamous stinky tofu. Washed it all down with Qingdao beer. It was a great way to start the trip!
EB: What are some of the most under-rated yet amazing places you’ve been to?
LB: I think Southern Cambodia is starting to get mentioned now as an up and coming travel destination, but if we hadn’t heard about it through the traveler grapevine we might not have spent so much time there. Otres Beach is relaxing and lacks a huge influx of tourists. Hop a boat to Koh Rong: it’s what Koh Phi Phi used to be! Take a van and stop over to indulge in the delicious cheese and pepper of Kampot. We spent a total of 3 weeks in the south of Cambodia and it remains one of our favorite destinations.
EB: What is the craziest / weirdest thing that happened to you during your travels?
LB: We follow Beyoncé on Instagram (who doesn’t) and we were literally a day ahead of everything/every place she was visiting at the beginning of our Southeast Asia tour. The following day after Angkor Wat, Beyoncé was there. The day after shopping in Bangkok, Beyoncé was freakin’ shopping in Bangkok. Can you tell I’m really connected to this fact? It was very weird nonetheless, aside from music lyrics this is the closest we’ve felt to her. The shear proximity was energizing.
We took a night bus from Malaysia to Bangkok and a creepy dude in a blanket tried to steal things from our bag. Mel caught him TWICE and both times he ran away, with the blanket over his head, like a strange bus-ghost character.
We both had terrible food poisoning. The amount of everything that was coming out of our bodies was CRAZY. When you think you have nothing more to give, your body will make more to give. WEIRD.
Also, most recently, we saw a friend from Korea who was traveling in Hanoi. We haven’t seen him in a year, never thought I’d ever see him again. I may or may not have unfriended him on Facebook.
EB: What have some of your biggest challenges been while on the road? How did you overcome them?
LB: Lack of a routine, lack of healthy food options, no place to get in a good workout. These are the things that bother me most when traveling. I’ve gotten a lot better about living in the moment and not worrying so much about my body image but it can still be hard. I download applications on my phone to squeeze in some cardio or body weight exercises when I can. I like “Daily Workouts.” It’s free and you can choose 5 to 10 minute workouts focusing on specific body regions or all over!
EB: What are some of the silliest myths or misconceptions you’ve heard about travel in general, LGBT travel specifically, or about certain places you’ve traveled to?
LB: A lot of people talked about Vietnam being a horrible place filled with scam artists and money gougers. We even met a few people who had personal bad experiences but I think overall it’s somewhat exaggerated about how terrible it is. We love it. The food is great, the accommodations are wonderful and the sights are beyond amazing. We were so scared that we almost didn’t even visit! That would have been a huge mistake. I think the best thing to remember is that everyone has a subjective experience. You can make any place your own. Be smart and safe!
EB: How do you fund your travels?
LB: We worked in South Korea as ESL teachers for two years. During that time we were able to save money to travel, save for retirement, pay off [student] loans and do trips throughout. We started LEZ BACKPACK in order to share our experiences but haven’t started monetizing yet though that is the plan. I don’t think having a full time job is an impediment to travel. With the right budgeting there are many options to make your money go where you want it to. It’s all about making travel a priority in your life.
EB: What is your #1 piece of advice for LGBT travelers?
LB: Don’t be afraid! I think there is a lot of fear for gay and lesbian travelers when it comes to safety. We wonder if we’re going to experience discrimination at the hands of societies that don’t understand us. It hasn’t been our experience. Meeting other travelers has been a great way to make contacts throughout the world. We’ve seen some very beautiful places. Our partnership is the last thing on everyone’s mind. We were nervous about being gay abroad but it didn’t stop us! Don’t let it stop you!
Find out more about LezBackpack & follow them on social media:
Twitter: twitter.com/lezbackpack / @lezbackpack