By Chloe Pingeon, Jessie on a Journey contributor
What is the bisexual travel experience like?
While I often write about solo female travel, it’s usually from the heterosexual perspective — as in, my own.
To help me share other perspective and experiences, I love interviewing other nomads through my Inspiring Travelers Series.
In this edition, I’m chatting with Kelly Wallace about her experience exploring the globe as a solo female bisexual traveler.
Read on to learn how Kelly chooses where — and where not — to go, how she stays safe, her favorite LGBTQ+-friendly companies and more.
1. Let’s start with an introduction! Can you tell us more about yourself, what inspired you to get into travel and what your travel style is like?
My name is Kelly Wallace, I live in Portland Oregon and I’m self-employed helping people with cognitive disabilities find jobs.
When I was a kid we never went anywhere because there was no money for travel.
Growing up working-class taught me how to be really resourceful with very little.'When I was a kid we never went anywhere because there was no money for #travel. Growing up working-class taught me how to be really resourceful with very little.' - Kelly Wallace
I ended up going to college in upstate New York after living in Oregon my entire life, and I had friends that did study abroad programs; but, I really had no desire to go abroad at that point in my life.
I started working for myself when I was 27 and really had a hard slog between the ages of 27 and 35 trying to get my business off the ground.
As I got more established and into my mid-30s I had several friends that were traveling solo quite a bit and I suddenly had this interest in traveling.
A good girlfriend of mine would go to places like Vietnam or Mexico City on her own. I then realized I was ready to start traveling independently.
2. What was your first solo trip?
I’ve always been very interested in Scandinavia and so in 2012, I planned my first trip to Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Germany.
I mostly rented rooms from people in their houses through Airbnb and was able to travel on the cheap.
I was also a little bit nervous about traveling to countries where people didn’t speak a lot of English so I purposely picked countries where I knew language would not be a barrier for me.
I didn’t rent a car so I relied on public transit, walking and trains to get around. This is my preferred mode of travel because I can see so much more rather than being trapped in a car.
Once I did my first solo trip, I was hooked and started traveling more.
3. Do you feel that your solo travel experience is impacted by your sexual orientation?
No, although I am hesitant to visit countries like Russia where the rise in homophobia over the last several years has been alarming.
Russia has recently criminalized homosexual activities and cracked down on protests.
They have made it easier to arrest people with flimsy reasoning.
As a traveler, I would be scared to travel there and be potentially arrested just for identifying as bisexual. They are notorious for having horrible human rights.
4. As a gay solo traveler have you faced prejudice on the road? How did you handle this?
I have not.
I identify as bisexual and this has not come up for me mostly because I’m not traveling with a partner.
More of the prejudice I’ve faced is from Americans, believe it or not, who believe it’s not safe for women to travel solo.'More of the prejudice I’ve faced is from Americans, believe it or not, who believe it’s not safe for #women to #TravelSolo.' -Kelly Wallace
Generally when I visit other countries no one bats an eye that I’m alone.
When loved ones do express concern about me traveling solo, I help ease their minds by outlining the ways in which I attempt to travel safely, like not going out at night and being hyper-vigilant with keeping an eye on my surroundings as well as my belongings.
5. How do you decide where to go?
I am a bit of an on-the-fly traveler.
I don’t spend a lot of time meticulously planned out where I want to go, what countries I want to visit, etc.
I will talk to friends that have traveled quite a bit, and sometimes I’ll just hear about a country that seems interesting. Personally, I loved reading about history in school so I sometimes like to go to places just to learn more about them.
Once I decide that I want to go to, say, Portugal, I buy a plane ticket generally three to six months in advance. This gives me time to think about the places I would like to visit within those countries and where I would like to stay.
As I referenced earlier, I don’t have any plans to visit countries that have strong homophobic views like Russia, Brunei, etc.
6. When traveling to a place that may not be so outwardly gay-friendly, what steps do you take to stay safe?
I am a cautious traveler and have not had this experience.
I am generally very vigilant about my safety — even in countries that are very safe. For instance, I don’t go out alone after sunset.
I had an incident recently where there was a mix-up about where I was supposed to catch a ferry on Pico Island in the Azores.
I had to take a cab from Ferry Station A to Ferry Station B.
The cab driver was male and we were having a friendly conversation during the 20-minute ride. He dropped me off at my rental car at about 10 pm, got out and opened the door for me.
When I got out he was blocking my way, grabbed my arm and tried to kiss me.
I dodged him and ran to my rental car so I could get away from him. I didn’t get the sense that he was going to try and stuff me in his taxi to try and rape me. He seemed like a horny old man who had definitely tried this move before. He seemed very comfortable trying to kiss me.
After that, I had a 45-minute drive back to the house where I was staying.
It was dark and starting to rain, and I just wanted to get away from him.
I made it back to my house and took a shower just to get the feeling of his hand on my arm off of me.
The next day I called the police and they told me I had to report it in the town that it happened in. The officer that I spoke to gave me a phone number to call but it was a bad number.
The following day, Sunday, I was leaving the island and had to drive to the town of Madalena where the incident had happened.
After driving there I called the police and was asked to come and report the incident in person. I went in person and an off duty police officer came and took my report.
He was very helpful and though we couldn’t identify the person — he tried showing me pictures of several taxi drivers — I was able to file a police report.
This is what I wanted to do just to make a point. I think reporting is important. I researched travel safety online and found out that I can call the embassy in Lisbon and get assistance with reporting crimes. There are also victim compensation programs in the US and Portugal.
Basically, I learned a lot from this scary encounter abroad.
Additionally, I went to South Korea in 2016 and I don’t think I encountered a single gay person.
Being gay is very under wraps there because the country is so traditional and patriarchal, which made me feel like an oddity because it felt very straight.
There were lots of men and women holding hands and being affectionate but in a somewhat saccharine way. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I wondered where the gay people were.
Note that it didn’t ruin my trip, but instead gave me another opportunity to learn about another culture.Bisexual #Travel: One Woman Shares Wisdom From The Road #LGBTQTravel
I love Korea and know a lot about Korean culture because my sister was adopted from South Korea when she was eight months old. She went on to marry someone who is a second-generation Korean here in America, so I’m exposed to a lot of Korean culture at home in the United States.
7. What country has surprised you most?
I have traveled solo in Portugal twice in the last 14 months.
I love the people, it’s not overly touristy and the weather is fantastic.
Although the country is 95% Catholic, I have not found a lot of homophobia.
8. If you could go back to any country you’ve visited tomorrow, which would it be and why?
Japan because it is so quirky and weird.
I’m very quirky and weird and I found the entire country so charming.
9. Do you have any favorite PRIDE events during June?
I try and attend the Gay Pride Parade in Portland but I’m always traveling in June and never seem to make it.
The event is huge. In fact, at the 2019 event, there were 60,000 people.
It’s a good opportunity to see people from all walks of life:
Trans, gay, lesbian, bi, etc.
It’s positive and fun — people are smiling constantly, there’s music blasting — like a giant party in the street for a few hours on a Sunday morning.
10. What are some great travel brands and resources for LQBTQ+ travelers?
Last June I was attending a writing conference and met someone who works for Olivia Travel, a lesbian cruise company.
She told me about the company and how they were one of the first companies to ever advertise on TV — in 1997 during the episode of “Ellen” where Ellen DeGeneres famously came out of the closet.
Moreover, Alaska Airlines sponsored a number of the 2019 PRIDE parades. I’m personally a frequent flier with them.What are your favorite brands that support the #LGBTQ+ community? Here are some recommendations! #ThisIsSustainable
11. What advice would you have for others in the LGBTQ+ community who have a desire to travel, but might be nervous?
As with anything in life, I say to go out and do it. You don’t know what you are missing.
I tend to be the “try it once and see what happens” kind of person.
For instance, last week I visited the Azores and climbed a volcano on Pico Island. I didn’t ever think I would do something like that when I started traveling in 2012, but here I am.
12. How can allies make solo travel more accepting and accessible for LGBTQ+ solo travelers?
Just by being friendly, open-minded and accepting.
I think it goes without saying that an open mind is like a parachute.
I know that might seem cliche, but people who are more open to experiences and people are the best people to be around.
Sometimes family members of LBGTQ+ people are homophobic and not very accepting.
This hasn’t been my experience, but lots of people I’ve met in the LGBTQ+ community have been subjected to threats, violence and even kicked out of their homes.
In terms of bisexual travel or LGBTQ+ travel, do you have wisdom to offer, too? Please share in the comments!
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