Looking for a place to get away before the summer ends? Or maybe planning a trip for the next time the snow is up to your nipples? As the former owner of a gay hotel, I have some suggestions and ideas to make your next trip enjoyable and downright gay.
Gone are the days when your only option was a seedy motel in the middle of no man’s land. Gay travel generates huge amounts of money with income measured in the “B” billions, which means there is heavy competition for your gay dollars. Large corporations such as Marriott and Hilton have websites devoted to gay travelers. Cruise companies want you on their ships, major cities want you to come honeymoon with them and gay businesses want you to support them. So how do you decide where to go?
The type of vacation you can have is a reflection of the variety the types of gay people. Some want action and adventure, some want luxury and pampering and some want to bake by a swimming pool. Whatever appeals to you is now available to you, and you get to pick and choose among the competition. The best place to start your planning is by picking a location you want to visit. What draws you might be a particular occasion (e.g. circuit party, concert or special event) or activities that are available in that specific part of the country (e.g, rock climbing or surfing). Many people want a place where they can relax and get away from the grind. A little shopping, some cocktails, time by the pool and some fun nightlife are elements of a vacation which are available in numerous places. The gayer you want your vacation to be, the gayer your destination needs to be as well. Do your research to find a place that best meets the kind of experience you want, or choose to go through a travel agent who is affiliated with the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). They have tons of information on events, tours and specials geared towards the gay community.
Once you have chosen a location, you’ll need a place to stay and that’s where things can get a bit daunting. Areas that draw large numbers of gays (Palm Springs, West Hollywood, New York, Miami, Chicago, etc) also have a large number of hotels, guest houses and B&B’s which cater to the gay clientele. For however many days you are going to be there, where you stay is your mini-home for the time so choose what is comfortable for you. If you like large crowds and activity, a larger hotel would be your best bet. If you prefer quiet and solitude, choose something smaller. Purple Roofs is specifically geared to gay travelers and has information on places all over the world.
Your best bet is ask for recommendations from friends who have already stayed at places where you are headed. They can give you a clear picture of what the place was like, what was offered and what made their experience so positive. Online reviews are available for most places — TripAdvisor has a lot of information on gay-owned and gay-friendly places to stay. These sites are especially helpful for getting a sense of the atmosphere of a place. Hotels have beds, showers, towels, but each one also has a personality, whether it is wild and raucous or calm and sedate. The online reviews can give you a feel for the place so you know what you are walking into and whether or not it will meet your expectations.
One cautionary note about reviews — they are subjective, and while sites like the ones above do their best to prevent review “padding” (making a place sound better or worse than it is) it does happen. There’s a rule about customer feedback; people are quicker to complain than they are to praise. That means it can be suspicious if a place has nothing but positive reviews — it’s pretty near impossible to meet 100% of customer expectations 100% of the time. The same goes for places that have consistently good reviews and then suddenly get dumped on — that could be an attempt by the competition to drag down their ratings. Use the reviews as a resource, but apply them with a grain of salt.
Once you have decided where you want to go and where you want to stay, you also need to figure out how you are going to get there. Once again, companies are vying for your gay dollars. American Airlines and Southwest have websites devoted to serving the LGBT community. If you have time for a leisurely trip to your destination, Amtrak offers a “Ride with Pride” for train enthusiasts.
Having been in the gay hotel business for many years, I can also offer some practical tips to make your stay more pleasant and enjoyable.
- Speak up in advance if you have something you need or want. Most hotel owners and staff are in the business to please people, but none of them are mind readers. Let the place know in advance if you have allergies, must have room-darkening drapes, can’t stay in a room higher than ground floor or require a bed with additional supports. It can be difficult to make those kind of arrangements without prior notice so let the place know in advance. If the place is unwilling or unable to meet your requests, then you have the option of taking your business elsewhere.
- If your stay is to celebrate something special, ask for assistance before you arrive. A good place will be willing to set something up for you, such as flowers or a gift sent in advance waiting in the room. Understand that some things can’t be done — for example, a place may not be able to have champagne waiting for your arrival if they are not licensed to sell liquor. And do be prepared to pay for extras that you have requested — when making the request, ask what the fee will be upfront to avoid surprises.
- Temper your expectations. Hospitality is a “best foot forward” business, and places do their best to show you their best selves on websites, in brochures and marketing materials. Unfortunately, that can lead to disappointment when the room on the brochure that looked like a bowling alley turns out to be more like a closet. As travelers, we also have ideas of what a vacation experience is going to be like, only to discover that our expectations don’t necessarily meet reality, such as when weather patterns turn your sun-and-fun-filled getaway into a soaking, soggy dreary nightmare.
- Sexual temperature is a real thing. Part of going to a gay-identified place is that you can be yourself, including being able to express your sexuality. Some places encourage it, while others frown upon it. You can usually determine the difference by looking at how a place advertises itself. The more naked men and the more a party-type atmosphere that is promoted, the greater the likelihood the place is selling and encouraging a frisky atmosphere. However, there is no guarantee that you are going to get laid or that the hunky types used in the advertising are going to be there that day. Read carefully — it can make the difference between going to a place that has a swing and one that has a sling. If you want to test the waters of gay sex in a higher temperature place, remember that no means no and don’t engage in what you don’t know.
The best part of any vacation can be the things that aren’t in any brochure. What can make or break a vacation stay are the things that no one predicts or can guarantee. It’s the cool guy you met and the hot night you shared. It’s the amazing dinner where you sat next to a celebrity. It’s the night you laid out by the pool and saw a meteor shower flash by. These are the intangibles that make a stay so special. Be open to the possibilities.
Enjoy your stay, safe travels.
Your Gay Guide,