The first test of any serious relationship should be a trip on the road together.
No, really. If you want to know what are going to be your pain points if you end up spending the next 40 years of your life together – try spending 12 weeks in each other’s hair 24/7 dealing with immigration, Delhi Belly, and the general chaos of travelling life.
But often, we don’t start out travelling as a couple. We start out as intrepid free spirits ready to have some amazing new experiences.
We’re going to climb a mountain, haggle for a handmade jumper, hitchhike continents, fight cocaine dealers in the jungle, and have a sexy affair with a chiselled stranger.
Now, we know that love and sex are two different things. Sometimes there’s a wonderful overlap of the Venn Diagram of love and sex; it combines into something we might call a stereotypical relationship.
- So what happens when that backpacking fling turns into an actual romance?
- How do you navigate love and sex on the road as a transient dirtbag?
Well, the same way you navigate sex and love in sedentary society – you kind of figure it out as you go while asking everyone else if they have any idea of how the hell to do this thing.
That’s where I step in. I figured if love and sex are inevitable, why not try and figure out the best way to do it? Why not compile a bitchin, somewhat philosophical, definitely raunchy Backpacker’s Guide to Sex and Love on the Road?
Buckle up, baby, this is gon’ be gooood.
A Backpacker’s Guide to the (Galaxy of) Love and Sex
You know what, this guide to love and sex on the road is going to dive into both of ‘em. Does this sound a bit obvious? Sure. But, I think it’s important that we give our full attention to all the sexy times – as well as try to put a finger on what the hell love is.
I know it doesn’t really sound like your average backpacking guide. Well, we’re not your average ragtag team of broke backpackers!
If you’re going to hike a mountain, you learn about the best outdoor gear, weather patterns, and survival tactics.
If you’re going all-in on living the boat life, you learn about navigation, provisioning, boat types, journey planning, and managing relationships in close confines.
If you’re gonna dabble in drugs, you learn how to be smart with drugs on the road.
Now, we all inevitably create relationships on the road. You might start out travelling as a couple, or you might start out as a solo traveller writing your own manifesto. Wherever on the gender and sexuality spectrum you stake your flag: we all make relationships on the road.
Many relationships don’t include sex. Some of them don’t include love. But by the nature of being a human being who has hit the road, you’re going to have relationships. So why don’t we learn about love and sex on the road?
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Disclaimer: I’m Not Hair-Splitting!
Oh c’mon Indi, why are you splitting hairs? You fuck or you don’t fuck. You fall in love or you don’t. Born alone, die alone, right?
Yeah, nah, team. Look, a relationship of some kind was needed for your conception. Then you were carried for nine months inside another person; then you were assisted into this world by a birthing team. You were raised by family and community…
This, of course, looks different for all of us. This is not always a healthy or happy series of relationships. But you are not alone. For better or worse, we are constantly in a series of relationships from day one.
And once we quieten our inner cynic, we know that we want those relationships to go well. As you stumble through your formative years and decide to hit the road – you will continue to have relationships.
With or without sex. With or without love.
If you’re going to inevitably run headfirst into love and sex and relationships, then you might as well learn a thing or two from everyone else’s love and sex and relationships.
So here it is. Sex, love, and travelling; the lessons learned – and those we’re still learning – brought to you by the Broke Freaking Backpackers.
Sex on the Road
Boink boink – let’s talk about sex, baby. The birds and the bees and all that good jazz.
I don’t think a full breakdown involving which parts go where is strictly necessary here. We all have imaginations (and the internet!). Besides, the physical bumping of booties looks different for everyone.
There might be matching downstairs bits, they might be different. There might be a beautiful eternal flame of love. It might be a quick and exciting trip to the hostel bathroom.
Ok, ok, Indi we get it! You like to talk about sex. Enough already! What if I just want to go sleep with some cute backpacker while I’m backpacking Thailand – is that really too much to ask for?
You know what, as long as it’s consensual there’s nothing wrong with fornicating your way through Thailand’s finest bitches, I mean, beaches. The kids of the 1960s called it free love and it seems to have stuck around. And that’s what you’re here to read: a guide to love and sex while travelling.
But I was honest from the beginning – this is no standard backpacking guide. No. This ragtag guide is gonna put the question to you: why do we go looking for sex while travelling?
I remember one very steamy night in Phnom Penh in which I paid ZERO attention to that question. It was more, I’m going to go for a run. Oh, I see a cutie with a bootie on my run. Oh, might as well say hi. Oh, you’re staying so close by. Ha, ha, you’re so funny!
And then suddenly there weren’t so many clothes involved.
Now reflecting on that night though – and y’know, maybe a few other such nights – I think at the heart of it we are human beings searching for connection. Don’t come at me for being a sap! It’s the most simple way of putting it.
Sex is one way that we connect with other people. Beyond that, I figured stumbling into sex on the road is usually for one of three reasons.
1. Sex Can Be Liberating
Growing up in a small town, there was a fairly limited dating pool. I was starting to question maybe I liked men, maybe I liked women – but I don’t think I like anyone from this town! And then there are the layers of goddamn normative values.
We’ve all experienced the voice of “society” even if we grew up in an accepting and tolerant home. It felt like someone from my town was somehow always in the know about every intimate detail about my life!
So travelling to a foreign country – where no one knew me and hardly even spoke my language – well, that was liberating.
I think a lot of backpackers can relate to this. You can assume a new identity when you hit the road. You have the freedom to figure out what the hell it means to be you. For LGBTQ+ travellers, I think sex on the road can be uniquely liberating.
I was going to insert a bit of a birds and the bees breakdown here, but honestly, it wasn’t even the sex that I found liberating. It was the freedom from judgement. If I went into a beach bar and danced to some tinny, remixed reggae music: nobody cared. If I made some juicy eye contact with a stranger: nobody cared.
I remember sitting in a bar at the height of the wet season while travelling Southeast Asia. It was just me, one other woman, and the bartender. The woman and I talked for hours. It has rattled around in my head as one of the most transformative conversations of my life.
Sure, there was a little flirtatious subtext, a little wink here and there, but we just talked.
It was at this moment where I felt completely free. No one was asking me to pin a label to my chest. No one was telling me to pick a side or settle down or figure anything out. I just got to gently flirt the night away with a perfect stranger.
Sex is great, and it can be liberating. But so can the associated dance: the flirting, the talking, the literal dancing. It facilitates connection and I think that freedom is in part what we seek when we look for sex while travelling.
2. Sex Can Be Fun
Maybe a feral looking man opens a coconut with his bare hands and you suddenly think, oh my god I’m jealous of that coconut.
Maybe someone points to a mural on the wall that says, “Love like there is no tomorrow,” and a blanket in the common room covers up some boiiiinking.
Or maybe a very beautiful woman pulls you into a bathroom and you think, well, I’m here now…
Aiden AKA ‘baño boy’
The Broke Backpacker Team is full of some pretty wild characters. We’re all a bit special in our own way – and we’ve certainly all had our share of love and sex on the road.
So rather than let me give away my filthiest stories on the internet alone, the team has decided to pitch in and give me their insights about love and sex while travelling.
This particular interlude is brought to you by Aiden. These days he’s in a happy and committed relationship. But once upon a sexy time…
I was checking into a hostel somewhere in South India. I decided to splurge $3 on a private wooden shack/bungalow as I needed a few nights of hard-earned R and R. After unpacking, I headed straight for the shower as the midday sun had ascended and rendered me something of a sweaty mess.
As I made the short journey back from the communal shower area to my shack, I noticed 3 Indian ladies brazenly admiring my towel-covered physique. Of course, I felt flattered and smiled, but didn’t think anything of it.
After drying off, I lay on my bed and before I knew it, sleep was coming over me. Oh, sweet, sweet sleep. The next thing I knew, I was awoken by somebody opening the door into my room. (Moral of the story, always travel with a padlock).
1 of the 3 Indian ladies who had clearly liked something she saw, was letting herself in. “Are you alone?” she inquired. “My friends are napping but I don’t feel like sleeping…”. Now, I am not one to decline the request of a lady and so I invited her to join me on my bed.
She climbed under the mosquito net, I undressed her and we spent a very pleasant hour together before parting ways. Before she left, I did make it clear to her that her 2 friends were also quite welcome to come and rouse me from slumber should they so desire, but to this date, they seem to have declined the invitation.
Then this other time, in Venezuela…
I had met not one, but two whole fellow British people. So we decided to do our patriotic duty and hit a bar to get
slightly very drunk.
We were one or two beers in when I was suddenly interrupted by a soft tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a beautiful woman standing before me. Above the pounding D & B soundtrack, and across a language barrier, I managed to pick out one important word – “baño” – Spanish for ‘bathroom’.
I got the meaning, so I put down my drink, crossed the bar and followed her into the toilet cubicle. She closed the door behind her, waved a condom in my face and off we went.
Five minutes later, I returned to my friends who presumed I’d just been for a particularly long piss. Obviously, I told them what had just transpired, earning me the nickname of “baño boy”. Me and “Paula” exchanged the odd glance across the bar for the next hour or so before me and my friends left, and I never saw her again.
3. Sex Can Be a Distraction
Alrighty, free love! It’s freeing, it’s fun – let’s all get it on! Well, hold your horses.
I think the third reason we seek connection through sex – especially while travelling – is a little different. I think sometimes, we seek to distract ourselves.
Does the internet need a permanent archive of my most wild stories that arose as a distraction from some major inner work I was doing? Probably not.
Would I be oversharing? Yeah, probably – but how could you learn without it? 😉
So say I was a little stressed out. It was a manic day of seeing some graves with not quite buried human remains and then arguing about ethics with my soon to be ex-boyfriend.
Then someone offered me a night of debauchery. The questions of relationships and ethics and dead bodies are very easily washed down by a tequila shot hidden inside a pint of beer.
But to really bury those questions, better (allegedly) ingest some prohibited substances and find yourself in an ex-colonial palace with various people (that did not include my ex-boyfriend) in various states of undress.
I was certainly distracted by this point.
I was going to leave it at that, but really the story gets better… Not only did the night of debauchery lead to my very-soon-to-be-ex boyfriend blowing up at me in public (“HOW COULD YOU, I LOVED YOU!” etc) but it also led to some immediate karmic retribution.
As I sat on a local bus, full of shame (obviously), I started to feel something in my stomach. I tried to chalk it up to anxiety – I had just acted pretty piss-poorly. But no, what was brewing in my stomach could not be chalked up to anxiety.
I had to beg and plead with the bus driver to stop the bus. But how do you use body language to explain that you might shit your pants after making terrible decisions and hurting the man you loved to someone over a language barrier?
The bus did not stop. Once you realise the inevitable is coming, it’s all you can do to hold on through the storm. And so, I stood at the front of a bus – fifty-odd eyes of the other passengers glued to the only white girl on the bus – and I pooped myself.
Then the bus driver pulled over. With as much dignity as I could muster while fifty-odd eyes continued to stare at me, I discarded my soiled pants and put on some new ones. I got back on that bus and we continued the trip in awkward silence. They even turned off the radio.
I still feel a little terrible about the way I handled my reaction to the suffering of this country I was in. I feel that I made bad decisions and hurt someone I loved. But, I also feel I paid an almost immediate karmic price. So maybe God’s not dead after all.
A couple of years later, I told my ex about my shitty bus ride. Apparently, that was all he needed for some final closure about our relationship.
So, Sex on the Road; To Do or Not To Do?
The backpacker traps come for us all. I think that alongside the fun and free travelling sex stories, there is an element of escapism.
Rather than buckle up and do the work, we hope that the work might just go away if we stare into the eyes of this beautiful stranger just a little longer. If you want to pony up and get the most out of your travels though, you’ve got to push through the distractions.
In order to stay true to your own manifesto, you’ve got to do the hard yards. Turns out the inner work will still be there long after the orgy is over.
Love On The Road
Now, let’s talk love. Straight off the bat, I think that love is another way to connect with people.
When we go travelling we continually seek connection. Often, that connection has nothing to do with sex but everything to do with love.
Oh, bite me, you hippie. I don’t “love” my best mate. I don’t want to marry him!
No, I’m not just talking about that kind of love. For as many people on this planet, there are as many definitions of love. But however we choose to define it, we know that there is a difference in the types of love. There is familial, friendship, self, and romantic love at minimum.
You could sum up love with a neat little triangle and then name it the triangular theory of love. Ooh, sounds fancy.
You could make very valid distinctions between healthy and obsessive love. Maybe obsessive love is excessive attachment and has nothing to do with love.
Or, you could tell a story. Love is multifaceted. Love is abundant. And this is the ragtag Guide to Sex And Love. So let’s tell sex to go back to its sordid little cave, and talk about platonic love.
Ziggy “Life is Suffering” Samuels
The Broke Backpacker interludes continue, with this tale brought to you by Ziggy. When I asked him about love and sex on the road, he had some interesting things to say about it – namely, that life is suffering. When I said, I can’t publish “life is suffering” as advice for navigating love on the road, he responded with these tales of brotherly love.
A Tale of Two Brothers
This is a tale of two friends I made on the road: two very different relationships. A tale of two brothers. Note: No sex in hostels occurred, but my bros are still sexy.
The Japanese Hippy I met in a feral encampment by the river while backpacking the South Island of New Zealand. We both shared a common love of music, doobies, and not spending money on trivial essentials like clean underwear and food that wasn’t from the trash can. And thus, a great friendship was born.
We hitchhiked, went dumpster diving, and busked our way across New Zealand and Japan. We met spiritual old wise men and got sent on a bonafide traveller journey of “peace and love” from the very bottom of one country to the very top of another.
We hugged, we fought, we broke up twice (lolz), we talked about love, life, and our feelings. In many ways, that connection and journey was a squishy and soft relationship reflective of the countries we were in.
Now, the Mauritian Mountaineer I met in a guesthouse in Nepal. When we realised that a room would only cost $2 apiece if we shared, we decided that was a saving we simply couldn’t ignore! There was also shared love for doobies, and hence another great friendship was born.
We hitchhiked across Nepal and India together, and those are harder countries. Instead of going on squishy feelings adventures we:
- Died from Delhi Belly in the backs of trucks together
- Rarely talked about our feelings
- When we fought, we smoked it off
- And when we say goodbye, it’s a quick hug with the back-clap (and then we flip each other off).
The funny thing I find in this juxtaposition of two travel friendships is the complexity of love AND the necessity of meeting someone where they’re at.
Because these connections persist. I’ve seen both of their homes and met both of their families. They are my brothers, and we are bonded through the journeys – the highs, lows, and debilitating traumas of intense food poisoning.
And I know, no matter what happens, and how little or a lot you say ‘I love you’, your bros always got your back. Another breakup, another death in the family – doesn’t matter.
When I rock up on their porch – battered and bruised from the suffering of existence – they’ll always have a space on their couch for me. And a doobie ready to blaze.
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When Sex and Love Overlap: Travelling as a Couple
Look, maybe you’re not ‘labelling’ it. Or, maybe you’re shouting it from the rooftops: THIS IS MY BELOVED! But somewhere in the middle of the Venn Diagram of sex and love lies a ‘romantic relationship’ as we stereotypically know it.
As one of our beloved team members puts it: It’s like you create your very own universe with someone… very own language with someone.
The Broke Backpacker’s very own Laura goes further and breaks down the highlights when talking about travelling with her dreamy boyfriend:
- Travelling with your partner reduces the stress and frustration you experience when shit goes wrong.
- You get to learn a whole other culture and language when your partner is from a different country than you.
- Plus, it’s nice to have someone carry your bag sometimes. 😉
Now spending 24/7 with someone is either going to make or break you. It won’t be sunshine and roses and that beautiful smell of fresh laundry all the time. But life is good shared, y’know?
Before Travelling Together Gets Good, it Gets Awkward
Elina “Gets Naked on First Dates” Matilla
Our wonderful and awkward interlude comes to you from The Broke Backpacker’s veteran writer and badass, solo female traveller Elina. I said, tell me about love and sex on the road. And she said, well this one time I decided to get naked on a first date….
Obviously, I had to include the story here!
Tbilisi, Georgia, is named after the hot springs that the city is built around. I had been in Tbilisi for a while and still hadn’t made it out to these damn springs! My last day in the city had fast dawned on me and I made it my mission to go to the hot springs.
Now, I just didn’t really feel like going alone. Call it nerves, call it an attack of sentimentality, but I just didn’t want to go to the hot springs alone. But where could I find a man at the last minute to come with me? Tinder, of course.
I was under the impression that we would share the private bath and have a grand old time. Maybe it was naive on my behalf, but I also assumed we’d be naked. In my mind, we’d have a meet-cute hot spring date in our birthday suits and bond over our shared love of Taylor Swift.
Shhh, it was going to be romantic, ok!
It was only when he went and got changed into a bathing suit that I realised I may have made an error. Hmm. There’s nothing more awkward than one naked swimmer and one prepared swimmer in their bathing suit, is there?
As I sat there in the hot spring, I started to reconsider the life choices that had brought me here. Not only was my waterlogged underwear itching and scratching me, but he really wasn’t very interesting. Actually, he was kind of a dick.
In the pursuit of a romantic travel date, I realised that life is sometimes just awkward up close. Alas, one day I shall have a meet-cute with a cute man in a foreign city. We shall skinny dip on the first date and it WILL be romantic! But that one day in Tbilisi wasn’t it!
Ok, Now it Gets Good
Sam aka Pakistan’s Golden Girl
I sent out the bat call to our writers searching for tales of love gone right. Our very wonderful Sam responded by regaling me with freaking adorable tales of her and her boo travelling in Pakistan. See, it’s not all fucking in bathrooms or having your heart broken! Sometimes, you get to share your life with a fellow awesome human and take on the thrills of a foreign land together – goddamn romantic, if you ask me.
Practically speaking, travelling with my partner has undoubtedly saved me a little cash as we split some costs. But it’s also allowed me to do things I wouldn’t have been able to do alone.
I’ve been able to experience the sheer freedom of off-road motorbike travel thanks to my boyfriend – something I DEFF wouldn’t have been able to have done otherwise. (Shout out to my fused C1 and C2 vertebrates for the loss of 50% range of neck motion lol.)
Travelling as a couple makes your relationship so much stronger as I’m experiencing now.
My boyfriend and I have been travelling all over Pakistan and have had to deal with things such as headlights going out in the dead of night during a severe rainstorm, security officials, and various bouts of food poisoning at 14,700 feet.
By supporting each other even in rough moments, we’ve created some damn good memories, strengthened our bond, and had some incredible adventures!
If you really want to see if your relationship is meant to be – grab some backpacks and hit the road. If you can make it in stressful situations that will inevitably arise during long term travel in foreign lands, that’s a helluva good sign for the future.
When the sunshine and roses wear off and you’re puking out the window of a bus as it careens around a mountain “road”, romance can feel kinda dead. Travelling with someone – whether or not you’re dating them – will be intense.
Breakups always suck. Breaking up after spending time on the road together can be brutal. Because that person has not only been your partner but your best friend; the other half of your shared universe. It’s hard to go from being with them 24/7 to not speaking at all.
But sometimes, that’s what is necessary for both of you.
Even Sam, who knows all about the joys of travelling as a couple, also knows how bittersweet it can be:
“In my case, travelling as a couple with my ex really solidified the fact that my relationship was problematic and was absolutely not going to work. Not only did I come to realize said person didn’t truly share my love for travel, but 24/7 travel brought many more realities to the surface.”
I have already shared the story of me very publically shitting myself after being dumped in a foreign country. So, I am ready to tell you all about the bittersweet side of travelling as a couple!
But I think I’m going to throw something a little more nuanced in here. For a good wee while, I was working on sailboats and fishing boats. I would go to sea for anywhere between 3 days and 3 months.
The thing about going to sea with a bunch of people is that by the end of it, you want to strangle them. And yet, if any of them hit you up for a place to stay, you’re going to welcome them with open arms.
No matter how much you love someone, sharing the same cramped living space for weeks at a time while the sea does everything it can to drown you will make you tired. And you will need some time apart.
The parallels between going to sea and travelling the world together are unmistakable. You can love this shit out of someone, but there can come a time when you need space. You can appreciate the shit out of someone but realise that, right now, you need to be on different paths.
“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Maybe there is something to be learned from cliches.
Can You Travel Without Your Partner?
Aiden said, I see your cliches and I spit on them! I have my own take on what it means to be apart from your partner…
Can you travel apart from the one you love? Well, whilst “love” can survive a life of transience, I am not so sure that an actual relationship can. If you have a lover or a life partner and decide to part ways and travel for a while, that can sure put a hell of a lot of strain on things.
First up, if one partner is hitting the road whilst the other “stays behind” then that is probably gonna cause at least some resentment. Taking time for yourself is healthy (as long as it’s reciprocal) but a week or two is usually going to be enough.
However, would I sit patiently and wait for 6 months whilst the girl I love headed to Southeast Asia? Fuck no, and I would never allow anybody to wait for me like this either. I may still be able to love & respect that person and a friendship could survive, but they would not be my partner in any real meaningful sense ever again.
Also note that if you do travel away from your partner, then you are never going to be fully present on your journey. You will not be as open as you otherwise would, and you will feel somehow incomplete. You will find those wonders of the world just don’t mean all that much because your partner is not there to see them with you.
That delicious native street cuisine will taste ever so slightly bitter cos you know your true love would totally dig its sweet flavours. And if you don’t feel like this? Then maybe deep-down in the innermost, darkest part of your being where you prefer not to look, your partner quite possibly just doesn’t mean all that much to you.
Love Meet Reality; Reality Meet Love
Ok, so now that we’re sufficiently hyped up on feelings, I’m going to talk about the nitty-gritty. If it is inevitable that you will experience relationships on the road – what does that exactly entail? Sure, there are doobies, freedom, fun, escapism, and sweaty sex in tents…
But there are some gritty details that are unique to relationships on the road.
Gritty Issue #1 Visa issues
You and your boo high tailing it across the highways of a foreign land with a glorious sunset just about gobbling you up: that’s the dream!
Nowhere in that dream does a three-hour stint on hold with a faceless bureaucrat factor in. When you do finally get an actual human on the phone, you’re doing all you can to not lose your absolute fucking mind at them. The dream doesn’t include a forty-page document about your innermost lives.
But, in order to high tail it down that pretty highway, you’ve to deal with visas. As travelling will continually remind you, the world is not equal. The nationality on your passport matters way more than it should.
Gritty Issue #2 Impermanence Issues
By its nature, the travelling lifestyle is transient and impermanent. One day you’re madly in love with a person and catching a bus with them along the Amalfi coast. The next day, you’re catching transport in the opposite directions and you never see them again.
Just because something is temporary, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable and beautiful. Intense, passionate flames remain good memories if you part on good terms. Sometimes you gotta come full circle with someone and part ways.
But you know what’s not cool? Leaning on being a transient dirtbag and ghosting the shit out of someone – whether or not you were bumpin’ uglies.
I have never been ghosted, nor have I ever done any ghosting. So I’m gonna pass the mic back to Ziggy so he can rip his heart out and share with you the truth about ghosting.
The Truth About Ghosting
It sucks. It really sucks. Goodbyes are a bitch, but it’s still nice to be given the option.
I was ghosted by a serious relationship, but it wasn’t on the road. It was BEFORE the road. It was WHY I hit the road. And it took me 4 years on the road before I could finally say I’d gotten over it.
And so, here now we stand 4+ years on, and my colleague comes to me and says, “Heyyyy, got any insights on being ghosted?”
And it’s like, hold my fucking beer.
The truth is that it’s simply a shitty thing to do to someone (hot take alert). But more than that, it’s a shitty thing to do to yourself. Because it degrades your character.
Every time you take the low road in life, it becomes easier to walk the low road and harder to find the high ground once more.
Look, breakups suck. Hell, so does looking someone in the eye that you’ve been diddling for a week and telling them that their particular brand of pheromones doesn’t do it for you anymore. None of that is easy, and it’s normal to want to avoid it.
But life is built on the uncomfortable conversation because that’s where we stand to grow the most. And when you ghost someone, you lie by omission and you run away from that conversation. You run away from doing the RIGHT thing.
And how can you be a responsible traveller then? How can you treat strangers, locals, and the people you meet with kindness and love if you can’t even treat the people you let into your most vulnerable, intimate, sacred space with kindness and love?
Now that’s the biased opinion from a ghostee. But what’s my personal take? What’s the TMI?
It fucking sucked, man. Sometimes, I wondered why she left; often, I missed her. It was grief, it was sadness; it was anger, resentment, love, and gratitude. Sometimes, I wondered if I ever occasionally crossed her mind – I can’t even truly say that she remembers me.
But more than any of that, mostly I just wondered what was wrong with me. I dug myself into a pit and built walls around it – trust doesn’t come as easily as it used to. For years, I travelled the world seeking atonement, convinced that I must surely be a trash-human to be so worthy of ex-communication.
And now, 4+ years on, and there is only one real nugget of wisdom I have gained for ghostees: it’s not about you. Ghosting is an act of the self – a self-centred act of self-preservation.
Ultimately, if they can’t look you in the eye and dump you like an adult, then they aren’t one. And if that’s who they’re choosing to be, well, let’s just be honest…
You can do a lot better. 😉
Gritty Issue #3 STIs
Do you know what you might get after unprotected yee-haw-ing? A good bar story.
Do you know what else you might get? An STI.
Look, I’m not gonna stand up here and preach. Abstinence is boring and ineffectual. Booties are gonna bump and pheromones are gonna fly. Imma just spit some facts so you can go about your free loving being fully informed.
Four of the main STIs are completely curable (syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis). So gonorrhoea won’t end your life, but I don’t think it’d be exactly comfortable. Four of them are incurable (hepatitis B, herpes, HIV, and HPV). While there are effective treatments and getting one of these aren’t likely going to kill you, it will colour the relationships you have for the rest of your life.
Man, why are we talking about this again? I swear, I’ll use condoms ok. I wanna go back to the orgy stories.
Ok, orgy stories are incoming. But first, facts: estimates vary, but up to 50% of returning travellers who had sex while travelling were inconsistent with condom usage. Also, STDs are most likely to be contracted by those aged 15 – 24 AKA young backpackers. And I just wouldn’t be writing a good guide to sex and love without mentioning good practice.
Because ultimately, using a condom – or some other method of protection – isn’t just about you; it’s about your partner. You might know you’re clean as a whistle, but if your partner/s says use a raspberry condom or get out of the room: you use the damn condom.
Also, most travel insurance doesn’t cover STI checks. So, the usual practice of getting checked every time you have a new partner (protected or unprotected) is a bit harder to follow through with. Combine this with varying cultural attitudes of the country’s you’re travelling to family planning, and the increased likelihood of new partners while travelling – well, you can see why your partner is telling you to use the damn raspberry condom.
Things go wrong on the road ALL THE TIME. Be prepared for what life throws at you.
Buy an AMK Travel Medical Kit before you head out on your next adventure – don’t be daft!Buy on REI
Gritty Issue #4 Pregnancy and Contraceptives
Dammit Indi, what happened to our regularly scheduled program of sex stories and love scandals? I told you, this is not your average backpacker’s guide.
If you’re using a contraceptive you’re going to need to bring enough for the duration of your trip. Because it is very often not available abroad, and we know the stats on regular condom usage.
Obviously, you’d assume that all of us grown adults know about contraception and have figured out what works for us. However, very often, certain types of contraception are not available overseas and so it’s worth thinking ahead and making choices around what’s going to work best for your trip.
The main types of contraceptives and how well suited they are to travelling:
If an IUD has worked for you previously, then it is a good option for long term travel. It is 99%+ effective against pregnancy. However, it does not provide any protection from STIs. If something does go wrong with it, you may find it difficult to find a doctor who is trained in its removal in certain countries where family planning is not widely available.
These usually contain estrogen and progestin and are normally consumed as a daily pill. If this is your preferred contraceptive method, make sure you bring enough for your trip! They are often not available in much of the world.
These are usually a traveller’s best friend. When used correctly they protect you and your partner from the transmission of STIs as well as pregnancy. They are not always available throughout the world so it’s best to stock up before you go. I know we’re all adults here, but use a condom!! Like, just use ‘em.
This is most likely NOT available in countries outside of Europe and the US. When I was living on a sailboat, we actually kept some on board. Not for any of the crew per se, but for people we met along the way. Sometimes, shit happens you know?
This usually involves following your hormonal cycle and knowing when you’re most and least fertile. For some people, this works well because you don’t have to use any hormonal contraception. The downside is that if you do make a mistake, it is quite likely you get pregnant. Obviously, it doesn’t protect against STIs either. Also, bear in mind that when you’re travelling, stress and changes in lifestyle can throw your hormones out of whack making it harder to predict your own routines.
Expensive? Yeah. However, it’s a good solution for those that absolutely do not want children but do want all the smooshing. There is some evidence that suggests that vasectomies are reversible, but obviously, there is a risk that it is not. As it is a permanent solution, this is really suited for those that know they are DONE (or don’t want to begin) making babies.
But, there is room for error. And it’s worth giving a second of thought to what happens if the contraception fails.
Do you go home? What if you’re in the middle of a job? What if you need medical attention now? (As the case would be if your IUD failed. That can be deadly.) What if you have to travel during pregnancy?
Reproductive health is very often not treated as a matter of health, but a matter of politics. Depending on where in the world you are, access to health services is not easy, no matter how much you play the tourist card.
If there is one thing above all else that travelling does for us, it connects us with other people. You realise how similar we all are. You see the supreme injustices in the world that you cannot control. You get a glimpse into what your life could have looked like if you were born in another country.
From my own experience, you realise just how difficult it is for many women to control their own destiny when reproductive health isn’t treated as a matter of health. For example, the only place in South America that you can safely and reliably access abortion services: Uruguay and Argentina. In Central America: Cuba and Mexico City.
These are the only countries you can access reliable birth control as well. Not only does half the world not want you having children ‘out of wedlock’, but they also don’t want you using any contraceptive that might prevent that. AND they don’t want you terminating pregnancies – sometimes even if the mother’s health is in danger.
Terminations of pregnancy still occur, of course, just far more dangerously. It’s worth noting here that a person wants an abortion about as much as they want to cut off their own finger. There is something gut-wrenching and terrifying to face an existential question (motherhood) and know that whatever decision you make, someone is going to hate you for it.
This is why, after several glasses of wine, I’ll tell you the story about smuggling mifepristone across borders so that a certain badass pharmacist in a town I lived in could continue to support vulnerable, rural women.
Gritty Issue #5 Travel Insurance
Now, while travel insurance usually does not cover STI checks, it does cover your ass in a number of other ways. There are plenty of providers out there and it’s worth shopping around until you find one that’ll have your back no matter what shenanigans you get up to!
The Broke Backpacker recommends World Nomads Travel Insurance. They’re an easy to use service that has got us through some seriously sketchy times!
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
Mental Health and Travelling
Well, that was quite the shakeup. Tl;dr: use protection when you attend an orgy.
Ah finally, we’re back to sex and love!
Mmm, kind of. I think the other really important thing to address about relationships on the road is mental health.
I said that we seek both love and sex in many forms because, at the core of it, we seek connection to other human beings. This is true, and I think a fundamental part of being a human being.
The instant gratification of a bottle of vodka and a night out in a city where no one knows your name is tempting. But it doesn’t change the fact that you have serious stuff that you need to pull together and work on.
There is logic to the fact that the more secure you are in yourself, the more secure you can be in your relationships. You can’t fill from an empty cup, as the saying goes.
So what does keeping on top of your mental health while travelling look like?
Well, it’s obviously going to look a bit different for all of us. Different strokes for different folks, as the other saying goes. 😉 But a few things that really help me are:
- Listing five things I enjoyed about each day once the sun goes down.
- Making an effort to journal every other day – even if it’s only two lines.
- Eating nutritious food.
- Staying fit on the road – even if it’s just a morning walk.
- Getting good sleep as often as I can.
- Calling/texting my mum to remind her that I love her.
These are really quite simple. But put together, they create a habit that keeps me grounded even as life on the road gets a little wild. Of course, I still make mistakes. Of course, I still have days where I think, hmm I perhaps have erred on the side of messy here.
In the last year, in particular, I’ve noticed my friendships and relationships with family markedly improve. Not that they were ever terrible (I’ve got the world’s greatest superstars in my inner circle) but we just seem to be communicating the best we ever have.
I chalk this up to learning some difficult lessons in my latest break-up. I really faced the music this time, instead of shitting my pants on a local bus ride as I came down off a night of debauchery.
But hey, through it all, we’re human and life is murky soup. Staying on top of our mental health and checking in on our mates around us is, in my humble opinion, the best thing we can do for our relationships.
FAQs About Love and Sex on the Road
We’ve all got questions about love, sex, and the good stuff! Here’s a few of the top ones and our hot take on answering them. Remember, we’re all trying to figure out our love lives, so take our advice with just a pinch of salt. 😉
Love and Sex on the Road are Inevitable – Now What?
You are not guaranteed to have sex while travelling. You may explicitly NOT want to have sex with strangers. You may feel that in rising up against the culture of sexual repression that we have culturally come to value empty sex more than genuine connections. Oy vey, don’t start Indigo on the Hegelian dialectic.
You are not guaranteed to ‘fall in love’ in any sense of the traditional notion while travelling. But in this wildly unorthodox and kind of philosophical guide to love and sex on the road, I have argued that love is everywhere.
What is inevitable is that you will have relationships on the road. And you will experience love. Likely, you will experience sex, too.
You figure out how to do it just a little better. You learn from us and our trials and tribulations. You add a little extra value to the life and those around you. Just because something is complicated, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth figuring out.
This lifestyle of travelling, of backpacking, of general dirtbaggery – it’s transient by nature. That doesn’t mean it is, by definition, shallow or lacking in value. But in order for it to be fulfilling and worthwhile, we have to ascribe its meaning. We have to assume emotional maturity and do the hard yards. We have to grapple with love and sex on the road.
Because we are human. We exist in relationships. Because we are travellers, we exist in relationships on the road.
And that’s beautiful.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!