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Struggles with body image can turn little gay holidays into big mental marathons

By Lino DiNallo

We all know a gay that takes a holiday prepping too seriously. Spray-tanning. Preening. Flexing at the gym…double-time. Maybe you’ve been guilty of transgressions yourself: I’ve waxed my back and threaded my brows, among other vainglorious efforts.

I made none of these A-list attempts before my first trip with Out Adventures. Rather, I was overweight, undernourished, sallow and depressed. My father just passed away. My cousin and aunt died within the same few days. And to top it off, I was about to turn forty. Bring on the cake – hold the candles.

This opportunity came on short notice: I was editing trip documents for an Out Adventures trip – to Sri Lanka – when I realized this was the first time I could truly say I deserved a holiday, given the months of decline and grief I’d endured. The catch? It departed in two weeks. Before I had second thoughts, I booked a non-refundable flight. Then…I panicked. What was I thinking? I was in no position to be jolly or gay (even though I’m super gay).

While existential crises triggered by death and spinsterhood are bad, the dread over my ensuing homosexual holiday was worse.

Anybody with social anxiety (read: a plethora of gay men) would appreciate my position. Gay travel marketing can be notoriously sexual. Admittedly, even we at Out Adventures have laid our own thirst traps. Whether for a mega cruise, bear week or tropical circuit party, ads inevitably feature washboard abs, perky boobs, sumptuous pelts and cliquey clusters. I was not ready to live up to these standards. Any of them.

Even worse, I’d be one of only sixteen people on this trip (Out Adventures specializes in small-group tours, after all). That’s why I chose to splurge on a single supplement (paying extra to have your own hotel room instead of sharing with another adventurer). If you’re introverted, veer to the shy side, or just enjoy the alone time, you might consider doing the same.

I made fast friends

After landing in Colombo, I met my first fellow traveller – Brian – while we waited for our hotel transfer. He was also flying solo and assured me I’d have a blast as we drove to the hotel (this was Brian’s third trip with the company…we’ve also blogged about his experiences travelling with us). He explained he felt the same angst before his premier trip and suffered from the same insecurities. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing I was far from the first to experience pre-tour anxiety.

The more I got to know my fellow travellers on that inaugural adventure, the more I realized how much we had in common. Nobody was there to party or flex their abs. We ranged in age from our late thirties to early sixties. Everybody was there for an enriching cultural experience with little to prove to each other, negating my own pre-conceived social pressure.

Brian was the first fellow traveller I met at the airport. He’s now one of my dearest friends.
You can tap coconuts for refreshing sips on many Out Adventures. This coconut was my first, savoured after a long, tropical bike ride.

I conquered my physical limits

While that first trip was quite physical, I’ve since embarked on a luxe Croatian cruise, a ten-day Thailand tour, and glamping in Slovenia. My combined experiences have taught me that whatever you’re craving, you’ll find like-minded men in your tribe. If a trip demands physical fitness, it’s because you’re climbing Everest Base Camp, not because there’s a tea dance where everybody will have their shirts off. It’s tough to flaunt your physique when you’re bundled in a parka.

To those who aren’t as physically astute, you’d be surprised what you can accomplish when a few people cheer you on. In my case, I rose at 4:30 AM one morning to hike ten kilometres – despite my depressed pre-holiday diet of sweet and sour pork.

I survived an ungodly wake-up call and made it to World’s End.

I was inspired

Finally, don’t let age be a concern. None of us were in our twenties, but we were all young at heart. I’ve seen men in their eighties grab their hiking poles and lead the charge on excursions. On the other hand, I myself have been in bed by 8 PM with no remorse or judgment. Between jet lag and culture shock, it’s understandable and forgivable. Ultimately, Out Adventures are an easy way to see the world, interact with local cultures, and meet a great group of guys who will help you love yourself.

On safari with my laid-back pack.

I realized the good times were just getting started

That first trip ended the day before my aforementioned fortieth birthday. It certainly abated my concerns about getting older. At our Farewell Dinner, our tour leader surprised me with a birthday cake for dessert (the server was kind enough to only light a single candle). My “wish”, as I blew out the candle, was more a combination of gratitude and optimism. I thanked myself for having the courage to take the journey. And I realized my best vacations were yet to come. My body travelled far, my mind travelled further, and my preconceived notions about gay, small-group travel were left in the dust.

Lino has been Out Adventures’ head writer for five years now. He’s now been on six trips with the company and seen more of the world than he ever dreamed possible. Follow Lino on Instagram – @superfancystoryteller.

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