Nomadic Boys, or Stefan Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac, share their experiences and advice on traveling internationally as gay men.
A world saturated with gorgeous destinations, filled with incredible people to be met and stories to be heard, is also scarred with inequality and oppression. For most, their rights extend beyond their home country; others are not so fortunate. Not everyone has the luxury of easily gliding through places, especially those within the LGBTQ+ community.
Countries like the United States and most of Western Europe accept and protect gay people, while places like Iran and Saudi Arabia reject and arrest them. In some areas, the community’s security is less obvious.
“Sri Lanka has an anti-gay law, or the Maldives has one. Malaysia does. But the locals will laugh at you if you talk about it,” said Stefan Arestis, one-half of Nomadic Boys. The locals’ reactions reflect upon the disconnect between law and life. For these countries, anti-gay laws are the residue of previous British control and don’t echo current societal views. But they are also a reminder of how confusing traveling can become for a gay person.
To be gay in a world of un-uniform acceptance is bravery in the name of authenticity. Yet sometimes it’s challenging to recognize where safety is abundant and where caution is needed. That’s what the travel blog, Nomadic Boys, is for.
Created by partners Stefan Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac, Nomadic Boys documents the couple’s travels from rural roads of Asia to dense cities of South America. Their articles are comprehensive guides on the countries they’ve visited, describing personal experiences, gay rights, and accepting places.
“We will make sure to reassure them because we have tons of information on so many places that we have been to,” said Chaneac. “It’s important for our readers to know where it is safe to go when they travel.” Nomadic Boys is like the gay atlas of the world and a powerful resource for every traveler.
The couple met in London at a bar in 2009. At the time, Arestis was a lawyer, Chaneac, a computer programmer in business. After a few years, neither was fulfilled with the corporate lifestyle and longed to see the world. They saved up, and in 2014 set off on an 18-month sabbatical around Asia. Becoming travel bloggers was never the plan.
“We started Nomadic Boys as a way to keep friends and family updated with our travels and share our stories,” said Arestis. Within a few months, traffic across their website and social media blew up. “We realized, hang on, we can do something with this.”
Since Asia, they have continued to travel, documenting their experience and different communities. But not every gay man has jetted across the world and fears the hostile environments that might await. Initially, Chaneac had those same concerns.
“Our first time going there I was so scared because of all the press and what you could hear in the media,” said Chaneac. “I was really worried about crossing the border and ending up there and having people see that we’re gays and get beaten up and things like that.” The couple considered taking the word gay off their website and booking two rooms with single beds.
Their concerns, as any gay man’s, are valid. In place of anti-gay laws, Russia has rules prohibiting the support or promotion of anything relating to homosexuality. They were actively placing themselves in a vulnerable, unprotected environment. Luckily, it paid off. “We surprisingly had a great time. There is a massive gay community in Moscow, and a gay scene there, which shocked us,” said Arestis. “But it’s repressed, of course, it’s repressed.”
Arestis and Chaneac have released the shackles of fear, traveling across the world, experiencing incredible gay communities. “Every single country we visited, there was a gay scene. There were gay locals, and they were so eager to show us around,” said Chaneac.
Although countries restrict gay rights, oppression does not mean destruction. LGBTQ+ communities thrive quietly in the shadows, but these havens have their rules.
Lebanon has a massive underground gay scene, including POSH, one of the largest gay clubs in the Arab world. Interestingly, men are not allowed to kiss or dance too close inside the club. In Georgia, many of the gay clubs, like Bassiani, will have a buff, stern bouncer standing outside, scanning the crowd, deciding who will be allowed in and who won’t make trouble.
“The trick is don’t go in there in groups. Go in twos or threes, and don’t smile. Look a bit serious,” said Arestis.
What sounds pitiless is actually protective. “You don’t want to attract homophobic attention. They’re doing it to protect us,” said Arestis. These bars and clubs are the few spaces gay men can breathe and escape the tension raging outside. “It’s one thing to have a society who’s not accepting of homosexuality, and another thing that the government is condemning it,” said Chaneac. In places where the law is against them, to be completely accepted and surrounded by peers outweighs the small sacrifices made to get inside.
When traveling, awareness of oneself and surroundings is always essential, regardless of sexuality or gender. “When I drink, I become very camp, and I love it. I have my cocktails, and I really like it, but I’m not going to do this in the middle of the night in streets where I’m not feeling safe,” said Chaneac. “If you are in the company of people you trust, you can let go.”
The adventure of traveling is uniquely rich, but personal safety is also crucial. Very often, Arestis and Chaneac were mistaken for brothers and momentarily lived in that white lie. “We just let them believe that to avoid problems,” said Arestis. “It’s like any couple, straight or gay; if you are walking in the street or meeting strangers, you’re not going to say “Oh, we’re a couple immediately,” said Chaneac.
Choosing when and with whom to disclose one’s sexuality is no one’s choice but the person. One judgment is their best tool and should be used often, wherever they are. For those, however, who dread the idea of traveling alone or with only one person, there are gay traveling groups.
Companies like Out Adventures and DETOURS offer trips where LGBTQ+ people can visit places together, each comforted by the presence of their community. “That is a great way to experience abroad and countries you might not be comfortable going to alone,” said Chaneac.
Arestis and Chaneac have revolutionized what it means to travel for the LGBTQ+ community. Their journeys inspire and advocate for the community to live, travel, and connect as they have been privileged to. “We’re very humbled by it. We love it,” said Arestis.
Sexuality is not a ball and chains; it is liberation. The LGBTQ+ community must harness their bravery and travel wherever they want, despite potential adverse atmospheres. Everyone deserves to see the world if they choose, with caution, grace, and respect.
For more information on their experiences, advice, the surprising resource of Grindr, and a chilling moment in Lebanon, watch the Deep Dive video above.