Just 60 years ago, Spain was a pretty repressive place. Under the grip of General Franco and the Catholic Church, the Costas back then were a no-fun zone.
In fact, when the first flights brought fun-seeking tourists from the UK to the Spanish beaches in 1958, police who saw tourists wearing bikinis and other ‘revealing’ swimwear ordered them to cover up.
Last year, more than 18 million British people visited Spain, and given the way that some of us behave under the influence of cheap sangria, you’d hope that they’d have got over it by now.
It seems they have. In fact, tourism has been one of the biggest drivers behind Spain’s incredible journey from repressive backwater to modern European nation; the flood of tourists boosted the country’s economy and, according to Giles Tremlett, author of Ghosts of Spain, brought with them the ‘fresh air of democracy’.
We know that holidays can change us, hopefully leaving us rested, relaxed and entertained, but how much capacity do we have to change the places that we visit?
That’s an important question to ask, because there are still more than 70 countries in the world with anti-gay laws, where public displays of affection or gay sex behind closed doors could land us in jail, or worse (read about these at 76crimes.com).
Meanwhile, more places than ever are actively competing to attract us (and, let’s be honest, our money). The classic gay beach and city hotspots of Europe and North America are now facing tough competition from a whole host of destinations in Asia and Latin America that are keen to show their friendly side.
Surely, it’s simple? Why don’t we just avoid the repressive regimes and head for places that are willing to accept us with open arms?
The problem is, the world is not so easily divided into “good” and “evil”, or “gay-friendly” and “non gay-friendly”. Many people in the 70+ countries I mentioned earlier don’t necessarily believe the rhetoric their leaders spout, and are more interested in making a living for their family and ensuring visitors are welcome.
Closer to home, even in Europe, aren’t uniformly gay-friendly which ever way you look.
I believe that in an era of division and hatred, when world leaders are putting up walls, travelling becomes an act of rebellion. After all, Mark Twain put it perfectly when he said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
For me, the spirit of those words cuts both ways. When we travel, we don’t just meet shop assistants, hotel receptionists, waiters and guides — they also meet us.
Of course we need to travel bravely, but also wisely. For every smart traveller, doing some research, using common sense and asking for local advice from trusted sources can go a long way to ensuring a smooth trip.
Fortunately, we have more tools at our fingertips than ever before: DestinationPride.org, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, and traveller advice pages on the Foreign Office website are good places to start.
Peter Jordan is an author and advisor on LGBT+ destination development
To stay at home, or to stick to the same places year after year is to limit ourselves. By being brave and venturing out to more of the world, we discover it’s not as black and white as the media might make out.
We also have the potential to change lives; after all, even in the world’s most farflung places, there are LGBT+-accepting or queer-run businesses that deliver prosperity to their local communities.
Whether you decide to pack your bikini or not, in 2019 it’s time to face your travel decisions with ambition, and perhaps even a touch of rebellion.
Follow Peter Jordan on Twitter @GenCTraveller.