Let’s face it—travel is just plain sexy. Life on the road is packed with exotic destinations, thrilling experiences, interesting people, and a heck of a lot less responsibility (and inhibitions). Having sex with your partner, or that sexy stranger at the hotel bar, is just another part of traveling. In fact, studies show that both men and women are more likely to have casual sex when they travel. And it’s not hard to understand why.
When you become best friends with a stranger in a matter of hours and share life-changing experiences all the dang time, certain barriers and cultural norms come toppling down—especially around casual sex. That’s why it’s more important than ever to prepare yourself for safer sex while you travel, because buying condoms, finding birth control pills, avoiding STIs, and even finding a private room for that special someone (or someones) can be a lot tougher than you think.
Travel can be great for your sex life, whether you’re traveling with your awesome partner or out to see and experience the world as a solo traveler. But, it’s important to be prepared for the logistical, social, and cultural differences of sex around the world. Here’s how to have better, safer sex while traveling.
Better Sex While Traveling: Best Practices
Your Simple Guide to Consent
“Consent” is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, and it’s worth thinking about exactly what consent means while you’re traveling. Travelers tend to move a little more quickly than most people back home, especially if they’re partying and going on adventures in exotic places with exciting new people. But the rules of sexual consent remain the same no matter the situation.
Getting and giving consent can be tricky even when you and your partner share a culture and language — so how can you ensure that you’re having consensual sex that both of you want when those barriers are present?
There’s only one surefire way to know if your partner is giving you their consent—ask them. Always ask whether you have your partner’s consent. Then ask again. And hey, guess what? Ask some more later.
First, make sure that person is coherent. If they’re too drunk to hold a conversation, they’re also too drunk to consent to sex with someone they don’t know. Same goes for yourself — if things are feeling way too hazy, rethink your decision to hook up.
You don’t have to bury your partner in questions like a sexual riddler, but even initial consent doesn’t mean you have a green light for whatever you want to do after that. People are allowed to change their minds, even during the act. Or, in the words of Corinne Kai’s fantastic illustrated guide to consent, “Beyond Yes & No:”
“Consent is continual, freely given, informed, enthusiastic, mutual, specific, and can be withdrawn at any time.”
Consent is a clearly expressed agreement to participate in sexual activity. That includes touching, kissing, oral sex, and penetration. Consent isn’t about asking, “Are you ok with this?” right before you have intercouse. Consent a series of steps—from both people—verbally expressing that you want X to happen.
Asking for consent may sound like it’s too simple to be a good rule, but if you follow this one rule you’ll know beyond any misinterpretations, confusion, or cultural misunderstandings. Here are some real world examples, using Corinne’s definition, illustrating what consent is not:
- Your partner is drunk and slurring her speech, but doesn’t stop you when you kiss her neck. This isn’t: informed, mutual, enthusiastic, or specific consent
- You and your partner have a language barrier and they seem confused by your invitation to go to bed with them. This isn’t: informed, enthusiastic, or mutual consent
- You meet a girl that’s out of money and just needs a place to stay for the night so she crashes with you (in your bed). You rub her back and she doesn’t stop you, so you fondle her. This isn’t: mutual, enthusiastic, specific, or freely given consent
- You and your partner are having sex and he says he wants to stop. He doesn’t feel comfortable. This isn’t mutual, enthusiastic, or continual consent.
Understand that signals may not translate. In some parts of the world (I experienced this in Madagascar and Ethiopia) what I’d consider harmless flirtation in the U.S. was interpreted by local men as a clear ask for sex. Understand that the signals you’re giving off might not be interpreted the same way in another culture.
As one friend who lived in China for several years explained, “Going on a date in China is really serious. It’s expected that you’re basically boyfriend and girlfriend if you go on a date.” Breaking up may not be so easy.
When I studied abroad in Malta, two of the European boys in my program casually mentioned “Hey, I heard there are going to be six American girls joining us in the spring semester.” When I asked them why it mattered, they casually told me, “Oh, American girls are easy.”
Not only was that an incredibly weird thing to be told as an American woman, it made me realize how others might act according to their stereotypes about me. That comment made me feel like the boys in my program might try to hook up with me just because they viewed me as a source of easy sex, based on my nationality, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that intent and genuine romantic interest.
The examples can go on forever, but the simple point is that consent needs to be clear, continual, and mutual. Pay attention to your partner’s body language, and other non-verbal clues and don’t ever assume that you have someone’s consent for sexual activity. Ever. There’s no “but” to that sentence. Ask if they’re ok with what you’re doing, but better yet ask what they’d like to do. Sex, of any kind, is a partnership. Involve your partner at every stage and you’ll not only be sure you have their consent, you’ll both have a much better time.
Get Tested Before You Travel (Know Before You Go)
If you’re sexually active, it should be standard operating procedure to get tested for STIs every 6 months (at the least!). More often if you’re having sex with multiple partners. Getting tested is easy and affordable, even if you don’t have insurance.
I actually went to Planned Parenthood for STI testing for years—without insurance—and it was cheap, easy, and a great way to always know my status. I highly recommend it. So guys, there’s no excuse. As a traveler, it’s doubly important to know if you have any STIs so you can talk to your partner(s) and take all the necessary precautions. Getting tested can be scary, but not knowing about your status is a lot worse.
Get a Private Room
Don’t be the guy or girl that tries to have sneaky sex in the squeaky top bunk of a 20-bed dorm. Just don’t. It’s beyond uncool to subject other people to your sex life in a communal space, and it’s just not going to be good sex. Even if you get off on the whole “getting caught/sex in public” thing, a twin bed in a hostel is a crappy place to have sex.
If you know you’re going out on the town in hopes of scoring, book a private room. Most hostels offer private rooms for not that much more than a dorm bed in a bunk. Seriously, I got a private room in Vietnam for $5 more than a 12-bed dorm. It’s not that hard to elevate your sex life on the road. Plus, nothing says “sexy” like someone who has enough money and forethought to get their own room.
Pro Tip: One of the best pickup lines a traveler can use is simply, “I have a private room.” And if you spring for AC get ready to be the most desirable person in the bar.
Sexual Etiquette (in different places)
If you’re going on a date in another country, brush up on the local dating etiquette — in some places going “Dutch” is far more common than it is at home, like, say, when you’re with a Dutch person.
Again, you should also understand what the norms are for sex and sexual intimacy, but never feel like you should do something you’re not personally comfortable with.
Pack Your Own Condoms
Fun fact: The US military not only provided male condoms for every US soldier during WWII—they created posters, films, and slogans to get soldiers to use those condoms. “Don’t forget — put it on before you put it in” was an actual slogan the US military created to stop soldiers from contracting STIs (namely syphilis) while traveling the world. Bring that up next time your grandparents hassle you about “the MTV and all the sex you kids are having.”
Attention all travelers: You need to pack your own condoms. I don’t care if you “don’t plan on having sex” or, “he should have the condom.” Those are terrible ways to avoid STIs and pregnancy.
Condoms are affordable, lightweight, and TSA compliant. Pack at least 3-6 condoms to be prepared if things get sexy. Heck, those condoms might not be for you. You can be a hero and hook up your new buddy with a condom when they need it.
Just like great sex, it’s not always about you!
Best Practices & Tips for Women Travelers
Travel is about exploring new places, experiences, and aspects of yourself, and, whether we talk about it or not, this often extends to sex and travel romances. Whether it’s with someone you recently met or with your S.O., hooking up with someone is often just as much a part of travel as trying new foods. Whether it’s the excitement of being in a new place, or the empowerment that comes with not knowing anyone around you, it’s totally understandable that romance might easily follow.
And while exploring new angles of your sexuality is something I’d encourage every woman to do, having sex while traveling — especially abroad — isn’t the same as having sex at home. While that’s certainly part of the fun, it also means you have to navigate new cultures, languages, and even legal regulations in your pursuit of sex while traveling.
After all, how often do you meet a charming surfer from Florida who then invites you to join him in a beach town on the coast of Nicaragua for a weekend (true story) — and you actually get to say yes?
Staying Safe While Dating & Having Sex Abroad
Especially when you’re traveling, safe sex doesn’t just mean preventing unwanted pregnancies and STIs, it also means keeping your whole self safe (physically, emotionally, and psychologically). Here are a few tips to help you stay safe while having sex abroad:
You Don’t Have to Have Sex
If you’re not comfortable going all the way, but still want to hook up and have some fun, that’s totally fine. Not going “all the way” is always an option. If this is the case, make sure to communicate this to your partner and be consistent with your response (sometimes easier said than done) — it’s not cool to have sex with someone you didn’t want to have sex with simply because they “wore you down.”
They Don’t Want to Use a Condom? Insist on It.
I met Greek men who found condoms to be emasculating, and in Ethiopia there was a general stigma against “having sex with a sock on.” In areas of the world with more “traditional” gender norms, men seem to be more resistant to using condoms. If your partner tries to talk you out of it, insist on it.
Trust Your Instinct
Our creep radar might be off when we’re traveling abroad. If things get weird — even though this person seemed totally normal and charming — trust your instincts and get out. You’re always better safe than sorry.
Drink and do Drugs Responsibly
When we’re traveling or on holiday, we want to let loose and try new things. While that’s great, don’t let it get to the point where it would put you in danger. Keep your alcohol and drug consumption to a point where you’re still coherent enough to take care of yourself or recognize a potentially sketchy situation.
Let Someone Know Where You’re Going
If you’re traveling with others, always let them know where you’re going if you split up. If you’re traveling solo, have a trusted person back home who you can update on your whereabouts, and when they should hear from you next.
Share Your Location with a Friend
Better yet, give a trusted friend or family member back home or your travel buddy access to your location at all times. You can do this through iPhone’s Find My Friends app, or — if one person doesn’t have an iPhone — directly in Google Maps. Just go to your settings to turn on location sharing and send it to someone you trust.
Always Know Where You’re Going and How to Get “Home”
If you’re not hooking up in your accommodations, make sure you know where you are and how to get safely home — whether that means having Uber, or a local equivalent, downloaded on your phone, a local taxi number to call, or just an understanding of “no go zones” after dark. This information could help you avoid an after sex saunter through a sketchy neighborhood.
Keep Your Phone Charged and Cash on Hand
Always keep your phone charged or bring an external battery pack with you when you’re out and about. In case of an emergency, make sure you have a way of calling someone — whether that means having a working local SIM or international phone plan. In most places, you’ll be able to call the local version of 911 even without a local SIM or working phone plan.
Look Out for Yourself First
Always use a condom, no matter how charming that other person is, or how much they insist that they “don’t have any STIs.” It’s not worth it.
Sex and romance is fun and can be extra exciting when you’re swept up in the romance of being somewhere new. After you’ve done your due diligence to be safe, enjoy it you sexy beast, you!