1. Do you really want to do this?
Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you HAVE to get it on. There’s a lot of pressure on backpackers — many of whom are in their early twenties — to bang their other hostelmates. Obviously, if you want to bang, bang away; no slut-shaming here. But don’t feel obliged to bang, either. No always, always means no, even if it’s your last night in Barcelona. Enthusiastic consent means being able to say no at any point and stop the proceedings.
2. Do you have any condoms?
If you’re engaging in penetrative sex, having a condom is absolutely necessary — whether you’re covering a penis or a sex toy, a condom helps keep everything safe and (in the case of a toy) clean. Unprotected sex for backpackers can lead to some unfortunate medical consequences: anything from higher rates of chlamydia, to antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, to an exciting case of Zika, that could cause birth defects for as long as two years after exposure. You’ve probably heard the “sex will kill you” talk more than once in high school health classes, but it’s especially important to be cautious about STI protection when you’re around a bunch of people you don’t know, possibly in a high risk country. You wouldn’t go barging into Laos without your antimalarial prophylactic, so why go barging into someone else’s bed without your genital prophylactic? If you’re using a sex toy, having a condom on it will help keep it clean and tidy when you may not have regular access to sterilizing hot water; this can help prevent the spread of thrush, bacterial infections, and other icky and uncomfortable stuff.
3. What do I want this to mean?
For serious, is this a one-night thing, a “while we’re traveling” thing, or a “love of my life” thing? Are you ready for a relationship, or only a little fun? Whatever you want to do is fine, but it’s probably a good idea to be clear with yourself before you get involved. Funnily enough, this blog post discusses the likelihood of hookups on small tours continuing after the tour…and something like 40% of those hookups end in marriage!
4. Do I love the person or the place?
Don’t confuse the romance of seeing La Sagrada Familia at sunset with your hand in someone else’s hand…with the actual romance of loving another person. People who go to Burning Man have a saying: “Fall in love WITH Burning Man, not AT Burning Man”. It’s easy to get so lost in what’s going on around you that you overlook some important details…some of which might have raised red flags if you were just hanging out at home.
5. Is this an abusive situation?
This is kind of a heavy-duty thing to ask yourself, but speaking as someone who was in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic while traveling around Europe when I was 19…it needs to be asked. I was too young to really understand what was going on; I just thought he was crazy and I could help. It took me about five years to stop hearing his voice in my head judging everything I did, and about ten to get comfortable being around drunk people without being afraid they were going to threaten or attack me. Abuse is real, whether you’re at home or away, and sexual relationships can make you feel so tightly bound to someone abusive that you end up in a situation that is very hard to get out of. Try to assess the person for a little bit before you get involved. Definitely try to avoid any coercion or pressure. Seek help if you need it. Please, please, don’t treat traveling as a special scenario where you don’t have to take care of yourself the same way that you would at home.
6. Are either of us drunk or otherwise under the influence?
Whether you sampled a “happy shake” in Koh Phangan or just hit the tequila in Cuzco, if you’re drunk, high, or stoned, you probably shouldn’t be having sex. Being mentally impaired means you can’t legally consent to sexual activity, which means you might end up doing things you didn’t want to do, or things you might regret. Alcohol is a pretty common social lubricant, though, and it’s often considered very socially acceptable to get drunk and hook up. Just try to be careful, both of your own feelings, and of your partner’s. Also: please be aware that you can suffer some truly debilitating consequences if you purchase, consume, or transport recreational drugs in some countries; you may not remember the Bali Nine, who tried to smuggle heroin out of Indonesia in 2005, but seven of them are serving 20 years to life in prison, and two were executed by firing squad in 2015. I really, really wouldn’t want some casual sex to land you in a Balinese jail.
7. Do you have somewhere to go?
If you’ve both traveling long-term, you’re probably trying to save some pennies, which means you likely have dorm rooms in hostels. Fortunately, Matador published a guide for how to have sex in hostels (https://matadornetwork.com/nights/sex-hostels/). If you’re going to be somewhere for awhile, though, may I suggest just renting an apartment? I have a friend who lives in Chiang Mai for a few months out of almost every year, and he usually gets a month-to-month furnished apartment, which often even has a mini-fridge, so you have somewhere to stash the peanut butter you bought for an exorbitant amount at Tesco.
8. Is the guy an MRA or pickup artist?
A google search of “sex with backpackers” turns up a few hits from sites like the Roosh V forums (who you may remember as the pickup artist and misogynist known for insisting that rape be legalized. Although pickup artists spend a lot of time talking about how they don’t even like women anyway because of matriarchal world domination, they also spend a lot of time trying to cajole and trick said women into bed with them. Check the politics of someone before you bang them, at least on a basic level — try to figure out if they think voting for Trump would be a neat idea, while you’re at it. On the bright side, many of the PUA sites point out that hooking up with fellow travelers is lame when you could just be hooking up with hottie local chicks instead, so you might be safe.