For a lot of people, traveling is about letting their hair down. And there’s just something about being far, far away from home that makes us feel carefree and confident. Throw swaying palm trees and a boozy cocktail or two into the mix, and romance is never far behind.
Leaving home to see the world is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and discover what you like — and part of that experimentation could take place between the sheets. So whether you’re about to set off on a year-long trip or are just heading off on a short vacation, here’s how to plan for better and safer sex while traveling.
1. Get tested for STDs before you go.
Maybe it’s the cocktails, or maybe it’s the lack of responsibility, but for some reason, many travelers let their guard down and forget all about risk on the road. STIs are on the rise, and they are everywhere, so get tested before you go to see where you stand. Getting a thumbs up from the clinic isn’t a green light to go protection-free, though: You might be fine, but you can’t vouch for your partner, and several early-stage STDs — including HIV, hepatitis, and chlamydia — don’t show symptoms. What it does mean is that if you do suddenly find yourself with an issue down there, you can narrow your timeframe to a shorter period, which makes it easy to work out who you need to tell. As in, warn other people who you’ve slept with — not tell everyone who you think you caught it from.
2. Don’t be shy in front of the nurse.
Planning on hooking up with strangers? Own it. The nurse doesn’t care if you want to get down ‘n’ dirty with everyone you meet. What they do care about is doing their job and preventing you from catching Hepatitis A and B, both of which can be caught via sex. When they ask if you’ll have a romantic rendezvous or two while traveling (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?) just say yes — even if you’re not sure. And not to be a downer or anything, but you should consider getting this even if you’re going with your partner, especially if you’re a new couple heading off for a long time. People break up, so if you do find yourself unexpectedly back on the dating scene, you’ll be much happier (and safer) knowing you have some protection. Plus, you can catch hepatitis from contaminated water, shared utensils, and unscrupulous tattoo studios, so better to err on the side of caution.
3. Protect yourself from pregnancy and STIs.
Don’t rely on local pharmacies. Not only is the language barrier a potential issue, but they also might not stock what you need. The pill works best when it’s taken at the same time every day, so remember to adjust your schedule when traveling over different time zones and double-up on protection in case of any errors or upset stomach incidents. Bring your own condoms, even if you’re on the pill or coil. You can also use them over toys for easy cleanup, or as an extra layer of protection if you’re sharing or using someone else’s items.
If you’re an LGBTQ+ traveler using PrEP (Truvada) for HIV prevention, make sure you’re stocked up before you travel, especially to a country where it might not be available and/or you’re visiting a part of the world where infection rates are higher. It protects you if you come into contact with HIV-1, but it should be taken before you have sex and is only effective if you don’t already have it. Talk to your doctor to find out more.
4. Bring toys and lube.
If you can’t do without your toys at home, then bring your stash (or a few star players) along for the trip. You can take most sex toys and lube on planes. Just be careful to do your research about how to transport your items safely and hygienically, and make sure the country you’re heading to allows adult accessories through customs because they are illegal in some countries.
A word of advice for the ladies: Research shows hetero women are around 50 percent less likely than men to orgasm during casual sex, so to level out the playing field and close what’s known as the orgasm gap, bring a vibrator along. Just do it. Lelo stocks a range of toys that look more like body massagers than adult items, so you don’t need to worry about any questionable shapes showing up on the scanner. And if you want to go all-out stealth mode, there’s always the one that looks like a necklace. If James Bond was a woman, this is the one she’d choose.
5. Be crystal clear about consent.
It’s important to be able to give and get consent before any kind of touching takes place. And just because someone’s given you the green light to get naked with them, it doesn’t mean you don’t need additional consent when introducing a new element, like a sex toy, bondage or anal play. And remember, nakedness/an erection/wetness is not consent in itself; you need to hear it from them clearly and unequivocally. If they’re drunk, it’s a no. If a language barrier leaves you unsure, then it’s a no. If their body language seems off, then that yes is now a possible no.
Giving and getting consent doesn’t need to be a vibe-killer, and it doesn’t have to sound like a job interview or doctor’s visit. Incorporate it into your foreplay session and ask questions like, “Can I touch you here?”, “Can I take this off?”, and “Do you want me to keep going?” Foreplay is important because it helps build trust with the person you’re with — something that’s especially important during a one-night stand — so don’t neglect it.
6. Book a private room.
Not many travelers seem to know this, but a sheet pinned up around the bottom bunk is not soundproof. Who knew! Don’t be that person who keeps everyone awake with their squeaky bunkbed grunts unless you’re ok with mid-sex heckling and glares at breakfast. And even then, just don’t. It’s gross and tacky. If you do find yourself in an unexpected hookup situation, either head back to theirs (if they have a solo room) or wait until you’re able to book more private sleeping arrangements — which shouldn’t set you back too much more than a dorm bed. Failing that, there’s always the shower. Just make sure you clean up after yourself and keep the noise down. Oh, and we advise against beach sex. Sand is not a sexy texture, and you might get arrested.
7. Look after yourself.
When you’re relaxed and having fun, it’s easy to let your guard down — but it’s important to treat abroad hook-up situations with the same vigilance you would back at home, if not more so. Tell people where you’re going or, if you’re traveling solo, text someone to let them know what you’re up to — even if it’s just a person you went on a day trip with (you don’t have to give them all the details). Always insist on a condom and/or dental dam, and keep your phone charged and cash on hand. If you do find yourself in a difficult situation or you become a victim of sexual harassment, first make sure you get to safety, then report the incident to the local authorities. If you’re an LGBTQ traveler in a country that doesn’t have a great rights record, you may need to bypass the local police and head straight to your embassy. They can take it from there.
8. Get to know your local healthcare services.
So, you think you’ve caught an STD or need the morning-after pill. Now what? Don’t panic. Many cities have free walk-in testing clinics that you can use without having to book an appointment. In some parts of the world, sexual health resources might not be so readily available, in which case you may need to take a trip to the hospital — so make sure you sort out travel insurance before you go.
If you’re LGBTQ+ and in a place that’s not especially welcoming to all orientations and genders, you can check local rights and legislation on Equaldex so you have a better idea of what to expect before you go and whether you should wait until you’re home or take a trip to a neighboring region. Gynopedia is another amazing resource full of sexual health information on everything from abortion access, menstrual products, trans-friendly gynecologists, prenatal care, crisis support, and more on a city-by-city basis. And despite its name, it has information for everyone — not just women.
9. Embrace your wild side.
No one knows you. You can be anyone you want. Embrace this liberating anonymity and use it as an opportunity to try something new — whether that’s a hook up with someone who doesn’t reflect your usual sexual orientation or a good ol’ threesome. If you’re bringing sex toys along, why not add some light bondage toys to the mix if it’s something you’ve always wanted to try? Just remember to ask for consent before you whip out the handcuffs, and if you’re dead set on getting frisky somewhere not-so-private, for the love of God, don’t get caught. Unless you’ve always wanted to see what the inside of an international jail looks like.
10. Make a graceful exit.
Just because you slept together doesn’t mean they want to hang with you the next day — or even see you again, for that matter. If they’re awake, have a light conversation with them to try to gauge the mood. If it looks and sounds like they want some alone time, then tell them it was nice to meet them and make a beeline for the door. And if you’re not sure (hangovers can make people pretty grouchy-sounding), just ask them outright if they’d like you to stick around or not. If you think you’d like to stay in contact, feel free to leave your phone number or social media contact details on a bit of paper for them — but don’t pressure them into putting it into their phone. Especially if they’re trying to sleep off that Full Moon Party cocktail bucket.