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What One Couple Learned from Traveling the World Together

Condé Nast Traveler logo Condé Nast Traveler 2018-06-13 Lale Arikoglu

a person sitting on a bench in front of a building: When it came to deciding where to visit next, the couple turned to LGBTQ+ travel blogs for advice.

When it came to deciding where to visit next, the couple turned to LGBTQ+ travel blogs for advice.
© Courtesy Trey Sarten and Martin Bryan

The prospect of picking up a backpack and traveling the world for a year is a fantasy for many, but what is it like to actually do it? After years of talking about just that, New Yorkers Trey Sarten and Martin Bryan, both 35, decided to put life on hold—or perhaps, begin it—and set off on an adventure together. Starting in New Zealand in January 2017 and ending their trip in Sri Lanka in March of this year, they visited everywhere from Nepal, Bali, and the Maldives (getting engaged in the latter), to Slovenia, Greece, and Spain, chronicling it all on their blog JNRY.life. Here's what they learned from a year on the road together.

Don’t wait for permission.

Trey Sarten: Martin had backpacked around the world in his 20s, but I worked for a global hotel company, so had been traveling a very different way. We both had a really strong interest in travel, and soon after we started dating, we began taking trips—everywhere from upstate New York and the Caribbean to farther-flung places like to Greece, Portugal, and Africa. We always said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to get back on the road and spend months traveling the world?” But I laughed it off, given that I was in the middle of my career. It’s funny how the universe works: One day, I was sitting in traffic on Sixth Avenue, feeling irritated, and I heard a voice deep down say to me: “No one is going to give you permission to take this trip. If you want to take it, take it. It’s yours to grab on to.” I had come to a fork in the road for my career, and from there, everything started falling into place.

Get super organized.

Martin Bryan: Using an Excel document, I mapped out the different places we wanted to go, according to the seasons during which it made the most sense to travel. For example, we had discussed traveling to Nepal, but there are only certain, short seasons when it makes sense to travel there. We used milestone moments, like going to Annapurna Massif in October, that we could use to help anchor the year of travel as a whole.

Jump in with both feet first.

MB: We started the trip in New Zealand in the January, and rented a camper van called ‘The Lucky Ranger’ for the first three weeks. We were together 24/7, but figured that if we could survive that then we could survive the rest of the trip. New Zealand was a shock to our system: to slow down, to breathe oxygen, and to take in all of the beautiful landscapes that are there. I think it was great that we were in such close quarters during that time, because we both were going through the process of understanding what we had left behind—and what lay ahead for us.

Remember to give each other space.

TS: In such tight quarters, you really get to know one another: There is no more privacy and hiding behind anything you might have had in your normal, daily life back home. But it’s funny how quickly you fall into your routines when traveling as a couple. I’m a morning person and Martin is an evening person, so often I would go for a run or walk in the morning, and in the evening, Martin would sit outside under the stars, soak up the sky, and read while I went to bed.Even though 'The Lucky Ranger' was tight, it became our little home. And we were sad to leave it.

Resist the urge to write off certain destinations.

TS: Our intention was to see the world. So while there were places where perhaps, as a nation or a country, we didn’t necessarily agree with their values and ideals, it was still part of the map we wanted to experience. As a gay couple, we thought about this from a human rights perspective a lot: that to better the world is to see it, and bring about empathy by being there.

Often, we found that what’s going on at a governmental level doesn’t necessarily represent the individual person or community. We were very fortunate that everywhere we went, we were welcomed and we didn’t experience anything that was overtly negative. But we also now have a better understanding of what it was like to walk into a room where people’s fear may stand in the way of welcoming you. That was a very new experience to me, and I definitely have more perspective coming from that.

MB: Having each other’s backs gave us more confidence. At the same time, there were moments where we would be less forthcoming about our relationship in certain nations that have anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in place. We sort of relied on the fact that people often believed we were brothers: It was uncomfortable, but having so much faith in our relationship helped us face it together.

Follow LGBTQ+ travel blogs for advice.

TS: One blog we read a lot is called the Nomadic Boys. They’re a gay couple who travel around the world, and so when it came to us deciding whether to go to places like the Maldives, they gave us the reassurance of being a gay couple that had been there before. Then, as our Instagram account grew, we were introduced to different people through that and started engaging with them. We ask other couples, “You know, we’re thinking about going to this place, have you been, what do you think?” Or, “We read this on your blog," or "We saw you post a picture of this on Instagram—how did it go for you? Where did you stay?” People would ask us the same questions, too. It was this little community—from professional travelers to those just looking to take a trip with their partner.

MB: We would also do a hashtag search on Instagram, as well as a destination search, to see actual travelers who have just been to a destination. It’s very peer-to-peer, and there were lots of other travelers who either had their own personal blog, or whom we would direct message.

Try not to stick to the obvious.

TS: When we revisited certain places where we had been in the past, we tried to go off the beaten path, to someplace new. For instance, we had both spent time in Italy before, so we decided to go to southern Tuscany, where we stayed at a farmhouse on an olive farm. There are some beautiful beaches there that are really rugged and wild, and are unlike the other beaches you would see in Italy. We tried to find new places, or new favorites within our old favorites, throughout the trip.

MB: We were really hungry for green spaces, getting our hands in the dirt, and breathing fresh air. So every place we went, we also tried to get on some trails, and do some hiking; get out of the cities, swim in some lakes, and eat the local produce.

Pack light. Like, really light.

MB: It’s funny how even if you pack a lot, you still manage to not use 20 to 30 percent of the clothes you bought. So, even though we pared down our wardrobe significantly, we still managed to feel very comfortable with what we had. But we still had items in our bags that we never touched, which was, I think, shocking.

TS: The idea of trying to fit a year’s worth of gear into a bag was a bit overwhelming. We bought clothes that could be layered, were neutral colors, or would work in any type of situation: We knew we were going to be seeing friends occasionally, and going to nice dinners, but at the same time, we also knew we’d be hiking in the Himalayas. Our advice would be, lay out what you’re going to pack, remove half, look at it again, and come back the next day, remove another half, and then make it work. As humans, I feel like we all grow to fit the size of our shell.

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