Ask Kate: What Is Sex Like on the Backpacker Trail?

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Soi Cowboy, Bangkok

This week’s question is about one of my favorite topics: sex on the road!

Hi Kate,

I’m a HUGE fan of your blog. I’m planning to travel the world and I’ve been reading various blogs to get ideas and to figure out where to start and how to set things up/etc.

I’m not sure who to ask and I feel sheepish asking but one of my biggest concerns is sex.  I tend to be a serial monogamist and always in a relationship so I get sex very regularly.  I’ve had lots of sex partners (I’m in my 30s and have been sexually active for half my life so the numbers add up) but I have only had 1 one night stand.

What have you seen amongst backpackers on the road?  Do backpackers find relationships or is it typically of the one night stand variety?  It’s not that I’m opposed to one night stands.  I probably will have them but I’m worried about my “number” getting too high.  I’m already at 17 and I think that’s high.  What’s your sense of the backpackers’ “numbers”?

Any advice?

During my freshman year of college, I was known as my dorm floor’s “condom lady.”  I would hang out with the girls, hear them talking about hooking up with guys they had been flirting with over AIM, and I would hand out condoms to the girls who needed them.

“Do you have a condom?” I’d ask my friends on their way out the door.

“No, but he’ll probably have one.”

And I’d sigh and grab a condom of my own to hand to her.  Soon, the word got out, and girls would show up at my door with a sheepish smile, asking if I had any extras I could spare.

Why didn’t these girls have condoms of their own?  Because they were ashamed.  The sheer act of having condoms meant that they were planning on possibly having sex with someone they weren’t currently dating, and were therefore acting “slutty.”  These girls would risk STIs and pregnancy over admitting that they had sex on their minds.

A decade later, slut-shaming is still as prevalent as ever — and I meet woman after woman basing her self-worth on her sexual behavior, attributing shame to any sexual behavior that is outside relationships and any number of sexual partners that is beyond her personal definition of an “acceptable” number.  And don’t get me started on how women and girls cut each other down — that’s a whole different post.

It should be getting better — but it seems like nothing is changing.

Women still deeply internalize this shame.  It seems like this is one of the last frontiers we need to cross.  I look to intelligent and worldly women writers that I admire, and in the middle of their beautiful travel prose, they’ll add a smiling, “But don’t be slutty!”

My message to you: Stop giving it so much importance to your “number.”  It is meaningless.  If you’re safe and smart about sex, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve had 17 partners or 200, and the right future partner will not care about that number whatsoever.  That number does not determine whether you’re a good person, a smart person, a caring person.  It does not mean that you’re damaged goods.

Sex on the Road

On the backpacker trail, people live in the present and form friendships instantly.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did in your pre-backpacking life.  You have no embarrassing stories tied to your past. People don’t talk about what they do for a living; they talk about where they’ve been, where they’re going, and how long they’ve been traveling.

An environment this open and friendly, as you might imagine, is very inviting for sex.

Is sex common on the backpacker trail?  Absolutely, especially places like Asia where a private room is as cheap as a dorm bed.  If you want to find sex with a fellow backpacker, you’ll probably have no problem, particularly in party towns.  Sex definitely happens between travelers and locals as well. (Sidenote: if you’re looking for hot locals, I suggest you head to Spain or Bali.  YUM.)

As for relationships, these are definitely common as well.  I’ve seen plenty of backpackers unexpectedly find themselves in relationships during their time on the road.  Many are sweetly short-term; some last long after their travels end.  I even know people who met their spouses while traveling.

But if you don’t want to have sex, that’s absolutely fine.  The decision is yours, and you can always go have a sexy makeout session on a hidden corner of a beach instead.  Never forget that you have the right to say no at ANY time.

As far as condoms go, they’re readily available at pharmacies and drugstores in most places around the world, though you may struggle in very rural areas.  The condom lady that resides in me to this day urges you to keep a backup supply of your own and not to expect a guy to provide one when you need one.

My advice?  Keep yourself protected physically — use condoms, get tested for STIs periodically, and know that no sex is ever 100% safe.  Keep yourself protected emotionally — try not to get hung up on someone who doesn’t care about you.  Protect your partners physically and emotionally — obey the campsite rule and leave them in better shape than you found them.

And go enjoy yourself — free of shame.

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130 thoughts on “Ask Kate: What Is Sex Like on the Backpacker Trail?”

  1. Hi Kate,
    I run a volunteer/backpacker operation in Africa where backpackers are accommodated in my own home. On a few occasions I’ve found myself in the awkward position of being forced to confront volunteers after waking up due to a wayward, piercing scream coming from the bathroom at 3 am or odd moans emanating from behind closed, cupboard doors. Approaching the manner in which one’s personal space is invaded (by those you’re hosting) is difficult and has the potential to cause more discomfort from which there is no escape, hence your tackling of the subject is much appreciated – future volunteers, unable to control their sexual activities, will be pointed in the direction of this blog. . Adventurous Kate is known to be a class act – an entertaining, informative source of useful tips for travellers, hence while reading through the comment section of this particular blog entry, I was surprised to stumble across a section which comes across to the reader as “too personal”. At this point in the comments, the tone slips from class into tacky, staining the consistent grace echoed across your site. There appears to be a personal dispute going on which raises the same kind of awkwardness felt when backpackers are loudly having sex in your home. On my own page, I’ve witnessed personal communication spill over into public spaces where the content of the comments are left up to readers to interpret, make assumptions about and perpetuate. When readers have no real access to the truth – or fiction – behind volatile, personal comments, the imagination is allowed to wander into the wildest, most inappropriate places. As one of your new blog fans, I’m voting to have the comment section I’m referring to, removed to preserve the high standards of this site. I’m also calling on others to join me in that vote.

    1. Hi K, and welcome to the blog. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

      Thanks for sharing your point of view, but you don’t get a vote. This is my blog and I’m the only one who makes the decisions. I don’t censor comments unless they’re promotional or they are attacks on other people. You can always choose not to read the comments if you don’t like them.

      1. Of course it’s your blog and choice. I’m surprised you don’t recognise any personal attacks or any form of character assassination?

        1. you can say what you like but he was a mean stripper back in the good ole days when we hung out at the club! lol.

  2. This is a great article. But i am not sure if i understood this correctly. Are we saying that sex outside an active relationship is fine? Isn’t it like cheating, whether it is for men or women?
    I am not sure if I’ll be happy if my man slept with 100 girls. Shouldn’t the same be with we girls too?
    I am not shaming anyone, but this is what my mind says.
    I can see that we are leading to a world where there is no right or wrong, and it is all about what an individual thinks is right.
    I still believe that cheating anyone from an active relationship is wrong and it deserves to be shamed, even if it is men or women

  3. Sorry for the tangential question, but if you did find out that you’d had an accidental pregnancy while traveling in a foreign country, what would you do? If they had reasonable abortion laws, would you have it done there? Or would you return home to do it where you have support? Does travel insurance even cover either of those options?

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