In the summer of 2014, I got married and somehow my soon to be my wife Laura convinced me we should quit our jobs and go traveling. Not traveling as in let’s take a honeymoon, but the kind of trip that doesn’t have a return ticket. Yeah, that kind of full emersion, life altering adventure.
Before we set off we both listed out a few of the places that were on our dream list to make sure we would include them. The highlight reel of mine included a 17 day hike to Everest Base Camp (and Gokkyo-a nearby peak) that I’d been fantasizing about since I’d read John Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and an immersion into Spanish-speaking cultures that hypothetically would to turn me into the fluent speaker I’d long to be since I was started studying in middle school. Laura’s big requests involved biking through the Vietnam, sweating through the streets of India and scuba diving in Raja Ampat-a remote marine preserve in Indonesia-basically an immersive tour of South East Asia.
After several months of planning and countless trips to REI we were armed with a series of plane tickets, backpacks that weighed more than 10-year-old kids, and the unknown…oh and did I mention, a marriage certificate for two gay, married women. We were about to embark on months of travel into places where being gay wasn’t legal and that certainly wasn’t in the hazy gray terms of the US Armed Forces policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It was more like don’t do because this shit is illegal and we don’t appreciate it. We were headed to religious temples, homestays in conservative homes in South America, and a trip for two overnight on a houseboats (unknown to us-typically frequented by Indian couples to get away…aka get it on!)
What was it like to travel as a married gay couple in parts of the world that stereotypically don’t accept same sex relationships…well, for one, it involved A LOT of the question “Are you sisters or, are you friends?”, more nights that I would prefer in single beds, and even in separate rooms during our homestay. Along with quite a few awkwardly dodged questions, especially when it came to the facebook friend question. Because let’s be honest, once you are facebook friends there is no going back to she’s my sister! It also meant that I had the worry of what would happen if one of us got sick and needed to go to the hospital. Would we be allowed to make decisions for one another? It meant that sometimes I couldn’t be affectionate with my wife because it could put us in danger.
But for most of the time, we just existed in the experience and tried to be respectful of the culture norms of that society while still be authentically ourselves. Clearly not always an easy task.
Mostly it involved meeting lots of amazing new friends from all across the globe, many of whom probably won’t openly admit they were friends with someone who was gay, the ability to count and use basic phrases, albeit poorly, in a variety of new languages, a honeymoon in a country that follows sharia law and a lot of amazing unforgettable experiences!
Swell Travel: We asked the Kirrin Finch ladies a few follow-up questions as well! Read below for more!
Swell Travel (ST): What is your favorite place you visited during your trip?
We did so many amazing and different things that I really struggle to answer this question. But it is definitely the question that I get asked the most. Some of my favorites included, hiking to Everest Base Camp, biking through Vietnam and hiking the W Trek in Patagonia.
Swell Travel (ST): What was the craziest experience you had?
Over the course of nine months of traveling we had soooo many crazy experiences. Some good, some bad. For example, we were taking an overnight train trip in India and about 5 hours into a 18+ hour train ride we found out the train route we were on had been hijacked by gunpoint the week before. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night.
I also had an amazing experience in the water. We were on the boat back to the island we were staying on in Raja Ampat where we were helping a Marine Conservation Organization called Barefoot Conservation count manta rays to determine their migration patterns, health etc. and we saw a few jumping out of the water. So we stopped the boat, grabbed our snorkel gear and jumped in. What we thought was a handful, was actually closer to a hundred participating in group feeding. We were literally in a swarm of mantas, and manta rays are BIG! Take your average sting ray and multiply it by about 6. It was exhilarating and terrifying all in one.
Oh, and learning how to drive stickshift on a 17 foot long RV, on the left side of the road, in the hills of NZ. Yeah, that was pretty crazy.
Swell Travel (ST): Are there any places you want to revisit?
I’d go back to trek in Nepal in a heartbeat and go trekking again with our trip leader Jagan Timilsina who is one of the managing directors of a company called Freedom Adventures Nepal. The trekking in Patagonia was also spectacular. It is super remote and is one of the few places in the world where you can actually still just drink the water out of streams without purifying it.
Swell Travel (ST): Can you share with us how you did your trip planning?
Laura did a lot of the initial planning because I was primarily focusing on planning our wedding. (We got married about a month before we left) Clearly planning both of these things at the same idea wasn’t our most sane idea. But you live and learn.
We planned out around a month in advance and then used things like scheduled group trips to block off a few weeks at a time in a specific place and then filled in the gaps in as we got closer. We also used a few dates like NYE to work backward from.
The group trips we took were with organizations like Exodus and Intrepid. This style of traveling is super popular in Europe and Australia, and they are slowly picking up steam in the US. They are a good way to meet new people and see a lot of a place without having to constantly worry about the logistics of getting from place to place. One of the highlights was an Exodus Bike Trip through Vietnam.
Swell Travel (ST): Did you plan your business on the road or after you returned?
We had the idea to start Kirrin Finch, a menswear-inspired clothing line for women and non-binary individuals, prior to leaving for our trip, but it was really just a crazy idea at the time. Especially since neither of us had any fashion experience.
But overtime, the idea became more and more serious, and we started to actively write our business plan while we were away so we would be ready to roll when we got back. However, it was certainly challenging trying to work on the road with spotty wifi and lots of things to see.
We’d like to congratulate Kelly and Laura on recently being published in The Atlantic, The Power of Two!
Kelly grew up loving the outdoors and exploring. After graduating from University, she was admitted into the NYC Teaching Fellows Program and moved to NYC to work as an elementary school librarian and classroom teacher. In the summer of 2014, so quit her job, got married and went on a 9 month traveling adventure with her wife Laura.
After spending years struggling to find clothing to match their tomboy ascetic, Kelly and Laura started a socially conscious fashion brand called Kirrin Finch when they returned from their 9 month journey. Kirrin Finch offers menswear-inspired clothing for women, trans folks and non-binary individuals.
If you’d like to submit a story about your travels please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com!