By Ashley Persson
In anticipation of our lesbian Peru adventure, we Skyped the tour’s official host, Tanya. The intrepid traveller has been a long-time advocate for lesbian and bisexual women to get out and experience the world. Even to destinations that aren’t typically LGBT-welcoming. Such as Sri Lanka, where she took her wife Debbie on their honeymoon.
Get to know this unique lesbian jet setter below!
Let’s kick things off with an easy one: how many countries have you visited?
Ha! I lost count a long time ago. Canada has always astounded me, and I fully believe in the importance of experiencing things that are close by just as much as halfway around the world. I advocate the value of being an ambassador of where you live and to never be bored in the place you are.
Tell me a favorite memory from growing up.
My mom and dad never let money stop them from providing me with amazing life experiences. They made travel an important part of our lives. I relish the memories of camping days and pop up trailers, road trips from coast to coast, or cruising the Alaskan highway.
My family instilled the notion of travel being a significant avenue to better understanding the world, people, and new opportunities. The value of exploring the world affected me right from the get-go, and as I got older, I would always work part time jobs, forever saving up for that next adventure.
What keeps you busy?
When I’m not focused on work, travel is my number one pastime. When I travel for work, I aim to stay an extra day or two to experience something new in a destination – even if I have already been there before. I moved to New York with my wife where I opened my own PR firm ‘MuchPR’. My clients keep me busy as I work with the national tourism board along with numerous US cities. I now travel for work about once per month, with another five to six personal trips per year.
What inspired that itchy travel bug of yours, and your involvement in the industry?
I owe my initial inspiration to my parents and childhood, yet as an adult I started to discover there were very few places for lesbians to find content in regards to travel. I set out to correct this gap and created ‘Girlports,’ the first exclusively lesbian travel website.
Because of Girlports, I started getting invited on a lot of trips, which provided content for me to write on my website. Later on, when I attended the IGLTA conference in Montreal, I left feeling disappointed because there lacked the female and lesbian voice. I then approached the board with the idea to develop a lesbian outreach committee, eventually becoming an advocate voice on the board, and was even named chair for three years. I am currently dedicating my time to sitting on the foundation board. I have had the honour of either attending or speaking at dozens of conferences all over the world, implanting lesbian visibility in travel.
I have invested a lot of time and effort into helping to create a space for lesbians within the tourism world.
Lesbian travel is obviously a huge passion of yours. Any unique lesbian travel anecdotes you’d like to share?
My wife is also a very experienced traveler. We spent our honeymoon in Sri Lanka where homosexuality is illegal. I try not to let a fear of certain destinations exclude me from experiencing the world!
We were able to find an amazing queer travel guide in Sri Lanka who took wonderful care of us.
And how did you become one of Out Adventures’ lesbian tour hosts?
I became fast friends with the folks from Out Adventures through my involvement with IGLTA. Rob and I remained in touch over the years through common industry friends and connections, resulting in conversations around opportunities for lesbian travel.
Out Adventures began with a focus on male tours, and after 10 years of success and growth, they began investing in the lesbian department. This new investment sparked my immense admiration for Rob as he dedicated himself to offering opportunities to a community wider than how he represents himself as a gay man.
I have always been in this industry, enjoying many different facets of involvement. The thread I have always pulled through each involvement is to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable and an equal participant.
Why should lesbian travelers choose Out Adventures?
Out Adventures has invested so much energy into the development of an itinerary for lesbian travelers. These tours were created through the lens of a woman and encompass the lesbian point of view. The local history we will experience will be from a woman’s point of view versus a man’s, which is a refreshing switch from what tends to be the norm.
Itineraries were developed to include lesbian content, connections with local lesbians, and visits to women-owned establishments. Our tour of Peru embodies a ‘women-first’ conversation. This trip was made for us.
What do you view as some benefits of traveling with like-minded lesbian, bisexual or otherwise inclined women?
In social settings, many of us have had one of these sweat-inducing questions cross our mind: ‘Can I come out in this group?’ ‘Is it okay to be out?’ ‘Will I be discluded if somebody finds out I am queer?’
The intention of a holiday is to escape these fears and challenges. By travelling with like-minded people, you are provided the space to express yourself and to not be hindered by fears of exposing your intimate details. These tours aim to foster understanding, empathy, fun, and everlasting friendships, all while being authentically yourself. And that is exactly my description of what a perfect holiday should be. Authentic.
What are you most excited about on Out Adventures’ lesbian Peru tour?
I am excited to be surrounded by like-minded women. There are so many hidden gems to be discovered while on tour in Peru, yet we won’t be missing the joys of visiting typical Peruvian sites such as infamous Machu Picchu. Other days we will dine at a restaurant run by a top female chef in Latin America, or visit women-run artisan co-operatives; and at the end of each day we get to come back to luxurious 4- and 5-star properties.
The thing I am looking forward to the most is getting off the beaten path and making genuine connections with the local female community.
What’s one thing you always pack in your bag?
Eye masks! One in every bag, and worth every penny.
And do you have a mic drop final message?
Yes, Out Adventures’ lesbian tours are new, but I encourage you to take a chance!
Out Adventures is a company that has a solid footprint in the travel world; they are an established group who dedicated themselves to working with amazing lesbians in the industry in order to develop a fantastic product tailored to our ladies. These are going to be awesome tours, created by and for our lesbian community. Don’t wait for somebody else to try it first. Go for it.
Ashley Persson is based in ‘sunny’ Saskatchewan and is a culture enthusiast, purposeful traveler and advocate of the better good. When she’s not booking that next trip or taking in live music, the old lady inside her will be gardening or canning. She calls this balance.
*This interview has been edited for clarity.
All photos courtesy of Tanya Churchmuch.