Dart Strikes Map: An Interview with Tony and Thomas

Berlin
At The Berlin Wall: Germany 2007

1. On your blog’s home page, it states: “In 2007, Tony and Thomas decided to quit their jobs, leave the security of sedentary life behind, and travel the globe full time.” The three of us know there is a more important back-story. Was this the main reason why you decided to travel?

…You are right that there is an important back-story that strongly contributed to our decision to go nomadic.

What we say on our blog is true. One day, we simply decided we had had enough of sedentary life with all its complexities, complications and, most importantly, monotony. But you are right that there is an important back-story that strongly contributed to our decision to go nomadic.

Thomas and I are a bi-national gay couple. We have been together for over 17 years and this time has been filled with a series of legal and cultural hurdles, which have strongly contributed to our identity as contemporary nomads. For our first 8 years together, there was no real legal option for us to live together in the same country. We created our own solution by bouncing around between Africa, Europe, the U.S., and Central America.

After the laws in Germany changed, Thomas and I settled in Berlin where we attempted to establish a more grounded, traditional life. We quickly discovered our unconventional history made life in Germany quite a challenge. Imagine going into a job interview and trying to explain, “Well, I have had to bounce around the world to bypass visa restrictions which would have made my relationship with my partner impossible.” Not an easy sell, especially in Germany.

Rather than begging for acceptance and understanding, Thomas and I began to yearn for the freedom and sense of liberation that travel provides. We began to realize that we needed to return to our nomadic roots and, once again, we decided to create our own solutions. Our solution was to free ourselves from the limitations of any one country.

2. Dr. Lisa M. Nunn (University of San Diego; San Diego, California) has been documenting your lives over the past 8 years in her “Excluded: Immigration Struggles of a Gay Bi-National Couple” video. Do you feel this venue has been helpful in getting the word out about the disparity in the U.S. immigration regulations?

Absolutely. The documentary follows us from the U.S. to Germany to Cambodia and details how our struggle evolved along the way. We discuss unjust immigration policies in the U.S., the pain of leaving my family in California behind, cultural challenges in Germany, and ultimately why we chose to go nomadic. We hope the documentary will help educate people on bi-national same-sex couples and, perhaps, challenge assumptions about controversial issues such as gay marriage and immigration policy.

You can view the documentary online at: www.excludedthemovie.com

3. What advice do you have for others in your situation?

I would say, for the immediate future, don’t sit around waiting for people to save you, save yourself.

I would say, for the immediate future, don’t sit around waiting for people to save you, save yourself. Once you and your partner are in a stable place, speak out and work to change unfair policies. However, always remember that this is your life, so make it as good as possible while you are working for change.

Nepal
Gokyo Valley: Nepal 2007

Starting ContemporaryNomad.com was our way of bounding over the hurdles in one great leap. Actually, we don’t really discuss our immigration issues on ContemporaryNomad.com. Our web site and blog are about adventure, culture, travel, wildlife and the environment. It’s a space where we can define ourselves with exciting topics rather than dwell on the injustice we have experienced. It is our escape from all the garbage that we left behind. We are discovering it provides an escape for many other people as well.

4. Is this your first long-term trip or have you traveled through other parts of the world together?

I have always loved to travel. As a student, I studied and traveled in France, the Soviet Union, China, Morocco, and Taiwan. Thomas also did the classic InterRail trip through Western Europe as well as studying in the U.S.

When Thomas and I first met in 1993, we took off on an extraordinary 18-month overland journey from Germany to South Africa via Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It was this trip that really cemented our love for travel and defined us as serious adventurers. We crossed the Sudan in mid-summer, explored post-communist Eritrea and Ethiopia, witnessed the atrocities in Rwanda from the neighboring countries of Uganda and Zaire, and saw the final remnants of apartheid crumble in a newly independent South Africa. It was an amazing and life-altering journey.

Namibia
With the Himba Tribe: Namibia 1995

In 2001, we spent five months in Central America traveling between Belize and Nicaragua. In 2003, we spent three months in Madagascar, a country we had desperately wanted to visit during our trans-Africa trip. In addition to these longer trips, Thomas and I have traveled extensively in the U.S. and Europe.

I have traveled to 78 countries and Thomas has traveled to 57 countries. But these numbers are rather meaningless to us. What we are truly proud of is the depth of our travels. We have spent large amounts of time in many of the countries we have visited and have had the opportunity to explore some of the world’s most remote regions. For example, we spent 15 months in India criss-crossing the country detailing its diversity on our blog. Moreover, we have visited many countries several times taking in new regions on each visit.

5. Having traveled through several countries, has the bi-national gay couple relationship created additional problems for either of you?

We have experienced the most obvious anti-gay sentiment in the U.S. One of our worst experiences took place in Wyoming. We were stopped by police in a speed-trap for going two miles an hour over the speed limit. The police realized we were a couple when they discovered the car was registered in both our names. The police became quite threatening and we were seriously worried for our safety. It’s a long story, but we made it out of there in one piece.

Interestingly, in the Islamic world and conservative India, we experienced very few problems because men traveling together and sharing rooms is such a normal part of the cultures.

On a couple of occasions in Central America, we were denied hotel rooms, but that wasn’t a huge problem. Interestingly, in the Islamic world and conservative India, we experienced very few problems because men traveling together and sharing rooms is such a normal part of the cultures.

And we experienced an interesting bi-national problem organizing a trip to Tibet, which had nothing to do with being gay. While we were in Kathmandu, we wanted to make a quick return trip to Lhasa. At that time, the Chinese government was requiring people to join escorted tours, but bizarrely they would not allow people with different nationalities to join the same tour. They wanted us to hire two separate jeeps, two separate drivers, and two official Chinese “guides.” In a weird twist of irony, heterosexual bi-national couples were having the same problem.

6. Changing “horses” – what has been the highlight of your travels thus far?

Wow, that’s hard to answer because we have had so many incredible experiences. We were exceptionally lucky to be able to explore the Omo region in southwestern Ethiopia right after the country opened up for independent travel. We are both very into wildlife so the mountain gorillas in Zaire, tigers in India, and whale sharks here in the Philippines are all major highlights. In 2007, we managed to travel to Mount Kailash in western Tibet, which was the realization of a twenty- year dream for me. All of our Himalayan treks qualify as highlights: trans-Zanskar, the Annapurna Circuit and the Everest region. I think we have a hundred highlights.

7. Where do your journeys lead you from here?

Good question, we have no idea where we are going to be next month.

Diving
Wreck Dive in Puerto Galera: Philippines 2010

8. Thomas: Which one of you is the better diver? (LOL! Trick question.)

I want to say I am, but I have recently been called an air-sucking pig during a forum discussion about the pros and cons of a certain dive shop. I have to agree that Tony uses less air, but does that make him a better diver?

9. Tony: Same (trick) question.

Clearly I am :) Although Thomas has an amazing ability to spot perfectly camouflaged scorpion fish. And he found an amazing black frogfish the other day that I NEVER would have seen!

You can follow Tony & Thomas (or Thomas & Tony, take your pick) at ContemporaryNomad.

Editor’s notes: All photographs courtesy of ContemporaryNomad.

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Discussion »

  • #1Sam Daams

    What a great interview; and I thought getting a visa was complicated! :)

  • #2Laurelle

    Thomas and Tony are two travelers who would NEVER be selected for “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race” simply because they know too much! Although perhaps they would be excellent consultants for those shows . . . .

  • #3Freda

    I agree with you, Laurelle.

    Having traveled with these two several times throughout the years, their knowledge of the challenges and ongoing changes of the rules of traveling from country to country is virtually unmatched.
    Freda

  • #4Tony

    If “Survivor” wants me, I’m ready!

  • #5phoebe

    I can say that quitting your job might be a tough decision you made. But I can see that you are happy traveling the globe full time. It was worth it. Change is good. Finding the meaning of changes in our life is a powerful method of discovering its purpose.

  • #6Hans

    Hi guys,
    Call me Ny Eve or anything you like really, but when you say full time travellers, how do you survive financially? Are you being paid for travel writing, is your website a source of income? I’m new to this internet game so would not know about these things.

  • #7Thomas

    Hi Hans,

    We get this question a lot. We do make money with our travel website as well as with another educational website. The income comes from advertisement on both sites. In addition, we do travel writing and other web work while we are traveling. As long as we have Internet access, we are set.

    Besides, living in the developing world is much cheaper than living in our home countries. The amount we would have to pay for a one-bedroom apartment in California, where Tony is from, covers our costs for a month of traveling.

  • #8Ken

    I really like the comment in point 3 – don’t sit around waiting for people to save you, save yourself. This is not a straight, gay or bi comment…but a comment about the human spirit.

  • #9martinelli

    Thomas said: “Besides, living in the developing world is much cheaper than living in our home countries. The amount we would have to pay for a one-bedroom apartment in California, where Tony is from, covers our costs for a month of traveling.”

    Holly Heaven! I should pack my bag and leave now!

    By the way, I love the interview, it’s a grat one.

  • #10coach

    The images shown in this blog are amazing!! Keep showing and giving information more and more. Thanks for sharing it.

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