My first gay holiday, like my first boyfriend, was something I will never forget. Both caught me by surprise: unexpectedly intense, hugely enjoyable, and better with each passing day.

Which is not to disparage either the holiday, or the boyfriend. It’s just that time has a wonderful way of rounding out the edges. You forget about the aching thighs and sore butt, and remember instead that delicious shortness of breath at the beginning of the affair, the simple ecstasy of arriving (j’arrive, the French are reputed to exclaim at point of fulfilment), and how heartbreakingly wonderful it was to finally hit the sack.

Bike riding through the south of France with a bunch of fellow gay men sounded like a perfect holiday at the time. And it was. I saw the trip advertised in the gay press, visited the website, paid my money, and before I knew it had checked into our assigned meeting place, a small hotel in the backstreets of Avignon, and was ready to roll.

The next 10 days were variously hilarious, rewarding, frustrating and exhausting. We biked gaily through Provence, a trusty tour guide keeping an eye on us all, stopping for picnic lunches en route. Our luggage was bussed ahead to that night’s chosen hotel, which meant we hardly had a care in the world. Except, of course, when we had to visit another fortified town or historic castle -“ invariably perched atop the highest hill in the neighbourhood.

The holiday was truly memorable because it was so gay. The organisers were gay, the tour leaders were gay, the clients were gay, the hotels were gay-friendly, hell, even the bikes were gay. Well, brightly painted Peugeots, anyway. And when you get a bunch of poofs together from Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Montr?, Sydney, Paris and New Orleans, a good time is usually had by all. I don’t think I’d laughed so much for ages.

Which is one of the points about gay travel. It’s as much about the people you meet as it is about the destination. Variations of the phenomenon happen around Pride marches and fair days, at dance parties or community events, at gay ski weekends, health conferences, queer film festivals, and dyke golf tournaments. It’s the glue, if you like, that holds the gay and lesbian community together.

Behind all these destinations -“ and plenty of others not mentioned here -“ is a fascinating network of gay and lesbian travel agents, resorts, websites, hotel operators, tour guides, media, events organisers, and venue owners, each of them contributing to and profiting from a burgeoning gay and lesbian travel market. And it is a market. Estimates out of the USA put the dollar value of North American gay and lesbian travel at something like $US54 billion per year.

Some of the best in show will be available to check out at this year’s Rainbow Travel Expo. So if you need some ideas for your next holiday come along and check it out.

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