get packing

5 destinations this queer global traveler says should be on your bucket list

Vanessa Papa in Portugal.
Vanessa Papa in Portugal. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Papa

This queer global traveler says these destinations should be on your bucket list.

There’s reality, then there’s reality TV. Vanessa Papa knows both — intimately well. One of the stars of Netflix’s The Ultimatum: Queer Love, Papa’s intimate life was on display for everyone to see. But what audiences may not have realized was her passion for travel. 

“The idea of queer representation was really important to me,” Papa tells GayCities of one of her main reasons for pursuing the show. Previously a travel content creator, Papa had built her queer identity into her brand, often talking about her coming out journey and lack of role models, particularly in the travel space. She saw the show, in which Papa and then partner Xander Boger put their relationship to the test, as a personal and professional opportunity. 

But things didn’t go as planned. Papa, ever resilient, picked herself up and returned to the things that brought her joy: travel. 

Papa had grown up in New Jersey and, at 17, moved to North Carolina, but it wasn’t until studying abroad in Italy that wanderlust truly set in. This global perspective also broadened her identity of self. Papa attended Catholic school and carried a sense of gay guilt, thinking something was wrong with her attraction to women, but the feelings were undeniable. At 19, she came out to her mother and only those closest to her, and over the years, gradually opened up.  Falling in love with Xander at 26 prompted her to lead an even more transparent lifestyle. 

While that chapter of her life is over, Papa, now 32, has plenty of love to give — and plenty of destinations she’d still like to visit or return to. 

“I was absolutely terrified,” Papa admits, regarding those first weeks as an exchange student in Italy. She had never traveled abroad and didn’t speak the language. “But in the end,” says Papa, “I realized through everyone I had met how much I was missing out on the world.”

Here are Papa’s top tips for how to experience and rethink smart splurges when you travel:

What makes a destination feel special?

Number one: the view has to be great. And then it’s comfort — the bed and the amenities so you feel like you don’t have to leave the room. I feel like that’s a great luxury experience. If I’m splurging, I also like hotels that offer expert recommendations on what to do. Even better if they provide transportation. The less you have to think about on vacation, the more luxurious it feels. 

Do any specific spots come to mind?

I recently stayed at a property that overlooked Piazza Michelangelo, and you could see the entire city of Florence. It was like a painting.

City or beach?

I love both! I just love new experiences. I actually tend to travel to less popular cities. I’ve never been to Paris, but I’ve been to Nice. I especially love small towns and finding hidden gems.  

You’ve been to 33 countries, but what’s on your bucket list?

I still haven’t been to Bali, and I desperately want to go. I’ve also never been to Asia. Australia … these are very big bucket list items, but Bali is pretty specific. Travelers often do long-term stays and work there for a month or two. I would love to do that. When I travel, I prefer to spend a longer amount of time in places to really feel like you are soaking in the culture and getting to know the locals. 

Bali, Indonesia
Bali, Indonesia. Photo: Shutterstock.

What is it about Bali specifically that’s so alluring to you?

It seems like a great place for retreat centers, and the accommodations look peaceful and serene. It seems like there are a lot of yoga retreats there. And although I’m not a yogi, I’d love to do that. I would love to have that experience of doing yoga every day for 30 days and being in a beautiful, calm resort. 

Where has been your most recent adventure?

I went to Costa Rica and visited three different areas: Tortuguero National Park, La Fortuna, which is terrific for hiking, and the beachside town of Punta Uva. 

One thing that surprised me was when we arrived in San Jose, we got a rental car and headed to Tortuguero, but only discovered that day that no cars are allowed. So we had to park, then take a small boat to get to this island where we stayed for the next three days, within a five-minute walk of the national park. 

What would you say to LGBTQ+ travelers’ concerns about visiting destinations as their authentic selves?

It’s important to know if you are traveling to a place where they don’t accept queer people. I went to Morroco and was very conscious of my surroundings. But keep your mind open to traveling places as long as it feels safe for you. I think back to my early time in Italy, and I was so self-conscious on that trip. It’s so silly. I’ve been to Italy so many times now, and I shouldn’t have held back from holding anyone’s hand. 

Follow Vanessa Papa at @itsvanessapapa.

Don't forget to share:

Your support makes our travel guides possible

We believe that LGBTQ+ people deserve safe vacations that allow them to be their authentic selves. That's why our City Guides aren't locked behind a paywall. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated