have tits, will travel?

I’m a longtime reader of Bust mag, which is sort of like… hmmm… a glossier, less cerebral version of Bitch, with more ads. A friend of mine was telling me she feels like Bust is going downhill, which I hadn’t particularly noticed, although that could be because my expectations of it are different in the first place. But I’m mostly through last month’s issue, and I gotta say, I may have to agree with her. And it’s mainly one particular article that’s got me frowning.

The article in question is entitled “Travelling Broke: a young and foolish girl’s guide to seeing the world on the cheap,” written by Jessica Lloyd. It gives a bunch of ideas about how, basically, to take advantage of friends and strangers in order to travel the world without paying too much for it.

The general tone of the article is a bit… I dunno… unsavoury. It just feels kinda icky to me – the idea that travel planning should explicitly include things like “Have at least one person who will lend you money in an emergency. (…) It’s best to spring your emergency on them suddenly in order to gain the full measure of their concern and generosity in your hour of need. Collect calls at 4 a.m. are especially effective.” I mean… instructions on how to be a manipulative freeloader? Ew.

The article is full of questionably ethical tips and tricks, and while I recognize there’s deliberate irony in some of them (“If you go to a place where the currency is worth less, you are already a winner. There are many countries much worse off than your own that you can exploit”) – or at least I hope it’s deliberate irony – others just plain gross me out: “If you can draw or paint, do caricatures of people. Or if you can massage, start up a business working out of your hostel. Even if you can’t do these things well, everyone always wants a massage and a self-portrait, and after they find out how crappy you are, they’ll probably feel bad enough to pay the agreed price (…).”

But the tips that make me feel really gross are those where the author advises women travellers to use their sex appeal. This ranges from the reasonably innocuous – “Summer is always better than winter when it comes to getting stuff for free. (…) maybe it has something to do with bikinis and breasts – both of which it would help you to have” – to the explicit: “There are many ways to get things for free in this world, but the best way is still to exploit a man’s everlasting hope of getting laid. (…) you need to offer something in return: stimulating conversation, a dance partner, a blow job – whatever your skills are, use them.”

Now, I’ve got pretty darned progressive politics around sex work. I’ve volunteered my time with Stella, the local sex workers’ rights group; I count a number of working girls among my friends and acquaintances; I’ve edited master’s theses for more than one hooker-cum-grad student; I’m totally behind the idea that people who choose to work in the sex trade deserve to be considered legitimate workers like anyone else, with the same rights and the same protections, and that sex workers are worthy of respect, consideration and decriminalization.

But this is a far cry from thinking it’s cool to advise women to offer blow jobs to men in foreign countries in return for food or lodgings. Not because the exchange of sexual favours for money or other forms of compensation is by its nature a bad thing, but rather, because if you’re going to write an article that advises women to do so, that opens up a whole load of other concerns that really are worth the ink – and which this article fails to address.

For example, for women who want to do actual sex work – “…I’m not talking about prostitution. (Though, if you are interested, this is certainly another option.)” – the writer might want to look into the laws surrounding sex work in the country of choice. In some places, you can get in serious trouble if caught, and North American gals can be pretty darned visible when they’re not on home turf. Stella has published more than one booklet providing information about how to travel as a sex worker or stripper and how to stay safe in other countries. And you might not want to consider that option if you haven’t tried it at home already to get your, um, feet wet.

Whether we’re talking about the more formal sorts of sex work or not, it would also be worth at least mentioning the basics about safer sex, and possibly advise people to look into HIV infection rates in the country of choice, particularly if they’re related to a lack of condom availability (i.e. if there aren’t any at the nearest corner store, or there isn’t likely to be a corner store, have a load of ‘em handy!). Not to mention the country’s rape statistics, general approach to women and sexuality, and other such information.

I appreciate that Lloyd includes the caution that “A little flirtation usually suffices quite adequately, but be careful: every country has different mating-game rules, so be sure to know what they are before commencing play.” But that just seems insufficient to me somehow. There’s something wonderfully direct about sex work: you solicit, he says yes, he pays, you perform, goodbye. It seems to me that things get a lot more complicated, less ethical and above all more risky when we’re talking about outright manipulation of the male libido, especially in a country where you likely don’t have a social safety net to catch you if it goes wrong. 

On top of all this, I can’t help but wonder where the rest of Lloyd’s supposedly helpful advice might be. Before advising women repeatedly to fall back on the tired old “seduce him into paying your way” routine, you’d think she would put some more thought into less dubious ways of getting around. I’m hardly a globetrotting backpacker, but even I can tell you it’s worth looking into student-rate train passes, couch-surfer exchange websites (there are even all-girl ones), government work-visa programs for youth (like the one in Canada that lets people under 26 work in Australia and vice versa), campgrounds (how could you forget camping in an article on cheap travel?!), and even basic networking – look up groups that share your interests in the destination country, make friends by joining yahoo groups and such, and ask for advice on where to go. Who knows? You might be offered a spare bedroom, or at the very least you’ll have people to hang out with who can tell you where the cheap grocery stores are.

There are tons of ways to travel cheap without resorting to the option of manipulating friends and strangers alike (sexually or otherwise). They just require a little planning and foresight. I know, how terribly boring. Less dramatic than strumming your grandma’s heartstrings so she wires you her hard-earned cash, and definitely less risqué than bikini-clad boobs and blowjobs. 

Instead of publishing an article aimed at “young and foolish girls” who’d rather suck cock than do some travel research, I’d rather see a supposedly feminist magazine (!) publish one aimed at smart gals who want to travel on a budget, and beef up the valuable advice while minimizing the distasteful assumption that the average woman is totally blasé about putting out for material rewards and the attendant reliance on male sexual gullibility.

One Response

  1. wow that was hot! :) I’ve personally never heard of that magasine… and well i dont usually read a lot anyway… but i found your blog and thought it was very interesting.. especially the genes arcticle and this one… you really have very intelligents comments and reflections… and while you dont actually tell people how they should act, you give open intelligent suggestions which is great! :)

    I apologize for my english which is not as flawless as yours… i am mostly french… and i really like your nickname “sexgeek”.. thats hot! ;) hehe…

    Have a Nice Day!

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