“This is why weird stuff always happens to you,” my friend said matter-of-factly when I told him I planned to fly to Mexico City for what was, essentially a very long first date. As a travel writer I often find myself in foreign countries either alone or bandying about with a bunch of strangers, so this particular set-up did not seem that unusual to me.
Earlier this year I was introduced to a service called MissTravel—a dating site-app much like any other, except a first meeting is more likely to take place in Chile than a Chili’s, and showing up with all your baggage is expected. When the online matchmaker launched in 2012, it targeted younger women who could join for free with the hope they might find the type of gentleman willing to sponsor her trip to an exotic place—where they could meet.
“Yes, I know it sounds like an international escort service,” I said in response to the stunned expression my friend now wore. “That’s the part that got my attention.”
Miss Travel has since expanded its scope to allow for other relationship to flourish. For starters, everyone can now join with limited site functionality for free, and those who want more access to other members can do so with an upgrade. Members can still sponsor another member’s trip (or request for a trip to be sponsored), but now options have been added where both people share expenses or one member can visit the other in their hometown.
Also notably, the site had stepped up efforts to be more LGBT-inclusive with a separate landing page and site content more relevant to same-sex users, which seems to have paid off as MissTravel currently reports 45,000 LGBT members located in over 200 countries.
So a few weeks later, when the company’s publicist, Ethan, asked if I would let them arrange a matched travel experience for me, I didn’t hesitate. He asked me to describe the type of guy I preferred, searched Miss Travel’s database of active members, and came back with three candidates: a hunky interior designer from Los Angeles; an outdoorsy animal lover with an amazingly chiseled jawline from Reno; and a creative director from New York with a killer smile—each having already confirmed to meet me if chosen.
Honestly, all three guys were attractive—although none necessarily what I would have considered to be my “type”—and, from their bios, each of them seemed interesting enough for me to spend a few days with, exploring a foreign city a social experiment. But I had to choose, and ultimately decided to pick the guy with whom I had the most in common; since I had just moved to South Florida from L.A. and had more than a passing interest in design, I decided on Kevin.
I also decided to treat this as the first date it was intended to be. But I had questions. What did I hope this experience would be? And what was I open to letting happen—sex? Or, much less likely, the potential for a long-distance relationship?
“I would always recommend booking reservations in your own name, even if someone else is treating you to the trip,” offered Ethan, when I asked him what advice he would give to members also planning to cross international borders for a first date. “You should have separate accommodations for your first trip, notify friends and family members where you’ll be, and, of course, Skype or FaceTime before the trip to ensure that you’re somewhat comfortable vacationing with this person.”
Since Miss Travel had arranged my trip, they had taken care of the first two points: Kevin and I would be staying in separate rooms in the same hotel in Mexico City. However, with our meeting less than three weeks away, the two of us hadn’t even exchanged an email, so I reached out to him via text to get to know him a bit better.
I arrived in Mexico City on a Thursday afternoon, checked into the hotel, and headed to my room to freshen up. Kevin and I had arranged to meet in the lobby about an hour later before heading out together to explore the town. I made it downstairs first and sat on one of the sofas facing the elevator doors. When he arrived a few minutes later, he looked every bit like his photos: tall, strapping, and really, really muscular. He strode over wearing a giant smile and greeted me warmly. We chatted briefly about our respective flights, the taxi rides from the airport. He spoke with an Australian accent that suited him perfectly, and upped his sex appeal even more.
I suggested we stroll down to the Zona Rosa, a neighborhood teeming with gay bars, cafés, and shops. Conversation was casual and easy as we zigzagged through the streets, stopping every so often to admire some skyscraper along the way. (Mexico City’s buildings are as architecturally diverse as they are incredible to look at.)
We ambled around the cobblestone streets awhile before settling grabbing a drink in a bar with an outdoor patio, where we could people watch and chat. We spoke about his work, about my writing, and about the unusual circumstances that lead us both here, to this spot, at this very moment. He told me that, at first, he didn’t think he wanted to agree to the trip. But, he’d recently ended a relationship, took a chance by agreeing, and was pleasantly surprised when I chose him to accompany me.
Our conversation continued over dinner and it struck me, at one point, how there was nothing awkward about this whole thing at all. In fact, it felt very much like I was here, in a city that I loved to visit, with a good friend taking in the sights. And, there it was: I felt like I was here with a good friend. I think immediately we both knew there was no real spark between us, and that was OK. It took a lot of pressure off the expectation that something needed to happen. After dinner we parted ways. Kevin wanted to go back to the hotel to get some rest, and I decided to stay and explore the neighborhood a little bit more.
We had breakfast together the next morning and plotted out our respective days: I had a conference call that would occupy a few hours in the afternoon, so he would meet up with a friend he knew in town. At night, we met again for dinner in a restaurant with a lively Mariachi band playing ten feet from our table and got goofy souvenir photos wearing sombreros. His friend met up with us and the three of us headed off to a club in the nearby Roma neighborhood and danced to some amazing music until well after two in the morning.
On the last day, we met in the hotel lobby and shared a taxi back to the airport. We hugged goodbye and set off to our respective terminals. Kevin and I have exchanged a few text messages since and I have no doubt I’ll look him up next time I head to L.A. (Should he ever find himself in South Florida, I hope he does the same.) Was there a love connection? No. But, I had a fantastic experience in an amazing city with a great guy. That’s a travel success.
Whether you find yourself on a blind date, romantic couples trip, group outing, or traveling solo in Mexico City, check out our recommendations of where to go and what to do when you get there.