What’s it like to travel the world as a minority? Todd and Damon took to the world together when they decided that a roving retirement fit their inbuilt need for travel and adventure. Together, they lived in 28 different countries over the course of three years, before finally settling down in Mexico’s premier expat city—the colonial highland showpiece of San Miguel de Allende.
In this week’s episode, podcast host Jim Santos delves deeper into Todd and Damon’s experience of cultures around the world. As a gay couple, did they encounter prejudice? As a Black man, did Damon feel any sense of discrimination in the countries he and Todd spent time in? Which locations were more tolerant, which were more traditional, and where did they feel most accepted?
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Jim Santos 00:09
Hello, everyone. I'm Jim Santos and this is Bigger, Better World from International Living. In this podcast series, we introduce you to a bigger world full of communities that are safe, welcoming, beautiful and largely undiscovered. A better world. A friendly, warm, great value world where you can live richer, travel more, invest for profit and enjoy a better life. So let's get started.
Hello and welcome once again to Bigger, Better World. In last week's podcast, we met Todd Hilton and Damon Morris and spoke with them about their roving retirement experiences. We've invited them back on today's show to talk about two other important subjects that come up in International Living conferences from time to time. How safe is it to travel and live in other countries for the LGBT community? What about a Black man or woman? Do they face prejudice and discrimination above and beyond other foreigners? Well, since our guests last week are a happy same sex marriage couple, an interracial couple, and have visited almost 30 countries around the world, they are the perfect people to give us some insight into these issues.
Todd, Damon. Welcome back to Bigger, Better World. In our last episode, we talked about all these different countries that you have been in and something I really wanted to touch on, as I mentioned in the introduction, we do get a lot of questions at International Living about how safe is it for the LGBT community to travel abroad? How safe is it for a Black American to be traveling abroad? Because, frankly, these days, there are places in the United States where you may not feel entirely comfortable.
Damon Morris 01:52
Amen, you're correct.
Jim Santos 01:54
So I did want to take some time now to talk to you about these topics because it really doesn't get aired very much. Now, both of you have written for International Living before, articles here and there. And Damon, you wrote an article back that's on their website, ‘Five Black American Expats Share Their Experience Living Overseas. And you contributed to that.
Damon Morris 02:14
Jim Santos 02:14
Now, you mentioned in there that one of the things you noticed was that in South America, Central America, the importance of family seemed to be more important than whether you were gay, whether you were Black or anything of that nature.
Todd Hilton 02:29
Jim Santos 02:30
You also brought up something that I thought was kind of interesting, that in some countries, as a Black man, you would be pointed at or stared at.
Todd Hilton 02:42
That's definitely true, Jim, how do I say it? We definitely experienced that in Southeast Asia.
Damon Morris 02:54
But it was on a different scale. When they're pointing and doing that, it wasn't out of, like, rudeness or like, I didn't belong there. It was more like really in fascination and fascinated that I was there and that they really wanted to engage with you and even to the point where they actually sometimes wanted to even just touch my skin.
03:22 Todd Hilton
Yeah, they touch the skin. They'd want to rub his head or my head. I don't know. I guess two bald men probably was right. We'd have people just walk up and say, can I take a picture with you?
Todd Hilton 03:36
We became total celebrities with taking pictures with families and with kids. And once you start taking the picture with a certain family, then you have, like, other families, seven other people taking pictures, and like, oh, I want to get a picture. Yeah.
Jim Santos 03:53
I found that interesting because I ran into something similar when some of our grandchildren came to visit us in Ecuador. And we have a lot of redheads in the family, and a red headed child in Ecuador was just irresistible to people. Other kids would want to come up and hug them and say, parents would want to take pictures of you with their kids. But it was interesting. It was more of a celebration than there's something you need to be careful of, or anything like that.
Damon Morris 04:22
Right. It was never anything bad.
Damon Morris 04:23
So I remember writing that too, because I was making I just wanted to have that awareness to people of color, black Americans that would go travel somewhere like that, because just to let them know, sometimes it can be a little bit intrusive. So you have to allow yourself to be like, okay, so they're not doing this because they're making fun of me or anything like that. It was just more of a like, oh, wow. The way I took it was, welcome to our country, but we're excited you're here, but we also want to get to know you a little bit better. So it's not all the time you see someone of color in Asia.
Todd Hilton 05:05
Very rare, actually.
Damon Morris 05:06
However, that was earlier in the travels gym that was like, probably we noticed that in like, 2000 and 617 18, but when we went back to Thailand, there's definitely a lot more people of color that are now traveling, which is actually quite awesome.
Jim Santos 05:22
Was that a concern for you when you first set out traveling?
Damon Morris 05:26
It totally was a concern. It was a concern for my family. My family was really concerned, and even my parents were really concerned because they just didn't know any better. My mom is 90 this year. My dad is 89. So they were really concerned for us going to different countries and how we would be received as an interracial couple. And for the first I would say the first two or three months, I was very nervous because I was operating off of the mentality of the US. So when it came down to going on Airbnb to book things or travel, I didn't do it. I told Todd we should use your face and we should use you to actually book the trip, because I was still in that phase of, like, oh, I might get I might get judged by the color of my skin or something.
Todd Hilton 06:25
Or we'll get terrible service or something like that because of the fact that he felt like because he's not white. So he did have me do it.
Damon Morris 06:33
I did have him do it in the beginning, and then it was a matter of after about four or five months, I was like, you know what? Let me experience this. And since then, we have not had any issues, thank goodness, or no problems whatsoever. But I was operating off of my experience sometimes coming from the United States.
Jim Santos 06:54
So you actually did some experiments with Airbnb, didn't you?
Damon Morris 06:57
I tried booking reservations, demand booking the reservations rather than talking. Didn't really see any difference in that. Not at all. Any difference at all. But like I said in the very beginning, that was in the back of my head because I have been exposed to some issues in the States. And I just thought, well, let's just try to eliminate some of that and let Todd actually book it.
Todd Hilton 07:26
Well, perfect example. I mean, when Damon's sister was selling her house, they had me come when the appraisal person came. And so I was the face of the house when they came because that way they got a full appraisal as opposed to something less. We don't worry about that outside of the US.
Jim Santos 07:44
Well, that's not exclusively a white/Black thing. I know there was a property in Cotacachi that we were interested in purchasing, and we had an Ecuadorian couple that we knew in Cotacachi contact the seller for us for the opposite reason. We didn't want them to say, oh, here's a gringo. They've got plenty of money.
Damon Morris 08:06
Jim Santos 08:06
We're going to raise the price. I can understand your concern for that.
Damon Morris 08:12
Yeah, that does happen, unfortunately.
Jim Santos 08:14
How about your acceptance as a gay couple abroad?
Damon Morris 08:17
Okay. So, you know, that has just been amazing, Jim. It has surprised us how welcoming that we have felt in several different countries. I first experienced before we even started traveling full time, we were in Bali on Todd's 50th birthday, and we had a tour guide, and we just assumed that people would just pick up on the fact that we were a couple. Well, he wasn't picking that up.
Todd Hilton 08:50
Instead, he was like, hey, I know where the ladies are. There was a lot of that. And so after about two days of that, we made a decision. We were like, I guess we should probably tell them that we're a couple.
Damon Morris 09:04
I guess we're going to have to come out. Yeah.
Todd Hilton 09:07
And so we were like, hey, Wendy. His name was Wendy. We were like, hey, Wendy, you do know that we're a couple, right? And I just said, Is that going to be a problem with the rest of our tour? And his response to us was just very simple. He looked at us and says, not at all. He goes, Love is love, and that's what I teach my family.
Damon Morris 09:32
I teach my children that love.
Todd Hilton 09:34
It was just one of those moments where we were like, here we are.
Damon Morris 09:37
On the side of the world, and here's the driver.
Todd Hilton 09:42
Damon Morris 09:43
Todd Hilton 09:44
It just totally floored us. And we were just like…that's wow.
Damon Morris 09:47
And I have to say that's been the tenor, basically, of our travels, is we get that now, whether they have a problem or not. There might be people who aren't down with it, but I'll tell you this. They smile to your face and treat you with kindness, and then probably when you're not there, then they're like, ‘Well, I don't care for who they are’, but they don't treat you badly.
Todd Hilton 10:11
Yeah. We were surprised, especially in a lot of the Catholic countries, how accepted we were. Even when we got our residency in Mexico, the lady that was helping us with our residency, she was saying, ‘we are proud to have you be here as a married couple’. And that was also something that was like, wow. We were just as shocked to hear that, and it was very pleasing to the ear to hear that. So we were happy that that was the response that we got.
Jim Santos 10:43
Do you feel you have to watch your behavior, watch your public behavior when you're traveling?
Todd Hilton 10:47
The only time that we actually had that we felt something like that, Jim, is that we went to two countries that weren't really our choice of countries.
Damon Morris 10:59
We were on a 30 day cruise, right. And stopped in two places. We stopped in Muscat, Oman, and we stopped in Dubai. And however, we ended up spending, like, four days extra in Dubai. Those were the only two countries that Todd and I became ‘just buddies’.
Todd Hilton 11:17
Aware. Yeah, it was. We got a hotel in Dubai, and I said to Damon, I said, we need to get separate beds in this hotel because you can get killed for being gay there.
Damon Morris 11:32
I don't want anyone rushing into the room in the middle of the night with crazy intention.
Todd Hilton 11:37
So that was the only time that we kind of fell aware of our surroundings, per se.
Damon Morris 11:43
But I will say this, we were not mistreated.
Todd Hilton 11:46
No, not at all.
Damon Morris 11:47
That awareness was brought by us only by things that we heard. We made the initiative to get separate beds. We made the initiative to be the buddies, but nobody treated us differently. And we acted our normal selves.
Todd Hilton 12:02
That would be the case in all the other countries we've gone to. It's been an awesome experience to be able to go and be ourselves and not have any derogatory or anything being said or feeling unsafe. And so if anybody is listening to that, that's the message we definitely want to give to people, is that you don't need to feel worried.
Damon Morris 12:27
Todd Hilton 12:29
Aware. Possibly in certain places, but not to the point where you have to go, oh, my goodness, I can't go.
Damon Morris 12:34
But that awareness is the same awareness you would have in the States. I mean, there's always going to be a level of knowing your surroundings no matter what you're doing. Right. But it's not in a way that it overtakes, what's going on. It's not your number one fear.
Jim Santos 12:50
You're living in Mexico now. Is that a country that recognizes gay marriage?
Todd Hilton 12:54
It is a country that recognizes our marriage. They took us, they took our certificate, our marriage certificate, and we are registered.
Damon Morris 13:02
As a married couple here in the state of country of Mexico.
Jim Santos 13:07
Yeah, I think that's something a lot of people take for granted. It's like, well, why do gays even have to get married, after all? But it's things like hospital visitation and being able to make medical decisions and being on insurance plans.
Damon Morris 13:20
Exactly. That was the number one. But there's also other benefits, tax breaks.
Todd Hilton 13:23
Damon Morris 13:24
As a married couple, we get to get tax breaks that we didn't get before because when they didn't have the rights in the United States, Todd and I had to file. We were domestic partners at the time, and unfortunately, we had to file as that. But then I had to claim half of his taxes and he had to claim half of our taxes. And I remember our tax guy was telling us it might be beneficial for you guys financially to separate because that's the way we had to file the taxes.
Damon Morris 13:59
Yeah. So kind of like what he was saying, I would file my taxes because you weren't allowed to file jointly because we weren't officially married, so we had to file separately. But all of our finances and everything were tied together for us. We were a married couple. This is our 21st year together, so we were living that way before the legalization of marriage happened. It almost felt like they were penalizing us for being a domestic partnership. So when they did pass the law to have gay marriage become legal, all of a sudden we jumped on it. Yeah, we jumped on it. And the tax breaks alone, now we can file as a married couple. And the headache went away. The crazy hoops we had to jump through.
Todd Hilton 14:49
And we can be reassured now, if one of us happened to end up in a hospital, that we would be able to be next to each other's side as opposed to not, because that was only given privilege to people who were married at the time.
Jim Santos 15:05
Now, I imagine that hasn't been true in all of the countries that you visited.
Damon Morris 15:08
Yeah, I mean, Thailand for sure.
Todd Hilton 15:10
Well, because in Thailand, what was happening was that we would have to if we were to get our residency in Thailand, Jim, what would have to happen is we would have to come in as two separate entities. I would have to qualify for the residency. I would have to qualify. And we would have to have everything separate. We would have to have separate banking accounts, we would have to have separate everything. And financially, it just didn't make any sense to be able to do that because Thailand has a very unique way of, financially, how you have to qualify. And so it would be very inconvenient for us to do that. And so we didn't want to participate in that unless we were able to come in as a married couple.
Damon Morris 15:53
And advances are happening as we speak. I mean, like I said, we were just in Thailand over the holidays and there was a very strong contingency of gay people there. So I think the advancement is happening and I think as people are bringing in protections for the LGBTQ community, people are starting to accept it more. We said we were in Costa Rica on our first trip. We said, ‘oh, got to be nice if we could live here. But they don't accept gay marriage.’ Well, that was six years ago. That was the case. Well, now they accept gay marriage and now there's gay pride. So things are advancing.
Todd Hilton 16:37
Damon Morris 16:38
I have hopes that Thailand and Southeast Asia as a whole is going to follow that suit.
Todd Hilton 16:43
There is one country that does accept gay marriage in Southeast Asia, and that's Taiwan. Taiwan right now is the one. And so I believe that it is going to come. I know Singapore is in the mix of actually trying to pass bills. I think Thailand is in the mix as well. So it's just going to take some time. But I think it would bring great opportunities for other couples when other countries in Southeast Asia will start accepting that.
Jim Santos 17:13
Yeah, I know in Ecuador, when we first moved there, they did not recognize same sex couples, but after a few years, they did recognize same sex couples and now they also recognize same sex marriage.
Damon Morris 17:23
Right. That's why we were looking at maybe getting a residency there as well, because they do accept it now.
Todd Hilton 17:29
Damon Morris 17:29
It's just interesting to me that all of South America is such a strong Catholic based community that they do allow this and they welcome us, the people in Mexico here. When we first came, we were nervous. We had a president at the time who was in office who spoke very disparagingly about the Mexican people.
Jim Santos 17:55
Damon Morris 17:55
So we were nervous coming here as to how we would be treated. And we have been treated with openness, kindness, welcoming. It's just been beautiful. And then we are welcomed as a gay couple. Yeah.
Jim Santos 18:11
I think Damon in his article mentioned that he feels like he's not treated as a Black American. He's treated as an American.
Damon Morris 18:16
Right. Yeah. And I know that cause some people might not understand that, but it's really, really true. I mean, I can only vow from my experiences, and Todd and I have been together for 21 years. He has witnessed it as well, but only in the US.
Just a little, small example is that I'm able to walk into the stores, and I was used to like, I would have a bag or something in the States, and sometimes you have to put your bag there. But I feel like I've not been profiled at any of the stores or anywhere. No one's following me. And I know people are like, did that really happen? Has that ever happened to you? But yes, it has totally happened to me in the States, but that has not been my experience in any other countries.
As far as following me in the stores and seeing what I'm up to, I don't have that feeling here like that here in Mexico, seeing the policemen with these guns and being able to walk right past them and just say hello and they speak. And it's been a different change, but it's been a welcoming change for me. And I know some people might not want to hear that, but that has been my experience.
Jim Santos 19:33
Yeah. I think for a lot of white Americans, it'd be an interesting experience to travel overseas because you get a little taste of what it is like to be treated as a minority.
Damon Morris 19:43
Jim Santos 19:44
Like, a lot of people complain about being gringoed. It's like, oh, yeah, imagine that. Someone who would treat someone differently just because of the color of their skin.
Damon Morris 19:54
Exactly. Well, and it's interesting to me. You bring up a good point. Those people who back in the States who would handle minorities in a certain way, come to a place like Mexico and get their nose all bent out of shape when they're treated like a minority. And it's like, don't you see how ironic that all is?
Jim Santos 20:16
You mentioned Dubai. Was there any place else where you felt that you were definitely not welcome, either as Black or gay?
Todd Hilton 20:24
Not at all. We're basing all of this on all of our experience.
Jim Santos 20:29
This is 28 different countries, right?
Todd Hilton 20:32
Yes. No, we have not felt that at all.
Damon Morris 20:36
And I don't want to disparage Dubai or Muscat, Oman either. I mean, they were both beautiful locations. We took the precautions because of the fact of they have such a hard stance on homosexuality that we did not want to put ourselves into a jeopardy position. So we made those calls, not…we weren't forced to when we were in Dubai and when we were in Muscat, they're beautiful. We were treated nice. They were beautiful locations. It was great. I just didn't want to draw attention to us and get ourselves into a situation, but we never did.
Jim Santos 21:16
So it wasn't the way people treated you. It was more the way of the laws that were in place.
Damon Morris 21:20
Todd Hilton 21:21
It's the way the laws were written. Yes.
Damon Morris 21:23
And we were just trying to be cognizant of their way of life there.
Jim Santos 21:30
Is there anything that you would recommend anyone in a similar situation, different race, different sex, different orientation when they're making travel plans or anything in particular you recommend that they do?
Damon Morris 21:40
I have one that I would recommend to anybody, and we tell this to everyone that we talk to about travel. When you're getting ready to go to a country for your first time, go on Facebook and look up the expat community of wherever you're going. And I guarantee you there will be an expat group that belongs to that community. When we are going to a country, we sign into those groups early. We say, hey, we're coming for this amount of time. Does anyone have any recommendations of where to get an Airbnb? Any questions that you have or concerns you pitch that to that expat community, and you will always, always get help.
Jim Santos 22:20
We asked about places where you did not feel welcomed. Are there any places that stand out to you as places where you were definitely welcomed, where you felt most comfortable?
Todd Hilton 22:28
Bali, Mexico. Costa Rica, Ecuador.
Jim Santos 22:35
I would have thought Buenos Aires would have been on the list.
Damon Morris 22:37
Buenos Aires? Oh, Japan.
Jim Santos 22:42
Japan was very welcome.
Damon Morris 22:46
Even in Tokyo. Crazy old Tokyo.
We had an experience. It's a quick little story, but it's worth talking about. Todd and I were walking around in Japan, and we happened to be in this park. And it was a dog park. Well, there was a dog park within the park, right.
And so we were in there watching the dogs and all the different owners with the dogs. And we had a gentleman come up to us and he asked if we were Americans, and we said yes. He started speaking to us. He wanted to practice his English with us, which you will find happens a lot in countries. They want to practice their English with you.
Todd Hilton 23:22
And so he said, Wait just a minute. So he went to go get his mom and his wife. He brought them over to introduce us to us, and we had a nice little exchange of pleasantries. And then he said, hey, you know what? We're going to festival.
Damon Morris 23:40
Yeah, we're on our way to a festival.
Todd Hilton 23:41
He says, Would you guys like to come with us?
Damon Morris 23:44
Now, we don't know these people from Adam.
Todd Hilton 23:47
Sure. And so when we get to the festival, he said, my mom would like to buy you to a drink to welcome you.
Todd Hilton 23:58
That was an experience that will always be memorable to us, a total stranger.
Damon Morris 24:03
Complete strangers on the street to these people. But they invited us to their group to go to this event. And then when we got there to buy us a drink to welcome us to Japan, I was like, this is amazing, because in the United States, it does not work like that. Well, what that did for us, it made Todd and I realize how different that we want to be and how we want to be ambassadors when we see people in the United States, or when we see people looking for directions.
Todd Hilton 24:56
I told Damon at that time, I said, this is who we're going to be when we see travelers who are lost or looking out of place, let's be this guy. Because it made such an impression how he and his family just treated us so kindly. It just really was an eye opener. It was refreshing.
Jim Santos 24:57
Well, this is something you touched on before the United States. You have this big stranger danger issue.
Todd Hilton 25:02
Jim Santos 25:02
You wouldn't think of going up to the stranger because the stranger and the other, they're always dangerous.
Todd Hilton 25:07
Well, as an interracial couple, we have to be mindful of the fact that Damon is black and that we're both big guys. We have to be careful of how we are perceived and approach or that was how we felt in the beginning. Again, the very first country we went to was Costa Rica. And one day we were staying in Nuevo Arenal, which is up by Lake Arenal. And we went down to the lake. We were driving our car, we drove down to the lake, and as we got there, there was a woman who was getting out of the water, and we chose to stay back. She was all by herself. And we were like, well, we don't want to drive down to where she is because we don't want to be these two big guys. One, being black, getting out and just.
Damon Morris 25:49
Being aware because we were fresh from the state. Our mentality was we were thinking about that and being like, you know what? We don't want to be alarming, but…
She took too long. She was fussing around, and I was like, well, come on, I want to go to the lake. We chose to just roll our car down to where she was, but we came like, hi, we're okay. We're nice. We struck up a conversation with her. It was very nice, lots of pleasantries. And then she's like, well, it was very nice meeting you. She hopped in her car, started and started to leave.
Well, her back tire was in some mud, and she sunk into the mud as she tried to go forward. So now she's stuck down here and there's nobody around. It's just the three of us. So we helped her get her car out and she said, oh, my gosh, my husband is bird watching and he's going to be gone for six weeks. She goes, you guys are so nice. Why don't you plan on coming to my house tonight and hanging out with me? And we were like, your husband's gone and you want two strange men to come to your house and hang out with you? We're like, thanks for the invite, but, yeah, we're okay.
Todd Hilton 26:58
But you know what, Jim? What was funny about that was I have to say that was fresh. Also, coming from the United States and the movie Get Out had just came out, and I don't know you're familiar with the movie, but she gave us her phone number and we told her we had already had plans. And so what ended up happening was she left, and Todd and I went to go get something to eat, and we had that moment of going, what do you think about that interaction just happened? Do you want to do that? What did you get from her? And so we both came to the conclusion that her energy was innocent and her intentions were well, and we're doing what we're doing to experience new experience, right?
Todd Hilton 27:45
So we literally had to tell ourselves, you know what? That was the whole reason for us to go travels. We wanted to have different experiences and be more open and allowing ourselves to be open to other people coming. So we made a decision to say yes. So after lunch, we called her up, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made.
Damon Morris 28:07
We're very good friends to this day with her and her husband.
Jim Santos 28:09
What's interesting is you kind of came full circle there. You went from worrying that you were going to scare her to wondering whether you should be scared of her.
Damon Morris 28:16
That is correct, because we have that social condition, that conditioning.
Jim Santos 28:18
Now, in your travels, I've assumed you've run across other gays and Blacks who are also traveling. Have you talked with them, shared any stories, found out how what other people's experiences have been?
Damon Morris 28:28
Well, but as far as maybe not as much as gays, but what's kind of interesting I will share this, Jim. There is here in Mexico, in San Miguel, day and day, there is a group of Black expats that are living here in San Miguel. And in 2019, when we got here, there was a few in between. We’d see each other, and there wasn't that many, but there was a lunch function that took place last year, and there was probably about 20 other Black expats that were here in Mexico. This year. They had one the same time this year, there was an increase of about 50.
Jim Santos 29:09
Damon Morris 29:09
So there has definitely been an increase of more African Americans traveling abroad, experiencing. And I think there's a mixture of things happening. I think people are starting to the word is getting out. I think people are starting to be a little bit more comfortable traveling. I think covert had something to do with it as well. People have been able to work from home could actually come, and all you need is the WiFi to be able to work. So I think people are searching and looking for different experiences. And so with that, we have seen an increase of people of color traveling and going to different countries.
I would want to share with other people of color that are interested and maybe doing something different and traveling. Get out there and do it. Don't be afraid because it's so easy to get caught up in being afraid and wondering, will I be accepted? Will I not? I think that you will have one of the best experience if you allow yourself to just go out there and see the world.
I mean, we're six years into this crazy journey that we started, not knowing what we were going to do, and it has been an amazing journey. So whether you're Black, whether you're gay, whatever, they get out there and experience it and see the world because I guarantee that things will open up for you in a way that you would never have thought. And we have made more friends and more resources of meeting people all over the world and it's something that we would not trade in for nothing. The six years that we've been doing it, that has been the highlight of that. It's the amount of people that we have met that have been so kind and welcoming to us.
Jim Santos 30:57
Well, I think that's a wonderful viewpoint and some wonderful points that you bring up there. Thanks. I'd like to thank our guests for speaking out on these important topics. Damon, Todd, always a pleasure talking with you and I'm glad you could join us again on Bigger, Better World.
Damon Morris 31:11
It was our pleasure. Thank you, Jim.
Todd Hilton 31:13
Have a good one.
Jim Santos 31:22
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