In 32 years, I had never once hooked up with anyone while on vacation. (Well, unless you count that guy on the airplane, I guess.) Until last year. Most of my online dating forays were sallied into with my usual egalitarian romanticism (“I’m open to love with anyone!”), no matter how horrifyingly horny I was, so straight searching for that holi-D via Tinder for the first time felt like an empowering, exciting, important act. A wild blow (ha!) against a cruel, shaming patriarchy intent on decreeing sexually adventurous ladies sluts, monsters, whores. Tindercationing—or, rather, sleeping around while abroad with the help of any location-based dating app—has become common in recent years. Once away from home, our busy generation is often too overbooked or too lazy to find its foreign folk free-range and instead fall for the alluring efficiency of Tinder and its ilk. Plus, operating in international waters gives you a free pass from the usual haters quick to condemn a one-off with a handsome stranger.
Tindercation #1: Glasgow, Scotland
I starting swiping the second I landed in Edinburgh in late July. I’ve always had a mad boner for pasty United Kingdomers, and I assumed the country would be entirely populated by skinny haggis eaters just dying for a taste of Canada. I updated my bio to read, “In town for three days!” i.e., “COME SHAG ME IMMEDIATELY.” Within an hour, there were multiple beefy orange bros clamouring for my address. I didn’t have any safety qualms about bringing a person I’d just met back to my hotel after a drink or two—other than potential language barriers, it isn’t any different from taking someone home from your local bar. Yet there were no pieces to my liking in Edinburgh.
So I was determined to make serious use of the palatial princess suite—complete with living room bathtub and comically large four-poster bed—I’d splurged on in Glasgow. I got right to work as soon as my bus pulled into the terminal. After some desultory swiping, one profile caught my eye. Englishman Alistair* had the sad, wise eyes of an old hound and a cute drooping moustache. He dressed like a 1940s grandpa, complete with pics depicting him on mournful moors, clad in suspenders, dapper ties and expensive-looking wool overcoats. My opener: “Does your moustache have a name?” I told him he looked like a Prada model. “Is that a good thing?” he wondered. Via text, we bonded over our love of Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation, and after I boasted of my cuddling skills, he said he’d have to challenge them in person. “As long as you wear the suspenders,” I replied. We shared round after round of Scotches at a dim, cozy bar, the conversation tripping from Morrissey to Proust to Amy Poehler. He wanted to kiss me, I could tell. Alistair was a little shy, so I wondered just how timid he might be in bed. Any paranoia about him being a blushing Brit was quashed when we tumbled into a large, dark cab and he pounced on top of me. Bingo.
We raced through the labyrinth of my hotel’s mahogany-lined corridors, stopping only when he would pull me onto the plump velvet settee adorning the landing of each floor’s sumptuous hallway, before finally reaching my room. We didn’t even make it to the four-poster bed. Afterward, I clipped his suspenders to my high-waisted panties and pranced about on the carpet as he sat by the obscene storey-high European windows, blowing smoke out into the summer night and reading aloud from The Luminaries. “Crikey, you’re attractive,” he muttered as he dove toward where I lay sprawled on the carpet. All night we told each other secrets. “This is so wonderful,” he said. “You can just say whatever you want.” It was odd—thousands of miles away from home, in a night of pure, painstakingly procured lust, I had found…romance. With a complete stranger, I felt safe at last. I could celebrate novelty and whimsy and adventure, indulge in deviancy without judgment. Modern dating is ruled by chill: taking great care to care the least. No contacting your crush first. No opening up too much. No making the first move. No date activities other than drinking. It was thrilling to rebel against these conditions with glorious openness, stupid jokes, romantic moments and spectacular fornication—things that actually matter to me. I yearned for more.
Tindercation #2: Melaque, Mexico
I spent Christmas in a teeny-tiny Mexican village, the same one my family has returned to for years. It took about a week before my curiosity drove me to open Tinder one night, where a gringo cutie caught my eye. Bearded, legit hot and covered in ironic tattoos, I assumed Justin* was a glitch, left over from my Toronto swipe queue. But no—we matched, and I saw that he was but 15 minutes away, in the next hamlet over. A message popped up: “Hey, Briony. Yes, I volunteer to be in your article about how weird Tinder is in small Mexican towns.” It was a smart opener for sure—he’d obviously creeped beyond my photos to the job title listed in my profile—and a, uh, prescient one, but it also twinged something deep within me. No, not a boner (OK, maybe), but one of those dramatic, obvious, THIS IS A LIFE CHOICE MOMENT moments. Do I revert to protectionist dating games and play it all ladylike and cutesy and basic to close with this clever babe? Or do I just go balls-out and be myself: a bit of a dick, quick with a joke and a total pervert. I thought back to Glasgow, where I was unshackled from the cruelly conformist mores of millennial courtship, squealing at silly bits and twirling across the carpet in suspenders. And so I typed in reply: “I’ve already started researching journals where I can submit my study for peer review: Dating Apps in Jalisco: An Anthropological Study in Cross-Societal Mating Rituals. Also: is that a [embarrassing ’80s band redacted] lyric emblazoned on your arm?” What was the point in being ladylike if I wasn’t a lady?
I taxied over to the other village, where we met in the church square. He had an easy, laconic way about him and a pretty smile. He listened more than he talked. I burbled away happily about living in Toronto and my job, teasing him about his swaths of ridiculous tats and copping the occasional feel. I felt liberated: there was none of the usual sweating whether I should keep my cool job secret (don’t be intimidating!), whether I should keep up the biting commentary (they hate that!), whether it would seem slutty if I made the first move (ugh). Free of a future, we could revel in the present—here in the Mexico night, there was no chill whatsoever. We drifted from bar to bar, strolling down the cobblestone streets, ropes of fairy lights criss-crossed above our heads. It was a Monday, and places were closing, so we ambled out onto a spit on the sea. The stars sparked bright and the whole thing was so gorgeous that I almost began to giggle from it all. We sat on the short stone wall, me with my head in his lap, looking up at the sky, until he leaned down to kiss me. “Now,” he said, “we have two options. We can keep trying to find a bar that’s open, or we can go back to the place I’m staying. There’s a pool and beers and—” “Let’s go,” I said. And so we went, making out all sweaty and half-drunk in the most clichéd of locations: limbs tangled in the pool, bodies rubbing slick in the shower and then tearing into bed, clawing at each other like frantic teens and laughing, laughing. There was no pretense. No shame. No pretending. “Tell me what you want,” he said. “This,” I said. “This is what I want.”
A few days later, I sat in a Texas airport on a brief layover as I winged my way home to Toronto, idly swiping away. Here I was, straddled between Mexico and Toronto, two worlds, and I had to make a choice. I could head back to The 6ix and sublimate my true self when dating again…or I could bring Scotland with me, bring Mexico with me, proof that there can be romance and realness in dating if we’re brave enough to bring them.
Two weeks later, I went on a first OkCupid date with a kind, smart boy named Ben. I rolled into the bar late, wearing a dramatic floor-length, cleave-revealing ’90s gown topped with a sweatshirt bearing the word f-ck; announced that I was disgustingly hungover; and proceeded to blather on about verboten topics like heavy family stuff, my long-term singledom and the throbbing intensity of my hangover. He went on a date with Tindercation me, but at home in Toronto at last. And he was pretty into it. Like, real into it. Now we are madly in love; inseparable for six months, we’re excited to be together forever—provided that this sweet man continues to find my enthusiastic oversharing shenanigans charming (hi, booboo!). He can’t hate on my dating app adventures abroad too hard: I may have met him on OkCupid, but it was Tinder that brought us together.
*Names changed, obvs.
How to Tindercation Like A Pro
Stock up on product. Have lots of condoms of various sizes and good lube on hand (dream big, girl!), but also fill in advance any post-sex prescriptions you might need, whether it’s UTI meds, beard burn cream or yeast infection doodads. Download all location-based dating apps—including Tinder, Happn and Bumble—to your phone and practise using them in your own city.
Keep that data tight. Choose a hotel with free Wi-Fi (and check TripAdvisor reviews to make sure it actually works). Buy a decent data plan. Don’t forget to turn on your roaming when you leave the hotel so you won’t miss any messages.
List the exact days that you’ll be in the city in your profile. This will bring out the thirsty monsters, so go with those who put effort into good conversation. An attentive, smart conversationalist is (often) an attentive, smart lay.
Start browsing ASAP. Consider splurging on TinderPlus, which allows you to start swiping in your vacay city before you arrive. Broke? Just start as soon as you get there, as messages can be delayed. Try to pick a fun, pretty pony ’cause vacation ain’t the time to do a boring dud who “maybe has potential.”
Safety first! Ask for their last name and switch from the app to texting so you have their actual number, and take a screenshot of their profile, then send it to a friend. Pick a bar near a cab stand or make sure Uber works on your phone in case you need a quick getaway. Take them back to your hotel, where you can control the safe-sex sitch (and ask the front desk for help if anything goes awry).