Tuesday, April 16, 2024
PeopleVacationer of the Week

Vacationers of the Week: Jessica Sprague and Maia Cruz

Jessica “Jes” Sprague and Maia Cruz are our Vacationers of the Week! Jes, 37, hails from Central Illinois, and Maia, 24, is from Washington state, which has become the couple’s home base. However, they are currently traveling over 75 percent of the year, and only going back to swap out their clothes and spend time with their dog, Langston. They also have an apartment in Nicaragua and love it!

Leon, Nicaragua (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)
Leon, Nicaragua (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)

The traveling content creators, entrepreneurs, and YouTubers met at work in 2015 and have been dating for more than four years. But we managed to connect with the women who reveal why LGBTQ+ people should travel, offer must-do activities when visiting Washington, explain why they beyond queer-friendly destinations, and what big life decision may change the way Jes travels the world. 

Vacationer Magazine: At what age did you receive your first passport? What was your first trip?

Jessica “Jes” Sprague:  I was 26 years old when I finally got my passport. As a child, my family traveled exclusively around the United States.  I had my first taste of international travel on a cruise around the Caribbean when I was 15, which did not require a passport at the time. My very first big international trip was to Puerto Vallarta, where I went to a gay-owned coffee shop and a super gay booze cruise that was recommended by none other than Ellen DeGeneres.  I remember being so excited to visit another country and felt comfortable being open and queer. 

Maia Cruz: I was 20 years old when I received my first passport.  My family didn’t take many vacations and I started working at 16, so I didn’t do much traveling when I was younger.  Most of our family trips were spent crammed in the back of a car with my siblings while my stepfather, who is a geologist would take us on endless searches for obscure rocks.  After high school, I took a trip to Hawaii and fell in love with the natural beauty and laid-back culture.  I think that’s when I realized how little of the world I had seen and how much I wanted to continue to visit new places.  

Jessica Sprague and Maia Cruz in Seville, Spain (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)
Maia Cruz and Jessica Sprague in Seville, Spain (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)

What trip or travel experience sparked your passion for travel? 

Jes: I had a reoccurring dream all my life about traveling to England.  In all of these dreams, I never actually made it off the plane.  The thought of this dream remained in the back of my mind while working 60 to 70 hours a week in corporate sales.  I just knew I had to go.  On my 30th birthday, I stood up suddenly and said, “that’s it, life is too short” and immediately booked a ticket to London.  After that, I was hooked.  

Maia:  Shortly after Jes and I started dating, we decided to quit the corporate world and embark on a six-month journey around the world.  Whew!  What a way to start traveling internationally.  After visiting places like the Maldives, Japan, and Italy, I couldn’t imagine going back to life as usual.  When we returned to the US and all that was on my mind was how can I make traveling a full-time job.

What inspires you to travel?

We both love exploring new places and learning about different cultures.  Traveling isn’t always easy but what keeps us going is the remarkable personal growth we experience from being put in uncomfortable situations.  This is also why we almost always travel on a small budget.  Our experiences aren’t always the most glamorous, but they are always incredibly rewarding. One of our most memorable experiences is being stranded at a truck stop in Thailand due to the Tropical Storm Pabuk.  After three days and a lot of cheese toasties from 7-Eleven, we were finally able to hitchhike with the Thai police back to Chumphon where we made our way back to Bangkok. 

Budva, Montenegro (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)
Budva, Montenegro (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)

Please tell us how you identify yourself on the LGBTQIA spectrum. Tell us if how you identify influences the way you travel. If so, how?

Jes: I identify as bisexual and non-binary.  As I have recently been exploring taking testosterone and having top surgery, I have concerns about how that will impact my ability to travel safely.  

Maia: I’m not big into labels.  Before meeting Jes, I had only dated cisgender males and had always assumed I was straight.  I have now realized that I probably fall in love with people for who they are and not their gender identity.  

We don’t specifically base our travel on how LGBTQIA friendly a country is.  However, we have yet to visit some of the most dangerous places on our bucket list.  We do feel it’s extremely important to research the laws and culture of a place before going.  We always try to be respectful and safe.  However, we also want to be true to ourselves and encourage others to as well.  It’s a fine line to walk, but we are happy to say we have never had any serious issues in any of the 30 countries we have traveled to. 

Is there a travel destination that most queer travelers would think isn’t safe to visit, but you’ve visited and enjoyed it? If so, where? What made it a memorable experience?

There have been a few, but Bosnia and Herzegovina is the most memorable.  What makes this country unique is the intersection of cultures and religions, but this also means that many people don’t necessarily share the same feelings about LGBTQ+.  While the country has made legal progress in protecting LGBTQ+ people; safety continues to be an issue.  While traveling throughout the country we were very conscious of showing public affection, but we definitely didn’t hide who we are.  We are happy to say that many locals spoke to us about our identity and wanted to get to know us better. This gave us the opportunity to answer questions and help others understand more about LGBTQ+ people.   We met so many kind and amazing people who made us feel so welcome.  Bosnia-Herzegovina is now one of our favorite countries and we plan on visiting again.

Seville, Spain (Photo Credit: Jess Sprague and Maia Cruz)
Seville, Spain (Photo Credit: Jess Sprague and Maia Cruz)

How long have you been traveling together? What was your first trip together? Would you recommend it to other LGBTQ+ travelers?

We started out in a long-distance relationship, so traveling was essential from the start.  After less than a year together we left on our first international trip together and it was one we will never forget.  We traveled for six months straight starting in London and ending in Beijing. We visited 15 countries and created countless memories along the way. A six-month trip together is definitely a make-or-break experience for a couple. For us, it was perfect and helped build our relationship into what it is.  We definitely got the travel bug!

We absolutely recommend traveling to other LGBTQ+ folks. For us, traveling is eye-opening in two ways.  Seeing countries that our more progressive has inspired us, while other places have reminded us of the many protections we do currently have.  We think it’s important to know how far the world has come, while at the same time reminding ourselves to continue to fight for equality everywhere.  

Was it naturally easy to start traveling with one another? What are the perks of traveling as a couple? 

For us, traveling together came naturally.  Having to work together and rely on one another actually made our relationship grow and become stronger.  It can be difficult during stressful times, but we are constantly figuring out how to communicate with one another more effectively.   The perks are of course having someone you love to share everything with, safety, and most importantly lots of cuddles.  

San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua (Photo Credit: Jess Sprague and Maia Cruz)
San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua (Photo Credit: Jess Sprague and Maia Cruz)

How would you describe your travel style in three words?

Spontaneous, low budget, and social.

What are three things LGBTQ+ travelers should do when visiting Washington?

Our state is well known for its incredible natural beauty.  Regardless of your sexual orientation, our advice is to get outside and enjoy nature.  Hiking, camping, kayaking, paddle boarding, and skiing are just a few of the outdoor activities we enjoy when home.   Here are some specifics you can’t miss out on:

  1. Go whale watching near Orcas Island
  2. Explore Capitol Hill in Seattle 
  3. Go to any of our amazing local breweries or wineries
Budapest, Hungary (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)
Budapest, Hungary (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)

What are your top three favorite places to visit? Why?

1. Japan
Japan is like no place on Earth. We were blown away by how different the culture is compared to anywhere we had been before.  We were immediately in awe of the lights, buildings, and technology in Tokyo specifically.  Even when it comes to food, Japan is ahead of the rest.  Would you believe we had sushi delivered by train, ordered ramen from a vending machine, and we were seated at our table by a robot host?

2. Thailand
Thailand will always be in our top 3.  If you’ve been, you know why.  There is a reason they call Thailand the land of smiles. Thai people are some of the sweetest people you will ever meet.   Thailand is known to be very accepting of LGBTQ+ people and we felt extremely safe there. Plus, there is an endless amount of beauty from the architecture to the beaches, it never disappoints. 

3. England
England may not have the best weather or the best food, but British people are by far our favorite.  It doesn’t take much to keep us entertained there.  A pint in a pub and a chat or a laugh with a local is all we need.  

Santorini, Greece (Photo Credit: Jess Sprague and Maia Cruz)
Santorini, Greece (Photo Credit: Jess Sprague and Maia Cruz)

What three places are still on your bucket list to visit? Why?

Our bucket list is extremely long and always growing.  It seems like the more places we go, the more our list grows.  Here are the top three on our list right now.

South Korea. Maia is in love with South Korean culture and not just because of the food scene.  We both love old and contemporary architecture and South Korea does both better than most.  Our curiosity may be the reason this country is our number one.  The culture has such an interesting way of being both rich in history and tradition, while also being playful and modern.  We cannot wait to discover more about this country and its people. Plus, cherry blossoms, K-pop, and Korean cheese dogs, duh!

Israel.  Israel has been on Jes’s list since her early teens.  Growing up in the Midwest in the early ages of the internet, there wasn’t a lot of access to queer culture.  Jes would rent independent movies with queer storylines to try to escape.  Tel Aviv was the setting of many of these movies and was one of the first places on her bucket list.  During our travels, we continue to meet people who have shared their stories about visiting Israel and we can’t wait to check this one off our list. 

Tanzania. We have never visited any countries in Africa and there are plenty on our list.  Tanzania is quickly becoming a very popular destination and with good reason.  It boasts some of the best of what the African continent has to offer: safaris, mountains, plains, bustling cities, beaches, and coral reefs.  This is a great example of a country we want to visit but haven’t yet due to the safety level for LGBTQ+ people.  We are continuing to research this country and we will definitely be visiting soon. 

Ometepe, Nicaragua (Photo Credit: Luca Torzi)
Ometepe, Nicaragua (Photo Credit: Luca Torzi)

What’s one thing you never forget to pack in your suitcase?

Our camera.  We can’t go anywhere without it.  It’s how we are able to share all of our experiences and continue to grow our community.  When traveling, we are always inspired to find new ways to be creative and capture the beauty of each culture. 

You’re going on a road trip. What singer or band is always on your playlist?

We would definitely disagree on this, so we are very thankful for headphones.  Jes would probably listen to anything moody or something from the 90s… think Gin Blossoms.  On the other hand, Maia would be listening to Meg the Stallion, Cardi B, Doja Cat, etc.  

Granada, Nicaragua (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)
Granada, Nicaragua (Photo Credit: Jes Sprague and Maia Cruz)

Vacationer Staff

Vacationer Magazine's writing staff works hard to bring you all the latest LGBTQ travel articles to help inspire and inform.

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