Explorer Andy has done his fair share of globe trotting, moving to many new and different cities as he goes. And the first thing he does when he lands somewhere new is to start swiping.


Solo travelling can be pretty daunting. Whether you’re moving to a new city or just following the Aussie pilgrimage to Euro summer, making the move alone comes with a lot of challenges.

I’ve moved to a few cities without knowing a single soul, gracing Melbourne, Wellington, and Istanbul with my presence. After all this practice, I’d say I’m well-placed to give out some sage advice.

A Door Into Local Life

Unfortunately, as the title suggests, if you’re in a monogamous relationship, this might not be the article for you. Unless your partner is OK with you using dating apps to make friends, if so, big ups to them.

One of the smartest things I’ve done was to use the location settings on Hinge and set my location to the city I was travelling to before I moved there. Before travelling to Paris, I asked for tips for queer nightlife in the city and was inundated with suggestions.


Discotheque prep


When I moved to Istanbul, I saw the biggest payoff for this idea. Before I moved I struck up conversations with guys who became great tour guides (and very good friends).

Turkish people are amazingly hospitable, and everyone wanted to show me their favourite spots in the city. They were all adamant to take me to places no tourists would ever go to. I watched beautiful sunsets in parks, looking out over the seemingly endless tower blocks of Istanbul. Surrounded by locals drinking raki, chewing sunflower seeds, and looking curiously at the only white man in the park.

I was taken to restaurants oozing with intoxicating aromas, being shown specialties from around the country. This included manti, similar to dumplings, deliciously drowned in chilli oil and yoghurt, Çiğ köfte, a fresh, summery mix of bulgur wheat, spices, tomato, and pepper paste amongst other treats.

I’m not sure I would’ve branched out as far on the menu or understood what items were, without the people I’d met using dating apps.

I was shown countless Turkish songs. I learned how to recognise traditional Kurdish dances, music from the Black Sea region, and grew to love a huge range of modern Turkish music (very much reflected on my Spotify heavy rotation list). I went on dates with a few Kurdish men who taught me about an entire culture and region I’d heard of but never truly researched.

I learned about the highly controversial singer ALIZADE, whose Western-style music and videos have resulted in her arrest for encouraging drug use. I was shown a music video where Lebanese singer, Yasmine Hamdan, calls out the oppression of her country’s government as she belly dances on top of a car.

Some spots I was taken to were mindblowing. The Princes Islands are about an hour’s ferry from Istanbul. Cars are banned and locals perch outside historic wooden houses decorated with seashells. I lived the life of Mamma Mia-era Meryl Streep here, visiting various islands with various men.


How I Use Dating Apps to Create Communities When Travelling, Photo by Andy Leake, LGBTQIA+, Kinaliada in Princes' Islands', turkey

Burgazada, Princes Island


How I Use Dating Apps to Create Communities When Travelling, Photo by Andy Leake, LGBTQIA+, Burgazada in Princes' Islands, turkey

Kinaliada Princes Islands


Days on the islands were spent chewing sunflower seeds, taking dips in the cool Sea of Marmara, wandering through pine forests listening to Turkish love songs, and dipping bread in red pepper paste (Biber salçası).

Whilst we’re on movie references, Bridget Jones wouldn’t have felt unfamiliar in some situations I got myself into. Namely showing up to a gay bar with one guy only to bump into another guy I’d been on dates with, and having to introduce them to each other. Of course this happened to me in a city of 16 million people – fortunately, they really didn’t mind. But still, just my luck.

Learning About Turkey

I’m so grateful to all of the men I met who took so much time to explain various aspects of Turkish culture to me. Out of everyone I met, and I’d say I probably met around ten different guys during my month in Istanbul, only one of them was out as queer to their families.

I was told that in the east of Turkey, if you walked around wearing something feminine, you would be shouted at, and possibly beaten in the streets. Istanbul was a lot more liberal, you could see visibly queer people and even queer couples in some neighbourhoods.

Speaking of eastern Turkey, I hadn’t realised the impact of the earthquake that devastated Anatolia in 2023. Two of the guys I went on dates with were from there, forced to move due to damaged infrastructure and fear of another earthquake. Millions of people were displaced and evidence existed to suggest the death toll was way higher than what was reported.

Almost everyone I spoke to around my age wanted to leave Turkey. They talked about the intense political situation, skyrocketing inflation, and the threat of a predicted earthquake that would destroy swathes of Istanbul.

People’s eyes sparkled hearing about the freedoms we enjoy, especially with queer life. Telling people my Mum had come to gay clubs with me was met with shock and admiration, it was pretty humbling.

It’s Not All About Romantic Dates

Dating apps opened so many doors for me in Istanbul, and not just romantically. I wanted to make some friends. I also needed to hang around people who weren’t passionately complimenting me all the time, as is the Turkish way – I had to keep my ego in check.

So I set up a few friend dates, these ranged from snacks in the park looking out over the sprawling city lights, to sipping wine beside the Bosphorus as the call to prayer marked the last light of the day.

I met two different men who worked in Istanbul’s fashion industry. It was so interesting to hear about their day-to-day life, from going to Turkish celebrity’s houses for outfit fittings to tireless days in dressmaking workshops. It was a window into the Turkish fashion world I knew nothing about.

They sent me to a flea market which operated from 11pm until the early hours of the morning.


Istanbul at night | Photo by Tolga Ahmetler on Unsplash


Descending through dark streets into a sprawling floodlit courtyard with hundreds of Turkish people battling for bargains was a disorientating experience. Having absolutely no base knowledge of Turkish, communication was done through shaking my head and using my calculator on my phone to haggle.

I was told about a park where every weekend a group of at least 40 older Turkish men gather to drink raki and play traditional Turkish instruments. They set up inside the back of old trailers, bringing tables, chairs, a huge spread of food, and enough raki to down a horse. The strong aniseed spirit forms a backbone to a lot of social interactions in the country.

Raki bars line the streets with traditional bands serenading customers as they soak up the very strong alcohol with an assortment of meze (stuffed vine leaves, roasted and salted chickpeas, and Turkish bread).

Turkish people would say, ‘sohbet rakinin en iyi mezesidir’, roughly meaning ‘conversation is the best meze to have with raki’. When I asked if I could have raki for pre drinks I was met with looks of disgust. It’s a cultural institution, you have to be in a raki bar, drink it with water, eat food, and share it with friends.

The Doors You Can Open

Turkey isn’t the only place dating apps have taken me on an adventure. I remember a very fun night in Paris bouncing around meeting guys from various dating apps. This culminated in arriving at a flat looking out over the rooftops of Paris at sunrise from a party hosted by the Senior Editor of Vogue France.


How I Use Dating Apps to Create Communities When Travelling, Photo by Andy Leake, LGBTQIA+, two friends posing in front of montmarte in paris, france



How I Use Dating Apps to Create Communities When Travelling, Photo by Andy Leake, LGBTQIA+, two friends in the park with a baguette in paris

Parlez vous Francais?

In Berlin, I went on a lovely date with a man who told me in-depth about Berlin’s queer scene. He recommended some events to me, meaning I found myself in a huge warehouse surrounded by Berlin’s most fashionable gays at a party that went on for 36 hours. We then left this party and he took me out for a (very worse for wear) sitdown meal trying every traditional German pastry and sandwich.

I’ve found so much enrichment from all of these experiences. The point is all of these stories are thanks to using dating apps to meet people. From Paris to Berlin to Istanbul, I’ve gained insight into cultures around the world.

I learned so much, my Spotify has been flooded with songs I’ve been played by gays around the world. I know so much about Turkish traditions, Berlin queer nightlife politics, the fashion scene in Paris, all thanks to situations I ended up in because of dating apps.

It might not work for everyone, but for me, being spontaneous and saying yes gifted me so many unforgettable experiences. I couldn’t have had a better time. So, next time you’re feeling nervous about travelling solo or moving country, trust the process and believe in the kindness of strangers, you never know where you might end up.

Read more: What’s It Like To Be LGBTQIA+ and an Explorer