Though most of us can’t physically travel right now, there’s still a wonderful world out there for us to explore together. Traveling In Quarantine spotlights people and places through which we can escape our sequestered realities… and in the process expand our Traveling IQ.
Traveling In Quarantine: Troy Petenbrink “The Gay Traveler” in Washington DC
Troy Petenbrink has been a freelance journalist for more than a dozen years, covering all aspects of travel with a strong focus on the LGBTQ+ community.
When I returned to travel writing two years ago, it was a different profession in many ways: editors changed, publications closed and Instagram had quantified qualitative experiences. But it was also clear that professionalism, skill and experience persevered. And Troy is one of those special writers who managed to adapt, expand and continue to thrive.
Under the moniker of “The Gay Traveler” he built a strong social media presence, which recently earned him a spot on Hornet’s list of “12 Gay Travel Instagrammers You Should Be Following.”
Troy also maintains a parallel career as a strategic public relations and marketing professional in the healthcare field, including a great deal of work related to HIV prevention such as the creation of National HIV Testing Day
When not exploring the world, Troy lives in Washington DC with his life partner Barnette Holston, Jr (who is the cutie you will often catch in Troy’s Instagram photos).
Traveling In Quarantine interviews Troy Petenbrink “The Gay Traveler” and together we explore Washington DC:
IQ: How did you get involved in travel:
Troy: In many ways, I’m the accidental travel journalists. I started writing for the Washington Blade newspaper in the mid-2000’s. At the time I was traveling a great deal as part of my work as a public relations and marketing consultant, and would simply pen articles about the places that I visited as a way of getting some tax write-offs. It was only after I was asked to write an article for the Miami Herald that I realized that I was legit as a travel journalist and could and should do more. Since that time, I’ve had the privilege of being a contributor to National Geographic Traveler, Cruise Critic, Travel Channel, Fodor’s, and Newsweek among many other outlets.
What are three things you’d like readers to know about you:
1. I’m a stereotypical Gemini. Enough said about that.
2. My partner and I have been together since 1992 – and he is definitely my better half. An accountant by trade and a fashionista by nature (check him out at @dcfashionfoool), he is one of the most kind and authentic human beings you will ever meet.
3. I love road trips with my friend @edholmstrom. Our first one together was back in 2015 from Washington, DC to Houston, and it included lots of tasty BBQ, tours of Civil War battlefields, and cocktails on New Orleans’ famed Bourbon Street. Along the way we also recreated scenes from “Thelma & Louise” and shared them on Instagram. Our second trip together in 2018 was a tour of the Midwest from Fargo to Kansas City. During that trip many frozen custards were sampled, state capital buildings toured, and unexpected discoveries made such as a Dutch town in the middle of Iowa. Along the way we decide to recreate a variety of movie scenes on Instagram — from “”Planes, Trains & Automobiles” to “The Bridges of Madison County.” All of the postings can be found by searching the hashtag #edandtroy.
Where are you from and where do you live now? How did you get involved in travel?
To say I’m a country boy is an understatement. I was born and raised in rural Maryland and a stone throw away from West Virginia, where my family owned some of the last bits of private land in the middle of Green Ridge State Forest, part of the Appalachian Mountains. The three miles of dirt road you would have to travel to get to my house was Malcomb Road, named after my great grandfather who helped build it as a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s.
There was no traveling or vacationing for me as a kid. And I was in my early 20’s when I took my first plane ride as part of a work trip. I remember asking friends lots of questions about the process because I didn’t want to do something wrong and have my boss who was traveling with me know that I had never flown before.
While I had obviously spent plenty of time read and watching TV shows and movies about “other places,” it didn’t compare to the actual firsthand experience. I definitely caught the travel bug on that first trip – and never want to be cured.
Describe your featured destination–Washington DC:
As a travel journalist, one of the questions I often get asked is “of all the places you have visited, where would you want to live.” The answer I give is simple — “I already live there.” Washington, DC has been my home for nearly 30 years and I have no plans to move anytime soon. There are many things that help make DC special including being one of the most racially diverse metropolitan areas in the U.S. and having among the highest percentage of same-sex couple households. Also, as the nation’s capital, it has a rich history and numerous attractions as well as a patchwork of eclectic neighborhoods.
Do you find the vibe in DC changes, depending who is in office?
Changes in who occupied the White House and Capitol Hill every two to four years had an impact on the vibe in Washington, DC, for decades. I remember when Reagan and Bush, Sr. were in office, DC was filled with stodgy steakhouses and lots of government folks lived in the suburbs. That changed when Clinton arrived and restaurants like Chef Jose Andres’ Jaleo became hot spots and people rushed to live in the city again. In more recent years, the city has become more immune to new presidents and congressional members. This is the result of a more diversified and stable economy beyond the federal government.
What makes DC a place for LGBTQ travelers?
As mentioned, DC has a very large LGBTQ population — and with that comes a really welcoming destination. Annual major events include Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend, Cherry DC, DC Black Pride, Capital Pride, and Reel Affirmations Film Festival, In addition, there is a robust queer arts scene, many social organization and sports leagues, LGBTQ-owned businesses, and a vibrant nightlife. The city also values LGBTQ tourists and proactively markets to them.
What are three spots that you love in DC and why?
There are a number of spots that don’t get the attention they deserve. Located on the eastern edge of the city and free to visit, The United States National Arboretum offers nearly 450 acres of beautiful green space with multiple gardens including the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Another free experience is a tour of the National Archives Museum near the National Mall, home to the original Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States, and Bill of Rights. It is very empowering to see and read the original text “all men are created equal” – the foundation for our fight for equality. Of course all destinations need the perfect spot for watching the sunset, and in DC that is at the Top of the Gate, the rooftop bar and lounge at The Watergate Hotel (Yes, that Watergate Hotel).
What are three LGBTQ highlights in DC?
Dupont Circle is one of the traditional LGBTQ neighborhoods in Washington, DC, and still has a strong queer vibe. Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse is a 70+-year-old family business in Dupont Circle that is a must-visit for LGBTQ visitors. Its ties to the community are so strong that last year the James Beard Foundation gave it an America’s Classic award for the Mid-Atlantic region. For LGBTQ travelers wanting the perfect DC queer selfie, I recommend a visit to my friend Lisa Marie Thalhammer’s rainbow-colored “LOVE” mural. It was painted in 2017 as part of the DC Alley Museum, a project she co-founded in Blagden Alley (the two blocks between 9th and 10th streets and M and O streets in the city’s NW quadrant). And while it might not seem like an obvious choice for LGBTQ visitors, the National Museum of African American History and Culture should not be missed. As writen by The Advocate during its opening, “From art to protest, the inextricable ties between black life and LGBT life are an ‘integral part’ of the [museum].”
If you could choose anywhere in the world to Quarantine, where would it be and why?
It would be anywhere in Slovenia. Before first lady Melania Trump, a native of Slovenia, drew international attention to this amazing Central European country, my partner and I were invited to visit in as part of a press trip in 2015. We completely fell in love with its cultural history and offerings, charming villages and cities, abundance of diverse national beauty – from the Mediterranean Sea to the the Julian Alps – and its very LGBTQ-welcoming and friendly citizens. We have returned many times since and always leaving wanting to immediately return.
To explore more of Troy’s adventures…
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