Meet Hunter Athena Maze, prairie queer

Hunter Athena Maze also known as @prairie.queer on Instagram, gets around!

Hunter is based in Alberta, Canada, for now, they were born in Santa Cruz, California, and raised all over, including Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC, Texas, Washington state, Georgia, and Quebec.

We wanted to reach out to Hunter Athena not only because they are a plus-size traveler, but the content creator is also autistic and has a genetic disorder that sometimes makes it difficult to navigate planning a trip. In this Q&A, we chat with Hunter Athena about travel planning, the place they recommend LGBTQ+ travelers visit, the top 3 places on their bucket list, and they reveal music favorites always on their road trip playlist when traveling.

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

Hunter Athena Maze: Oh gosh, so I’ve been traveling ever since I was a wee six months old and took a flight to Canada for my big birth announcement trip. However, when I was a kid, you actually didn’t need passports to go between the US and Canada. God, I feel so old. So while I traveled a lot all over and between the two, I didn’t get my first passport until I was about 10 or 11 which was actually for my first big trip to India without my parents when I was 11.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)
Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)

What trip or travel experience sparked your passion for travel? 

It was definitely that trip to India, I think it was the catalyst for a lot of things in my life that I never would have known otherwise. As I mentioned, I’ve been traveling since I was 6 months old. My family was constantly taking us on vacations or road trips. I think going to India without my parents at 11 to see the world and not only meet people, but also to learn languages, customs, and traditions from people around the world was incredible. I was in a really unique and life-changing program called Children’s International Summer Villages(CISV) which does so much more than I can summarize in a few words, but the foundational mission statement is “CISV educates and inspires action for a more just and peaceful world.” I know they changed my life with everything I learned and did and having the experience to travel through this was incredibly formative for me and I know that I’ll be putting my future kiddos into CISV programs as well!

What inspires you to travel? 

The world is so large, yet we can often feel so small and stuck. I travel because it breathes life into me and reminds me how much is out there for us to experience, see and learn. The feeling I get when I travel is unlike any other, I don’t think I was a person built to ever sit still in one place. I just have a zest for experiencing everything I possibly can in this lifetime! 

I remember making friends with the most incredible group of college queers in Rome and just spending the night with them and living the way they did. It will always stay with me as such a magical and fun night. Furthermore, I understand the significance of sharing my travel experiences as an intersectional person who travels. I’m both plus-size and queer. My followers rely on me for travel recommendations that cater to inclusivity, and accessibility, and provide advice on their well-being. Being motivated by this, I aim to use my personal travel experiences to help others have smoother and more enjoyable travel experiences.

Rome, Italy (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)
Rome, Italy (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)

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

I am proudly Queer in every sense, but more specifically I am a non-binary femme and somewhere on the Sapphic scale. It’s almost funny because when I first came out, at the age of 11 or 12, I came out as a lesbian. Then, as a young adult, I realized I was bisexual and now I’m back to wondering if I’m really just a lesbian, so we’ll see!

 It definitely influences the way I travel, but I also try to not let it hinder me or my dreams or prevent me from visiting places that may not be welcoming. I often find myself having to do more research. As someone who is also non-binary, I need to be knowledgeable about places I’m visiting in relation to my ‘transness’. I do hold a lot of privilege as someone who is often read as a cisgender-heterosexual white-passing “woman” and I recognize that has made traveling easier and safer at times but I’m always on alert because privilege is always very conditional. It also means I have to assess whether I’m safe enough to travel by myself. I do however prefer to choose LGBTQ+-friendly destinations. I love that I can search for hotels based on their LGBTQ+ inclusivity nowadays.

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? 

While I love traveling around the world, I think a location that is globally known as being pretty hostile to queer travelers is the American South, but I love the South! The news can often fill us with the hate that comes from these states and it’s hard because that does exist, but what also exists are incredibly strong pockets of queer communities. Atlanta is known as the LGBTQ+ capital of the South and it actually has one of the only remaining lesbian bars in North America, which both are facts that usually surprise anyone I tell. 

One of the most beautiful things I saw was in Louisville where there were Pride flags everywhere and in Lexington, there were tons of queer couples just existing happily. I even have a dear friend in Texas who works as an out and proud music leader of a church there and every year they create these beautiful Pride shirts, at a southern church! Sometimes, love really is louder than hate and I find that the Southern United States proves that daily, you just have to be brave enough to visit it. 

Paris, France (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)
Paris, France (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)

On your Instagram profile, you mention that you are disabled and autistic. Can you explain that to our readers? Does it affect the way you travel? If so, how? 

Yes, I love that you brought this up! While my queerness isn’t something that can always be easily distinguished. As a solo traveler who to most looks like a cishet woman, my autism and disability can be a lot more visible when traveling. For my autism, it can be quite hard for me to understand people, or even to communicate and often people can instantly tell I’m different or they can’t put their finger on it. The way I love to describe it is I wasn’t given the recipe cards neurotypicals were given to exist as a human, and it can be quite obvious when I say things that can be deemed as socially inappropriate – a typical behavior with autism. 

I also have a rare genetic disorder and it’s pretty complicated, but the most common symptom is that I’m constantly injuring myself and am in the simplest of terms – very fragile. As such, I can use a varying degree of mobility aids and braces, or lack of them depending on what’s going on with my body on any given day. This also means I have to be extra prepared for anything. I’ve recently started asking for accommodations in airports which I was always so scared of doing for fear of being judged. I’m also plus-sized and public opinions about bodies like mine don’t always get positive reactions. Now, I ask for what my body needs because I need it without shame, and it’s truly been so freeing and allows me to conserve my energy for the actual trip. As a solo traveler, I additionally have the freedom to do what my body allows without the pressure of letting others down or pushing myself to do things that are beyond my physical capabilities. This has been especially beneficial for me as a person with a disability.

Atlanta, Georgia (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)
Atlanta, Georgia (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)

As a plus-size, autistic traveler, what changes would you like to see the travel industry update for you and other LGBTQ+ folx like yourself to make it easier for you to travel? 

On a surface level, it would be amazing to witness greater representation, particularly with respect to body diversity, during travel experiences and branding. In my experience, only one hotel has featured a plus-sized body in their marketing, excluding the hotels that I have collaborated with, wherein I was the first to represent this demographic. 

Nevertheless, the feeling I experienced when I saw this representation was incredible – I was able to visualize myself in that space and felt welcome and accepted despite having a body that is often marginalized. However, I have yet to come across any branding that features a plus-sized queer couple, a queer disabled individual, a nonbinary person, or anyone else who falls outside the normative standards of beauty and identity.

If your branding exclusively showcases cis gay white men, it suggests to me that you have no desire to appeal to a diverse range of customers, including those who don’t fit into this narrow view of queerness like me. I am looking for travel destinations that not only accept but actively celebrate queer women, nonbinary individuals, and trans travelers.

Milan, Italy (Photo Credit: Mark Morinii)
Milan, Italy (Photo Credit: Mark Morinii)

On a deeper level, there are some significant changes that I would like to witness. Specifically, the airline industry has a long way to go in creating a more welcoming and accepting environment for plus-sized individuals. I recently had a traumatic experience on a flight where I was harassed by both the flight attendants and fellow passengers due to my body size. Unfortunately, incidents like this are not uncommon, and they often discourage many plus-sized individuals from traveling out of fear of experiencing similar treatment. This is unacceptable, and I am hopeful that the industry will take steps to ensure that travel is truly accessible and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, disability, or body size.

I’m additionally eager to see more travel options that cater specifically to WLW (women loving women) and transgender individuals. Often, travel events, organizations, and tour groups that are designed for queer people tend to focus heavily on cis gay men, and while I support anything that promotes a more LGBTQ+-friendly travel industry, I am yearning for a broader representation of the queer community. 

I would love to see things like a cruise specifically for WLW or a trans-focused week at a resort. It would be amazing to see more diversity in advertising and marketing materials, including trans and nonbinary individuals as well as people with different body types. I strongly believe that we need to be more inclusive and do more to showcase the full spectrum of queer identities in travel. It would be fantastic to make queer spaces more welcoming and inclusive for people of all genders and identities under the umbrella.

How would you describe your travel style in three words? 

Romantic. Adventurous. Unpredictable 

Tel Aviv, Israel (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)
Tel Aviv, Israel (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)

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

Oh, that’s a hard question! There are so many! Atlanta is one of my top picks because it’s incredibly queer-friendly with a special emphasis on creating a welcoming environment for sapphic individuals. In addition to being home to my favorite aquarium and some of the best food I’ve ever tasted, Atlanta is also surrounded by breathtaking hiking trails that feature stunning waterfalls and secluded swimming spots.

Tel Aviv is a fantastic destination for several reasons. First, the weather is consistently pleasant year-round, and I fondly recall sunbathing on the beach in December while it was freezing -40 degrees back home. The beaches are absolutely stunning, with the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean providing a breathtaking backdrop. The food in Tel Aviv is incredibly diverse, and one of my favorite experiences was visiting the shuk and indulging in some delicious freshly squeezed fruit juice. 

However, the real highlight for me was the city’s incredibly high ratio of LGBTQ+ individuals. According to the Tel Aviv Municipal LGBT Community Center, approximately 6 out of 10 people identify as part of the community, meanwhile, the ratio tends to be around 3.5 in 10 on average in the rest of the world). From my personal experience, Tel Aviv is a city that stands out for its diversity and inclusivity, with an atmosphere that is welcoming to people of all backgrounds and identities. Moreover, the locals I met there were some of the kindest and friendliest people I have ever encountered during my travels.

Rome is an amazing city that has something to offer everyone, making it a must-see destination. I love the city’s breathtaking beauty and it’s a walkable city, which makes it a joy to explore. When walking is not possible; the efficient metro system comes in handy. I love how Europe, in general, has several walkable cities, which is especially important for me as a disabled person who doesn’t drive. Additionally, I felt incredibly safe as a solo traveler in Rome. I was able to easily connect with welcoming locals and fellow travelers, forming new friendships along the way. One other thing that stood out to me was the gayborhood being located in the Colosseum area, which felt fitting and put a smile on my face.

Louisville, Kentucky (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)
Louisville, Kentucky (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)

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

The Dominican Republic (DR)
Now, this may seem silly but I’m an astrology gay and the DR has always called to me for some reason. As someone interested in astrology, I did some Astrocartography not long ago and I find it fascinating that my Venus line runs directly through the DR. So I have to check it out soon. 

Greece is another destination at the top of my list. As a child, Greek mythology has always interested me. It has always been my biggest dream to visit Greece and experience the historical sites and beautiful scenery firsthand. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the country’s rich history and indulging in the Mediterranean food and culture that Greece has to offer. I’m ready to have my Mama Mia! moment. 

Ethiopia is one of my bucket list countries due to its rich history and culture. What fascinates me the most is that Ethiopia is one of the few nations in the world that has never been colonized, which is truly remarkable. They still use their own calendars and cherish their traditions to this day. Additionally, there is a vibrant and thriving Jewish community in Ethiopia, and I would love to experience firsthand how Ethiopian Jews connect with their heritage, culture, and religion. And let’s not forget the incredible Ethiopian cuisine!

Lexington, Kentucky (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)
Lexington, Kentucky (Photo Credit: Hunter Athena Maze)

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

My Phone! As a travel content creator, it is a must, but seriously, baby wipes! You may think I’m crazy, but I can’t tell you how many people I’ve convinced that baby wipes are the holy grail of travel. They work for everything from makeup removal after a late night to helping you clean your tush in a pinch after a visit to an outhouse or while on a camping trip. 

Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona (Photo Credit: Basic Ass Photography)
Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona (Photo Credit: Basic Ass Photography)

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

It’s funny you ask this because I made a pretty killer road trip playlist not too long ago! A lot of country music would be on my playlist.  I am a Prairie Queer after all. But Halsey is my main bae always. And we can’t forget the classic 90s/00s throwbacks on a good road trip playlist.

Get more tips about how to travel as a transgender person? Check out this article about advice to help transgender, gender queer, and non-binary travelers navigate the world. And do visit our sister site, Vacationer for more stories like this!

Queer Forty Staff

Queer Forty writing staff work hard to bring you all the latest articles to help inspire and inform.

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