The creators of On Airplane Mode inspire the LGBTQ+ community to travel safely and see the world through their lens.
Words by Marc Graser Photos provided by Kirstie Pike and Christine Diaz
When Kirstie Pike and Christine Diaz first met at the Gansevoort Rooftop bar in New York City, they spent the entire date talking about their love and passion for seeing the world, being introduced to new people and cultures, and experiencing new adventures. Six years later, they have explored more than 40 countries together and are the creators of On Airplane Mode, one of the fastest growing platforms for women and LGBTQ+ travelers, and recently launched their first podcast, “She Comes with Baggage,” available on Spotify.
“We wanted to help people explore their sense of adventure without fear while truly celebrating their individuality … and live their lives to the fullest,” says Diaz, who is originally from New Jersey and grew up around New York City before moving to Los Angeles with Pike, a native of Tennessee.
Since launching in 2019, On Airplane Mode has built a following of more than half a million across all platforms and enabled Pike and Diaz to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, champion queer representation, and challenge societal norms, especially when it comes to queer travel.
We wanted to help people explore their sense of adventure without fear while truly celebrating their individuality … and live their lives to the fullest.
— Christine Diaz
“Individually, we have always had a love for travel,” Pike says, but were always limited to visiting a destination for a week at a time.
That changed dramatically when the two spent over ten weeks backpacking through Southeast Asia together.
Wanting to document their journey as a couple, they bought a $15 tripod from a convenience store in a small village in Myanmar, and shared their experiences online. They started gaining some traction from the photos, and started receiving messages from queer families and friends who were curious about travel but didn’t know how to start, how to budget, where to go that was safe.
“It was the best experience of our entire lives and the trip that led us to finding ourselves and a desire to help and give back to our community through On Airplane Mode,” Pike says. “We quickly realized that we wanted to build our platform to inspire people to travel safely through our guides and tips. We wanted to be the representation that was, and still is, lacking in today’s media.”
A recent trip to Bora Bora, which had been on their travel bucket list, introduced Pike and Diaz to the recognition of a third-gender, known as Mahu, meaning “in the middle,” or neither male or female, in Polynesian culture.
The island of Tahiti are one of the more progressive destinations for LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance and is one of the only destinations that have never implemented any anti-LGBTQ laws.
“We had Bora Bora on our travel bucket list for years and were overwhelmed with joy to finally be able to travel there,” Diaz says. “ When we arrived, we were in awe at this indescribable feeling of peace. With stunning white-sand beaches, turquoise blue lagoons and green rainforests, it is hard not to fall in love with this country but what truly made us fall in love was being seen and well received by all of the locals. We personally felt welcomed, accepted and ‘normalized.’”
We wanted to be the representation that was, and still is, lacking in today’s media.
— Kirstie Pike
Of course, that kind of greeting doesn’t happen everywhere.
“As a queer person traveling, it is so important that you do your research on LGBTQ+ safety and local laws to ensure you are aware and informed of any potential challenges or risks when visiting a new destination,” Pike says. “It’s also equally as important to be open minded, be able to adapt to cultural norms and read social cues to ensure you are traveling with respect and acceptance for other people. Understanding these norms and being mindful of local sensitivities, which can vary widely across different countries and even within regions of the same country, can contribute to a more positive and respectful travel experience.”
Staying Safe in Jordan
Jordan was an eye-opening experience for Pike and Diaz when they visited the country for the first time this year to explore the bustling city of Amman; the lost city of Petra, in Wadi Musa; trek through the iconic red deserts of Wadi Rum that you might recognize from films like “Star Wars,” “Aladdin” and “Transformers,” and scuba dive in underwater marine museums, and float in the Dead Sea.
“Jordan was certainly one of the most culture shocking destinations for us, but in the absolutely best way,” Pike says. “If you are looking for a destination where you can be out and proud as a same-sex couple, then we do not recommend this destination. However, if you are looking for a destination where your itinerary is full of adventure and seeing a world wonder, then this destination is a high recommendation.”
While the LGBTQ community is still not legal in Jordan, it is the country that shows the most tolerance for the community in the Middle East, and even has its own fan base for On Airplane Mode.
“Throughout our trip, we were receiving messages from Jordanians that were so happy to see us in their country which made this trip that much more special that we were able to be a visible representation for the queer community that already exists there,” Pike says. Jordanian people are some of the most hospitable and generous people we have ever met and you are sure to leave this country with new friends.”
Still as a safety precaution, “we were very cautious traveling as a queer couple and refrained from showing any public displays of affection,” Pike adds. They also didn’t want to attract any unwanted attention or disrespect the customs, so they paired up with a local Jordanian photographer, through Flytographer. “She made us feel safe and welcome— we couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”
Creating a Community
In addition to traveling to more destinations, Pike and Diaz want to take On Airplane Mode on the road through events, workshops and masterclasses, where people can learn more about LGBTQ+ travel and network beyond the digital experience, and launch a podcast “to share a side of us that has not been seen before on a more personal and unfiltered level,” Diaz says.
“On Airplane Mode is more than just a travel platform,” Pike adds. “It is a vibrant community that celebrates diversity, inclusion and the freedom to love whoever you want and be the most authentic version of you.”
Follow Kirstie and Christine’s travels On Airplane Mode on Instagram.
Some of Kirstie and Christine’s Favorite Travel Memories
This is still one of our favorite images of all time because we feel it truly represents who we are by showcasing our balance of romance and adventure. This photoshoot, by Gunj Gunglani, always leaves us with a sense of freedom. At the time, we weren’t working, we didn’t have bills or anything back home to tend to. This was truly a moment in time where we could be fully present in every moment, which is something rare and we aren’t sure we will ever get to experience again.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre is a collection of small villages along the northern coast, and arguably one of the most beautiful destinations in Italy. This photo comes with a sense of pride and accomplishment: This was a place we only saw in movies and it was so rewarding to finally get here and experience it in real life while doing what we love.
The Canyon of Page, Arizona
We had not traveled prior to this trip for nearly a year and a half as we were quarantining throughout the pandemic. We were both so eager to get out and explore again. However, with most of the international borders closed we decided to rent a car and create our own solo road trip. We had this canyon in Page, Arizona, almost completely to ourselves—there was no one around us, the town was quiet and all you could hear was the sound of the wind as the colors shifted in the sky. It was a moment where we sat in silence with each other … realizing how grateful we were for every moment we have together and the sunset was a gentle reminder to not take life for granted.
Colosseum in Rome, Italy
This was Christine’s first time seeing the Colosseum in Rome in real life. You grow up hearing about this incredible historical landmark, and it certainly lived up to its glory in person. With Rome dating back to 800 BC, there is endless rich history for you to explore here.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
These were taken on a recent trip to French Polynesia. We were staying at a beautiful overwater bungalow in Bora Bora. It was not only stunning but we were blown away by the hospitality and welcoming feeling from all the locals. We felt truly connected to the islands. Between the bluest waters we have ever seen, stunning sunsets, and the overwater bungalows, this destination was without a doubt one of the most beautiful places we ever traveled to.
This picture (by Flytographer) was taken through a collaborative photoshoot in Amman, Jordan. At the start of this year, we made the intention to travel to destinations that truly inspire us. We have always had a passion for traveling, but even more so when the destination challenges and expands our perception of traditions, culture, religion, food and more.
This was taken prior to the Attitude Awards in London, England. When we started our platform, we were backpacking through SouthEast Asia and had not built a following yet. Three years later, we were asked to attend one of the most prestigious awards shows in the UK to honor LGBTQ+ trail blazers. This moment represents all of the hard work and dedication that we have put into our platform and our content.
Mo’orea, French Polynesia
This was captured on the beautiful island of Mo’orea, in French Polynesia, during a really fun excursion driving a four wheeler through the pineapple fields. We stopped at this popular viewpoint on the island and immediately fell in love with the moment and stunning backdrop. Seeing the beauty of the island, we were reminded to be more sustainable and preserve the natural beauty of the island. French Polynesia should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Paris is such a beautiful and special place to us. It is unapologetically romantic, from the beautifully red lit cafes and awnings, the massive Eiffel Tower that twinkles at you in the evening, and the delicious food and wine that you must indulge in. We feel all of the love when we look at this photo—in love with each other, with life, with how far our passions have taken us.