Chicago, May 2008
At IML this year I passed my fifth anniversary of winning the contest, which gave me an excuse to look back at all the places I've visited. In the last five years I've travelled 62 times to events outside my home town in 33 different cities. I've visited 10 countries (USA, UK, Belgium x 2 , Canada x 2, Germany x 2, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland) and 17 American States (CA, CO, DC, FL, GA, HI, IL, IO, KS, LA, MI, MN, MO, NE, OH, OK and TX). The city I've visited the most outside London is Chicago (14 times) and Dave has accompanied me on 19 occasions, just under a third of the total.
A few people have asked if I have any advice for contest winners and other international travellers, so here are some of the things I've learned from my experiences...
There are a few things I definitely won't do: attend parties where people are wearing Nazi symbols; give away used underwear or jockstraps; frontal nudity; or assist a fundraiser that contains barebacking videos. I understand the difference between fantasy and reality, and that you shouldn't censor people's private fantasies. However, as a public figure you have to consider the damage done to your reputation if someone published a photo of you surrounded by people wearing swastikas, or the confusion in people's minds if you tried to raise money for HIV prevention using DVDs endorsing the main way in which HIV is transmitted.
The side of being an IML you don't see
Whoever books your flights, it is worth requesting that you travel via the same airline each time and register for their frequent flier scheme. Airmiles are given to the person who makes the trip, not the person who booked the flights. The points soon rack up and enable you to jump queues and use private lounges at airports, or request seating upgrades. If the organisers want to book you on a different airline ask if you could pay the difference to travel with the airline of your choice.
If you're crossing the Atlantic I've found it better to travel west on a daytime flight and take naps on the plane, as you're asking your body to stay up late at the other end. I prefer to travel east on an overnight flight, when you would otherwise lose a night's sleep. On east-bound flights I have a big meal at the airport after checking in, take a melatonin tablet at the gate and then sleep the whole flight back home - asking the crew not to wake me for meals. (I once travelled from the US to the UK on a daytime flight and it screwed up my body clock completely.)
One month before the event
If you'll be presenting any workshops then forward your handouts to the organisers at least a month in advance, which will give them time to make copies for you. It will also show them that you're taking your responsibilities seriously.
If you'll be the master of ceremonies for a leather contest then make sure the running order has been approved (if they don't have one yet you could suggest one of your own) so that you can start writing your script. Make sure you know who all the judges and entertainment acts are so that you can email them and ask for short biographies or put their names into an online search engine and write introductions for each one. Don't rely on the event sending you judges' bios or contestant entry forms - sometimes these are copied so late in the day that you don't receive them.
One week before you leave
Check that your flight times haven't moved. Airlines are meant to send out an email alert when this happens, but if someone else booked the flights for you they may not have forwarded the email on - or the email may have been caught in a spam filter.
If you need a particular diet, contact the airline and make sure that any special meals you've requested are confirmed as part of your booking. Once you reach the check-in desk it will be too late to request one and you'll have a very hungry flight.
Make sure that you have some local currency. Better to find a "commission free" method of exchanging currency before you leave home than use an ATM at the hotel and have to pay lots of extra bank charges.
Check that your travel insurance is up to date and any phone numbers you need to call in an emergency haven't changed.
Photography tip: Make sure you taste good!
At the event: dealing with photographers
If you're faced with a barrage of photographers all shouting for your attention, make sure you smile at the biggest cameras first. That usually covers the official photographer and any professional members of the press.
Unless there's a good reason, try to avoid wearing glasses or a Muir cap if you're going to be photographed. Photographers want to be able to see your eyes.
Find a way to look as if you're having fun. As a general rule open-mouthed smiles are better (unless you have very bad teeth).
If there's only one photographer and you're getting tired of smiling or looking into bright lights, ask if he or she could give you a 3-2-1 countdown so that you can look fresh when they take the picture.
Most importantly: If you are part of a group on stage having your photo taken for a large number of cameras simultaneously, feel free to rally the group to look at one camera at a time. Listen to what the photographers are shouting and try and co-ordinate the group to help - otherwise no-one will get a good picture.
Always remember to thank the organisers for inviting you, along with anyone else who helped (e.g. contributed towards your costs/ collected you from the airport etc.)
If you're writing a report about the event for your blog, website or press outlet make sure you get permission from everyone you mention that they're happy to be included. Some events would rather be under the radar, or at least be given the opportunity to correct what you intend to say about them.
Have fun, look after yourselves and the people you play with.
International Mr Leather 2003