When you think about traveling, especially when dealing with LGBT travel, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? I’m telling you, the number-one thing you should worry about is your safety. Yes! Before you decide the place of your trip, book the most affordable hotel and buy those cheap airline tickets, ask yourself, “how do I deal with this journey in the safest way possible?”.
Unfortunately, the members of the LGBT community are still subject to criminal persecution in over 70 countries in the world because of their gender and/or sexual orientation. I know, it is unbelievable that, in the 21st century, such laws still exist and violate human rights. And they are so restrictive that people could be arrested and even sentenced to death just for being gay. I don’t want to sound scary, but the danger exists, and for this reason, you always have to take precautions.
So, if you are thinking about planning a trip and you don’t want to run into unpleasant situations, read this ultimate LGBT travel guide. I will tell you how to travel in the safest way possible and how to plan your LGBT trip. Lastly, I will give you some advice about reliable websites where you can check the LGBT+ situation of every country in the world.
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What does LGBT travel mean?
What’s the meaning of “LGBTQ travel”? The basic requirements to define someone as an LGBT traveler are:
- Be an LGBT member (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc.);
- Attending activities during the trip that involve contact with the gay community (welcoming events to meet other LGBT people, Gay Pride events, gay-friendly parties, gay-cruises, events for Rainbow Families, etc.).
This is a broad topic because the queer community is a variegated group of people who travel in many different ways. They can be LGBT travel couples, LGBT solo travelers, rainbow families, and so on. Besides, they travel for different purposes: to have fun, meet new people, relax, visit a new place, have an LGBT family travel experience, etc.
Anyway, whatever the reason might be for your journey, wherever you go and whoever you travel with, always remember that you must feel safe and comfortable in every way.
LGBT travel safety: who are the most vulnerable travelers?
Usually, the problems that LGBT travelers face are more delicate compared to other travelers’ issues. In fact, the legislation of some countries doesn’t protect and even discriminates against people for their sexual orientation or gender. All this is aggravated by the fact that some locals can be hostile to changes and, sometimes, can cause controversy and difficult situations.
In the LGBT travel world, some categories are more vulnerable than others:
- Gay couples more than lesbians. In terms of trips for couples, men are more likely to be discriminated against than women are. For example, the laws of some countries like Sierra Leone, only decriminalize female homosexuality and consider male homosexuality illegal. Places like this are reasonably regarded as unsafe countries for LGBT travels.
- Transgender people more than other members of the LGBT community. Sadly, people who are going through a gender transition are unfairly targeted by close-minded people. They can have problems because of the documents as many nonconforming-gender people say they have issues because the gender listed on their ID doesn’t match with their physical appearance. If the gender reassignment operation hasn’t been carried out, in some countries, it may be possible to be blocked and detained during the airport checks. If you are part of this category of people, I will tell you more about your travel safety further down in a few paragraphs.
Gay travel warnings: 10 things to do if you are an LGBT traveler planning a trip
After telling you what it may be like for LGBT travel and some problems that gay travelers have to deal with, I’m now going to give you the perfect LGBT travel guide.
1. Decide what kind of trip you want to take
Before anything else, understand what type of trip you’d like to take, depending on which one reflects your interests the most. Are you a wilderness explorer? Or do you like more visiting cities more? Are you looking for LGBT romantic getaways? Or do you seek nightlife and fun as a single LGBT traveler?
Once you have decided on the kind of experience you want to have, choose a destination where you can give free rein to your personality. Since you are an LGBTQ traveler, you might want to pick a safe place for your trip. If you choose a destination where you can be yourself, you will also avoid potentially dangerous situations.
However, if you’d rather go with alternative destinations, you just have to prepare yourself on how to manage the situation properly.
2. Check the LGBT rights situation
Another thing that you should do is to check the local laws and policies. You will understand if your choice falls within safe travel destinations for LGBT people. This step is crucial because the LGBTQ rights situation widely varies across countries. Besides, laws change year after year, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
As I mentioned before, in some countries, being gay or transgender is still illegal. If they identify you as a promoter of homosexual activity, you can be expelled or even detained. I’m not telling you that traveling in countries with anti-LGBT laws is impossible, but make sure you know everything about local legislation.
If you want to study local laws to perfection, check out the LGBT travel safety map by Equaldex. It will give you the status of LGBTQ laws by country with real-time worldwide updates.
3. Be aware of the local norms and traditions
Would you ever have dinner before 9 PM in Spain? Would you ever drive on the right side of the street in the UK? Probably not. When it comes to LGBT travel safety and gender expectations, you should make an extra effort to understand local norms. In fact, even if a country legally accepts homosexuality and is among the LGBT friendly travel destinations, it is worth doing research about locals’ tolerance.
Be aware of what is considered “decent” in the place you are visiting, as some people may find it offensive or disrespectful to break local norms and traditions. For example, in some areas, men walking around shirtless are reputed as indecent, while in other places, women are supposed to wear a veil. Remember: always be respectful of other people’s traditions.
4. Look for LGBT travel tips by doing research on the internet
God bless the internet! It’s full of travel blogs out there where you can find the best LGBT travel advice. People write posts according to their personal experiences, and there is nothing better than that.
Try to see if they mention any LGBT scene before leaving for your destination. Also don’t think there are no LGBT areas in religious and conservative places. For instance, Israel is a religious country, but Tel Aviv, the capital, is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. So yes, do research and see if there is any safe gayborhood with gay bars/clubs for a little healthy LGBT tourism.
5. Understand if you should worry about being openly gay
Find out if you can speak openly about being gay or if hiding your sexuality is the best option. Also, make sure you are in a safe country if you travel with your partner as an openly LGBT travel couple. Otherwise, it may be best to pretend to be friends and put your PDA on hold. I know that this can be really frustrating, but if you are in one of those high risk countries, safety always comes first.
6. Connect with LGBT locals online before your trip
Getting in contact with LGBT locals can be another solution to receive updates about your destination. Nobody knows a place better than locals. They can give you tips & tricks about the best LGBTQ clubs, bars, parties, and places where you can meet people like you. However, if you decide to meet them and you don’t really know them, remember to agree to meet in public and crowded spaces.
Also, avoid dating apps. In some countries, where being gay is illegal, police manipulate mobile apps like Grinder to entrap users and use the conversations as evidence against them.
7. Ask queer travelers their experiences
Another way to get good information is by asking fellow gay travelers that have already been there in the past. They will give you advice based on their gay travel experiences, and that’s exactly what you need. Ask them if they had any bad experiences and how they handled them. Get advice for the best activities to do and ask them what disappointed them most. They may be the best LGBT travel guide for you.
8. Pay attention to the laws: documents and rights for your LGBT travel
Everybody needs to pay attention to their travel documents, but for several reasons, LGBT travelers should do it even more. Where laws require it, some categories of the LGBT community must be careful to remember the documentation needed.
Rainbow families: adopted children documents
If your child is a minor, remember to have a copy of their passport always with you. If required, also bring your marriage certificate, adoption papers, parentage, and custody documents. Always carry these if the child doesn’t share your last name. Documents will confirm that you actually are a family, and it will help you take yourself out of the process.
Married LGBT travel couples: visa application
For the riskiest countries, when you apply for the visa, it is better to do it as single individuals and not as a couple, even if you and your partner are a married couple. This should be unnecessary with LGBT travel destinations.
Trans and transitioning people: documents and rights
As I mentioned before, I’m going to give some LGBT travel tips to transgender people too!
Take into consideration everything you’ll need during your trip: hormones, medical scripts, binders, prosthetics, or breast forms. If you bring hormones with you, make sure you have access to someplace where you can get clean syringes and alcohol wipes for the whole duration of your trip.
Also, take a look at local laws and see if you have the right to get gender-specific medical care. Doing homework and knowing local legislation can come in handy sometimes. In the USA, for instance, it is illegal to ask trans passengers to remove binders and prosthetics. On the other hand, in some countries, if you bring anything traceable to sexual material, they can use it as evidence of sex work.
NB. It is a good practice to make a hard copy of all documents and carry them in a separate bag. To be 100% safe, it is good to also have a copy of everything in the cloud of your phone.
9. Safe places for LGBTQ travel accommodation
Some of the largest hotel chains, like Hilton or Marriott, claim to be LGBTQ friendly, and if you decide to book a room in one of their hotels, you will be in a safe place.
You can find safe accommodation even on websites like Misterb&b and EBab, which are basically the LGBT alternative to Airbnb. These websites are meant to keep both hosts and guests safe. In fact, in the most dangerous countries, hosts can hide their profile pics to stay anonymous.
If you are too afraid to book the vacation on your own or stumble across uncomfortable situations, there is another solution. You could book through an LGBT travel agency. There are specific tour providers like Toto Tours, Olivia Travel, Out Adventures, etc. They know best about LGBT travel safety, and they could be your perfect solution!
NB. In some non gay-friendly countries, booking a double bed could be considered as a clear sign of public display of affection. In those delicate situations, in order not to attract too much attention, booking a room with two single beds is a better solution.
10. Whip up an emergency plan
When you are abroad, it’s always a good idea to leave a copy of your itinerary with someone you really trust. Also, include the telephone number of the hotels (or the hosts) where you’ll be staying and the flight numbers. It will be useful because if they don’t hear from you for a while, they will know where to turn.
Best tips for yourself as a gay travel lover
After telling you everything you need to know about your safety, on this travel guide I want to give you some personal advice to best handle your trip.
Don’t be afraid to go wherever you want to
Being a gay traveler is never easy, and this is because of unfavorable contexts. But if your desire is to visit a place which is not among the best countries for LGBT travel tours, you have every right to do it anyway. Being a member of the LGBT community doesn’t mean that you can only visit LGBT friendly travel destinations. Of course, if you want to visit a country like Saudi Arabia, you will most likely have to hide your sexual orientation for your safety. Unfortunately, visiting this kind of place has a price for gay travelers: pretend to be someone they are not.
It would be quite different if you opted for a gay or lesbian friendly destination. You could be yourself without renouncing PDA, and above all, you would freely relate to people like you.
Remember that no place is completely safe for LGBT people
Are you an LGBT travel lover? Even in queer-friendly regions, there may be areas that are less welcoming and open-minded. While it’s quite improbable that you could be harassed in Sitges or San Francisco for kissing your partner, it is still important to be smart. Be mindful of what you say and what you do based on the circumstances and your instincts.
Just have fun and enjoy your trip without ever forgetting who you are
Even though in a third of the world it is still illegal being gay, always be proud of who you are. Today, many countries do not provide LGBT rights. One day, hopefully very soon, everyone will have the right to be themselves anywhere in the world!
LGBT travel guide: sources
I’ll list some reliable LGBT travel sources to use in case of necessity:
- GeoSure: This mobile app provides hyperlocal safety information about many places in the world. It’s an LGBT travel safety map, and each city has a safety score based on State Departments’ data. Recently they introduced the LGBT score;
- Equaldex: This website is wholly dedicated to LGBT rights and news around the world;
- IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association): It’s the official LGBT travel association’s website;
- 76crimes: This website provides news on the 70+ countries where being LGBT is illegal;
- Travel gay: this website has a map of the gay clubs and gayborhoods for each city.
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