For LGBTQ travellers, taking a trip can bring up safety concerns, fears of discrimination and the stress of navigating different sets of rules and restrictions. Adding to the complexities of travel is that “LGBTQ” itself is an umbrella category. People who identify under one of these categories may also identify in or encompass others: Skin colour, gender, wealth and ethnicity all affect the way that we are treated as travellers.
With that in mind, here are some tips to stay safe and make the most of your travel.
Support LGBTQ-owned travel companies.
When harsh anti-LGBTQ laws went into effect in the country of Brunei in April, a campaign urged travellers to boycott certain properties owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Instead of thinking about a list of places to boycott, however, LGBTQ travellers could actively support LGBTQ-owned businesses and businesses with strong anti-discrimination policies. The International LGBTQ+ Travel Association maintains a list of gay-friendly tour operators, including Olivia, R Family Vacations, Oscar Wilde Tours and OUT Adventures. Lodging companies like misterb&b. and Purple Roofs specifically cater to the needs of queer travellers looking for a friendly hotel and rental accommodations.
“We are seeing that things are slowly changing. I think the Stonewall riots 50 years ago started to do the work for us,” said Matthieu Jost, chief executive of misterb&b.
Know local laws and customs when you plan your trip.
Regardless of a country’s reputation, doing the legwork ahead of time about local laws and customs is vital for LGBTQ travellers. Upward of 70 countries have restrictive laws about sexuality and sexual orientation, and sites like Equaldex track those laws country by country. Travellers can also check the U.S. State Department and the U.K. Foreign Office websites for additional insight into countrywide travel warnings. The National Center for Transgender Equality offers trans-specific travel tips, and the American Civil Liberties Union fields complaints from trans people who feel their rights were violated while travelling.
Connect with locals.
Connecting with local members of the LGBTQ community can be an indispensable resource for navigating local culture and even finding inclusive health care. Many travellers use Facebook, Instagram, Tinder and Grindr to meet people in new places, even in a platonic way.
“As a queer person, there’s a certain community aspect to being queer,” said Adam Groffman, a gay traveller who runs the blog Travels of Adam. “These apps just make it easier for us to connect whether it’s online or even offline.”
Manage your coming-out experience on your own terms.
Because travel so often involves contact with strangers — both fellow travellers and locals — LGBTQ people are often put in the awkward situation of deciding how and if they should come out.
“Every time when you go on a sailing trip, or a guided walking tour, or a pub crawl — anywhere you meet people — there’s always a question about a significant other and at some point, you have to come out,” said Dani Heinrich, a lesbian travel writer who runs the blog Globetrotter Girls. She described the uncertainty and worry involved each time, the waiting to see how others react. While Heinrich called the issue more of an annoyance than anything else, she urged people to follow their own comfort levels when deciding what to say, if anything.
Know your rights.
Air travel can be a flashpoint for discrimination, and transgender and nonbinary travellers, in particular, can face additional difficulties when going through airport security.
The National Center for Transgender Equality has resources to navigate what can potentially be an awkward and frightening scenario. Some potential obstacles include travelling with a passport whose gender marker doesn’t match their gender presentation or travelling with prosthetics.
There are a variety of steps to take before travelling to be as prepared as possible, including asking a doctor for a letter of medical necessity when travelling with needles or prosthetics and studying up on local restrictions on prescription medication. All travellers have the right to dignity and respect in security screenings, and the National Center for Transgender Equality urges transgender travellers to ask for a private screening or to request to speak to a supervisor if they ever feel uncomfortable.
Don’t let fear stop you from going where you want to go.
Travel experts all shied away from giving hard and fast rules about where not to go. Instead, they advise travellers to conduct research and track developments in a country over time, then make their own decisions.
“My biggest advice to our consumers is not to shy away from destinations that may seem unwelcoming,” said Robert Sharp, owner of OUT Adventures, a gay-friendly travel company that runs tours in locations from Morocco to Cambodia to Canada.
“There’s so much opportunity to learn about another culture and to meet people who live a different way, and that can be such a meaningful experience,” he said. “We would all be perhaps a little more open-minded if we understood how other people live.”