For LGBTQ travelers, 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 color, gender, wealth and ethnicity all affect the way that we are treated as travelers.
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 travelers to boycott certain properties owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Instead of thinking about a list of places to boycott, however, LGBTQ travelers 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. Lodging companies like misterb&b and Purple Roofs specifically cater to the needs of queer travelers looking for friendly hotel and rental accommodations.
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 travelers. Upward of 70 countries have restrictive laws about sexuality and sexual orientation, and sites like Equaldex track those laws country by country. Travelers 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 traveling.
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.
Manage your coming-out experience on your own terms: Because travel so often involves contact with strangers — both fellow travelers 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. 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 travelers 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 traveling with a passport whose gender marker doesn’t match their gender presentation, or traveling with prosthetics.
There are a variety of steps to take before traveling to be as prepared as possible, including asking a doctor for a letter of medical necessity when traveling with needles or prosthetics, and studying up on local restrictions on prescription medication. The National Center for Transgender Equality urges transgender travelers 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 traveling: Travel experts advise travelers 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.”