For LGBT+ travellers, there’s more to think about during trip planning than how many outfits to pack and where you’re going to eat. Even countries that are ostensibly gay-friendly, like the USA, can still offer varying levels of safety and welcome from city to city.
Though LGBT+ travel is a term that spans getaways as varied as travel for any other group – honeymoons and hiking, cruises and city breaks, extended backpacking trips and long weekends – there are additional considerations to keep in mind. Even today, there are parts of the world where it is illegal to be gay, and where transgender people are not officially recognised. As a result, it’s important to do your research before setting off, in order to know where you can relax and be yourself and where you may need to ‘play it straight’.
There are some precautions that anyone should take when they’re traveling, like not leaving drinks unattended at the bar and respecting cultural customs. But there are also a few key things to think about if you’re setting off to a new location as an LGBT+ person. To keep positives at a maximum and fear to a minimum, here are a few simple safety tips to make note of before you travel and while you’re away.
Research the local culture before you go
The most important part of trip planning lies in undertaking proper research of your desired destination, before you set off. What’s the legal situation surrounding LGBT+ rights in the country? What are the local attitudes towards LGBT+ people?
Everything from typical dress codes that any traveler should adhere to, to the legal protection (or lack thereof) for queer communities, is something to consider. If there are laws against same-sex relationships, for example, and you are traveling with a same-sex partner, you may wish to consider booking a room with an extra bed so as not to arouse suspicion.
Equally, it may be that sharing a bed won’t raise questions, but that public displays of affection will. More conservative countries, which frown upon PDAs regardless of a couple’s sexual orientation, will likely be places in which to avoid being too open with your sexuality and relationship when sightseeing and exploring. In countries like Russia or Brunei where anti-LGBT+ legislation is particularly violent, even acts as small as hand-holding should be avoided.
It’s also worth looking into any in-country organisations that exist for the safety of LGBT+ people, both for your own research and so that you have a point of enquiry if needed during your time away.
Read online forums and discussion groups
When you’re looking into the legality of LGBT+ relationships, and attitudes toward them, explore online social communities as well as official information and articles.
Facebook groups, forums and other social networks are a mine of information from both local people and other tourists who can offer first-hand insight on what to expect. Though some parts of the world have become LGBT+ hot spots, with plenty of information out there on the highlights of travel to these areas, you might need to scratch below the surface for more useful insight on the less inviting places.
There should never be a feeling that you cannot go somewhere you wish to simply because of who you are, but being realistic about the need to ‘play it straight’ in some destinations is sensible.
Look into LGBT+ tour providers
In destinations where it’s legal (and theoretically safe) to be out and proud, it can still be nerve-wracking to set off on your very first visit, unsure of exactly how warm your welcome will be.
The variety of attitudes between cities, states or counties within a single country can be noticeable, just as views of the LGBT+ community can be very different in California than in Mississippi, for example. To ensure an easy-going vibe on arrival, look into LGBT+ service providers for things like accommodation and adventure tours, who can guarantee friendly faces for your time away.
Whether you’re hunting for Airbnb-style accommodation or a luxury hotel, adventure tours or guided city walks, many LGBT-friendly areas will offer a version specifically designed to help queer travelers meet and spend time in like-minded company.
It’s also worth seeing if there are any bars and restaurants where you’re headed that are targeted at the LGBT+ community, and seeking reviews that can tell you whether they’re worth the trip.
Protect your identity online
If you do want to explore a destination that’s particularly hostile, it’s worthwhile ensuring that your digital identity is kept private, as well as being safe when you’re out and about. Though it can be tempting to use apps like Grindr to chat to LGBT+ locals, there have been instances of law enforcement using these apps to entrap gay people and charge them under laws with titles suggesting violations of ‘public decency’ or ‘debauchery’, and it might be necessary to steer clear.
Regions with the most OTT anti-gay laws can go to extreme lengths to try and crack down on what they deem to be illegal activity, so setting social media profiles to private and ensuring your digital activities are on lock-down is also recommended. Some governments have been known to hack people’s personal devices, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you aren’t already using one, a VPN app can help to encrypt your online activities so that whatever you’re talking about, viewing or otherwise engaging with online can’t be seen by third parties. There are some countries where VPN use is blocked, so add this into your research to ensure you’re able to protect any information which might out you while you’re away.
Deciding what’s best for you
Though some destinations still hold on to outdated, discriminatory views, there are plenty of places all over the world where LGBT+ travelers can explore without the need for compromise. One of the simplest ways to stay safe is to simply avoid visiting areas where you risk persecution, but many people rightly argue that this allows the persecutors to limit your freedom.
At the end of the day, it is entirely down to each individual to decide what they are comfortable with, and whether they would prefer to work around imposed restrictions than to avoid certain countries or locations completely.
With a little common sense, some thorough research and perhaps an element of compromise, the world can remain your oyster regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Tabby Farrar is a UK-based travel and lifestyle blogger, who runs the website Just Can’t Settle. She describes herself as an out-and-proud bisexual woman with a penchant for shoestring travel, good food and cute animals.