For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers, taking a trip can bring up safety concerns, fears of discrimination and the stress of navigating different sets of rules and restrictions. With that in mind, here are some tips to stay safe and make the most of your travel.
Support LGBT-owned travel companies
When harsh anti-LGBT laws went into effect in Brunei in April, a campaign urged travelers to boycott certain properties owned by its sultan. Instead of thinking about a list of places to boycott, however, LGBT travelers could actively support LGBT-owned businesses and businesses with strong anti-discrimination policies. The International LGBT+ Travel Association maintains a list of gay-friendly tour operators, including Olivia, R Family Vacations, Oscar Wilde Tours and OUT Adventures. Lodging companies such as misterb&b and Purple Roofs cater to the needs of queer travelers looking for 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. Upward of 70 countries have restrictive laws about sexuality and sexual orientation, and sites such as Equaldex track those laws. 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 (NCTE) 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 LGBT community can be an indispensable resource for navigating local culture. Many travelers 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 traveler 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, LGBT 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, she urged people to follow their own comfort levels when deciding what to say, if anything.
Know your rights
Air travel can be a flash point for discrimination, and transgender and nonbinary travelers in particular can face additional difficulties when going through airport security.
The NCTE 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 gender presentation, or traveling with prosthetics.
Ask a doctor for a letter of medical necessity when traveling with needles or prosthetics, and study up on local restrictions on prescription medication. All travelers have the right to dignity and respect in security screenings, and the NCTE 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
Travel experts all shied away from giving hard and fast rules about where not to go. Instead, they 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 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.”