Going on vacation or a trip abroad is the highlight of the year for most of us. But we understand that for LGBT+ travellers it can seem like a daunting prospect. The great news is that for the most part, LGBT travel is perfectly safe. However, unfortunately, we are still at a time where we may have to act more cautiously than our heterosexual counterparts. With this in mind, we’ve composed this list of safety tips for LGBT Travellers. With the help of our guide, you can look forward to a fun, but most importantly, a safe, travel experience.
If you’re a part of the LGBT+ community and you have anxieties about your travel plans, you are not alone. In fact, almost 80% of LGBT+ travellers have concerns over how others will treat them when they travel. Which is perfectly valid considering 71 countries criminalise same-sex relationships, and many others heavily discriminate against the queer community.
In all honesty, when we set off on our Asia backpacking trip 3 years ago, we shared the same concerns. We knew few other LGBT+ travellers at the time, and we were quite behind the times when it comes to travel blogs and social media. And while we had no intention of displaying our relationship in public, we still worried about what would happen if somebody was to find out.
The great news is, LGBT+ travel isn’t anywhere near as scary as to how we imagined. We’ve now been travelling the world full time as a lesbian couple for the past three years. We’ve visited gay-friendly destinations, travelled off the beaten path, and been to countries where homosexuality is still illegal. And other than a few minor incidents, we’ve been extremely fortunate to of had an all-round positive experience.
Of course, I can’t speak on behalf of every LGBT+ traveller. We can only share advice based on our experiences, those of our friends and those we’ve connected with on social media. Every experience is different, and we are well aware of our privilege of being white femme lesbians. But while we can’t guarantee you’ll have no issues when you travel, we’ll certainly do everything we can to help you prevent them.
So let’s get to it, here’s 39 safety tips for LGBT+ travellers.
“There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s a lot wrong with the world you live in” – Chris Colfer
LGBT+ Travel Safety – Tips for LGBT+ Travellers
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1. Research Local Laws
The most crucial step in planning your trip is to research local laws and policies in regards to the LGBT+community. While there are many gay-friendly destinations around the world, this is by no means universal. It’s important to know if your sexuality status is legal or not. Perhaps you’ll boycott that country altogether. Or you might find a way to act appropriately to local customs like we tend to do.
In our experience, however, some laws regarding the LGBT community are incredibly complex. Some only apply to gay men, some don’t protect the LGBT community from discrimination, and others don’t recognise transgender people. Often, these laws are only enforced for locals, not tourists. But you will still need to exercise caution when in public spaces.
Here are a few resources to help you research local laws:
- The International Lesbian and Gay Association – Their world map summarises sexual orientation laws by country.
- Human Dignity Trust – This website has fact sheets on countries that criminalise homosexuality.
- State-Sponsored Homophobia Report – Check out their 2017 world survey for a list of sexual orientation laws.
- LGBT Travel Blogs such as the following we wrote for Gay Malaysia, Lesbian London, Lesbian Berlin, & Gay Mumbai.
2. Research Social Opinions of Locals
An equally important step in planning your trip is understanding the social opinions of LGBT. Because even in some countries where same-sex relationships are legal, it remains a taboo in the community. A prime example of this is in India. In 2018 the supreme court decriminalised homosexuality in India; however, India remains a very conservative country. You are sure to attract a lot of (perhaps unwanted) attention if you are canoodling in public. On the other hand, it’s not unusual to see two men holding hands in India as brothers or friends. Again, referencing travel blogs and other resources I mentioned above will help give you a better understanding.
3. Research the Local Gay Scene
You’d be amazed at the places you can find a thriving gay scene. Over the years, we’ve spent quite a lot of time in Malaysia, for example, where homosexuality is illegal. Much to our surprise, in the larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang, we found a buzzing LGBT+ community. And we even attended a fabulous drag show in Kuala Lumpur at Blue Boys Bar.
It’s comforting to know there’s a place you can go and be in like-minded company. However, I must warn you that doing so in a country with anti-LGBT policies is potentially dangerous. Local police can often target LGBT+ clubs and bars, to entrap those who are inside. It’s not exactly common, but it’s not unheard of either, so it’s good to be aware.
4. Connect with other LGBT+ Travellers and Locals
For similar reasons I’ve mentioned above, it’s great to connect with other LGBT+ travellers and locals. Not only to share advice and experiences, but it’s reassuring to know other LGBT+ travellers are in the same position you are.
We suggest using social media to connect with other LGBT+ travellers or locals. Facebook allows you to search for any dedicated LGBT groups in your area. Or navigating specific hashtags on Instagram, such as #gaybangkok or #lgbtberlin, will yield all things LGBT+ locally to you.
Otherwise, you can follow LGBT+ travellers on Instagram. Or read dedicated LGBT+ travel blogs such as our own or The Nomadic Boys. We both share our experiences travelling as an LGBT couple. And please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are always happy to help in any way we can.
Some other great platforms for connecting with people are:
- Local Dating Apps such as Grindr & Tinder
- Purple Roofs (for finding LGBT+ friendly accommodation)
You don’t need to use dating apps in any sort of romantic way either. Some are great for connecting with LGBT+ locals and travellers as friends. If you’re lucky, you may find yourself connecting with a local who can show you all the best spots in their area.
But again, in countries with anti-LGBT policies, dating apps are sometimes used for entrapment by the police. So use with caution, and always surf the web using a VPN. See Tip number 37 for more on VPN’s.
5. Research Local Social Etiquette
Regardless of our sexual orientation, it’s important to educate ourselves and respect local cultures. For example, in some countries, women are required to cover certain parts of their body at all times. And in many Asian countries, it’s frowned upon to show any kind of PDA (public displays of affection), even if you’re a heterosexual couple.
So you see, it isn’t only us LGBT+ people who are required to adapt when we travel. To appreciate the rich diversity in cultures around the world is often going to require adaptation of some kind. Of course, things like our gender, sexuality, race, etc. can make things that more complicated. But it’s good to know that it’s not always just about our sexual preference.
6. Be Mindful in Public Spaces
You never know who you’re talking to and who might be listening. If you are in an Anti-LGBT country, I’d be very wary of disclosing your sexuality to anybody who you don’t know. As I’ve mentioned already, entrapment cases are not uncommon, and the consequences can be anything from a fine to prison time to being punishable by death. Don’t get me wrong; the chances are you’ll be fine like most other LGBT+ travellers. But on the small chance that it’s not, it’s better to be safe than sorry. The same goes for disclosing your hotel or itinerary details.
7. Say No to Fear
My previous point probably isn’t helping in this respect, but try not to let fear stand in the way of the dream destinations you want to visit. As I say, for the most part, LGBT travel is entirely safe. It may require some adaptation on your behalf (see next tip), but opening our minds to new cultures and ways of life is one of the greatest experiences in the world.
If we had let fear rule our decisions, we wouldn’t have had the amazing experiences that we did in places like India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. But again, this is our own experience, and we felt safe enough to visit those countries. It’s down to you to do some research and soul searching to find out what is right for you.
8. Be Prepared to Adapt
I’ve mentioned this a couple of times already in the article, but I felt it was important to delve in precisely what it might mean. Again, it’s going to be different for each individual, but some element of adaptation will be required when visiting certain countries as an LGBT+ person or couple.
Ultimately, it’s about recognising what is socially acceptable and behaving in a way that’s both respectful and appropriate. In Asia, for example, we would rarely disclose details of our relationship unless we trusted that person. Of course, that meant no holding hands in public and being cautious when booking double rooms.
Coming from London, where we could be openly ourselves, it took some getting used to not being affectionate in public. But it was a sacrifice we were prepared to make. Not only did we want to keep safe and avoid any unwanted attention, but it was important to us that we didn’t disrespect the local culture.
Now, we are both relatively femme lesbians, so it’s quite easy for us to pass as straight women. Most of the time, people assume we are sisters and friends, so that works well for us. The sad fact is, if you can pass as straight and cisgender, you’re far less likely to run into any issues when you travel.
9. Be Confident
The more confident you are, the less chance there is of you being a target. Unfortunately, thugs target those who seem most vulnerable, so carry yourself confidently and appear as if you know the area. Oh, and always trust your gut instinct. If something seems off or too good to be true, it usually is.
10. Transgender or Gender Nonconforming
If you are transgender or gender nonconforming, we highly recommend you check out these Travel Tips for Transgender, Genderqueer and Non-Binary Wanderlusters.
11. Support LGBT+ Travel Companies
For added reassurance, consider booking your trip through an LGBT+ travel company. While they are more expensive in comparison to booking independently, they do allow peace of mind that you’re in like-minded company. Check out the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association which features a list of LGBT+ Travel Companies. These include gay-friendly accommodations, tour operators, and travel agents. Alternatively, you can book your accommodation through companies like mister b&b and Purple Roofs who specifically cater to LGBT+ travellers.
12. Avoid Vulnerable Situations
Walking through a dodgy neighbourhood, being out on the streets at night, and hanging around drunk people in bars are all situations that it would be wise to avoid. Particularly if you are travelling alone and consider yourself an easy target when it comes to your sexual orientation.
13. Update Someone at Home
With that, it would be sensible to keep somebody back home updated of your whereabouts. Especially if you’re travelling alone, it’s a good idea that somebody knows a brief idea of your plans so they can look out for you. You don’t have to update them on your every move. But make a plan to check in now and again, so they know you are safe.
14. Write Down Important Phones Numbers
Keep all of your important contact numbers stored both on your phone and in your diary or wallet. That way, if you lose one of them, you have a backup. Of course, that’s your friends and family contact numbers, but also your bank, travel insurance, doctors, and anything else you might need.
15. Check Reviews
Before booking a hotel or going to a restaurant, check customer reviews for cleanliness, quality, and service. If a place is well-rated, you can be confident that you’ll have a positive experience.
16. Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. If the unlikely event that something goes wrong, you’ll want the best cover money can buy. For this reason, we always recommend World Nomads for travel insurance. They are affordable, offer a variety of packages and add ons, and allow you to make amendments to your policy while travelling.
If you need further convincing, read our article on why you need travel insurance. Or get an on-the-spot quote from World Nomads using the form below.
17. Check Visa Requirements
Many countries require you to have a visa before you can enter. And if you don’t have the appropriate visa, the airline can refuse to allow you on the flight. Or even worse, you can get to immigration on the other side, and they hold you there until things get sorted. You can check if you need a visa here and retrieve a quote. It’s simple, fast and reliable and will save you any trouble when you travel.
18. Check your Passport
On that note, do you have at least six months before the expiration of your passport? You’d better check that as some airlines & immigration offices will not let you travel with 6 months or less on the expiry.
19. Passport Copies
Speaking of passports, keep copies of your passport, visas, travel insurance, and any other travel bookings. In the event that you lose your phone or valuables, you’ll need a way to access this information. Even if you just email them to yourself, you have access to them in an emergency.
20. Arrive in the Day Time
When arriving at a new destination with all your luggage, you can appear vulnerable and become an easy target for criminals or scam artists. For this reason, it’s smart to schedule your flight to arrive in the day time when there’s plenty of other people around.
21. Plan Your Route
It also pays to plan your route from the airport to the hotel before you travel. Find out what your public transport options are and how much you should expect to pay. The same goes for taxis. That way, you avoid getting ripped off, and you have a clear idea of where you’re going when you land.
22. Offline Google Translate App
This app is a lifesaver. You can download whichever language it is you need and translate on the go without the need for data.
23. Offline Maps
Speaking of apps, download maps.me at the same time. This offline map app has saved our bacon on countless occasions. Don’t forget to pin where you are staying. So if you forget after a few too many mojitos, it’s always saved on your phone.
24. Use Taxi Apps
Most major cities have Uber or a similar taxi app, so have this downloaded on your phone for when you arrive. Not only is it safer than taking a local taxi, but in our experience, they are far cheaper as well. There’s also no chance of the driver over-charging you, as you agree on the price before you get in the car.
25. Keep a Digital Itinerary
To save time scrolling through emails, keep your travel confirmation numbers and itineraries organised in one place on your phone. Apps such as Trip It are perfect for this. Check out this list of other must-have travel apps.
26. Drink Responsibly
I don’t mean to be the party pooper, but I must encourage that you drink responsibly. If you are a solo traveller, it is especially wise to limit your consumption so that you can stay aware of your surroundings. Alcohol causes you to lose your inhibitions, and can quickly lead you into trouble. Be sensible!
27. Wear Protection
If you’re planning to engage in any sexual activity, it’s wise to pack your own condoms or protection from home. When travelling abroad, it can be difficult to tell if a product is FDA approved, so it’s best to prepare in advance.
28. Mindful Packing
Keep in mind that in some countries, it might be illegal to carry any sex toys or materials. Embarrassingly this is something we didn’t always consider, and we once had an item removed from our luggage. Thankfully, there was no punishment, other than the red face, of course!
If you are on medication, be sure to check it’s legal in the country you are visiting. You will also want to keep all meds in their original packaging so custom control can identify what it is.
30. Purchase a Secure Day Bag
We travel with one large luggage each such as a backpack or suitcase, and then a smaller bag like this one which we wear on our front. The front pack is for our techy stuff such as cameras, laptops, and all other valuable items. The same bag doubles up as day bag for when we are out exploring. For extra protection, use a safety padlock, and of course, never leave luggage unattended.
31. Waterproof Gear
There are a few waterproof items that we now consider essential for travel. Be sure to add these items to your packing list.
- Waterproof Dry Bag
- Waterproof Luggage Covers
- Waterproof Jacket
32. Dress Down
The most common crimes against foreigners are bag snatching and pickpocketing. It’s a common misconception in some countries that all tourists are wealthy, so it is sensible not to encourage this idea by wearing valuable jewellery or having fancy electricals on show.
33. Carrying Cash
The same goes for carrying cash. We always recommend travelling with some local currency in your pocket; however, it’s best not to carry large sums. There are generally plenty of ways you can exchange money, and it’s one less thing to worry about. For added peace of mind, wear a money belt instead of keeping cash in your bag.
34. Exchanging Money
ATMs are readily available in most cities and towns; however, some may charge for using them. For the best deals and exchange rates, research the leading high street banks as they are usually cheaper. Also, if you have the option to proceed “with or without conversion” always choose the latter. What this means is that the exchange rate will be calculated by your bank, and not the ATM provider you are using.
35. Currency Card
Another money-saving tip is to carry a currency card such as Easy Fx rather than withdrawing money using your debit or credit cards. This way, you can make purchases, withdraw cash and make transfers, all with no international fees.
36. Travel Wifi
If, like us, you rely on the internet when you travel (let’s face it, who doesn’t anymore), we have the perfect solution. After coming home to too many hefty phone bills and buying countless international sim cards, we were desperate for an affordable solution.
That’s when we discovered TravelWifi. TravelWifi’s portable pocket wifi allows us to quickly and securely connect when we need it the most. Click the link for more information on coverage, packages, and the latest offers.
37. Use a VPN
Oh, and don’t forget a VPN. Using a VPN is very important these days to make sure that all your data is safe and secure. Also, it helps while travelling not only for safety reasons but also it unlocks geo-restricted content such as Netflix and helps to avoid demographic price discrimination while looking for a flight or a hotel.
38. Accept & Let Go
After 3 years on the road, let me tell you it always isn’t fun and rainbows. Regardless of your sexuality, shit happens, and accepting this fact is a liberating feeling. Of course, some incidents are potentially life-changing, and we are forever grateful to have never been put in that position. But this is an even better reason not to sweat the small stuff.
In regards to our sexuality, there have been times where we were allocated a twin room despite booking a double, been catcalled for being lesbians, and had religious jargon thrown at us. Not to mention countless other times where we’ve felt threatened for the sole reason of being a woman.
But on the grand scale of things, these are few and far between amid all the breathtaking experiences we had. We certainly didn’t allow these minor incidents to ruin our overall travel experience.
39. Travel Responsibly
As travellers, it should always be a top priority to travel responsibly. We already leave a substantial carbon footprint just by flying to our travel destinations, so that’s even more reason to make a positive impact when we get there. There are many small steps you can take to becoming a responsible traveller, check out our guide to sustainable travel here.
Final Thoughts on Safe LGBT+ Travel
While LGBT+ Travel might seem daunting, in my humble opinion, it is far less scary than what our mind can conjure up. There has been significant progress in many places around the world, and for the most part, LGBT+ Travel is perfectly safe. It’s not been an easy road to get to where we are now, and we still have a lot of work to do to ensure travel is safe for everybody. But in the meantime, we are grateful for the opportunities and resources available that allow us to explore our beautiful planet.
For us, travel has been a life-changing experience, broadening our minds to new cultures and ways of life, as well as opening doors of opportunity. It sounds cheesy, but everything cliche they say about travel is true. It’s helped us to recognise who we really are and what we want to be, beneath all the layers of social conditioning that we are accustomed to. So to anybody who has the urge to travel the world, we encourage you to just go for it. You won’t regret it!
Thank You For Reading
That concludes our list of safety tips for LGBT Travellers. We hope you enjoy you found it useful. If you have any questions or feel we have missed anything, please reach out to us in the comment section below, through our contact us page. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram here, where we share further travel advice & inspiration.
Stay adventurous and Happy travels.
Charlotte & Natalie x
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