You’re queer, broke, and want to travel the world… but… where should you go? I know what you’re thinking, you can probably only afford a trip to the park down the block, but I’m serious here. Queer travel can be obtainable. There are incredible places that you can travel for MUCH cheaper than you can imagine. Now keep in mind, I’m saying cheap… not free. Nothing’s free, that’s just the reality of the world we live in. I realize that some people, particularly the most marginalized amongst us will struggle the most finding the funds to travel, but this list is a starting point for the more affordable countries. Here are my top travel destinations for those queer kids looking to explore some of the more off the beaten path parts of the world, but don’t have daddy’s trust fund to help us get off the couch and out the door. Keep in mind that there are dangers for LGBT people anywhere we go, including our home countries. With proper research and discretion (when possible) most people can travel safely.
You can easily get by on $20 USD a day- that’s including a hostel, local food, transportation and a few beers. Bia Hoi, one of Vietnam’s most popular beers costs about 50 cents a bottle. Compared to the $11 bucks a beer in NYC that’s pretty damn cheap. A budget guest house will run about $10 USD a night. If you’re more the luxury traveler type you can get a high end room for about $80 USD. You can definitely get luxury for a great price in South East Asia, but you can also stretch your dollar a bit farther by staying at budget accommodations – the choice is yours. Vietnam is a very long country geographically so the diversity of activities varies widely depending on the time of year you visit and where you’re headed. In the north it gets cool in the winter but down south the temperatures stay very warm year round. In the north, Hanoi is a beautiful city just south of Halong Bay one of the most beautiful natural locations in the world. For $28 USD you can tour the bay by kayak and explore Cat Ba Island. Add to your Vietnam adventures by renting a motorcycle and driving up the cost yourself for between $8-$15 USD a day. While LGBT policy protections lag behind in Vietnam, there are no explicitly anti-LGBT policies either. LGBT identity is still considered taboo in Vietnam, but people are becoming more accepting and aware every year.
Siem Reap was the trip that changed me as a traveler. It’s kinda cliche to say, but it’s true. As a person dedicated to social justice, learning about the modern history of Cambodia and the role my country played in the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge was one of the hardest things I’ve encountered on my journeys. Cambodia isn’t all politics and tragedy. The ancient ruins of the Angkor kingdom are among the wonders of the world. They’re gorgeous, full of historical significance, and make for excellent Instagram photos. Plus, Beyonce and Jay vacationed there… who doesn’t want to be like Queen Bey? It’s only $40 for a three-day pass to get into all of the ancient temples. Cambodia is also about as cheap as it gets, to the point that I felt guilty for not spending more while I was there. Cheap prices- doesn’t mean cheap quality- you don’t have to stay in a grimy backpacker hostel if that’s not your jam. In Cambodia luxury comes at a much lower price. I’m talking spa services for just a few bucks and more food than you could consume for a couple dollars. The modern political history of the country is tragic but fascinating and ultimately deserves more attention than it gets. As for LGBT-specific travel, Cambodia has a rich scene. It’s not NYC or Bangkok but there are plenty of bars, cafes, and people to see. While I was there we went to the best drag show I’ve ever seen at Rosana Broadway Cabaret. The production quality was on par with some of the broadway shows I’ve seen. For $20 it was a must see.
The land of island oases, jumbo sized bucket drinks, elephants, temples, and moon parties- Thailand is not to be missed. The opportunities for entertainment are endless. If you head north to the rolling hills of Chiang Mai you’ll find elephant sanctuaries, Buddhist temples and monks in training. If the beach is more your scene, head south to the islands. Street food is delicious and very cheap. It’s only $1-$2 USD for a steaming plate of Pad Thai, add on a fresh fruit shake on the side for $1 and some $2 mango sticky rice for dessert and you’re set. You can’t really discuss LGBT travel in Thailand without discussing ladyboys or kathoey. Thailand is one of the only countries in the world where transgender people live and work openly in the community safely. Thai kathoey have everyday jobs and some are well-known actors, models, and movie stars. Thailand even leads the world in gender-affirming surgeries. Thailand is not perfect by any means, but in some ways, Thai culture is light years ahead of western philosophies on gender and sexuality. Kathoey people still experience discrimination and have limited access in Thailand, but the quality of life is often much higher than in other countries. While LGBT people are accepted by most Thai people, public displays of affection between any couple are less common.
The Philippines are one of the best travel destinations for foodies on a budget. Try lumpiang as an appetizer ($0.10) adobo pork for your main course ($1-$2),and halo-halo for your dessert ($1-2). You’ll be stuffed and beyond satisfied for a couple dollars. Food isn’t the only thing the Philippines excels at, the natural beauty of the islands and numerous sunken ships attract diving folks from all over the world. You’re looking at about $20-$35 USD for scuba diving, $10ish USD for snorkeling and $25 USD for a full day of island hopping. Hostels range from $5-$15 USD a night and hotels vary widely, but we paid $40 USD a night for a cute little hotel in Puerto Princesa and splurged a bit for our anniversary weekend in El Nido with an $80 a night room at El Nido Beach Hotel. Lindsay still says Palawan Island is her favorite travel destination. While LGBT people of the Philippines still lack some basic rights, like marriage equality, The Philippines is considered the most LGBT-friendly country in Asia. According to a Pew Research study conducted in 2013, 73 percent of adult Filipinos agreed with the statement that “homosexuality should be accepted by society” while this doesn’t mean that LGBT travelers won’t run into issues, it’s a good indicator of the acceptance and familiarity with LGBT people in the country.
While Slovenia may not be the most popular European travel destination, my blogger friend Adam swears the capital, Ljubljana, is one of the coolest cities in Europe. He went as far as to compare it to Berlin, which coming from Adam is a really high compliment. According to The Williams Institute, Slovenia is the 16th most LGBT-friendly country in Europe. While that might not sound very high, keep in mind the Europe is home to some of the most accepting countries in the world. PDA is still pretty rare, but domestic partnerships are legal and instances of violence are very low. Metelkova, Ljubljana’s alternative district, has great street art, food, and festivals at a reasonable price. While Slovenia is pretty cheap compared to its neighbors Switzerland, Austria, and Italy, it’s pricier than most countries in Eastern Europe. Dinner at a mid-range restaurant is somewhere between $12-$15 USD. Taking a gondola ride is about $11 USD and doing a castle tour will run about $4-$5 USD. Take a look at Out in Slovenia and Gay Slovenia for more LGBT-specific tips.
Ecuador is a unique small country because of its position on the equator and 5 different ecosystems. I loved Ecuador so much that my wife and I got married there earlier this year. If you’re an outdoors or adventure sports enthusiast, Ecuador is hard to beat. We spent ten days hiking in the Amazon rainforest ($20 USD), rappelling waterfalls ($25USD), and zip lining across valleys ($10 USD). Our stay at My Sacha Ji for our wedding was a bit of a splurge at $75 a night but you can’t beat the views and attention to details for the price. While Ecuador does not have marriage equality and they do not have the same exposure to LGBT people, they do have nondiscrimination protections in employment and the provision of goods and services. Does this mean everyone will be accepting of you? No, not necessarily but it also shows an awareness of the need for such policies. While we were in Ecuador we experienced nothing but respect and welcoming attitudes from all the people we interacted with.
The architecture in Prague is several centuries old but the mindset of the citizens is rather progressive. According to the Czech Statistical Office in 2013 about 80% of the population doesn’t identify with any religion. The lax attitude leads to a rather comfortable life for many LGBT people without fear of religious discrimination. Plus Prague is amazing. Any city where you can get a quality bottle of wine for $7 USD is cool with me. Prague is filled with great counter culture art and lots of political history. If that’s your jam, definitely check out the “Controversy tour” for $22 USD which showcases the artwork of cultural critic David Černý. If freeform is more your thing check out the John Lennon mural and explore the city’s street art on foot for free. Many of the pieces have served as points of contention between the idealistic artists and the remnants of the former communist old guard.
Peru is just fucking cool. Machu Picchu? Yes. Just yes. Unfortunately, Peru is still a pretty homophobic country. I’m not talking death penalty homophobic, but definitely a bit worse than your uncle who’s voting for Trump. While there is no ban on LGBT people in the military and same-sex sexual activity is legal, it’s a country where LGBT people should use discretion while traveling. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the awesomeness of Inca Trail. You’re looking at about $20-$30 USD a night for a higher end hotel and around $2 USD for lunch. For a Gardens of Mandor tour the entrance fee is a wallet-friendly $3 USD. Plus both Lima and Cusco top the lists for best LGBT friendly cities in Latin America.
As the world’s 8th largest country, there’s a lot of land to cover and plenty to do in Argentina. If city life is your thing, it really doesn’t get any better than Buenos Aires. They’re well known for their “anything goes” brand of nightlife and vibrant bohemian arts scene. If nature based travel is what you dig, there are few areas of the world as beautiful as Patagonia. Depending on what part of the country you’re traveling in your budget could be as low as $25 USD per day for your food, accommodations and activities. Sandwiches can be found as cheap as $0.33 USD and a liter of water will run about $0.10. These costs fluctuate depending on where you are in the country but even in the cities you’re going to find very cheap prices.