When people find out I own a travel company they ask me three questions.
First, that’s a real job?
Second, what’s the coolest place you’ve ever been?
Third, is it safe for a queer woman to travel by herself?
For the record- Yes, it’s a real job just like yours…
sorta. I have a tie for my favorite places between Ecuador and Chiang Mai, Thailand – and it’s safe-ish. But let’s be honest here – there is nothing in life without risk.
There are countries in the world where it can be very unsafe for LGBT people, but there are also instances of LGBT violence in very accepting countries. It’s just the reality of being queer in a world with mostly straight and cisgender people.
As a community – for the most part – we want to see and do most of the same things as straight and cis people but when we’re away from home or out of our comfort zones there can be a constant nagging perception that we will not be accepted or we could be in danger. Sometimes this perception is real and sometimes it’s based in fear and our previous experiences.
Let’s keep in mind here, I’m not the spokesperson for all people who ever lived who weren’t straight. I’m a queer person with a background in activism, my own experiences, and happen to have a wide variety of LGBT+ friends who’ve shared their stories with me. I can only share with you what I’ve experienced myself or via the stories people have shared with me. But please keep in mind, the LGBT community is rich and diverse and nuanced. There are LGBT people in every country in the world. Our stories and our voices are often melted into one narrative and I won’t perpetuate that stereotype here. I think it’s also important to note that experiences vary widely depending on our passing privilege, gender expression, skin color, citizenship, income, and ability. We cannot prevent an incident from happening but we can prepare when we’re planning to experience a new location.
- Research the local laws and policies – in regards to LGBT people – of the country and region of the world you’re planning on visiting. Use guides from like this one from The Globetrotter Guys and other LGBT bloggers to find out more in-depth information about an area.
- Realize that local policies and social opinions may not be the same. A great example is the United States, despite the fact that LGBT people are more likely to be the victims of hate crimes than any other demographic we have federal marriage equality and in general higher levels of acceptance. Travellers may believe this means the US is safe for LGBT people but unfortunately, we still had 49 people murdered in an anti-LGBT based attack at Pulse Nightclub. What I’m saying is simple… there is risk everywhere for us. Sometimes laws and social opinions don’t match.
- Are you passing? It’s shitty I even have to go here, but it’s a reality of the world. Those who pass as straight and cisgender will have far fewer issues while travelling. If you can pass as a binary gender you may be safer in some regions of the world. This detail may help you determine what countries you’re more comfortable travelling around.
- Be aware of local gender expectations. Are women supposed to be covered, wear headscarves or avoid certain activities? Try to respect local customs and blend in as much as possible.
- If you are transgender or gender nonconforming consider reading this guide on the navigating the TSA.
6. Download the Trip It App. It’s an app that stores all your travel confirmation numbers and itinerary details in your phone. Gone are the days of searching through your email inbox for that ONE email- cause who’s got time for all that?
7. While you’re at it, download the whym App.
8. Be sure to leave your itinerary and contact information with someone you trust. It’s always a good idea to have someone back home who has an idea of what you’re up to and where you plan on heading. It doesn’t have to be a minute to minute break down, contact information of hotels and flight numbers will work just fine.
9. The Tripit App is amazing but take paper copies and digital copies of your passport, flight information, hotel receipts and other important documents with you. You never know what’ll happen to your phone. Maybe you won’t be able to access digital copies of your confirmations. Keep these documents very safe and out of sight in your hotel rooms. They have confidential information on them.
10. Consider buying travel insurance. This is particularly important on long trips or when you’re travelling internationally. Travel insurance is one of those things that you don’t think you need until you really need it. Better safe than sorry.
11. Transport your electronics in a dry bag. You don’t need anything fancy. This $20 dry bag will get the job done just fine.
12. Are there at least 6 months left before the expiration date on your passport? This one is super important. If you don’t have six months left before your passport expires some airlines will not allow you on the flight. Or worse – they do allow you on the flight- you get to your destination and immigration forces you to pay for your immediate flight home. If you’re a US citizen you can learn more about renewing your passport with the Department of State. Don’t worry though, if you have an upcoming trip it is possible to expedite your passport application but I wouldn’t recommend it. Trust me, I just did it in July, it involves lots of fees and lots of waiting in line.
13. Make sure you have the appropriate travel visa for the country you’re visiting. You don’t always need one, but sometimes you will. Many countries allow visas on arrival and some don’t require one at all. The U.S. State Department or your destination’s tourism office is a good place to start your research.
14. After you’ve got your passport squared away, buy an RFID blocking passport wallet so scammers don’t steal your data.
15. Keep your medications in their original containers and if you are on controlled substances make sure they are legal in the country you are visiting.
16. The TSA cannot legally ask you to remove any prosthetics or binders in the United States.
17. Label your baggage with your email address as well as a phone number. If you don’t have service in the country you’re visiting it can be really difficult to get ahold of you.
18. Research what forms of public transportation are available in your area and take note of recommendations from locals and other travelers on sites like TripAdvisor.
19. Consider using the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association as a resource for finding LGBT owned and affirming businesses in countries where you may have more concerns. Knowing that a business is owned by LGBT people or specifically seeks out LGBT accreditation may offer some peace of mind.
20. Connect with locals online before you travel for some tips to find the best bars, parties and community hangouts. Be aware that dating apps are sometimes used for entrapment by the police. While Grindr and Tinder may seem like obvious choices for reaching out to the local LGBT community, they can also be used as evidence against you in countries where being LGBT is illegal.
21. Be mindful of public displays of affection, in some locations like Russia or Morocco, mundane actions like holding hands, requesting a double bed at a hotel, casual touching, and kissing can be considered public displays. In some countries these actions are illegal and the consequences can be anything from a fine to imprisonment to being punishable by death. Not to be overly sensationalist here, there are lots of people who have traveled in anti-LGBT countries and have been just fine. There are also people who have not. It’s a case by case situation. If you are traveling to an anti-LGBT destination here are five things you should consider.
22. Consider booking with an LGBT-specific tour provider, companies like Rainbow Gay Tours, Olivia, and RFamilyVactions, and EveryQueer are great resources. You’re guaranteed to have a welcoming and affirming tour guide and you’re supporting LGBT-owned businesses.
23. When you arrive take a photo of street signs near your accommodations, you’ll have it in your camera roll just in case you get lost and can’t remember where your hotel is located.
24. Use the hotel safe in your room for important documents and valuables even if you think you’re in a safe location.
25. If you are traveling to several locations or your accommodations do not have a safe or lockbox consider buying a slash-proof bag. Some versions can be easily locked to a metal pole or carried on your person. Keep in mind that these are not foolproof solutions. If someone really wants your things, they’re going to figure out a way to get them. Most thieves are opportunistic and are more likely to seek out unprepared victims, being prepared helps you avoid looking like an easy target.
26. Separate your cash and keep small amounts in several different places. Have a small portion of cash inside your day bag, keep another portion in your shoe, have another portion tucked inside a secret spot in your bag etc. Consider hiding the cash in something mundane like a packet of tissue or inside a toothbrush holder. I often wear leggings with the hidden zipper in the waistband while traveling for exactly this purpose.
27. Have a backup credit card hidden in case of emergency. Some people recommend hiding the credit card inside a pad or inside the lining of your suitcase.
28. Don’t take more cash than you need out with you while touring.
29. Ensure you have small bills and extra change. There’s nothing like haggling for a deal and not having a small enough bill to buy your prize.
30. Try not to advertise valuables. I chose not to wear my wedding ring while I travel because it calls more attention to us than what’s necessary. I have a simple plain band that I wear instead.
31. Be aware of your alcohol consumption. I chose not to drink while I travel solo so that I’m more aware of my surroundings. Alcohol can really cloud your judgment and perspective of the people around you.
32. If you chose to engage in sexual activities while you’re travelling research your destination to ensure that contraception, sex toys, and lubes are legal before entering the country with them. Opt for a more discreet product if you think there will be an issue is. Lelo a great brand for high-quality discrete products. Here are a few more tips for travelling with sex toys.
33. If you plan to buy condoms in other countries, be aware there are some differences, try to find brands that are approved by the FDA. The packaging could be in another language and you may not be able to discern specifics of the products you are buying. Bring them with you in advance or make sure you do your homework on the products available in the country you are visiting well before the heat of the moment.
34. In some countries, travelling with sexually explicit material can be used as evidence of sex work which may result in you being detained while travelling. Transgender and gender nonconforming people are often unfairly targeted, be aware that in recent years there have been a few instances where people have used sex toys to victimize LGBT travelers. One couple was the victim of an alleged hate crime by TSA agents and another couple was arrested in Malaysia for being in possession of a sex toy. Keep in mind that travelling with these items into some countries is illegal. Be very cautious and do your homework before crossing borders with anything you think could be questionable.
35. While exploring- don’t leave your bags unattended. That includes putting items below a bus or above your seat if you can help it.
36. Consider having a day bag that you wear on your person for your larger items like tech toys.
37. Be cautious of who you trust with details of your adventures. You never know who you’re talking to or what information they might be after.
38. Consider who you disclose your identity to while you are travelling in countries that are not as LGBT-affirming as your home country.
39. Appear confident while walking in public areas. The more afraid and buckled over you look, the more of a target you’ll appear to be.
40. When in doubt invest in personal safety, if taking the more expensive cab ride over the bus ride seems like the safer option for you, do it.