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Safety Tips for LGBTQ Travelers

How to select a welcoming destination and the most comfortable accommodations

Tourist women with map in a city


Having a LGBTQ identity within one's own community already has its own intricacies. Therefore, planning a visit to a new destination can be even more taxing. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals want to be safe from harm, but also welcomed and able to enjoy the sights and sounds of a place they've never been before.

The first step in any vacation planning is determining a destination that has an open society and LGBTQ friendly laws.

"Unfortunately, there is no perfect place on earth where all of our rights are completely respected and we are completely free from any discrimination,” says Maria Sjödin, deputy executive director at OutRight Action International, a LGBTQ human rights organization.

More than 70 countries consider consensual same-sex relations a crime, sometimes carrying a severe punishment.

When planning a trip, Ed Salvato, co-founder of ManAboutWorld, a gay digital travel magazine, says: “As a gay person, you have to think, ‘They are advertising to me. Great. They want my gay dollars. Great. But will they authentically welcome me there?’ "

Two people planning a trip at a desk

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Selecting a destination

  • Review the annual International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) map of sexual orientation laws around the world. It also has a global attitudes survey.
  • The U.S. State Department provides checklists and considerations for LGBTQ travelers with information based on consular input, country by country.
  • OutRight Action International provides a global map where community-based LGBTQ organizations have the right to register. It is important to take note of the resources available in case they are needed during a trip.
  • The CIA World Factbook provides country profiles with data on various aspects of foreign nations.
  • There are many interesting places you want to go, where even though same sex relations are not legal, there is a community or places [LGBTQ organizations] where you can go,” Sjödin says. “Traveling can be life-changing for you, and it's a great part of many people's lives."

Choosing where to stay

Once a destination has been chosen, travelers will want to determine a place where they can stay comfortably.

Matt Jost founded his company, misterB&B, after renting a room with his partner through Airbnb, and received an uncomfortable welcome from the property's owner. After explaining that he and his partner were a gay couple, the two returned home to Paris the next day.

"You never know how people can react … sometimes it can end very badly,” Jost says.

  • Consider staying at hotels that have shown support for the LGBTQ community in the past, such as Kimpton, Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton.
  • If you are considering booking with a large company, check its score on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index for employees. If they treat their LGBTQ employees well, they're also likely to accommodate gay customers.
  • Call the hotel and see how the concierge responds to questions such as where to celebrate a same-sex anniversary. Evaluate the response and the information provided.
  • Seek out “gayborhoods,” but consider how the local cultural and standards of gender expression may be different from traditional customs.
  • Like Airbnb, misterb&b provides rentals of entire homes, rooms or apartments, but the hosts or owners are gay. The company also offers a curated database of gay and gay-friendly hotels.

"Keep in mind that staff at different hotels within a given chain could treat LGBTQ travelers differently, depending on the destination and the local climate toward LGBTQ rights,” says Sarah Schlichter, senior editor at SmarterTravel. “Consider searching for reviews from past LGBTQ quests to see how their experience was."

To help you plan your next big trip, get AARP’s twice-monthly Travel newsletter.

Enjoying the trip

  • For transgender individuals, enrolling in TSA PreCheck can help avoid full body scanners at airports, besides also providing shorter security lines. Also consider driving or taking other modes of transportation to avoid security checks that can create problematic situations.
  • Acquaint yourself with the local culture, speak to locals and visit web resources to read recent news articles.
  • “Always think twice before holding hands or kissing in public. You need to be cautious anytime, even when you are in one of the major capitals of the world,” Jost says. “If you want to [show affection], always check who is around you."
  • “Never go alone with people that you don't know. You need to be very cautious,” he adds. Find a local LGBTQ organization that can introduce you to the local community and issues they face or, if possible, connect with a friend of a friend at your destination.

"Many of these nations depend on tourism dollars to help sustain their country, so while they may not accept LGBTQ people comfortably, they also are unlikely to offend or accost foreign tourists or business travelers,” Salvato says in the ManAboutWorld LGBTQ Travel Safety Guide.

It says to keep in mind that tourist dollars buy privilege, and local laws can be more dangerous for those who live there than for tourists. Locals can suffer greater consequences, especially in situations where visitors are exploring a destination with locals. Tourists may be asked to leave the country, but punishments for natives may be more severe.

Review the annual International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) map of sexual orientation laws around the world. It also has a global attitudes survey.

If a bad situation arises

  • “People should prioritize their safety. If you are in a place where you don't feel welcome or if you feel like the hotel staff looks at you in a weird way that makes you feel uncomfortable, ask for separate beds … and trust your intuitions in those situations,” Sjödin says.
  • If you feel the need to complain to the hotel, consider waiting until you have checked out, she adds.
  • Ignore taunts and avoid a confrontation if possible. Put some distance between yourself and the individual or group that is bothering you. If that is not possible, shout for help or use your cellphone to call for help. If it's safe, attempt to record or snap a photo to help investigators.

"You want to be a little cautious. Know that not all the world is welcoming. That's just the way it is,” Sjödin says.

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