LGBT or gay travel is different from normal travel. I wish it weren’t but sadly that’s the reality we live with. Your sexuality, appearance and mannerism can have a significant impact on your experience. Travelling becomes especially tricky if you are from a minority group. It gets even harder if you are ‘visibly’ LGBTQ+ and harder still if you’re part of the ethnic minorities or BAME group.
I wanted to share my take on the idea of gay travel or LGBT travel and things I do to stay safe with a fulfilling experience while travelling.
What is Queer Travel?
Gay travel or LGBT travel is the experience gay or LGBT people have while travelling. It is not about heading to gay exclusive resorts or gay-only cruises nor is it about heading to the gay bars, clubs and saunas in any location only. It is about culture, thrill, excitement, learning but also about exposure to other countries, places and people. The challenge comes from other people mostly not from the LGBT community.
Personally, I’m not a club or bar person and prefer sitting quietly next to the rivers with a drink than the loudness of bars. I prefer meeting local guys over apps like Grindr and Scruff. I love my sunrise and sunset experiences than hungover mornings in bed.
I have divided this article into four sections; research, safety, local LGBT support and exposure.
Should I Travel to Countries Where It’s Illegal to Be Gay?
Yes, yes and yes! I have heard it countless times that we must save our rainbow dollars and not head to any country where homosexuality is illegal. I understand there is a lot of anger and trauma behind this reason but the reason I am so passionately in favour of this idea is that it helps the local LGBT communities. Most of the times, governments in strictest of countries do not touch tourists on such issues to avoid losing tourism income. We must use this opportunity to support local LGBT population, bring them to exposure and help their fight against repression BUT safely. Your safety is the most important thing and you should avoid unnecessary risks for this cause. I have added some resources at the end which you can provide to locals for help and support.
What Research Should I Do?
Every country you are headed to has two things that need to be researched; legality of homosexuality which is easy and the social attitudes to it, which is wayyyy harder. Countries like Georgia and Armenia have legalised homosexuality but it is still a taboo topic with hostile attitude from locals. Reception to gay travel/LGBT travel also varies within bigger countries like the USA. Luckily the internet is my friend and I have some great resources when it comes to doing this research.
Disclaimer: I do acknowledge that I am a masculine-ish tall, athletic white-passing guy with privilege so my experience is not going to be the same as others but I still find these resources to be a good starting point. The rest you can only find when you arrive.
Legality of Homosexuality
I found some very useful sources which provide free information on LGBT rights, criminalisation and discrimination. My favourite most is Equaldex. Just click on any country on the map and it will show you the details of various aspects including the age of consent and prison sentence if applicable. It is a handy guide and regularly updated.
Like I mentioned before, it is difficult to gauge the attitude of locals unless you get there. A good starting point is Global Divide on Homosexuality from the Pew Research Centre. It has data from 39 countries that provide a general guide.
Blogs like mine are also a great source of information and you can get a firsthand account of gay travellers. There’s quite a variety of gay travel bloggers so you are bound to get some good information. I mostly post about the safety and attitudes as part of my city and country guides including my experience. An example is here for Ukraine.
Another great source is the Venture feature on Scruff App. It is useful to connect with locals and you can see who else is heading to the destination in the same dates. The Explore option lets you choose to interact with local guys on Scruff but limited to a few profiles, Grindr has this feature only for Premium customers and it also excludes countries where homosexuality is illegal from Explore feature (like Iran, Pakistan, Uganda etc.).
I usually talk to locals and it has helped me immensely not only to get a sense of what to expect but also to make great friends and travel companions. These apps do have a useful part of play in gay travel/LGBT travel indeed.
Another useful place to check with people who have already been to your destination is the LGBTQ Travel Group on Facebook. It gives a fairly good idea of others’ experiences.
If you are looking for more details, you can find the Harvard Guide for gay travel/LGBT travel here, it is primarily for their staff and students but it is very helpful if you are looking for more resources.
Safety and LGBTQ+ Travel
Safety is the most important aspect while travelling. It is sometimes irrelevant how exotic or amazing a place is if you aren’t feeling safe. Gay travel/LGBT travel is an amazing and rewarding experience when you know your rights. It helps you choose if you’d like to come out or be diplomatic about your sexuality or just straight away deny it.
I wrote an article that details all precautions including apps, you can use to stay safe. I follow some of these precautions religiously to ensure I have a safe trip, you can find the details here along with a youtube video. While it is for solo travellers, it is equally relevant to LGBT travel.
I also found an amazing in-depth guide from ManAboutTheWorld, it is very detailed and covers many topics including Trans Travel which is a very interesting read. It made me appreciate the courage of our trans friends who still face enormous challenges for simple things in life like travelling.
Support Local Queer Community & Businesss
Gay Travel/LGBT travel is a huge industry and we must use it to support our own community around the world. Most of these communities live underground and you can only be part of the scene if you know someone local. While planning a trip, I try my best to spend money at LGBT venues, book tours with LGBT friendly or LGBT owned businesses. BUT…
Say No to Rainbow Capitalism
Not every company with a pride flag sticker at the door is an ally. Most big chains use it as part of corporate diversity agendas with no actual support for LGBT employees. Another type is the set of companies which exploit the LGBT community to bring in business.
A good example is Misterbnb. As much as I loved the idea, it has been executed pretty badly. The rental prices for literally the same listings on Airbnb are cheaper. They also have horrible customer service (personal experience first hand during a trip) and the worst part was when they decided to keep the service charges for all cancelled bookings due to COVID 19 crisis. All these things point out to rainbow capitalism and a company exploiting LGBT community by throwing a rainbow flag in our faces. My recommendation is to stay away.
Supporting LGBTQ Businesses
LGBT communities around the world are small parts of a bigger network and we must support them. This is especially essential for underground communities where LGBT activist or members are shunned by their families and/or the society in general. I love exploring local spaces, especially in marginalised communities because this interaction is really beneficial both ways. I get to count my blessings for the freedom and the realisation that the fight is not over yet and they get a ray of hope and some support needed. Gay travel/LGBT travel is the perfect way to support multiple industries.
If you are an LGBT business and want to add your link below please contact me.
If you are not comfortable where you’re staying, it can be a big strain on your trip and the annoying part is, it doesn’t go away until you leave. Luckily help is at hand in terms of platforms that provide listings that are with gay or LGBT friendly or establishments that are run by LGBT owners. Is there a better way to feel better than getting the security AND supporting LGBT hotel industry as well!
I really like PurpleRoofs, it is a great platform where you can check places and most of them come with a discount as well. It is especially great for the Americas.
Out Adventures is an LGBT company for tours. You can find more details on their website here.
Another great source is Go Overseas the LGBT section, more details here.
I am not a cruise person but a google search reveals plenty of LGBT cruises. The one that stood out is Atlantis Cruises, they seem to be the pioneers of LGBT cruises.
LGBT Hospitality, Bars & Clubs
Travel Gay publishes a list of all LGBT venues in a city including restaurants, bars and clubs and it is regularly updated. You can check it here.
Blogs are also very helpful in providing details of LGBT venues and events especially their experience.
Exposure and Ambassadorship
Gay travel/LGBT travel is an opportunity to increase exposure to LGBT lives but we must do this safely. There is something very liberating about changing people’s minds about their ideas of LGBT people. This is particularly important for countries where homosexuality is a taboo subject.
If I feel comfortable, I mention it to people I meet but only in a safe way after winning their trust, if I don’t feel comfortable I have a conversation after my return. It has worked really well a lot of the time and I have won some great friends who were happy to know a gay person. The Middle East responds very well to this methodology especially.
The second part of this is to help the local community by providing them exposure to mental and sexual health resources. My favourite website that provides good information is Hard Cell. it explores and provides information on most sexual behaviours including fetishes. It also provides information on sexual health and use of drugs. It is a great one-stop-shop for gay sex information.
I also found that people are very shy about these things so I’d always recommend using condoms with you. Please remember a lot of these people have no access to sexual health screening and you could be giving them a lot of trouble for a hookup. Prep DOES NOT prevent other STI’s and a lot of countries in the Middle East do full health screens including checks for STI’s before employment. If caught punishments are severe. Very important for Syphilis especially.
For mental health, I have struggled to find anything that is free but this is a good starting guide from Mind.
Being able to travel freely, without prejudice and all this work is a dream of mine one day, I hope it comes true soon but until then the fight must continue. A safe gay travel trip is an amazing thing that will win you many friends, just be yourself, relax and enjoy.
This article was written by Usman at Brown Boy Travels. All views expressed in this article are the author’s.
I am a hippie in a suit essentially. I have made it my mission to see every country in the world balancing it with a full time banking job. I practice Ashtanga yoga with passion and don’t believe in borders. I mostly travel solo and encourage it as well because it helped me immensely with my mental health. Obsessed with history, architecture, food, yoga, sunsets, beaches, local traditions & festivals, I love exploring every place like a local while making friends in every corner of the world. Join me on the journey one beautiful place at a time…