It’s the last day of Pride Month, but we reckon those who are travelling as part of the LGBTQ+ community should have a fab time when globetrotting every month of the year. This week, one of our Customer Services pros, Paige, swung by to tell us what’s what when it comes to LGBTQ+ travel:
Being a bisexual woman that LOVES a bit of country hopping, I have my fair share of stories – both positive and negative. For Pride Month this year, I’d love to shed a bit of light on the situation, and hopefully see if we can encourage more LGBTQ+ people to get involved in their own global exploration.
Like I said, I’m a young woman (who also happens to love men and other women) with a special place in my heart for collecting stamps in my passport. I expect it won’t surprise anyone much when I say this, but there are some places where I can’t be quite as loud and proud as I would like to be. Ideally, this wouldn’t be a concern – it would be lovely to be on the same page as everybody else in this big, wide world. However, there are over seven billion people on this planet, and we can’t please everyone. But that doesn’t mean you should be limiting your travel plans to please other people.
Countries popular with LGBTQ+ travellers
To begin your jet-setting journey, I’d definitely recommend starting off in some countries that are pretty vocal in their acceptance when it comes to LGBTQ+ travel. Places like Canada, Sweden, and the Netherlands are all known for being very safe for LGBTQ+ travellers, ranking first, second, and third respectively on Asher and Lyric’s list of 203 Worst (and Safest) Countries for LGBTQ+ Travel in 2023.
This is attributed to their protective laws, quality of LGBTQ+ life, and low violence rate – meaning it takes into account what your trip would ACTUALLY expose you to when you mingle with other people. It’s so important to think about the everyday attitudes of the public in every country you visit, and these three countries in particular have made a real effort to ensure queer people feel safe and are protected when within their borders, with measures such as legal punishments for hate crimes and other targeted violence against our community.
Canada, Sweden, and the Netherlands all rank highly, but if they aren’t quite tickling your fancy, Malta, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, and Belgium all sit within the top 10 too for LGBTQ+ travel, with strong worker protections, protections against discrimination and criminalization of violence – they also all rank well on actually being a nice place to live for those in the community, making them a pretty safe bet for your next holiday.
Countries LGBTQ+ travellers should be wary of
As Newton said, every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, and not every holiday destination can be as ‘on it’ with supporting our community as others. Here’s a quick run through some destinations to be aware of when planning your next itinerary. There’s definitely some variety on the homophobia/transphobia scale of some of these countries, so to begin with, we’ll tackle the worst of the worst. Brunei is listed as the most dangerous country for queer people, as a 2019 penal code made homosexual acts punishable by death. Saudi Arabia and Nigeria also have both corporal and capital punishment in place for LGBTQ+ acts, with Nigeria criminalising even the discussion of queerness.
While these places rank exceptionally low with zero LGBTQ+ protections, there are countries that are still within reach for LGBTQ+ travellers who are looking to tick off as many destinations as possible. While places like Malaysia, Egypt, and Barbados aren’t as strict as those mentioned above, they’re still tricky to navigate with anti-gay and trans sentiment prevalent in their laws – whereas destinations like Armenia or Mongolia are a bad idea due to danger reported by both LGBTQ+ travellers and residents.
Countries improving their LGBTQ+ protections
Since last year, we’ve seen some improvements in LGBTQ+ protections in a bunch of countries around the world. Cuba, Slovenia, and Switzerland all legalised same-sex marriage in 2022, whilst Japan has taken the step to allow domestic partnerships to be registered. Croatia, meanwhile, now allows joint-adoption for same-sex couples. Singapore, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis all decriminalized homosexuality too.
Top tips for LGBTQ+ travel
The most important thing for queer people to bear in mind while travelling is that seeing the sights is not worth our lives – some places are just out of our reach. It’s obviously devastating to have an entire country scratched off our bucket list, but there are many more that we can visit with certain precautions and preparations in place, so here’s some tips to get you on your way:
Documentation is KEY
Please remember to bring all your relevant documentation! This goes for all travel when we’re talking about things like visas and passports, but trans people specifically may need a doctor’s note to avoid any problems at the airport. It’ll be super useful to have identification that’s as similar to your presentation as possible. Along a similar vein, please ensure travel insurance is your top priority. Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it!
Research! Research! Research!
It should go without saying that everywhere is different, and it’s important to make sure you’re as knowledgeable as possible going into another country. You’re putting yourself in a vulnerable situation, so ensure you’re aware of your rights, laws, and what to expect from the residents. Another good idea is to have a quick reccy about the gay scene in your planned destination – knowing there’s a community waiting for you is a lifesaver.
No(t much) solo travel
Okay, this one’s a tough one. Nobody likes being told to stick by other people, especially when wanderlust has taken over. Independence is an incredible feeling, but there’s safety in numbers, and this is non-negotiable. Stay close to people you trust, and it may be helpful to pass your itinerary on to someone you trust back at home. Another good idea would be to check with your accommodation about your room type in advance, as some may presume separate beds are necessary for same gender customers.
If you absolutely must travel alone, I’m going to gently guide you back to point 2 – research, research, research!
Avoid airport scares
Those buildings are scary enough for CisHet people, let alone for queer people. The constant threat of uncomfortable questions looms over our heads, but hopefully we can ease you slightly. When booking, please keep information the same as your documentation, because any inconsistency will lead to questions. Body scanners and pat downs feel invasive, but these machines don’t actually portray your anatomy, and pat downs will always be done by the same gender as the one you present as, not your ID. Also be aware that binders often lead to questioning, but should never lead to invasions of your privacy (ie. exposure of your binder or body). If this happens, please follow it up with a manager.
My own experiences
I’ve been to countries that sit on both sides of the acceptance spectrum, but the two that stick out to me the most are Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. My time in both countries was lovely, but I do think this is attributed to me knowing my surroundings and travelling with different people. When in Dubai, I travelled with my family – and knew to research things like their laws and culture beforehand. I’m in a privileged position in that my expression is very typically feminine and straight-passing, so as long as I kept my identity close to my chest, I was completely fine and had a great time.
In Amsterdam, this was a much different arrangement. I travelled with my friends (all of which are queer as well), and it didn’t occur to me once to hide who I was. Storefronts had pride flags, we saw queer merchandise being sold in many shops, and PDA was rife – queer joy was everywhere you looked! Unfortunately, I was only able to experience a few days of this, as it was only a quick city break, but I look forward to more visits with future partners and current friends.
Travel is a huge part of my life, and so is my identity. It’s so important to me that we can go out and explore this huge world, rather than be limited to our birthplace. You should go out and find yourself, live your best life – but always keep yourselves safe.