Traveling the world is one thing. Traveling while lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or any other myriad of sexual and gender identities can be quite another.
As with any group with diverse identities, LGBTQ folks face a particular set of challenges while traveling. A same-gender couple might be afraid that hotel staff will discriminate against them if they get one bed instead of two. Trans folks might struggle with being misgendered in bathrooms or having to use travel documents that don’t reflect the name they use or gender they identify as. Non-binary travelers (like me!) might have a hard time with languages that in their construction uphold the gender binary or with dress and cultural codes that enforce what it means to be a “man” or “woman.”
These issues, of course, are further compounded (or mitigated) by other, intersecting identity categories they might have–including race, class, ethnicity, nationality, ability, language, etc.
On the other hand, and sometimes because of this, some LGBTQ travelers might want to find places where they can feel safe and affirmed or where they can learn more about local LGBTQ culture–gay or lesbian clubs where they can dance with their partners without being afraid, queer film festivals where they can learn more about local culture, LGBTQ-owned restaurants, bookstores, and hotels.
While finding the information you want about LGBTQ travel might seem like a daunting task (Will I be safe there? Where can I go to meet people like me? Can I come out? What’s the bathroom situation like at this restaurant/hostel/etc.?), an increasing number of writers, bloggers, governments, and organizations are compiling just the kind of info needed for queer and trans folks to be prepared, stay safe, and have fun while traveling.
Below is an ever-evolving compilation of LGBTQ travel resources I’ve discovered and used while on the road. This list is imperfect and can’t possibly cover all the bases, but I hope it can be a start for you and yours while you plan your travels.
Got something for me to add to the list? Send it my way–comment below, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for more tips for planning your travel? Check out my Travel Resources page for ideas on packing, budgeting, working while traveling, and other odds and ends (transportation, technology, etc.).
Planning Your Trip
Safety, Laws, and Other Basics
LGBTI Travel Information (U.S. State Department) offers general info on LGBTQIA travel, including links to country-specific information, a list of documents to pack, and general safety tips.
The ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association)‘s best resources are its maps, which document sexual orientation laws and gender identity laws throughout the globe. They also have super cool studies to nerd out over, including a Global Attitudes Survey on LGBTI People.
Not that you need more maps of where it’s illegal to be queer, but Equaldex also has user-friendly, international maps of LGBTQ rights–documenting everything from the criminalization of homosexuality to nations that bar or limit queer people from adopting or donating blood (I’m looking at you, United States). There are also separate, interactive maps for the United States and United Kingdom where regional/state laws are noted.
Are you a student interested in studying or interning abroad? Check out GoAbroad’s LGBT Student Guide to Studying Abroad, which includes tips on choosing a program and a list of study abroad scholarships for LGBT students, among other great info.
Know Your Rights: Airport Security (United States) by the National Center for Transgender Equality offers an overview for trans folks regarding how to navigate flying in the U.S., from how to pack to your rights regarding body scanners and pat-downs.
A Trans Guide for Staying Safe While Traveling by Meg Cale (from Dopes on the Road) offers a useful, general overview of things trans folks might want to consider as they plan and prep for their travels.
Accommodations, Tours, and Travel Services
Purple Roofs provides a searchable database of gay- and lesbian-friendly/owned bed and breakfasts, hotels, and tour operators. While they may be gay- and lesbian-focused and have limited resources in some regions of the world (in part because most (all?) of their listings are self-reported), I still had luck using them when I was looking at small B&Bs in the U.S. for a trip with a partner. Plus, you can use them to support lesbian- and gay-owned businesses!
The IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) can be useful to find country-specific or activity-specific LGBT-friendly service providers (i.e., hotels, tour companies, etc.). I found some of their resources lacking, though (limited resources on Asia, only two genders listed on their traveler sign-up form, etc.). However, if you’re traveling in the U.S. or Europe or want to get your name out there as an LGBT-friendly travel provider, this might be helpful to you.
Expedia has teamed up with IGLTA to provide a search engine specifically for those looking for gay- and lesbian-friendly hotels around the globe.
You know the feeling: You’re out at dinner in a new country with a friend of a friend, and they come out to you. Your Airbnb host introduces you to their same-gender partner. You go to an LGBTQ-friendly film festival, church service, or other event and meet folks from the queer and trans community–“family,” as we might say.
Finding other LGBTQ folks on the road can be an important part of a queer or trans person’s travel experience. Suddenly, we can let down our guard a little. We can stop switching around pronouns when we talk about partners or exes. We can hold our partner’s hand if they’re there with us. We can learn about local LGBTQ culture, rights, and issues. We can feel a little more at home.
However, sometimes finding those communities can be hard, and you have to do a little digging–especially in countries not known for their openness around LGBTQ issues. Here are some tips/suggestions/resources for finding your way to queer and trans friends around the world.
Note: Be sure to read up on safety, laws, etc., in any country/state you visit. In some places, it’s still not particularly safe to be out, and in others, “homosexual acts” and even cross-dressing are against the law. So take whatever precautions you can/need, particularly if trying to date or hookup abroad, and be respectful of others who might not be out (i.e., don’t post photos of people at LGBTQ events without their permission, etc.).
LGBTQ Events, Programs, and Spaces
Queer folks are everywhere, whether they’re out or not, and even in countries that criminalize homosexuality (like Singapore), you can still find active LGBTQ (and queer-friendly) clubs, bars, bookstores, festivals, and events. A lot of these things you’ll have to look up for each country (thanks, Google!), but some you might be able to find through international programs and listings (like Utopia Asia).
- Pride Festivals and Queer Events: While mostly taking place in the spring and summer, Pride festivals happen all around the world all the time, from Lebanon to Seoul to Sydney. See if you can catch one while you travel, or plan a trip specifically to go to an international pride festival! Prides aren’t the only queer events available abroad, though–there are often film festivals (with English subtitles), talks, human rights conferences, and other events where you can find “family.” So don’t limit yourself to looking only for pride parades!
- Meetup: If you’ll be staying somewhere for a while or just want to check out the scene, you can often find LGBTQ groups through Meetup, a fun site for finding extra-curricular activities for grownups. You could also find non-LGBTQ book clubs, language conversation groups, athletic teams, etc.–so it can be a nice way to meet new people and make friends.
- Bars and Clubs: Going to a lesbian or gay bar in a new country can be terrifying (for an introvert like me), exhilarating, disappointing (when there is like one other person there), and/or amazing. I don’t actually spend too much time in the bar scene (see: introvert), but I have had a good time meeting queer folks at the few I’ve gone to abroad, including a tiny lesbian bar in Osaka that only squeezed in, like, six people and a lesbian dance club in Seoul that’s practically hidden in the high reaches of a building in one of the university districts. For some, bars and clubs can be an easy way to meet queer and trans folks, find a date, or just see what the scene is like.
- Churches: If you’re looking for LGBTQ-friendly churches (they exist!), you might first look up denominations that are queer-friendly and see if they have any representation abroad (including the United Church of Christ and Metropolitan Community Church, among others). And if you find one, know that they could open doors to other events, spaces, and places where “family” meets.
- Publications: Both queer and non-queer publications often list LGBTQ events and locales. Local Timeouts often list LGBTQ clubs, bars, and restaurants in cities where the publication is available. You might also consider scoping out other groups and publications by allies–including feminists, progressives, academics, etc.–that might also cross-list for LGBTQ events.
- Other LGBTQ-Owned Spaces: An LGBTQ bookstore in Taipei (that sells chest binders, too!). A rainbow-friendly cafe in Hanoi. Just because you’re not into the bar scene doesn’t mean you can’t find restaurants, cafes, community centers, stores, etc. that welcome queer and trans folks. Do a little digging, and you might be surprised what you find!
Okay, I know. This really equates queerness with who we’re dating, but I don’t mean it like that. Yes, dating apps can be a way to find a date (yay!), but more and more, folks are using them to also find friends and people to just hang out with.
When my lesbian friend (who was engaged at the time) moved from California to South Carolina, she used OK Cupid to find friends in the queer community (and she was sure to list that she was just looking for friends). There are tons of dating apps out there that lesbian, gay, and otherwise queer folks use, and yes, some of them are terrible and/or trans-/bi-/pan-exclusive, but you still might find a date or at least a friend while out on the road.
Utopia Asia is THE place to find information on the lesbian and gay scene in Asia. From listings of gay and lesbian bars/clubs lesbian- and gay-friendly tour providers to country-specific historical and cultural overviews, this is the place to find recommendations for a night out and an entry-point into local culture. Although sometimes limited (particularly in terms of trans-/bi-inclusivity) and/or slightly out-of-date, I’ve dug up places to go, info on current events, and much more from this site for multiple countries I’ve visited.
Queer Mango seeks to connect “women of queer culture” with articles, resources, and other info LGBTQ+ life in Thailand and Asia.
LGBTQ Travel Bloggers and Writers
Note: This is list growing, and I’m always looking for more LGBTQ travel writers/bloggers (especially trans folks!) to feature here and on my social media. Drop me a line if you have a suggestion for a writer/blog to check out!
Other Useful Websites for LGBTQ Travelers
76 Crimes — News and info from the 76 countries where homosexuality is still illegal
Transgender Resources (GLAAD) — A big list of resources in the United States for trans folks
OutRight International — International LGBTQ rights organization
The Williams Institute — From UCLA, an amazing source for research and stats regarding the LGBTQ community in the United States