If you love travel, then you know nothing is more exciting than packing a bag and touring the world. But, before you board a plane or train, it’s important to remember LGBTQ+ travelers may be treated differently from one country to the next, and sometimes even from city to city.
“Sadly, travelers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are often forced to deal with additional risks in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts,” explains Frank Harrison, Regional Security Director for North America at Travelex Insurance’s assistance partner, World Travel Protection.
“This is because some areas of the world with heteronormative cultures — like in the Middle East and parts of Africa — do not openly embrace LGBTQ+ people like most westernized countries do.”
Don’t let this make you put off travel, though; this international LGBTQ+ travel safety guide can help you explore the world confidently — and safely — as an LGBTQ+ traveler.
Top Travel Safety Tips for the LGTBQ+ Community
Tip #1: Research your destination before booking any travel plans.
Tip #2: Respect local customs and laws at your chosen destination(s).
Tip #3: Embrace group travel with friends or a travel company.
How to pick safe LGBTQ+ travel destinations
When deciding where to go on your next holiday, it’s important to seek out answers to the following questions:
1. Is being LGBTQ+ against the law, and, if so, is the law enforced?
The world is becoming more open and welcoming to LGBTQ+ travelers every day. However, simply being LGBTQ+ is still outlawed in 70 countries, with criminal punishments ranging from a small fine to life in prison or worse. Fifteen countries also uphold laws against transgender expression.
Despite this, some countries treat such LGBTQ+ laws more seriously than others. For example, Singapore’s antigay statutes remain on the books but are rarely enforced. (Still, openly breaking the law might not be worth the risk!)
On the other hand, just because a country hasn’t outlawed being LGBTQ+ doesn’t mean the country is entirely safe for queer travelers. For example, in Egypt, police often use a vague law condemning “debauchery” as grounds to punish LGBTQ+ people with up to three years of incarceration. These tourists are often confined in prison-type locations, which puts them at great risk because they’re placed with the general population (who may be anti-LGBTQ+), and their sexuality is often made known to prison gang leaders.
Don’t make the mistake of believing the rights and freedoms of your home country apply when you’re abroad, either. If you break the local laws, get caught, are detained, and then reach out to the U.S. consular affairs office for support, you’ll likely find they can provide little or no diplomatic protection or support.
“No one is above the laws of a state, and all people should be cautious when traveling to ensure that they are not putting themselves at risk,” Frank says. “Even if you don't condone the laws and rules of a non-gay-friendly travel destination, you may need to change your behavior for your own safety and security.”
So, before you book any part of your holiday, familiarize yourself with the LGBTQ+ rights and laws of the country and decide whether you are happy to abide by them while on your holiday. If not, it might be best to choose another destination.
2. Even if being LGBTQ+ is legal, are there high levels of discrimination?
If you’re an LGBTQ+ traveler visiting a gay-friendly travel destination, the good news is you’re likely to have a great time on your trip. In fact, a 2022 study revealed that 85% of LGBTQ+ travelers polled across 25 countries confirmed the majority of their travel experiences were welcoming.
Unfortunately, discrimination can — and does — still happen. In the same study, 82% of LGBTQ+ travelers reported having a “less-than-welcoming” or even “uncomfortable” experience at least once in their lives while traveling.
Keep this in mind while deciding which country to visit — or even which area of a country to visit. Countries with legalized gay marriage and gender confirmation treatment are more accepting than those that don’t, but certain regions within these countries are more open than others.
“This is true even if you’re traveling domestically within the United States,” Frank explains. “Eleven states still boast unconstitutional laws outlawing ‘same-sex conduct.’”
3. Does the destination run LGBTQ+ events, such as Pride?
During LGBTQ+ events, you can be out and proud about your identity, even in otherwise conservative cities. Plus, it’s a great way to make new friends within the community.
So, if you’re not sure whether a place is a safe LGBTQ+ travel destination, consider visiting your chosen destination during Pride. That said, not all cities have Pride, and not every Pride celebration is a party like in Berlin and São Paolo.
If it’s not Pride season, keep your eyes peeled on social media for queer events at your ideal vacation destination. If you can’t find any, reach out to LGBTQ+ organizations to inquire about upcoming events.
Do make sure you avoid attending LGTBQ+ events that involve forms of protest, though. Yes, many members of the LQBTQ+ community like to make the most of their right of protest in the United States, but this right doesn’t necessarily exist in the country of your chosen vacation destination, and the event could do you more harm than good.
“It is paramount for LGBTQ+ travelers to understand the jurisdictions and customs of any country they visit and avoid situations that may lead to trouble,” Frank says. “If you attend an emerging LGBTQ+ community protest or add your voice of support to a protest via social media, you could make yourself vulnerable to harm."
5 LGBTQ+ travel safety tips for unfriendly destinations?
Is your dream vacation destination not gay-friendly? Don’t cross it off your list just yet!
Here are five international travel tips for the LGBTQ+ community to help you see the world without compromising who you are:
1. Stick to cities.
Cities and popular tourist destinations tend to be more diverse and welcoming of LGBTQ+ travelers than rural areas. For example, Budapest boasts a lively queer scene despite Hungary’s status as a rather conservative country.
2. Travel with a group.
Arrange your trip through an LGBTQ+ or LGBTQ+-friendly travel agency, which can help ensure that you are traveling with a community of like-minded adventurers.
"Traveling with knowledgeable LGBTQ+ guides will also give you easy access to advice and support if needed, which can help you feel safer while traveling abroad,” Frank says.
3. Be careful with PDA.
Some countries frown upon and even outlaw public displays of affection by straight and gay couples alike. To avoid attracting unwanted attention, save the handholding for when you’re in private.
4. Learn local customs.
Each country has its own rules about modesty, religious practices, and gender expression. Research what people wear and how they carry themselves, so you can respect the culture you’re visiting.
“As a tourist, there may be some flexibility in terms of following local customs, but it’s always smart to err on the side of caution and respect your destination’s traditions,” Frank cautions.
5. Edit your digital footprint.
Be aware of what is and isn’t legal in your chosen destination when it comes to information technology. Some countries have severe restrictions on the types of websites and apps you can access online, as well as rules around sensitive information.
Before you leave home, consider making your social media profiles private; concealing your relationship status; removing overtly queer public profile images; deleting LGBTQ+ apps like Grindr; and removing sensitive images, emails, and messages.
“If possible, carry a different phone when you travel to avoid any issues related to your phone use at home in the U.S.,” Frank suggests.
8 LGBTQ+ travel safety tips for any destination
If you’re an LGBTQ+ traveler, it’s smart to keep these eight travel safety tips in mind no matter where you’re traveling:
1. Contact the embassy before you leave home.
Register your holiday plans online with the U.S. embassy at your destination. It only takes a few minutes, and, in case of an emergency, the embassy can easily contact you and vice versa.
2. Learn the local language (even if it’s only a few words).
A little bit goes a long way when it comes to blending in, and basic phrases can come in handy when you need to ask locals for directions or help.
3. Know your rights.
Whether you’re being patted down at airport security or questioned by police, know your legal rights. If you do, you can speak up for yourself and others when necessary.
4. Carry a doctor’s note.
If the gender marker on your passport doesn’t match the gender you identify as, then a doctor’s note will help clear up any confusion so you can safely cross borders.
5. Keep OTC and prescription medicines in their original packaging.
If possible, keep all medicines you’re traveling with in their original packaging to avoid issues at airport security and border checkpoints.
6. Learn about health care access for tourists.
Research your destination’s health care policy in advance. Find out whether you’ll be able to access emergency care if needed or refill your prescriptions if you’re visiting for an extended period.
7. Book an LGBTQ+-friendly hotel.
Some hotels are more welcoming than others. Finalize your reservations in advance so you can verify whether a hotel’s policies allow for same-sex partners to avoid any less-than-pleasant conversations at check-in.
8. Consider buying travel insurance.
Every trip is full of surprises, no matter how much planning you do. Travel insurance is there to help should the unexpected occur. From coverage for emergency medical and dental expenses and evacuations to trip delays and interruptions and lost baggage, protecting your trip with travel insurance can help you travel with extra confidence, no matter what awaits.
Ready to book your next trip?
Travelex Insurance believes that every member of the LGBTQ+ community deserves to travel with pride — no matter who you are and where you are going.
To help ensure your next vacation is memorable for all the right reasons, remember the tips in this LGBTQ+ travel safety guide, and don’t forget to consider protecting your trip with travel insurance for extra support on the road.
The information and advice contained on this page is general advice only and is correct at the time of writing (August 26, 2022) and may change at any time.