Traveling safely can be a challenge even within one’s own home country, but traveling abroad where one isn’t as familiar with local customs, laws, infrastructure, and resources presents its own set of challenges when it comes to safe travel. This is unfortunately particularly important to keep in mind for specific demographics. People who are in the minority in terms of sexual orientation and/or gender identity are commonly discriminated against to various degrees throughout the world. In fact, in some parts of the world, it is technically illegal for LGBTQ+ people to even exist.

These issues may cause much of the LGBTQ+ community to feel like safe travel isn’t an option for them — and if we’re honest, in some cases it isn’t. Although it is unfortunate that anyone is or feels less safe because of who they are, that is often the reality of the situation for LGBTQ+ international travelers. As such, this piece will provide a guide and resource for LGBTQ+ individuals who would like tips on traveling as safely as possible.

Traveling safely can be a challenge even within one’s own home country, but traveling abroad where one isn’t as familiar with local customs, laws, infrastructure, and resources presents its own set of challenges when it comes to safe travel. This is unfortunately particularly important to keep in mind for specific demographics. People who are in the minority in terms of sexual orientation and/or gender identity are commonly discriminated against to various degrees throughout the world. In fact, in some parts of the world, it is technically illegal for LGBTQ+ people to even exist.

These issues may cause much of the LGBTQ+ community to feel like safe travel isn’t an option for them — and if we’re honest, in some cases it isn’t. Although it is unfortunate that anyone is or feels less safe because of who they are, that is often the reality of the situation for LGBTQ+ international travelers. As such, this piece will provide a guide and resource for LGBTQ+ individuals who would like tips on traveling as safely as possible.

LGBTQ+ Travel Statistics

Although the specific concerns LGBTQ+ people face depends on the area, issues on some level are widespread. Below are just a few statistics which illustrate this:

How to Plan an International Trip

One of the most important things an LGBTQ+ traveler can do to be safer abroad is to plan their trip carefully and double-check that everything is in order.

Research The Country

The first part of this plan should be thorough research of the country, including infrastructure, available public transportation, available rental vehicles, available accommodations, LGBTQ+ resources, resources for Americans abroad, laws, and customs. This information can be found from a variety of resources, including the country’s government websites, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association website, blogs written or recorded by other visitors, or on the U.S. Bureau of Consular affairs database.

The following are vital things a LGBTQ+ traveler should research about a country they intend to visit:

  • Neighborhoods in the localities one intends to visit;
  • The availability and safety of public transportation;
  • Rental car locations;
  • Available places to stay and their reputation for inclusivity;
  • Location and contact information for the nearest U.S. embassies or consulates;
  • Laws regarding sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the area;
  • Local attitudes about sexual orientation and/or gender identity;
  • Visa requirements regarding same-sex spouses;
  • Local LGBTQ+ resources.

Take Important Documents

Many documents are vital for international travel, and others are helpful to have on hand. While this holds true for any international travel, it is especially so for LGBTQ+ people traveling abroad. Consider whether you need or could benefit from any of the following documents:

  • Updated visas – Make sure that you have the correct visa, and that the identifying information is up-to-date.
  • Updated passports – Make sure that your passport is up-to-date.
  • Prescription letters – A letter from your doctor confirming your prescription is often necessary for filling it abroad.
  • Minor Travel Consent Form – A Minor Travel Consent form allows minors to travel without the accompaniment of a parent or guardian.
  • Driver’s license and International driving permit – If you expect to rent a car while traveling abroad, it is often necessary that you have both a driver’s license and an international driving permit.
  • Flight and hotel information – Confirmation numbers and proper identification will be necessary to board flights and check into hotels. Additionally, it is important to make sure the information about times and dates is correct on both their end and yours. Missing a time slot could potentially put you in a dangerous situation.
  • Insurance information – This is important for many potential emergencies abroad, especially medical.
  • Embassy contact information and location – U.S. embassies and consulates are often available for emergency assistance for U.S. citizens abroad.
  • Contact information for loved ones – This is helpful not only for the traveler themselves, but also for anyone who has information that could help them, such as in the case of a medical emergency.
  • Contact information for lawyers – It is helpful to have information for legal representation close at hand in case of a legal emergency.

Accommodations

While abroad, you will spend a lot of time in a hotel, Airbnb, or another form of temporary accommodation. Considering this, it’s important to ensure that your accommodations are safe. There is no way to guarantee this, but there are ways that you can increase your chances of finding a safe place to stay.

Once again, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association is a great resource; they document hotel chains with a reputation for inclusivity. Meanwhile, there are entire websites such as Mister B&B dedicated to documenting friendly accommodations throughout the world for the LGBTQ+ community. These are a valuable resource because they also include accommodations such as Airbnb, rather than just traditional hotels.

Once you have arrived at your hotel or other arrangement, it’s prudent to make sure you know the area, and are able to easily find your way back. This can be accomplished by marking the location on Google maps, and/or taking pictures of unique landmarks.

Use LGBTQ+ Tour Providers

There are many tour providers who specialize in guiding LGBTQ+ travelers, such as:

  • Rainbow Gay Tours – private tours in Spain for LGBTQ+ individuals;
  • Olivia – adventure tours for lesbians;
  • RFamilyVacations – plan entire vacations for LGBTQ+ people and their loved ones;
  • VentureOut – guide small, LGBTQ+ tours at popular vacation destinations;
  • Zoom Vacations – plan vacations to LGBTQ+-friendly destinations and guide worldwide tours.

Beware of Entrapment Campaigns

Police entrapment has plagued the LGBTQ+ community for decades. This practice involves surveilling LGBTQ+ individuals and communities to either determine where they congregate or to set up congregation points for the sake of raiding and arresting people at these events. Perhaps the most famous example of this on U.S. soil was the raid on the Stonewall Inn in 1969, which resulted in the Stonewall riots.

While these campaigns are a seemingly dying breed in the U.S., they are unfortunately still in full effect in many places overseas. In fact, in some countries, police monitor LGBTQ+-friendly forums to take advantage of these demographics. Starting in 2013, a crackdown on the LGBTQ+ community in Egypt has resulted in at least 250 arrests, as well as closures of LGBTQ+-friendly businesses.

Leave Your Itinerary With Friends and Family

Creating an itinerary for your travels abroad is helpful for more than day-to-day planning. It is actually also a great opportunity to increase your safety abroad. Leave a copy of your itinerary, as well as supplemental information such as hotel names and flight numbers with trusted people back home. In the event that someone goes missing, this information would allow loved ones to assist friends or police in their search. It is also beneficial to make a check-in schedule with loved ones while you travel abroad; they will then know to be concerned and alert someone if they don’t hear from you.

Be Mindful of Public Displays of Affection

Again, it is unfortunate that anyone should hide their love for fear of their safety. However, the fact remains that displays of affection from LGBTQ+ people can put a target on their back, especially in areas where customs and laws are not on their side. Such public displays of affection are rarely illegal in and of themselves, and the choice to engage in them is up to the discretion of the people involved. It is simply important to keep in mind that engaging in public displays of affection or revealing your relationship with others can put you in danger.

Support LGBTQ+-Friendly Businesses

Beyond traveling more safely yourself, you can also make travel safer for the entire LGBTQ+ community by supporting LGBTQ+-friendly businesses and organizations. Use online networking, local resources, and organizations like the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association to identify these businesses and find out how you can support these businesses.

Connect With Local LGBTQ+ People

Again, networking with local members of the LGBTQ+ community in areas you intend to visit can be a great resource. They will know the area more intimately than a database. However, connecting with these groups can put you in danger of entrapment. Research these groups thoroughly before engaging with them, and make sure that you are careful to not easily divulge personal information. It is also best to be discerning when it comes to meeting up with people in the community, due to potential entrapment schemes.

Know Your Rights

While doing research on the laws of your desired destination, ensure that you establish not only what is not allowed, but also what is allowed. Make sure that you understand your rights on both a local and international level. Resources like the National Center for Transgender Equality can help international LGBTQ+ travelers understand their rights.

Know Where to Find Help

There are still many places an LGBTQ+ U.S. citizen can find help and resources while abroad. U.S. entities such as U.S. embassies and consulates are widely available to assist U.S. citizens abroad, as well as international and local LGBTQ+ resources. Consular officers are neutral individuals found at U.S. embassies and consulates, who can provide information and assistance to U.S. citizens 24/7. They also have a legal obligation to privacy.

Sexual Safety Tips

While sexual necessities and accessories such as condoms and lubricants are required to meet FDA requirements before being sold in the U.S., such restrictions do not exist in every country. Before visiting another country, research their regulations on these items, as well as widely available FDA-approved brands. It is also prudent to determine whether your destination legally provides emergency contraceptives, and if so, where they are distributed.

Examples of Safe Countries for LGBTQ+ Travelers

Some countries have a better reputation than others for inclusivity and protections for LGBTQ+ people. The entire Scandinavian area, for example, is well-known for being a relatively safe place for LGBTQ+ travelers to visit. Below is a selection of other countries considered particularly safe and inclusive:

  • Canada;
  • Spain;
  • Germany;
  • Malta;
  • U.K.;
  • Colombia;
  • Guam;
  • Nepal;
  • Israel;
  • Argentina.

However, it is important to keep in mind that some areas of these countries will be safer than others. These countries largely have this reputation as a result of large, vocal LGBTQ+ communities in particular areas, especially large cities.

International Travel Tips

There are also general safety precautions and tips any international traveler can benefit from, LGBTQ+ or otherwise.

Check in With Your Doctor

Before you travel internationally, check the vaccination requirements of the country or countries you intend to visit, as well as the viability of your health insurance abroad. If you think you may not meet the vaccination requirements for travel to a certain country, talk to your doctor about getting updated on your shots. Additionally, if you have any prescriptions that you will need filled while abroad, keep a copy of your prescription number and ask your doctor for a prescription letter. Both will likely be necessary for a refill.

Bring Copies of Your Passport

It is not only legal to make photocopies of your passport, but recommended. You will be glad to have a copy on hand if your passport gets lost or stolen. Keep the extra copy in a safe location while abroad, such as your hotel room. It may also be helpful to ensure a trusted individual at home has a copy as well.

Register With the Embassy

While getting in touch with a U.S. embassy is often relatively easy abroad, it is also possible to enroll with the embassy for easier and more frequent contact. There is now a program called STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) which is free for American citizens. This program comes with many benefits:

  • Provides important advisories for citizens abroad, such as in the case of a natural disaster;
  • Provides travel advisories for everyone enrolled;
  • Allows relatives to contact travelers more easily;
  • Allows travelers to contact the embassy more easily.

Call Your Bank

It is important to call your bank or credit union before traveling internationally in order to ensure that they do not freeze your account due to what appears to be unusual charges. In fact, some banks offer online options to input your travel plans, including the duration of travel.

Have Local Cash

Money is something you will have to commonly deal with abroad. As such, it is important to make sure that you understand and are prepared for difficulties related to the use of money abroad.

One of the first obstacles will be understanding conversion rates and exchanging currency. You can get foreign currency through your bank or credit union, order it through online means, or take cash out of an ATM in the country you are visiting. On the last point, note that ATM fees may be higher in other countries, and that credit and debit cards are not always common or accepted in other countries.

Get Guidebooks

Guidebooks can be very valuable for international travelers, even in addition to research about the area and human guides. Guidebooks often not only provide maps and tourist details, but also helpful words and phrases. This may seem obsolete in the modern-day, but it is certainly possible to lose Wi-Fi access, run out of data, or lose your phone.

Research Events

It is often in your best interest to research interesting events before you leave for your travels, even during the planning phase. Planning your trip around special events will not only allow you to make room for more adventures while abroad, but also will make attendance simpler and more fun. You will be more prepared for what to expect.

Bring a Charger Adapter

This is simple, but so easy to forget. Oftentimes, other countries will use different varieties of plugs. However, adapters are widely available that will allow you to use your existing devices, rather than having to buy new ones. It may even be a good idea to bring an entire power strip so that you don’t have to buy as many adapters.

Activate Your Phone’s Global Capabilities

Many cell phone companies charge for “roaming” when a user is overseas. Therefore, international travelers should find alternate solutions to their normal phone plans. Depending on your provider, there will often be plans available which support international calls.

There are also other platforms on which to speak to people across the world, such as Google Hangouts and Skype. As for internet usage, cell phone users overseas will largely need to rely on Wi-Fi, which is again why it is a good idea to find contingency plans for travel that do not rely solely on the internet.

Get Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is incredibly beneficial. This depends on the individual plan, but travel insurance usually covers the costs of things like lost/stolen items, canceled flights, or issues resulting from natural disasters. In fact, they also can act as interim health insurance, which is especially helpful because health insurance often does not cover care overseas.

Don’t Leave Your Bags Unattended

Keep your bags safe when not in use and do not leave handheld bags unattended. In fact, it may be advisable to purchase specialized bags, such as RFID safe bags, non-loose purses, non-rip bags, and dry bags. These are especially helpful for storing particularly valuable items like cash, phones, and medications.