How to Interact With the Locals in Your Gay-Friendly Travel Destination

Traveling as a gay person can be intimidating. But one way how to make sure you are safe and you will enjoy your trip is to interact with the locals. Here are some ways on how to do it.

1. Ask the locals

Getting recommendations from locals is one of the best ways to find gay-friendly travel spots and activities. You can ask friends, friends of friends, or even the concierge at your hotel for ideas. You can also look for online guides or travel forums that list gay-friendly destinations.

Many LGBTQ+ travelers may be uncomfortable traveling to a destination that is known for its anti-LGBTQ laws or culture. It is important to research a place thoroughly and decide what is right for you. It is also a good idea to provide a trusted contact back home with details of your trip itinerary in case of any emergencies.

If you are unsure about your comfort level in a particular destination, consider booking an LGBT-focused tour or cruise. These companies specialize in LGBT travel and work to ensure their customers have a safe and memorable experience. Some of the top operators include Detours, Vacaya, Olivia (lesbian-focused), Out Adventures, and R Family Vacations. They have a deep understanding of the local landscape and work to connect their clients with the LGBT community.

2. Ask for recommendations

If you’re planning a gay-friendly trip, it’s important to research the destination and its culture. The level of acceptance and tolerance of LGBT+ travelers varies widely across countries.

In some countries, consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and there may be severe penalties for being open about your identity. In others, social attitudes and cultural sensitivities can cause unwanted attention.

Be aware of local laws and social norms, particularly when visiting religious sites. It’s also a good idea to dress conservatively and cover up cleavage and shoulders when possible, as this will help you blend in and reduce the risk of discrimination.

You should also consider the health implications of traveling as an LGBTQ+ traveler, especially if you’re taking HIV/AIDS medication. Check the Terence Higgins Trust and NaTHNaC advice on traveling with HIV medication before you leave for your trip. It’s also a good idea for LGBTQ+ travelers to carry a copy of their medical records with them. It can be useful if you need to seek emergency medical treatment abroad. Having this document will ensure that you are treated fairly and with respect by local authorities.

3. Ask for help

While homosexuality may be legal in many countries, pervasive cultural attitudes can still make it unsafe to disclose one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In these instances, limiting exposure to strangers and keeping one’s profile low is often the best approach, even in LGBTQ-friendly venues. In addition, researching local LGBTQ+ and human rights-focused non-governmental organizations before traveling to a potentially hostile country can help travelers assess their risks and decide how to proceed.

Some travel agencies and hotel chains specialize in gay-friendly accommodations. Additionally, several publications such as Passport Magazine and FunMaps of Maplewood, New Jersey, promote travel destinations that are specifically gay-friendly.

4. Ask for directions

Travelers can connect with local LGBTQIQ+ communities online to find out about gay-friendly bars, clubs and hotels. Some even offer bespoke travel itineraries. Just be aware that everyone’s identity experiences the world differently, and one person’s perspective may not represent a larger collective.

For instance, the Ivory Coast’s popular Miss Woubi beauty pageant – named after an Ivorian slang term for ‘effeminate’ partners in same-sex couples – takes place in a country where social stigmas and legal restrictions against homosexuality still exist. However, the capital city of Abidjan hosts a number of gay-friendly restaurants and bars, and in 2023, IGLA listed the country as a top African destination for LGBTI travelers.

Other options include connecting with LGBTQI travelers on forums, which often feature personal stories from human rights activists. There are also numerous LGBTQI city magazines and newspapers that provide tips and listings for venues and events. Some, such as Berlin’s free Siegessaule and London’s Global Gayz, have high readerships and circulation. Others, such as Windy City Times and Seattle Gay News, have fewer readers but still produce print versions of their publications.

5. Ask for advice

Gaycation is a term used for LGBTQ+-friendly travel, but it’s not just about rainbow flags and LGBT-themed images on your website. Rather, it’s about qualifying your clients to ensure you’re providing them with a safe and inclusive trip.

The first step in qualifying a client as LGBTQ+ friendly is to understand their comfort level with traveling to a destination with anti-LGBTQ laws or attitudes. While some LGBTQ+ and allied individuals choose to avoid destinations that criminalize homosexuality, others argue that boycotting these countries only gives tourism dollars to unworthy locations, rather than those in need of them most.

Before booking a trip to a country with anti-LGBTQ laws, travelers should research the legality of consensual same-sex activities in that country through government websites, travel advisories, and news articles. It is also important to understand that levels of tolerance and acceptance vary significantly between cities, rural areas, and even within cities. In addition, some hotels may not accept couples traveling together – so it’s best to do your homework. The International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association has a comprehensive travel interest questionnaire that you can use to qualify your clients.