Are you venturing overseas as an LGBTQ+ traveller or heading on a trip with someone who is? Discover how to enjoy yourself while staying safe in your dream destination with our expert LGBTQ+ travel guide.
If you love travel, you’ll know there’s nothing more exciting than packing a bag and touring the world. But, before you board a plane or train, it’s important to remember LGBTQ+ travellers are treated differently from country to country – and sometimes even city to city.
“Sadly, travellers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community are often forced to deal with additional risks in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts,” explained Rodger Cook, Cover-More Assist’s General Manager of Global Security.
“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 westernised countries do.”
Don’t let this put you off travel, though – this international LGBTQ+ travel safety guide can help you explore the world confidently as an LGBTQ+ traveller while also staying safe.
How to pick safe LGBTQ+ travel destinations
When deciding where to go on your next holiday, it’s important to seek out the answers to these questions:
1. Is being LGBTQ+ against the law – and if so, is the law enforced?
The world is becoming more open and welcoming to non-heterosexual travellers every day. However, being LGBTQ+ is still outlawed in 70 countries, with punishments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people ranging from a small fine to life in prison – or worse. Fifteen countries also uphold laws against transgender expression.
Despite this, some countries treat these LGBTQ+ laws more seriously than others. For example, Singapore’s anti-gay 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+, it doesn’t mean the country is entirely safe for queer travellers. 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, and are detained, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under the Consular Services Charter; however, it can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.
“No one is above the laws of a state, and all people should be cautious when travelling to ensure they are not putting themselves at risk,” said Cook. “Even if you don't condone the laws and rules of a non-gay-friendly travel destination, you may need to change your behaviour for your own safety and security.”
So, before you book any part of your holiday, familiarise 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, friendlier LGBTQ+ travel destination.
2. Even if being LGBTQ+ is legal, are there high levels of discrimination?
If you’re an LGBTQ+ traveller 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 85 per cent of LGBTQ+ travellers 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 per cent of LGBTQ+ travellers reported having a “less-than-welcoming” or even “uncomfortable” experience at least once in their lives while travelling.
Keep this in mind while deciding which country to visit – or even which area of a country to visit. Countries with legalised gay marriage and gender confirmation treatment are more accepting than other countries, but certain regions within these countries are more open than others.
“This is true even if you’re travelling to a place like the United States, which is typically known as a gay-friendly travel destination,” explained Cook. “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 is a party like in Berlin, Tel Aviv and São Paolo.
If it’s not Pride season, keep your eyes peeled on social media for queer events at your ideal holiday destination. If you can’t find any, reach out to LGBTQ+ organisations 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 Australia, but this right doesn’t necessarily exist in your chosen holiday destination and the event could do you more harm than good.
“It is paramount for LGBTQ+ travellers to understand the jurisdictions and customs of any country they visit and avoid situations that may lead to trouble,” said Cook. “If you attend an emerging LGBTQ+ community protest – or add your voice of support to a protest via social media – you may make yourself vulnerable to harm."
5 LGBTQ+ travel safety tips for unfriendly destinations
Is your dream holiday spot not a gay-friendly destination? Don’t cross it off your list just yet!
Here are five international travel tips for the LGBTQ+ community so you can see the world without compromising who you are:
Tip #1: Stick to cities.
Cities and popular tourist destinations tend to be more diverse and more welcoming of LGBTQ+ travellers than rural areas. For example, Budapest boasts a lively queer scene despite Hungary being a rather conservative country.
Tip #2: Travel with a group.
Arrange your trip through an LGBTQ+ or LGBTQ+-friendly travel agents, which can help ensure you are travelling with a community of like-minded adventurers.
"Travelling with knowledgeable LGBTQ+ guides will also give you easy access to advice and support if needed, which can help you feel safer while abroad,” said Cook.
Tip #3: Be careful with PDA.
Some countries frown upon – and even outlaw – public displays of affection for straight and gay couples alike. To avoid attracting unwanted attention, save the handholding for when you’re in private.
Tip #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,” said Cook.
Tip #5: Edit your digital footprint.
Be aware of what is – and what 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 content.
Before you leave home, consider making your social media profiles private, concealing your relationship status, making public profile images not overtly queer, 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 Australia,” suggested Cook.
8 LGBTQ+ travel safety tips for any destination
If you’re an LGBTQ+ traveller, it’s smart to keep these eight travel safety tips in mind no matter where you’re travelling:
Tip #1: Sign up for travel alerts and share your itinerary with family or friends
While Smartraveller no longer asks travellers to register their holiday plans, you can subscribe to receive updates on the destinations you are travelling to and through. It’s also recommended to leave a copy of your travel itinerary, including accommodation and contact details, with family or friends at home.
Tip #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.
Tip #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.
Tip #4: Carry a doctor’s note.
If the gender marker on your passport doesn’t match your gender, a doctor’s note will help clear up any confusion so you can safely cross borders.
Tip #5: Keep OTC and prescription medicine in its original packaging.
If possible, keep all medicine you’re travelling with in its original packaging to avoid issues when going through airport security and border checkpoints.
Tip #6: Learn about healthcare access for tourists.
Research your destination’s healthcare 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.
Tip #7: Book an LGBTQ+-friendly hotel.
Some hotels are more welcoming than others. Finalise your reservations in advance so you can verify whether the hotels’ policies allow for same-sex partners to avoid any less-than-pleasant conversations at check-in.
Tip #8: Consider buying travel insurance.
Every trip is full of surprises – no matter how much planning you do. Travel insurance can be there to help should the unexpected occur. From coverage for emergency medical and dental expenses and emergency 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?
At Cover-More, we believe every member of the LGBTQ+ community deserves to travel safely – no matter who you are and where you are going.
To help ensure your next holiday 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 international travel insurance for extra support on the road.
Protect your overseas holiday with Cover-More
The information and advice contained on this page is general advice only and is correct at the time of writing (15 September 2022) and may change at any time.