Africa Travel Week
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LGBTQ+ travel safety

LGBTQ+ travel advocate, Meg Cale shares her top tips to keep safe while travelling.

Policies and public acceptance of LGBTQ+ people vary widely from country to country and even within some countries. Laws and attitudes can impact the safety of LGBTQ+ people but they also can affect the perception of safety in destinations around the world. 

The reality is that LGBTQ+ people face unique travel issues in every destination but with a little planning and awareness of where you’re visiting, you’re able to enjoy the travel experiences just as much as anyone else. In fact, learning about the unique challenges and experiences of LGBTQ+ people within the destinations you’re visiting brings you closer together as a community and helps to build empathy for LGBTQ+ siblings around the world.

SELECTING YOUR DESTINATION
Research the local LGBTQ+ policies and social attitudes before traveling. Keep in mind that all travel content is written by an individual who comes with their own unique set of identities. Someone who is a black trans man from Washington, D.C. will experience the world differently than a white cisgender lesbian from Cape Town. No single person can be representative of a collective of diverse people. While researching, keep in mind that your preferences may be different than the author’s, so seek out multiple sources of information.

The first step is determining if you are comfortable traveling to a destination where it is illegal to be LGBTQ+. Some may argue that visiting destinations with anti-LGBTQ+ policies in place provides tourism dollars to undeserving locations. Others argue that local LGBTQ+ people exist in every destination in the world and by visiting you’re exposing locals to new ideas and customs. Ultimately, it’s up to you as a member of the community to decide what feels right for you.

You may want to consider one of several questions’ LGBTQ+ people should ask before settling on a destination. Do you pass as straight or cisgender? Are you comfortable closeting yourself on the road? How important are public displays of affection on this trip? Are you traveling as a couple? The answers to these questions will help you narrow down the best destinations for you.

PLANNING YOUR ITINERARY
Using LGBTQ+ welcoming and affirming tour operators and service providers will always alleviate some of the anxiety associated with traveling as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. IGLTA is home to travel providers in more than 80 countries that have made a commitment to celebrating and welcoming the LGBTQ+ community. You might consider traveling with an LGBTQ+ specific group tour if you’d like to experience the destination through the lens of LGBTQ+ culture. Or maybe you’d prefer a general group or private tour but want to ensure they’re welcoming and affirming of all identities. Either way, IGLTA has a variety of members that will suit your needs.

IMMIGRATION AND SECURITY TRAVEL SAFETY
Every country has different rules regarding immigration and airport security. Passengers at most airports are asked to go through some combination of metal detectors and/or the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) booth. In many countries, AIT is voluntary and travellers may opt out of the imaging process. If you opt out, or one of the machines detects something unusual, you will be required to go through a pat down by a security officer of the gender on your government-issued identification.

If you are transgender, there are several issues you may want to consider during the immigration and security process. For example, having an accurate gender marker on your ID will help alleviate some potential issues. If it is not possible to travel with an up to date ID, make sure you have a signed doctor’s note with you while traveling.

In many countries, if you are selected for a screening, you are entitled to a private screening. Always bring a travel companion into the room with you when you are being screened. You may always ask to speak with a supervisor at any time in the screening process.

Be mindful of the perceptions of LGBTQ+ people when you’re considering what you are packing in your carry-on luggage. Keep in mind that any bag you have on your person can be searched at any time in an airport. Also, be mindful of the laws and cultural acceptance of traveling with sex toys and forms of contraceptives.

LGBTQ+ WELCOMING ACCOMMODATIONS
Most major hotel chains have LGBTQ+ affirming policies in place and are actively improving their staff diversity trainings. But some travellers may feel most comfortable with LGBTQ+ owned that specialize in hosting LGBTQ+ travellers. Regardless of your preference, start you can start your research by browsing through our accommodations providers to ensure you’re staying with a hotel that is LGBTQ+ welcoming.

WARDROBE
Every country has different cultural expectations concerning clothing and fashion. Nearly every country has some gender expectations for clothing as well. Knowing those expectations and the local customs regarding fashion will help you decide the safest course of action for your travel plans. For example, in countries where most women wear a head scarf it may be wise to follow suit. When traveling, it is always safer to try and blend in with local people because if you’re blatantly disregarding traditional expectations it draws unnecessary attention to you. That said, honour your gender expression in the way that feels most comfortable and the safest to you while you’re traveling abroad.

USING LGBTQ+ DATING APPS & SOCIAL MEDIA
Dating apps and social networks are a great way to connect with local LGBTQ+ people while traveling. You’ll be able to find the local hangouts, best parties and learn about local culture from people who live in the area. Unfortunately, apps and social media have been used to target and entrap LGBTQ+ people in areas where it is illegal. If you choose to use these services in countries where you’re worried about your safety, you may want to consider making your accounts private or downloading a VPN service onto your phone. VPN, while not fool proof, allows you to avoid government censorship and issues of entrapment in other countries.

IN THE EVENT OF AN EMERGENCY
In the event of an emergency ensure that you have emergency contact numbers in place. Consider keeping a wallet card of phone numbers and emails of important people and photocopies of your documents in case something happens to your tech devices. Before traveling, keep your cash separated and have an emergency credit card hidden somewhere in your luggage. It is always wise to purchase travel insurance in advance for extreme situations because they can help financially but also as another point of contact in medical or political emergencies. In extreme situations you can contact the local embassy from your home country and they may be able to assist you in the event of medical or political turmoil.

This article first appeared on www.ilgta.org  

Meg Cale

Meg Cale

Meg Cale is an LGBTQ+ travel advocate and community educator. Meg and her wife Lindsay run the number one lesbian travel blog, DopesontheRoad.com. Meg’s LGBTQ+ subject matter expertise has been featured in the New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Go Magazine, Out Traveler, Gay Star News, Buzzfeed, Matador Network, Elite Daily, Korea Observer, and India's The Quint. Her passion lives at the intersection of travel, queer culture, and new media.