Traveling solo always comes with its own joys and its own obstacles. That fact is no less true for a queer person. Within the LGBTQ+ community, there are dozens of different intersections and experiences that can factor into how your experience traveling solo might pan out. If you’re about to embark on your first solo trip as a queer person, there are a few key things you should bear in mind to make sure your first foray into traveling alone is as safe and as much fun as possible. Here are some tips and tricks I picked up traveling solo as a queer woman.
I would love to tell you that, no matter where you go, your identity will be accepted and you will be safe to travel authentically as you please, and hopefully one day, I will be able to. For now though, there are unfortunately some areas in the world that are not always safe for LGBTQ+ people. Whether there is a lack of laws in place to protect queer people or whether it’s based more on cultural attitudes, there are some ways to work out where is safe and what sort of measures you might need to consider in advance.
Equaldex.com and 76crimes.com are two free online resources that can give you some expectations in advance of which countries are safe and ones where you need to be more careful. Remember that different regions can have different attitudes too. For example, major cities can often be more accepting than rural regions. Another great way to scope this out is to ask on LGBTQ+ networks that you might be a part of, like a Facebook group for travelers. Getting someone else’s recent, relevant experience there is often really helpful, especially if it’s for a more remote locale.
Once you have the information, it’s up to you what you do with it. Many queer travelers choose not to travel to areas where LGBTQ+ lifestyles are not supported, reasoning that they don’t want to spend their travel budget somewhere that doesn’t respect their human rights. Others believe that laws don’t always represent the people. I have had many wonderful trips in places where my sexuality is technically forbidden. The important thing to remember is to only do what you feel comfortable, and be aware that you may need to hide certain aspects of your identity if you want to go to places where being LGBTQ+ is still illegal.
One way to make solo queer travel easier, even if you are in a country where attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people are less than friendly, is to find a safe space and a community before you even arrive. Look for LGBTQ+ friendly hostels or see if there’s a cluster of queer-friendly bars and restaurants which might make a good spot to book an Airbnb. Although I am a big fan or supporting local businesses, sometimes chains can be safer. A US- or European-owned chain, even in a country that might otherwise be unaccommodating for LGBTQ+ people, will likely be a more friendly place to call home while you’re there,
No matter where you are, remember that not all LGBT+ experiences are treated equally. LGBTQ+ friendly might apply to gay men and lesbians, but you might need to take different considerations into account if you are trans, as one example. Try searching specifically for what you need: type ‘trans woman friendly accommodation [INSERT CITY HERE]’ and see what comes up. This is another time where community-driven advice is great; see what others in your community have to recommend if you’re heading to a new place.
If you have any accommodation that might need to be met on your travels, such as explaining gendered documentation at airports, knowing a few key phrases in the target language in advance might save you time and potential stress in airport queues. In countries where less progress has been made at having gender-neutral options on forms or where officials have less experience in processing passport photos where you might look different in real life, try and have some words or phrases ready to go. These could be:
I’ve also had non-binary and trans friends of mine create little cards in the target language explaining their identity. It might seem like overkill, but it can save you an exhausting and potentially triggering debate at airport security – vital if you’re as bad at timekeeping as I am!
If you’re traveling somewhere that doesn’t have a particularly open LGBTQ+ community, it’s likely you’re going to get a few probing questions, often entirely well-meaning. No matter how kind the intention, remember that it’s never your job to educate other people. Your identity is your own and being queer is not synonymous with being the world’s friendly LGBTQ+ teacher. Always feel within your rights to politely say you don’t want to answer a question if it’s too personal, you’re too tired, or you just plain don’t want to. You’re on vacation, after all!
If you do decide to chat or explain certain things while traveling, be sure to take care of yourself at the same time. It can be exhausting to have to explain your sexuality or identity over and over again. Sometimes people don’t realize how probing or intrusive their questions can get. Set some boundaries for yourself and don’t be afraid to make other people respect them.
Whether you’re a cis, straight person reading this or a member of the LGBTQ+ community yourself, allyship is one of our biggest assets as queer travelers. Even a solo traveler doesn’t need to walk alone all the time. If you travel with any level of privilege, try and be in tune with ways you can use this to help other people to feel more comfortable and safe while traveling.
Give as much as you get to queer communities you find while traveling. Be ready to lend a helping hand, step in to help another queer traveler if they’re struggling, and treat those you meet along the way as you would like someone to help you out if you needed it. Solo travel is one of the most rewarding things we can do in life – but it doesn’t mean we can’t find friends and community along the way.