In 15 years of traveling together, my husband and I have visited 76 countries. Many of them we have visited over four long-term trips. We’ve trained as diving instructors, taught English, managed social media accounts, written countless blog posts, and got stoned off a tiny tropical island by a 50-strong mob. Eventful times on five continents.
Before each trip, someone at home in the United Kingdom, always asked, “Is it safe?” And I have to admit that we’ve visited many places where the Foreign Office would say a categorical no.
Kashmir during riots, Ethiopia when the government turned off the internet to stop a student uprising, the sea crossing between Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo because of pirates–the kidnapping, machete-carrying ones rather than the ones with the jaunty hats, sadly.
Of course, every time someone has asked, we’ve always said, “No, we’ll be fine.” So far, we have been fine (I’m superstitiously touching wood after saying that).
Any issues we have had while traveling has usually been because of poor planning. Forgetting to get a visa for Myanmar and being put straight back on the plane and sent back to Thailand was a classic example. What has never caused us an issue is that fact we’re a gay couple. Not once, in all those years of travel.
Actually, this is not strictly true. Once in Kuala Lumpur, the porter who insisted on taking my backpack after prying it out of my hands, said in the elevator, “Don’t worry, you won’t have to sleep in the same bed — there are two twins.”
This was a long time ago now and back then, we both just giggled. Many years on and far more world-weary, we would probably insist on a double room. We had decided to stay at a fancy hotel, a treat from months of grubby hostels. Chances were that we were less bothered simply because we were looking forward to hot water. It’s important to remember that hotel staff might not care who you sleep with or they bury their prejudice in order to remain profitable. It rarely affects us either way.
In fact, we’ve had much more issue traveling around the United Kingdom than we have in some of the wildest places in the world. More issues in the U.K. than in the numerous countries we’ve visited where homosexuality is still illegal.
Many times, after booking a double room online in the U.K., we’ve been asked by reception if we’re okay staying in a room with a double bed. This is something they would not ask male/female couples, and something I used to find super awkward. Now, I just drop the hotel a message and bring it to their attention (it most likely being a training issue rather than a staff member’s fault).
This is probably the mildest of issues we’ve had in the U.K. — it hasn’t happened anywhere else in the world. Unlike a trip to Birmingham, have we ever been followed down the road by a car full of lads while they yelled homophobic abuse at us.
It’s interesting that we’ve not met many openly gay travelers over the years. I know that not all us gay men wear the prerequisite “I am gay” badge. If we went to classic gay places, Gran Canaria, Barcelona, or Berlin, then there are entire scenes dedicated to gay vacationers, but it’s not as common as I’d like to see that the LGBTQ+ community ventures away from these popular spots.
I understand that for many gay men certainly it’s important that wherever they visit has a scene, a chance to meet other gay men. With the onset of social apps, my hope is that this will change if it hasn’t already, because wherever an app works, there is, effectively a scene.
I know the fear of being the only gay person in rural area can be an issue for many. However, with the advent of various apps and websites such as CouchSurfing, it’s possible to make new friends anywhere, it brings me back to the question, “Is traveling as LGBTQ safe?”
There are standard safety precautions that are wise for any traveler, including:
- Staying in regular contact with people back home and making sure that they have a rough idea where you are.
- If you’re going on treks or doing potentially dangerous activities, ensure you let someone know when you’ll be expected back.
- Keep photocopies/photos of important documents in a safe place – passport/driving license/visas, etc – I keep copies in Dropbox.
- Avoid dodgy areas of cities, especially at night – this often means planning ahead. Many bus trips drop you off in the middle of the night and bus stations are often on the outskirts of town. This happened to us in Manila and downtown Nairobi, both places best avoided at night. Even on a budget, sometimes it’s good to invest in a metered taxi to help you find accommodations rather than wandering around in the dark.
For LGBTQ+ travelers there are a few additional considerations, though if I’m honest, the only ones we do are the following:
- Avoid public displays of affection (we’ve been together nearly 15 years so this is easy enough).
- If you have concerns, Google the country you are visiting and check its history on LGBTQ+ rights and see if there is anything you should obviously avoid. Some countries have underground scenes that sometimes get raided by the police. If this is the case, it’s useful to know so you can make an informed decision about whether you want to go out on your trip.
- We always book double rooms, but if you don’t feel comfortable you can always book two singles. As a male couple, many of the countries that have issues with gay men are countries where it’s common for male friends to share a bed to save money, which is probably why we’ve never had an issue.
I personally believe that if you take all the same sensible precautions when traveling as anyone else, there is no reason in the world that for an LGBTQ+ traveler, a destination can’t be the same wonderful place as it is for everyone else.
Do you have any safety tips for LGBTQ travelers?
Photos by Dante Harker.