Just when we thought it was safe to hit the road, we were walloped by the delta variant, the latest plot twist in the 18-months-and-counting pandemic story. The surprising data that fully vaccinated people could transmit the virus came shockingly from Provincetown, Massachusetts, with a 90% vaccination rate. Ptown quickly tightened restrictions requiring masking at all indoor locations and proof of vaccine at all entertainment venues — interventions that worked. As of press time, the positivity rate there is much lower than that in much of the rest of the United States and it remains one of our top recommendations this fall and beyond. Ptown demonstrated a successful response — stressing safety, yet continuing to deliver a deeply satisfying experience.
Read on for our favorite queer-friendly destinations striving to create a safe space for you and strategies for navigating the increasingly complex world of pandemic travel. Safe, beautiful and fun LGBTQ-friendly destinations, experiences and accommodations beckon whether you seek to recharge your batteries, deplete them, or a little of both.
Safe and queer destinations
Provincetown, Massachusetts, is our very own home beyond the rainbow as suggested by this year’s Carnival theme. Book far ahead for popular weeks (July 4, Bear Week, and Carnival), but we recommend visiting outside of the most popular times for a less frantic and more enjoyable stay. There are diverse LGBTQ-oriented events almost every weekend through New Year’s Eve. For more information visit ptown.org and provincetownforwomen.com.
Fort Lauderdale and Miami remain the beating heart of LGBTQ-friendly Florida despite the barbaric state-level response causing the Sunshine State to be among the worst-hit in the U.S. by the pandemic. Fort Lauderdale has been world-renowned for its authentic and inclusive vibe for all visitors since 1996. Over 1,000 local businesses have taken the Safe & Clean Pledge. Likewise, Miami has implemented the Greater Miami Travel Guidelines and Destination Pledge accessible from the destination’s homepage outlining how safety measures are being implemented throughout the community.
Puerto Rico is the undisputed LGBTQ capital of the Caribbean, enticing visitors with reliably warm, sunny weather and a sincere outreach to queer travelers. Despite unfortunate, highly publicized attacks on local transgender people, Puerto Rico boasts a visible and vibrant trans community and nightlife options that specifically cater to queer and nonbinary folks. This helps create a safer and more comfortable environment than other warm-weather destinations in the Caribbean or Mexico, which lack venues for a trans community that mostly lives in hiding. For more information, visit discoverpuertorico.com/things-to-do/lgbtq-travel.
Philadelphia makes for a fun urban weekend getaway. Once the kids are back in school and the lines at the Liberty Bell disappear, you’ll find a warm, walkable and LGBTQ-friendly city. Find LGBTQ restaurants, safe nightlife, engaging events and recommendations galore at Visit Philly. Pro tip: Try to schedule a half day at the Barnes Foundation art collection.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Wait, what? Yep, this charming Midwestern town is our top unexpected recommendation. You’ll find historic cultural venues, a walkable entertainment district with plenty of top-notch live music and theatrical performances, a delectable culinary scene and a truly warm welcome. Find trip-planning recommendations at the destination’s website.
Queer cruises and land vacations
Cruises are coming back, and it may be surprising to hear that they are probably the safest vacation you can take. According to Randle Roper, CEO at LGBTQ vacation company, VACAYA, “with cruise lines soon to mandate that all guests and crew members must be vaccinated, cruise ships will be among the very safest locations on the planet — with the entire population vaccinated. Making sensible choices like masking and social distancing while ashore, cruisers can avoid infection altogether.”
Resort vacations are also safe, with similar universal vaccination requirements and plenty of room for guests to spread out. Remember with no children during LGBTQ weeks at mainstream resorts, they offer much more space per adult guest. VACAYA’s big 2021 fall events include their all-inclusive Mexico Resort vacation (October 30–November 6) and their New Orleans Cruise (November 14–22). In 2022, there are only two trips that still have rooms available as of press time: their Caribbean Cruise (January 10–17) and their all-inclusive Costa Rica Resort (June 5–12). Information and booking are available at myvacaya.com.
Not only will queer tour companies get you there and back safely, “they also can ensure your money is being spent with other welcoming, progressive and even queer business and individuals around the world,” according to Robert Sharp, founder of Out Adventures. “This is even more important,” he continues, “when planning travel to countries that are known to be less than queer welcoming.” Visit their site to read about their New Year’s Eve trips to Thailand and Cuba and in 2022, their Iceland Winter trip, and four back-to-back Croatia small group cruises, which are starting to sell out.
R Family Vacations is one of our top recommendations for planning an incredibly fun and satisfying tour or cruise in the company of other queer travelers and allies. You don’t even have to have children to join their trips. In 2022, R Family offers land tours in Thailand and Ireland, an LGBTQ group on board a cruise in Alaska, and a magical all-queer full-ship-charter Uniworld river cruise in Northern Italy, among other trips.
Expert LGBTQ travel advisers are standing by to help you. And they’re free!
Even in this uncertain time, you can enjoy enriching and joyful travel opportunities in LGBTQ-friendly environments in a way that maximizes safety and minimizes risk — you just have to plan a little more. We highly recommend using an LGBTQ expert travel adviser who keeps up to date on LGBTQ-friendly tour, cruise and safari providers, as well as destinations and hotels and who understand innately the needs and concerns of LGBTQ travelers. They dedicate themselves to LGBTQ travel safety and keeping up with the latest, ever-shifting pandemic-era guidance, health protocols, openings, and closings. They know how to get the best value for your time and money, and thanks to their global connections, they can often score VIP upgrades for you at hotels, on cruise lines, on tours, and more. They are also your most important advocate when trips are canceled or rescheduled. Clients use travel advisers, like our top picks here, for no additional fees:
Kelli Carpenter, who also co-owns R Family Vacations; Kcarpenter@tzell.com
Jonathan Alder, Travelstore USA; firstname.lastname@example.org
Giuseppe Giulio; Gay Friendly Italy; email@example.com
Choose LGBTQ-welcoming accommodations
We’ve heard far too many stories of queer guests receiving a frosty welcome (or worse) when checking into a hotel or AirBnB. These are our top choices for LGBTQ-friendly resources for accommodations where you can truly relax and be your authentic selves:
MisterBnB includes one million LGBTQ-friendly listings in 200 countries and is primarily geared toward gay men.
FabStayz proudly offers accommodations inclusive of all the letters of our ever-growing initialism.
booking.com is rolling out an LGBTQ certification program, including live training and ancillary materials, for its hotel partners over the next year. Look for the “Proud Hospitality” label on listings.
New York City-based Ed Salvato is a freelance travel writer, instructor at New York University and the University of Texas at Austin’s NYC Center, and an LGBTQ tourism marketing specialist.