Getting Back Out Into the World Safely: Must-know Advice for LGBTQ Travelers

Since the world packs travel hazards aside from COVID-19, from accidents to dangerous scum targeting queer tourists, here’s some dead serious advice and resources for LGBTQ people to take into consideration. Bon voyage, bitches!

Get Insurance That Covers COVID-19 (and Yes, Your Spouse Too)

Before booking that flight, cruise, hotel or car rental, secure a travel insurance policy. Be sure it covers COVID-19 related calamities, including hospitalization and cancellations on either your end or that of the airline, cruise line, hotel, tour company, etc. (as many have learned since March 2020, some policies did not). For several years before the pandemic hit, I took out an annual individual policy with Allianz (they’ve added COVID-19 benefits to some policies), which I made one claim on during early 2019 for a doctor’s visit in Singapore. The claims process was easy and paid out in a timely manner — a simple urgent-care illness situation that included medication. LGBTQ-friendly insurance company Seven Corners offers policies for both singles and same-sex couples and can even ensure you stay together if a medevac is required for one partner. Seven Corners also offers policies covering COVID-19.

If you have homeowners’ insurance, inquire as to whether your personal property
is covered against destruction or theft while traveling.

Know the LGBTQ+ Laws of the Land

Homosexuality is still illegal and even punishable by death in parts of the world. Some of these antigay laws are toothless legislative holdovers, like Singapore’s Penal Code Section 377A, which remains on the books despite ongoing legal challenges and an open, even thriving local gay scene (and entertainers like “Drag Race Thailand” queen Vanda Miss Joaquim). As of April 2021, countries with the death penalty on the books for same-sex relations include Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates.

Human Rights Watch maintains a series of online maps of countries with anti-LGBTQ and anti-gender expression laws, plus those with age of consent disparities between same-sex versus heterosexual individuals. It’s worth a look. So is travel bloggers Asher & Lyric’s whopping 150-country list of best and worst countries for LGBTQ travel in 2021, while our own U.S. Department of State boasts a fantastic information and resource page for LGBTI international travelers. There, you can find safety tips, how to reach U.S. embassies and consulates while abroad, and a TSA info page for transgender passengers.

Google Where You’re Going Before Booking Tickets

Googling your destination and “antigay” could produce up-to-the minute news developments that may inform your plans. A Molotov cocktail attack on a Laguna Beach gay bar in mid-2020, for example, is a pretty clear “maybe not right now.”

Show Respect and Be Smart About Public Displays of Affection

Life isn’t always a gay cruise or a strut down Santa Monica Boulevard. In some cultures, PDA between people of any gender or sexual identity are completely frowned upon and offensive, so look that up and, even better, look around you once you arrive. Watch (nonchalantly, not in some creepy way) how locals behave before indulging in public displays of affection (don’t be surprised to see men affectionately holding hands like “Sex and the City” girlfriends in Arab countries or India; it’s a cultural norm, despite the homophobia). Conversely, if you’re in a known gayborhood like Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ni-chōme or Mexico City’s Zona Rosa, live out loud and flash those conservative locals the gayest smile you can.

Back Up Critical Documents and Send to a Cloud Service

I’ve never been pickpocketed (and probably jinxed myself by writing that), but if this ever happens or you misplace important documents, a wallet, etc., have copies ready in the cloud, including booking numbers and, of course, a travel insurance policy. Dropbox, iCloud, whatever — just be sure it’s an encrypted service. Now you can more easily request replacements and access important numbers to cancel credit cards. If you’re legally married or partnered, also have copies and cloud backups of your marriage license and anything related to power of attorney and medical access. Especially here in the good ol’ freedom-y USA, some nosy “Christian” nurse in an Arkansas or Texas hospital may attempt to refuse a same-sex spouse access to a hospital unless you’re packing legal documents and a winnable lawsuit case.

Always Keep Your Medications on You (But Not Recreational Drugs)

Don’t put your PrEP in check-in luggage. I repeat: Do NOT put your PrEP in check-in luggage. Ever. If it’s medication you need daily, you’re risking missed doses should that bag get lost (or purposely purged from the plane to lighten its load). Keep them in your carry-on only! Also, for fuck’s sake, don’t bring recreational drugs into a country where you can go to jail for it. It’s a really wise use of 60 seconds on Google to look that up, because tourists will not be treated with leniency. It’s a lesson you don’t want to learn.

New York-raised entertainment and travel journalist Lawrence Ferber has contributed to publications including Entertainment Weekly, New York Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, The Advocate, NewNowNext, The New York Post and TripSavvy. He also co-wrote/co-created the 2010 gay romcom “BearCity” and authored its 2013 novelization.