Choosing where to go for your next vacation can be a tricky—though rewarding—process. Beach or mountain? Luxe or affordable? But as last week’s Why We Travel post detailed, a slew of the world’s top destinations outlaw homosexuality, leaving LGBT travelers with a more basic question of where they can (and should) and cannot (and should not) venture.
How to choose? Here are a few pointers:
Safety first: Upwards of 70 countries worldwide criminalize homosexuality. And public perception of gay individuals can be abysmal even in places without draconian sodomy laws on the books. Russia, for example, has seen a spike in hate crimes recently despite its relatively mild anti-gay laws. The takeaway from the first Why We Travel post on Sochi’s Olympics applies anywhere physical violence is a real possibility: LGBT travelers, especially same-sex couples, should exercise discretion.
Feel good: If you know you’d be on edge the whole time, don’t go. If you’d rather spend your money elsewhere, and there is a convenient alternative, don’t go. John Clifford, an A-List agent from International Travel Management, instructs his clients to make their choices based on personal feelings matched with the facts regarding legal and general safety issues.
If you go:
Boycott vs. Buycott: Ideally, travel creates positive experiences for both visitor and host, while boycotting someplace is inherently negative. Clifford prefers “buycotts,” tweaking an experience to “support those who support you.” The A-List agent explains that savvy travelers should think about where their tourism dollars go. While theoretically that could apply on a national level, opting for gay-friendly Guadaloupe over St. Kitts, a “buycott” also refers to choosing the right hotels and guides in regions where widespread support for LGBT individuals is lacking.
The best way to find gay-friendly hotels and guides? Book through an agent that caters to LGBT travelers. They have often spent decades building relationships with local business-owners, ensuring that guests of all orientations receive first-rate service. David Rubin, another T+L A-List agent, has been sending LGBT clients all over the world since 1996. “I don’t want tolerant,” Rubin says of the hotels and guides he works with. “I want welcoming.”
Agencies like Rubin’s and International Travel Management essentially run their own “buycott,” hand-selecting properties and making sure that local staffs are comfortable with their guests’ orientations.
Be an ambassador: When hotel front desk staffers, restaurant servers, and tour guides have positive experiences with their LGBT guests, it matters. Even in countries with the deepest-running homophobia, these personal interactions can change opinions, so that next time Ugandans (or US citizens, for that matter) vote on a gay rights issue, the scale might tip further in favor of progress.
As always, visit the State Department's LGBT Travel page for more information.
Peter Schlesinger is a Research Assistant at Travel + Leisure and a member of the Trip Doctor News Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @pschles08.