I’ve added an LGBT column for the website to make the site more inclusive and talk about issues that affect some members of our travel community. In this column, we will hear from voices in the LGBT community about their experiences on the road, safety tips, events, and overall advice for other LGBT travelers to get the most out of their time on the road! This month, Dani from Globetrottergirls is discussing lesbian travel.
While sitting at the rooftop pool of my hotel and sharing beers with other travelers over sunset, the ever-dreaded question comes up: “Do you have a boyfriend?”
Here we go again, I think to myself, another coming out.
Though I’ve had this conversation hundreds of times, the words “I’m gay” still don’t come easily, especially because I never know what reaction to it will be.
Will the situation get awkward? Will someone make a homophobic comment?
It’s never a simple affair. Instead, it usually results in a number of questions where I feel like I’m the ambassador of all things lesbian — scissoring, dildos, and why some women choose an androgynous look – to a group of strangers I just met.
Like gay travel, lesbian travel presents its own set of challenges.
If you are a femme lesbian or couple, it isn’t much different from solo female travel. Nobody is looking at you funny, and you don’t need to feel particularly threatened in one of the 76 countries where homosexuality is not legal (in 10 of which it is punishable by death) — because nobody knows you’re a lesbian. When traveling with a feminine girl, it is usually more likely that we’ll get asked if we are sisters than lovers.
However, if you are a butch lesbian, it’s a completely different story. It’s much more obvious that you are gay, and you can’t hide your sexuality. If you are a femme/butch couple or butch/butch couple, it is nearly impossible to hide your sexual orientation, or the fact that you are a couple, even if you keep the PDAs to a minimum. You’ll definitely notice the looks of other people.
“Don’t assume everyone sees you the way you see yourself. Most people will see you based on the stereotypes they were raised with. Your butch appearance is a clear sign to many people in the U.S. that you’re a lesbian. In other countries, especially non-Western ones, you might just be stereotyped to being ‘a woman with short hair.’ I’ve been mistaken for a man many times before, but most (if not all of those times), they’re the ones that are embarrassed about it,” says Mindy Postoff, who writes the lesbian travel blog Bounding Over Our Steps with her wife Ligeia.
For butch-looking lesbians traveling for the first time, she recommends: “If you’ve caught the travel bug, then go to places that have similar societal norms as your own. Go to places where same-sex marriage is legal and pride events are big celebrations.”
So, if you’re a lesbian about to head out on the road, here are some important things to know beforehand:
It’s harder to meet lesbians and find travel companies that cater to lesbians
There are many more hotels, resorts, cruises, and organized tours that cater to gay men. Sure, there are some tour operators who specialize in lesbian travel (such as Olivia), there is the occasional lesbian cruise, and there are some lesbian-owned B&Bs and hotels, but they are few and far between. (In my experience they also tend to cater to lesbian couples and older lesbians, leaving out younger girls who are looking to meet other single girls their age on vacation.)
Most big cities also have at least one gay bar, whereas there are fewer and fewer lesbian bars. Even on a recent visit to Berlin, a major gay hotspot, I struggled to find a lesbian party on a Friday night because the popular girls’ night only takes place every other Friday.
If you are traveling alone and want to connect with local girls, I recommend lesbian dating apps like Her or Scissr, or general dating apps such as Tinder, Plenty of Fish, or OkCupid. These apps can be used for hookups, of course, but I have never had a problem using them simply as a way to connect with a local girl to show me around or introduce me to the lesbian bar or club scene.
If you would like to go to a lesbian party, check Time Out or Purple Roofs for lesbian events. Some lesbian dating apps, like Her, Wing Ma’am, or Findhrr, have also incorporated lesbian venues and events. Lesbian or queer groups on Couchsurfing.org and Meetup.com are also a great place to ask for recommendations or find lesbian meet-ups.
Traveling as a couple? You’ll often tone down your relationship
If you are traveling with your partner, you will often find yourself toning down your relationship in order to not draw attention, especially when you are traveling in regions where homosexuality isn’t widely accepted. This includes little gestures like stroking your partner’s back, using terms of endearment with each other or holding hands. Things that are completely normal for straight couples are often an absolute no-go for same-sex couples. While this may not seem like a big deal, it can be tough at times to not be able to fully show your feelings for each other, especially on a rough travel day that doesn’t go as planned. It can wear you down after a while, which is why it is important to book private rooms at least part of the time, even when you are on a long-term backpacking trip with a tight budget.
There is one advantage that lesbian couples have over gay male couples: it is much less of a hassle to get a double bed for two women than it is for two men, even in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Two girls sharing a bed is socially much more accepted than two men asking for a double bed, which can turn into an awkward situation at the check-in counter, or even become downright dangerous if you are in a country where same-sex relationships are a no-no.
(That said, be warned: you will get odd looks sometimes when you insist on a double bed at check-in, or are given a room with twin beds even though you specifically booked a room with a double bed.)
Know the laws and safety situation
In some respects, safety — as a queer traveler — is actually less of an issue for women, because there are still a lot of countries where same-sex relationships between two men are punished, but same-sex relationships between two women are not. And, as mentioned, a femme solo traveler or couple often does not raise any suspicions.
On the other hand, safety is a much bigger concern for lesbians than it is for gay men because women of any sexuality have to worry about being raped or abused. Lesbian travelers have the added issue of being victims of hate crimes, too. It is important to do a lot of research before your trip. How is homosexuality seen in the country I’m traveling to? Are PDAs inappropriate, or can I go ahead and smooch my girlfriend without fearing a rock might get thrown at me? It is important to understand what might be seen as offensive in the country you are visiting, and respect the local culture. The ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) is a good starting point for your research with its maps of sexual orientation laws, as is the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travelers Association) with their online travel planning resources for LGBT travelers.
Don’t let fear hold you back — go somewhere welcoming
If you feel unsure about a certain destination because your sexual orientation is obvious, start instead with a country that is known to be gay friendly, such as Costa Rica or Mexico or one of the 22 countries that have legalized same-sex marriage and 19 more that offer something equal, or even a destination with a thriving gay culture within the U.S., such as San Francisco or New York.
If you are looking to embrace your gay-ness while traveling, then why not check out a lesbian festival like the Ella Festival in Spain, L-Beach in Germany, or the Eressos Women’s Festival in Greece. WikiTravel has a great overview of gay-friendly and dangerous destinations, plus a list of all major Prides and other gay events.
Instead of being afraid to travel because of your sexuality, you should see traveling as a lesbian also as a chance to raise awareness of gay culture. I guarantee that you will meet people (including Americans) who have never met a gay person in their lives, and showing them that we are — as solo travelers and as couples — no different from them and opening their minds to other ways of living is a rewarding by-product, as you learn about different cultures and lifestyles yourself.
Dani Heinrich is the vagabonding writer and photographer behind GlobetrotterGirls.com. Originally from Germany, she has been nomadic since April 2010, when she quit her corporate job in London and embarked on a round-the-world-trip that continues to this day. Dani has travelled through over 60 countries on four continents and has no plans to stop any time soon. Dani is always on the hunt for amazing street art, mouthwatering vegetarian food, secluded beaches, scenic running routes, off the beaten path gems and a hammock to work from. You can also follow her adventures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.