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 gives you the ultimate Lesbian friendly travel experience.
When I started planning my first trip to Latin America in 2010, I wondered what it would be like to travel with my girlfriend in strictly Catholic countries, many of them known for their culture of machismo. Would we be safe? Would we get the chance to connect with local lesbians or meet other lesbian travelers?
I had traveled extensively around Europe and I’d been to LGBT hot spots in the US but had no idea what to expect in other parts of the world. Back then, there wasn’t much information online, and social media wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. Today, planning a lesbian trip has gotten much easier since then. Still, if you are not traveling to a lesbian or Pride festival, planning an LGBT-friendly trip can be daunting and overwhelming. Where to start? How to go about finding queer-friendly destinations and meeting other gay travelers?
Like me, a lot of lesbians, especially first-time travelers, feel more comfortable traveling in an environment where they feel safe. With that in mind, I’ve compiled this ultimate resource for lesbian travelers, including websites you’ll want to bookmark for trip planning, LGBT-friendly booking sites, travel opportunities for same-sex couples or lesbian solo travelers, and how to meet like-minded people during your trip!
Table of Contents
- Trip-Planning Strategies
- How to Find Lesbian-Friendly Travel Companies
- How to Find lesbian-Owned and -Friendly Accommodation
- The Best Lesbian Tours and Cruises
- How to Meet Other Lesbians While Traveling
- How to Travel Safe as a Lesbian
1. Trip-Planning Strategies
Maybe you’ve already got a destination in mind, or maybe you’re completely open. If this is your first international trip, you might want to play it safe and visit a country with liberal views on same-sex relationships — and not one of the 77 countries that have legal LGBT discrimination.
The US Department of State is a good place to start to gather LGBTQI Travel Information, including some pointers on staying safe as a queer traveler. Both the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), a nonprofit human rights group in Geneva, and the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) are excellent resources. The former has a detailed overview of sexual orientation laws around the world, and the latter has good trip-planning tools.
Damron publishes a complete travel guide by and for lesbians every year, including over 9,000 listings in North America, South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and major cities in Europe and Asia. It also includes festivals, lesbian tours, and conferences, as well as information for vegetarians and multiracial couples and on wheelchair access, among much more.
Passport Magazine is the only gay and lesbian travel magazine still in publication in the United States. It covers LGBT travel, culture, adventure and style — the perfect go-to if you’re looking for some lesbian travel inspiration.
If this is your first trip abroad, and you don’t want to travel too far from the US, I recommend Costa Rica, which is very LGBT friendly. Manuel Antonio has plenty of gay-owned hotels, and Playa Samara, my favorite beach in Costa Rica, even has a lesbian-owned B&B right on the beach.
Mexico is one of the countries that surprised me most in terms of gay-friendliness: Not even in San Francisco did I see as many gay couples openly holding hands and making out in parks as I did in Mexico City! Moreover, Puerto Vallarta is the “gay capital” of Mexico, and along with the nearby beaches of the Riviera Nayarit, it makes for an easy getaway from the US — where you can be out without worrying about how you may be perceived.
2. How to Find Lesbian-Friendly Travel Companies
The IGLTA has a comprehensive list of all of its official partners, which include companies like Delta, Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, United, Orbitz, Hotels.com, and Expedia.
Expedia has a separate section for queer travelers, featuring LGBT-welcoming hotels and guides to top gay hotspots.
3. How to Find lesbian-Owned and -Friendly Accommodation
The best place to look for lesbian-owned and lesbian-friendly accommodation is Purple Roofs, the world’s largest travel directory of LGBT-friendly accommodation. Over 4,800 bed & breakfasts, hotels, vacation rentals, and other properties are listed. Simply type in your destination and all available properties there will be listed. You’ll see right away if it’s lesbian or gay owned, the price per night, and a description of the property:
Another option is to look for TAG Approved® hotels, which are those that are not only LGBT friendly but also support the LGBT community in their employment policies and services. (TAG stands for Travel Advocacy Group.) There are around 2,000 such hotels, including several big chains, such as Hilton Hotels, Marriott, Sheraton, and The W. Similar to Purple Roofs, you can type in your destination and be shown a listing of all TAG Approved® hotels there.
While Purple Roofs focuses on small, independent businesses, TAG features mostly bigger hotel corporations. The advantage of TAG is that it features many hotels that are members of travel reward programs, so if you are into travel hacking and looking to use points in a lesbian-friendly hotel, the TAG website will be more useful for you.
Another option is GayTravelNet, which is operated by the ILGTA and also features a number of gay- and lesbian-friendly accommodation options around the world.
Not every lesbian cares if she is staying in explicitly LGBT-friendly accommodations. So if you’re not sure of the kind of place you’re checking in to, you may well run into this issue: having to decide if you are comfortable requesting a double bed when you are given two single beds. I don’t know how many times my partner and I were shown a room with two beds after explicitly booking a double bed. Most receptionists simply assume that two girls traveling together are friends or sisters; rarely do they assume that they are a couple. I do remember situations in which I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to ask (in Malaysia, for example, where LGBT rights are largely unrecognized).
If you’re confident enough, you can ask for a room with one bed instead, which is what I started doing after I got tired of squeezing into a single bed with my girlfriend. But not everyone is comfortable doing this, so if you want to be 100% sure that you’re welcomed — especially when traveling as a couple — I recommend booking lesbian-friendly accommodation.
4. The Best Lesbian Tours and Cruises
There are several providers for lesbian tours, the biggest one being Olivia. Olivia offers all-lesbian vacations, ranging from resorts to cruises. Olivia always buys out a whole resort or charters the entire ship to make sure the trip is a safe space for women, so that they feel like they can be out without worrying about anything.
In addition to ships or resorts filled with lesbians, Olivia also offer the best lesbian entertainment on their vacations, including artists like Melissa Etheridge, the Indigo Girls, Wanda Sykes, and Lily Tomlin.
Olivia is a great option for couples, but also for solo travelers who can’t find anyone to travel with but aren’t ready to go on a trip by themselves. One of the things that make Olivia special is that women come together on their trips to meet new people and form friendships, and many women travel with Olivia over and over again.
Focus Diva is a UK-based lesbian tour operator that offers hosted lesbian group holidays around Europe, for example, the Women’s Festival in Lesvos, Greece; a golf-themed cruise; and river cruises around Europe. (These are not limited to lesbian travelers from the UK, by the way.)
R Family Vacations, founded by Rosie O’Donell, started out as “R Family Cruises” but has since grown into other kinds of LGBT family vacations. In addition to its popular family vacations for lesbian parents and their kids, the company has launched an “Adult Vacation” line, which offers kid-free vacations, not strictly for lesbian travelers but both gay men and women. In contrast to R’s family vacation line, the adult holidays aim to connect LGBT travelers without kids. The 2017 edition of the Adult Vacation is a transatlantic cruise from England to New York on the Queen Mary 2, including a West End theater performance prior to departure.
Another company that offers mixed cruises (for gay men as well as lesbians), is Aquafest Cruises, which specializes in discounted LGBT cruises to destinations such as Alaska, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, and Asia. Aquafest’s cruises are considerably cheaper than other gay and lesbian cruises (including the above mentioned R Adult Cruises), and it also offers themed cruises around celebrations like Mardi Gras and Halloween. Entertainment on board includes lesbian get-togethers, singles get-togethers, theme dance parties, gay Olympics, stand-up comedy, cabaret, and celebrity singers. (In 2017, Aquafest is expanding and offering its first non-cruise vacation: an African safari.)
Out Of Office is a new travel start-up that arranges high-end holidays for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples as well as gay-friendly flights, hotels, transfers, and excursions. It also offers several itineraries aimed at lesbian travelers (guaranteeing that the tour operators and hotels used in the itineraries are lesbian friendly), and group trips for LGBT travelers to destinations such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan, and China.
5. How to Meet Other Lesbians While Traveling
These days, the easiest way to meet other lesbians while traveling is through dating apps (even if you’re not looking for a hook-up). I’ve met other lesbian solo travelers this way while backpacking through South America, had a girl show me around Milan, and got a great introduction to Tel Aviv’s lesbian scene, all of which I wouldn’t have otherwise. I am still in touch with most of the girls and happy to return the favor when they’re visiting New York.
The dating best apps to connect with other lesbians are HER (the most popular lesbian one) and all-gender dating apps like Tinder, OkCupid or PlentyOfFish. HER also has a listing of lesbian parties, meetups, festivals, and more, so you can check what is going on in the place you’re visiting.
A great option to meet lesbians who travel is through Couchsurfing groups. You don’t need to stay on a stranger’s couch if you don’t want to — Couchsurfing also has thousands of groups for all sorts of interests, including lesbian and queer groups. Here are some lesbian groups I am a member of:
Simply post about an upcoming trip and see if any other lesbians happen to be traveling in the same area or live in the place you’re visiting.
There’s another use for Couchsurfing groups: you can see if there are any LGBT or lesbian groups in the city you’re planning to visit. For example, there’s a group for NYC lesbians, queer Berlin, and Buenos Aires Lesbians. Most big cities have queer groups and they have regular meetups.
Meetup.com is a similar option, but with groups broken up into more specific interests. New York City, for example, has groups for “Lesbians Who Brunch,” “Black Lesbians,” and gay twenty-somethings, to name just a few. Just scroll through the meetup groups in the place you’re traveling to and join a meetup that fits your interests.
Facebook is also becoming an increasingly popular way to connect with other lesbians, and you can search for lesbian groups, as well as events in the city you’re traveling to:
Join the groups you find interesting and RSVP to events you think you’ll enjoy. If you’re comfortable going out by yourself, check if there are any lesbian bars or parties while you’re visiting.
6. How to Travel Safe as a Lesbian
As I mentioned above, you should be doing a fair amount of pre-trip research about your destination(s), especially if you are traveling abroad. What’s the country’s stand on same-sex relationships? Are there laws that allow discrimination against LGBT persons? Have there been any incidents involving queers?
It’s a controversial topic if gay and lesbian travelers should visit anti-LGBT countries, but I know a lot of lesbians who are willing to travel to such places. So if your dream is to climb Kilimanjaro, you’ll obviously tone down the PDAs there, considering that Tanzania is a country where same-sex sexual acts are crimes punishable by the state.
If you don’t want to risk being assaulted as an out-and-proud lesbian, then don’t travel to countries that are known to be severely homophobic, such as Jamaica; there are other Caribbean islands that are more welcoming to LGBT travelers. Choose your destination wisely and only travel to place you’re comfortable visiting, especially when on a solo trip. I, for example, can block out the catcalls and whistling that are common in Latin American countries, but I know other lesbians who can’t handle that kind of machismo.
If you are traveling as a couple, you will find yourself toning down PDAs a lot, as I have mentioned in my previous article: Lesbian Travel: 4 Things To Know.
When traveling alone, take the same precautions other solo female travelers take: be street-smart and vigilant, always listen to your gut feeling, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t flash your valuables.
As a lesbian, you may be more worried about your first trip overseas than your straight friends who don’t have to think about potential discrimination and anti-LGBT-laws, but as long as you do your research and thoroughly plan your trip, you don’t have to be afraid. On the contrary: you’ll probably be surprised to see how welcoming most places are of lesbian travelers.
If you want to be on the safe side, go with a lesbian tour company for your first trip, but after having traveled all over the world independently for years, I can honestly say that I have never felt threatened anywhere, simply because I took all the precautions necessary to stay safe as a lesbian traveler. Traveling has given me so many unforgettable experiences, connected me with other lesbians all over the world, and shown me some of the most beautiful spots on the planet — and I have no doubt that it will do the same for you.
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.