What is Gay Travel? The good, the Bad and the Ugly

Gay travel means different things to different people.

For some, it simply means travelling to destinations known for their buzzing gay scene, travelling to attend a gay pride event, places where you can meet other LGBTQ+ people, or seeking out local gay bars and clubs. These are the typically ‘fun’ aspects of gay travel. Think Sitges, Mykonos and San Francisco – places known to be LGBTQ+ welcoming.

But there is also a darker side to gay travel. It can mean something much more serious when you start to think about safety, cultural, societal and legal issues

The fun aspects are predominantly what the general public envision if you were to ask them about gay travel – basically an image of gay guys in speedos lounging on a beach will probably pop into their head. It’s perhaps a glamorized version painting over the problems of gay travel that, unless you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, you would never be aware of.

When the general public only see the fun stuff, they start to believe everything is ok and safe whereas the reality can be quite different.

If I ask someone what a pride event looks like, they have usually seen one and are completely aware. However, when I tell people about the death penalties in certain countries, discrimination laws, violence towards LGBTQ+ people, and how widespread these issues are, they are genuinely shocked and often have no awareness of these problems at all. 

Many people can’t believe that we still fear holding hands in places as safe as the UK. For many heterosexual couples, it’s all too easy to take for granted, but that’s why it’s important to talk about.

In this blog post we want to shine a light on the positive parts of gay travel as well as bringing awareness to the problems.

We want to shout about those destinations where you can be open and be yourself, the travel companies running gay vacations where you can feel at ease, and why you should travel for pride. We will also talk about the problems of gay travel, from the menial, to the serious.

In the first instance, we reached out to other gay travellers and asked them what ‘gay travel’ meant to them:

What is Gay Travel? Gay Travel Bloggers Opinions

Nomadic Boys ‘’For us gay travel is all about safety and security over and above everything else. It’s the importance of knowing that the place we are visiting will not take issue over us being a gay couple. It’s also about seeking out places where we will feel comfortable holding hands, dancing together and just generally being affectionate with each other- just as a straight couple would.’’

Travels of Adam – ‘’I travel because I love to travel, and I just happen to be gay. But for me, gay travel is also a specific way of how, where, when and why I choose to travel somewhere. It might be choosing to visit an especially gay-friendly destination or an LGBT event/festival (pride parades!), or maybe it’s just a trip with my gay friends for a weekend of fun’’

Once Upon a Journey – Gay travel to us means including gay women too! Whenever we want to know if it’s safe for us – as a girl couple – we google gay travel guides and look into the gay rights of the destinations. In fact, we believe most queer women google ‘gay travel’ instead of lesbian travel for example. We all know ‘lesbian’ search enquiries aren’t always what you actually search for as a queer female traveler. We like to travel to both ‘safe’ as ‘challenging’ destinations, we love meeting the local LGBTQ+ communities all around the world and hear their stories. Gay travel means so many things – but for us, it’s mostly about connecting with other cultures, however tolerant/welcoming.

Couple of Men”Gay travel to us means that we can travel to places where we can feel free to show affection to each other and where it is not a problem to book a double bed for a couple of men. It also means we can explore a LGBTQ+ neighborhood or help celebrate Pride with the local community next to spending some romantic time together in nature.”

The Gay Globetrotter – Traveling to me means that you, as a traveler, get to experience different cultures to get a snapshot idea of what life in another place is like. As a gay traveler, it means that you get to understand and appreciate how people of the local LGBTQ+ community live, thrive, or survive in another place. Depending on the location, this could mean a different array of going out to gay bars or clubs, or understanding how people need to adapt a massive part of their identity. To simply survive another day in the place where they live. It either makes you, as a gay traveler, be able to shine bright in another place, or appreciate the fact that you have that opportunity in your homeland.

@agayadventure We would define gay travel as exploring the world with the person you love, experiencing the amazing ups and (certainly) sometimes downs  that travel always bring! To be able to be yourself, because the beauty of the world has no prejudices! Whether you are at the top of a volcano in New Zealand or in the lost city of Petra, the beauty and experience is there for you to see just like for anyone else! The man made world needs to catch up! It’s got a long way to go but we have hope it will, one day. Gays are everywhere – love is everywhere! And that’s how it should be!
It also means, more often than not, saying “yes a double bed will be fine” and “no we are not brothers”

Two Bad Tourists – Gay travel can mean different things to different people, but at its core is simply the ability for LGBT+ people to travel safely and comfortably. The existence of homophobia in many places around the world has given rise to a small subset of LGBT+ friendly tourism business offering services where LGBT+ people can enjoy their travels with the security of not being discriminated against or being in danger. The need for gay travel grows every day and since more than 70 countries around the world outlaw some form of same-sex relationships, the importance of creating this safe space is more important than ever.

Ravi Round the World – Gay travel to me means being queer without fear and living out loud wherever I go! I am most fascinated by capturing local queer stories around the globe. What is it like to be out and proud in each and every destination? I have had so many people reach out and say “I wish I could be publicly gay where I’m from.” The goal is to eradicate homophobia everywhere so that gay travel just becomes travel.

The Globetrotter Guys – the meaning of gay travel varies for us so much and depends where we are in the world. Fundamentally, it means to strive to travel as openly and authentically as possible with the caveat of staying safe. The problem is that staying safe can reduce the ability to travel openly and authentically so part of gay travel for us is finding the balance between the two. Our key message is that safety must always come first.

There are clearly some consistent themes when it comes to peoples views on gay travel. Safety being a common one and secondly learning what its like to be LGBTQ elsewhere in the world.

Continue reading as we look into the good, the bad and the ugly of gay travel:

Gay Travel: The Good

We have had many positive gay travel experiences from the incredible gay nightlife in Madrid, going on gay sailing trips, gay cruises and hanging out at gay beaches all over Europe.

However, before I even start to write this section, I have the niggle that people are going to start asking ‘but why do we have to have, gay bars, gay cruises, gay beaches – why do we have to be separate?’.

It’s a fair point and in a perfect world, gay bars or exclusive gay trips need never have been created.

Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in and the most important thing for us when we talk about the following good/fun aspects of gay travel is that to their best ability, they provide a safe space and try to remove the dangers of travelling as an LGBTQ+ person which we will come on to.

Travelling for Gay Pride

Gay pride is both a celebration and a protest.

Many gay travellers are planning their vacations around gay pride events and using them as a way to see different cities at a time when you would hope acceptance is at its peak.

When we are in a city for a pride event there is definitely a feeling of safety in numbers. Feeling part of a majority for a change is something quite special and empowering. You see more and more people showing their true selves.

There is an increasing number of gay pride events happening annually across the world and every event we have attended has filled us with positivity and hope that acceptance will continue to grow across the globe. If you have not yet been to a pride, we encourage you to go to one!

Check out the Gay Prides we have attended.

gay travel

Gay travel companies and tours

Gay travel has come a long way and more and more LGBTQ+ specific travel companies are being created.

These are a great way to travel with like-minded people without having to go through the usual coming out process you might have to do over and over again in other groups.

Knowing that you are travelling with a gay travel company can also mean you can spend less time worrying about safety. They will have already assessed the potential LGBTQ+ specific risks of where you are going and should only work with gay friendly third parties. They should be able to answer any questions you have helping you to have a worry-free trip!

Less time spent Googling the local customs and more time spent enjoying your holiday!

gay travel

Specific Gay Travel Destinations

We have all heard of how gay friendly San Francisco, Sitges, New York and Mykonos are. When it comes to gay travel knowing your destination will be accepting towards you can make a massive difference to your trip.

For example, while we want to see all the islands of Greece, knowing Mykonos has a large gay scene makes us feel reassured that we can be ourselves on the island. This means that given the choice, this would be our first pick for Greece.

Most people, when they go on holiday, want to be able to be affectionate, hold hands or be a bit romantic. For us, the ability to do this is priceless.

Check out our top gay travel destinations in Europe for inspiration.

Gay Cruises

It took years for Ben to convince me to go on a cruise, let alone a gay one! However, I am now completely sold and we will be going on our second gay cruise in 2020.

Whilst gay tours provide a safe space within your group, gay cruises take this one step further by creating what we would call a huge gay utopia.

It’s hard to articulate the feeling, but the environment created on a gay cruise is so open, free and liberating it can’t compare to anything else. It’s the first experience we have had where we have been able to fully shirk all inhibitions and guards about being gay, dressing a certain way or having to come out over and over while on vacation – it is something special.

Before we went on a gay cruise, we had so many preconceptions. We have no problem in admitting that we were completely wrong which is why we wrote ‘The truth about an Atlantis Gay Cruise’ – check it out and we think you will be inspired.

gay travel

Gay Bars and Gay Clubs

Gay bars and gay clubs are a huge part of gay travel for us. For the style of trips we do, we don’t want to be stuck in the hotel at night-time, we want to go out and dance!

These bars are still important for the LGBTQ+ community. They provide a sanctuary for some, especially in countries where it is difficult to be gay, a place to learn about yourself, meet other like-minded people and they are a place for support.

There is a worrying trend of long running gay bars and clubs having to shut down, even in big cities like London! So next time you travel, go and support the local gay bar/club, they might need it!

Gay Beaches

Along with bars, clubs and cruises, gay beaches fall into the same concept of creating another safe space for gay travellers.

It may sound trivial, but we have both felt very self-conscious donning the stereotypical gay-style speedos on some beaches whereas we don’t need to give it a second thought on a gay beach.

Equally we don’t need to give cuddling up on a sun lounger or being romantic a second thought on a gay beach and that’s why we always make the effort to find them.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s also nice for people watching!

We have been documenting the gay beaches we have been to so take a look at our gay beach guides.

Gay Hotels and Gay Friendly Hotels

There are many hotels around the world now that are actively targeting the gay community and marketing themselves as outright gay hotels! (Check out our list of Gay Hotels and Resorts in Europe).

Equally, many hotels have been trying to take the extra step to make sure they are gay friendly. We take this with a pinch of salt as some think they can just say they are gay friendly without realising that being gay friendly in today’s day and age is a proactive task – not just putting up a rainbow flag.

Realistically, when you are staying somewhere touristy, it is unlikely that you will have an issue. Maybe the odd giggle if they have never had a gay couple before.

Even so, when it comes to staying at a hotel, no matter how friendly the hotel is, you don’t always feel like you can play around in the pool or cosy up together because of the other guests ‘noticing’. It doesn’t have to be verbal or physical but that awareness of people noticing you and commenting is not the most relaxing thing to have on holiday!

gay travel

This is where gay hotels, or in the Axel hotel chains case ‘Hetero-friendly’ hotels come in. They take away the guessing game from other guests, and also the inner conflict of ‘how affectionate can I be’.

These are just a few aspects of gay travel which we really do appreciate. When you have worked hard for your vacation, you should not have to spend any time looking over your shoulder. Gay hotels, beaches, bars, cities and cruises are places that help make this possible.

Gay Travel: The Bad

If you were to look at our Instagram, you would probably think everything we do is always easy and carefree!

That is not quite the case. Whilst we have listed some of the good things out there for gay travellers, you have to ask why we need those things in the first place.

This leads us on to……

The Planning Process

There have been many times we have been scrolling on Facebook and seen the most incredible travel photos of a destination.

For your typical heterosexual couple, the next step would be looking at flights and accommodation.

For us and most other LGBTQ+ travellers there are a few extra steps to take before getting to that exciting part. First stop is a Google search for LGBTQ+ rights in XYZ. If we then start reading about the death penalty, imprisonment, or that us simply existing is illegal, it’s probably a big no.

There is still more that goes into this because the LGBTQ+ rights in a country do not always reflect the attitudes of the people themselves and the true experience. This is where blogs like ours and the others listed in this article come into play.

Having to censor yourself

This is sometimes the sad reality of gay travel.

To what extent the LGBTQ+ rights (or lack of) in a destination stops you from travelling will vary from person to person. It’s hard to accept that you could be missing out on seeing some incredible places around the world simply because of who you are, but safety must come first. 

As a result, if we were to travel to Iran for example, we are not going to be out and honest about being a happily married couple. Instead we would be advised to pretend to be friends. Now while that would fully go against my moral integrity, there would be a real danger if we did not take that advice on board.

We spoke to a gay couple living in Iran – take a look at our interview with them to understand this further.

Equally, a perfect example of this point comes from our friend Megs blog, Dopes on the Road. She has written an excellent article on her experience with her wife in Tanzania and how they had to change the way they acted here.

Those annoying questions…

We have all been there. You arrive at a hotel to be received with a funny look and the question ‘are you sure you meant to book a double bed?’.

It’s subtle, sometimes homophobic and sometimes just plain ignorance. Here are some of the most commons ones we have had:

‘’Are you brothers?’’

‘’You must be twins’’

*comes out* ‘’Aww that’s so cute’’ *rolls eyes*

‘’Oh it’s a double bed, let me change it?’’

‘’So, I assume you want a twin bed?’’

‘’Will your wife be joining you for breakfast?’’

‘’We have a booking for Mr and Mrs Walton-Guest?’’

‘’So who is the woman in the relationship’’

‘’Well you have same-sex marriage now so everything is ok right?’’

Those are just a select few, there are so many more eye roll worthy ones.

Gay Travel: The Ugly

Sometimes we take it for granted the privileges we have living in certain countries such as the UK, Canada, America and Australia. Even with these privileges, these countries are far from perfect with huge room for improvement.

Australia, a place we love and would like to live one day, has only recently legalised same sex marriage, but not before spending (read wasting) a lot of money to reach that decision.

gay travel Gay Australia

Even in the UK, the laws do not change the attitudes of the people and anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes and behaviour still exist and isn’t that hard to find. Take the protests outside schools in Birmingham for example regarding the ‘No Outsiders’ programme which teaches acceptance for all types of families.

Let’s not even get started that in October 2019 the Supreme Court in the US is debating the legality of firing someone from their job for being LGBTQ+ – how that is even a debate we will never know!

However, on a global scale the position of some countries by comparison is truly archaic and can be scary. 

  • 12 countries still have the death penalty for private consensual same-sex activity, including Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates to name a few. 
  • 72 countries criminalise in some form private consensual same-sex activity. These include the majority of African countries, aswell as a lot of Caribbean islands, such as Jamaica, Barbados, St Lucia, Granada – all very popular, luxury honeymoon destinations! 
  • 15 countries criminalise the gender identity and/or expression of transgender people.

These are just the laws themselves. Reports of homophobic and transphobic hate crimes all across the world continue to rise. In the UK alone the stats are on an increase from 5,807 in 2014-15, to 13,530 in 2018-19.

This reinforces how bad the situation is in certain countries and how important it is to do your research. Safety is paramount and arming yourself with the correct knowledge about where you are visiting is a must.

This is one of the top reasons why gay travel as a topic is important.

gay travel gay hamburg guide gay pride csd hamburg

Compare gay travel now to 20 years ago and you will see that things have progressed a long way, in many cases for the better. There are more resources, safety advice, events, prides, accommodation and social spaces specifically for LGBTQ+ people than ever before making gay travel easier and more accessible.

But please do not forget, with all this progress, there is still an unimaginable amount of work to do to truly make the world safe and open to all. We should all keep this conversation alive, spread awareness, educate and promote acceptance.

We would love to hear your experience, the good, the bad and the ugly alike! Comment below.

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