At lunch earlier in the day, over a bowl of guacamole, I’d sat with my friends looking through a copy of Echo Mag—one of Phoenix’s three (three!!!) print LGBT magazines. On the second to last page was a map of downtown Phoenix with short descriptions of each of the bars, shops and clubs. There were at least 20 different ones and we weren’t entirely sure which was for what crowds, but I pulled out the page from the magazine and stuffed it in my pocket.
From a boozy lunch of margaritas to a carb-heavy dinner of pasta and glass-after-glass of wine, it was finally Saturday night. My friends and I were bar-hopping across Phoenix’s gay bars using the now crumpled-up map as our guide. Some of the places were awful, some were fun, but by about 1:30am., drinking cheap PBRs in a lesbian club and dancing to old-school hip hop, it was time to find the next place to go. (Yes, lesbian bars still do exist!) Looking at my map, and using Google Maps on my phone, we discovered we were walking distance to the two gay Latino clubs in town. A quick conversation with the bartender for the inside scoop and we were on our way to Karamba—a late-night club that would prove to be the best dance floor in town (and one with tacos, too!).
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Today, modern gay travelers don’t need a print guidebook to find underground, gay-friendly places. We don’t have to walk around with colored bandanas to send secret signals when cruising. Instead, we’re looking for more varied experiences from our gaycations. It’s not always about sex or hookups, or even about finding some secret place where gays, lesbians or transgender people might congregate. Why? Because now we’re, more often than not, out in the open. So much more of the world is accessible to LGBT travelers today with increasing comfort.
The basic gay trip, the gaycation, starts like any other planned holiday. Where do we go? What do we do? What do we want to see? Travel inspiration comes from a million different places, more and more often it’s from recommendations by our friends and loved ones. And then of course there’s Instagram—the #1 source in how millennials choose where to travel. The way gender and sexuality minorities travel now has changed dramatically over the past years and thankfully we have more and more tools and resources to make LGBT travel easier.
Where to Find LGBT Travel Inspiration & Things to Do
There’s plenty to say about the rise and fall of LGBT magazines and media. For a long time, underground queer magazines and indie zines were a source to discover not just ourselves and our sexuality, but also a place to find LGBT-owned businesses and friendly, safe spaces. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Adelaide, Australia or London, England—you’re going to find a local LGBT print magazine. Sometimes it’ll include weekly listings on clubs, parties and events. Other times it might feature personal ads. But these community-led media make the life of the LGBT traveler easier because they’re just about everywhere.
So, obviously, one of the best ways to discover any gay or lesbian things to do in a new city is to simply go where the gays and lesbians congregate—and look for their local media. Look for the pamphlets, flyers and advertisements on the corkboard in the LGBT center, or pick up that gay map (plastered in advertisements) and just make sure to support those local businesses.
Some of the first gay travel guides were printed books passed around in secret with tips collected by gay and lesbian travelers. The Damron gay guide series started out in 1964 for men but has also published a separate guidebook for lesbians for nearly 20 years. And then there were print magazines that sprung up in the 1980s and 1990s to help guide gay travelers.
One of the first modern gay travel guides was Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA printed in 1996. And Spartacus Publishing (out of Germany) has printed a comprehensive guidebook to all gay-oriented hospitality businesses since 1970. Today, however, a lot of these all-encompassing gay travel guides are essentially obsolete in that they don’t offer a more modern approach to how gay travelers travel today.
International LGBT Magazines
The only print gay travel publication still going strong in the USA is Passport Magazine—a monthly gay travel magazine you can find across USA and Canadian bookstores as well as online. But, like I’ve said before—gay travel isn’t dying, it’s simply changing. New LGBT magazines, many of them independently run, have popped up in the past few years. Trendy and useful, these magazines have adapted to a new LGBT culture—one where LGBT individuals are more accepted, more open, and more free to travel and act as we feel most comfortable.
Ones like Hello Mr., Gayletter and Out There all have strong travel beats (particularly for gay men), covering personal stories from independent travelers as well as artist interviews from around the world. Jarry Mag, though with a focus on culinary stories, still sheds a strong light on the hospitality industry by highlighting LGBT chefs, restaurants and LGBT-friendly destinations through personal stories, interviews and recipes.
Mainstream Travel Guides
These days, even the most mainstream publications are likely to include LGBT-specific recommendations in their listings. For the past several summers, many major travel brands have gone so far as to print LGBT pride travel guides (such as Trip.com, Lonely Planet, Expedia and even Hostelworld). In almost all instances, these are written by either in-house or freelance LGBT writers so there’s some comfort in knowing you can trust the recommendations. Trip.com even now includes LGBT safety ratings along many of their international destinations.
Print guidebooks regularly include LGBT listings as well, though of course these will be severely paired down from gay-specific guidebooks. However, keep in mind that a good travel guidebook (no matter if it’s gay or straight) will often include the best curated recommendations no matter what. So, to be perfectly honest, I find many mainstream travel guides still to be useful as a gay traveler.
Local LGBT Magazines
Anyone who’s ever been inside a gay bar or club is probably familiar with the stack of magazines, brochures or flyers you’ll find in the doorway or by the toilets. Most big cities and increasingly in the smaller ones, too, you’ll find one of the longest-running media outlets for LGBT individuals—the local magazine. Despite all odds, many of the LGBT print magazines around the world printed and produced locally are still in existence.
Berlin’s free gay magazine, Siegessäule, likes to claim one of the highest readerships and circulations across any print media in Germany. London alone has at least four local LGBT magazines! The newest is HISKIND, a free lifestyle magazine with thought-provoking essays and local artist & drag queen interviews (plus some of my own travel tips). Windy City Times still prints an LGBT newspaper for Chicago, while Seattle Gay News covers Seattle; there are countless other independent, small LGBT city magazines around the world from Armenia to Salt Lake City. Unfortunately most of these indie magazines have poor websites, so your best LGBT travel research is going to have to happen on the ground by picking up the latest edition when you’re in town.
LGBT Travel Blogs & Vlogs
Like all parts of this new travel media industry, independent bloggers and YouTubers have been at the forefront of discovery. Increasingly, we trust our travel decisions (where to go, what to do) with not just our friends’ Instagrams, but those influencers (ugh, sorry to use that word) who’ve already been there, done that. The most popular gay and lesbian travel bloggers (myself included, hey!) generally publish destination guides—it’s a matter of finding the one that fits your own personal travel style.
More and more YouTubers are also doing travel videos, just as fashion bloggers and food bloggers report on their travels through their own particular slants. The most interesting and successful blogs or vlogs are those that shares their personal tips rather than simply sharing a press release. It’s what sets influencer and digital media apart from more traditional newspapers and magazines.
There’s nothing really better in trying to decide if a particular party, club or event is for you then by checking out past reviews, live reports and Instagrams. Before I went to my first circuit party, I had no idea what to expect, but an hour scrolling through the various hashtags on Instagram and I certainly had a better sense of what was in store for me. (Plus I then knew what to wear, how to act and then could be better prepared for that sinking sensation that I hadn’t been to the gym enough this year.)
LGBT News Sites
Many of the biggest LGBT digital publications also produce travel content, such as DailyXtra’s useful city and country guides which feature comprehensive listings. And GayCities, along with its corresponding app, include a rating system for LGBT bars, restaurants and hotels—though the design is severely outdated. NewNowNext by LOGO regularly features articles for the full LGBT spectrum. For a full list of LGBT news sites (many with their own specific travel beats), check out my extended guide to LGBT travel here.
LGBT Travel Websites
While most major LGBT news sites cover travel, there are a handful of dedicated LGBT travel websites. In Asia, many gay travelers end up using UtopiaAsia—another outdated site though recommendations are still mostly valid, while newer digital guides such as TravelGayEurope and TravelGayAsia provide comprehensive city guides. On my own gay travel blog, I publish a series of award-winning Hipster City Guides which unofficially serve as LGBT travel guides with curated and hand-picked recommendations based on my own travels. Out Traveler, a one-time print magazine, still publishes and maintains up-to-date LGBT city guides on their website, many of them sponsored and published by the destination tourism offices themselves.
Hookup Apps & Their Blogs
Even the biggest gay apps have started to push out content through their channels. Grindr launched a digital magazine, Into, with a travel section earlier this year, and Hornet acquired the one-time popular gossip blog Unicorn Booty several years ago and now publishes gay men’s travel guides for assorted cities (even if they’re slightly basic). Each of the other hookup apps, including the more niche ones, like Surge, Blued or Planet Romeo maintain regularly published blogs sometimes featuring travel tips and local insider guides. Scruff probably has gone the furthest in incorporating travel tips into their app with their feature Scruff Venture which allows users to search a destination for other visitors, local ambassadors and events.
IGLTA “Plan Your Trip”
The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association was founded in 1983 by a small group of travel agents and hotel owners and is the leader when it comes to LGBT tourism. They’re a business-to-business association in which members must pay to become a member, but the association also provides LGBT training and education materials to make sure their members know and understand the LGBT demographic. They count among their members hundreds of airlines, hotels, destination tourism offices and independent tour operators, both LGBT-owned and mainstream ones. On their website, you’ll find a useful “Plan Your Trip” feature which searches through their members (just be mindful that these are members who have paid for their placement). It’s a great place to start in finding LGBT-specific things to do when planning your trip.
Traveling to anti-gay destinations?
If you’re interested in connecting with the LGBT underground, sometimes it’s just a matter of reaching out to both international and local aid organizations and NGOs. Using hookup apps in less-than-gay-friendly destinations can cause trouble as it has been sometimes reported that the apps are used for entrapment by local law enforcement. Most foreign countries have their own LGBT-specific websites, apps and services and finding them as a foreigner isn’t always easy.
How to Meet Other LGBT Travelers
Gay travelers today are 100% luckier to have apps like Grindr in our pockets. I never would’ve discovered a gay bar in Amman without the app and a local’s helpful directions, nor would I have met that handsome tourist from Austria during Prague Gay Pride. Meeting strangers is one of the best parts of traveling, and when you’re looking for LGBT things to do abroad, there’s no better way than to find an LGBT local to show you around. Here’s where to find them:
The Hookup Apps
Listen, we all knew we were going to get here. But if there’s one thing that’s revolutionized our little gay world, it’s Grindr. For better or worse (there are already a lot of opinions out there; you either love it or hate it), Grindr has changed not just the way we find sex, love or even friends, but it’s also quite simply just enabled a lot more connections. Take that with a grain of salt, but Grindr—the location-based hookup app for gay men—makes it easier to meet locals when you’re abroad whether it’s for a romp in the bushes behind Berghain or for an initially innocent coffee date. I’m not going to stress the safety issue. Yes, you should be mindful of who you might meet through an app, but after my quite literally hundreds of Grindr encounters around the world, it’s simply a matter of knowing and trusting your instincts. It’s also worth knowing and clearly defining your interests and limits.
There are more than a handful of gay apps including the heavy hitters like Grindr, Scruff, Planet Romeo, Jackd or even Tinder but smaller ones such as Recon or Feeld are more accommodating for more specific sexual interests. For lesbian and bisexual women, HER is the leading app of choice. Meeting like-minded travelers, especially those that share your sexuality will certainly make a gay trip more interesting, much more memorable and even easier to find those LGBT-friendly hotspots. While sex does happen often enough through these apps, it doesn’t have to be the end goal or even your main objective to still find value in them.
For a long time, Couchsurfing was one of the best places to meet other LGBT travelers and locals. With a strong community, the bed-sharing and hosting network made it easy to connect with other travelers and the “Queer Couchsurfers” group was one of the site’s most active and welcoming. There were plenty of times I used Couchsurfing not just for a place to sleep, but also to attend local meetups. These days the network has lost a bit of its steam, but other sites and channels for networking have taken up the slack.
Related: Why Pride Still Matters
On Meetup.com you’ll find most major destinations have LGBT/queer-themed groups and meetups and these are still a great and safe way to meet other LGBT travelers in non-sexual encounters. Sometimes you’ll find them for very specific interests, whether it’s a meetup group of gay science fiction fans in Berlin or an LGBT professional networking meetup in London. (Also worth checking out is StartOut—a nonprofit for professional business & entrepreneurship networking events across various USA cities.)
Facebook, with its thousands of public groups, can also provide a great meeting point online, and then offline, through local city or regional networking groups. It’s just a matter of doing some research beforehand to find the right network for your trip. It’s also useful for connecting with local drag queens and finding events. Once you know the names of some LGBT spaces in the city you’re traveling to, check out the scheduled Facebook events for parties, meetups or other gatherings.
Safety & Security when Traveling
As I’ve written before on my LGBT travel column for NomadicMatt.com, safety and comfort is an important part of any gaycation. Especially for the more marginalized sexualities and genders part of the LGBT spectrum. Thankfully, there are more than enough resources online to help you decide what or where might be safer to travel. It’s a matter of not just trusting your friends’ advice who may have traveled wherever you’re headed previously, but also putting a fair amount of trust in your government.
Government Travel Advisories
This might be a hard sell these days, but the USA State Department’s travel advisories and country-specific pages still provide comprehensive information for LGBT travelers on just about every country around the world. For more far-off and less familiar places and more adventurous trips, I don’t just check my own country’s travel advisories, though. The UK Foreign Office also includes LGBT specific travel information on their website. If you’re a traveler from a country that doesn’t already support LGBT individuals, checking both the USA and UK government advisories is recommended when it comes to LGBT issues.
For a more independent look at the LGBT rights and safety situation, Equaldex is my favorite place to check. Separate from media and blogs, this is a crowd-sourced platform where users can post and share country-specific news articles related to LGBT rights issues. This can be especially helpful for those less-familiar places and to get a general comparative rating for the inclusiveness of just about anywhere around the world.
Spartacus International Gay Guide produces an annual report, the Gay Travel Index, which rates countries (and in the USA, states) by 14 different criteria. It’s a useful report in understanding the general safety of visiting a destination as an LGBT individual. Read the latest report here.
Oftentimes, when traveling as a couple, the most challenging part of gay travel can be finding an LGBT-friendly hotel or accommodation. Some of the biggest hotel chains and brands such as Hilton, Starwood and Marriott have actively supported the LGBT industry by participating in pride events around the world, by training all their staff (from the front desk to the reservations center) in diversity and inclusiveness and by running LGBT-inclusive campaigns. Even Airbnb launched a #HostWithPride campaign last year after updating their terms of service to protect and safeguard LGBT travelers and hosts.
HRC Corporate Equality Index
Each year, the Human Rights Campaign publishes the annual Corporate Equality Index rating over 500 businesses on their corporate policies and practices relevant to LGBT employees. While it’s largely used to monitor and rate corporations, many of the brands and businesses featured in the index are in the travel/tourism sector so it can be helpful to see which travel brands are the most LGBT-inclusive. Use this as a guide to book with those brands that are actively supporting the LGBT community.
• • •
Over the years and thanks to new technologies and new formats for our media, the way we travel has changed for the better. And for LGBT travelers specifically, these advancements have made it not just easier, but also safer and friendlier. Using these tools and resources, so much more of the world is open to us.
Wandering around a dark, deserted street at 2 a.m. in Phoenix, Arizona suddenly doesn’t seem so daunting when we’ve got maps and apps and friendly locals to help guide us. The best trips are the ones that are somewhat spontaneous, that pull in recommendations from whatever resources we’ve got available. It’s when we let our guard down, trust our instincts and let the locals be our guide—that’s when you find that cool queer party, the one with the half-naked boys on the table tops, or where women are making out on the dance floor while bouncing along to Beyonce.
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