In early 2013, the US State Department released some safety tips aimed specifically at gay travellers. Most travel safety tips are the same regardless of your sexual orientation, but in certain countries gay and lesbian travelers have to be especially aware of the environment around them. Because of this, here is a reminder of some of those safety tips sanctioned by the US Government, as well as some extra safety tips it would make sense to bear in mind. Much of this is common sense, but if you think ‘safety’ as you travel then you can be sure of an uneventful and thoroughly enjoyable vacation!
Do your Research
Before you book your vacation take a little time to do some research into the country you’re thinking of travelling to. Right now Russia, for example, is not the best country for gay tourists to be visiting. Remember that cultural differences are still relevant, and many countries aren’t as welcoming to same sex couples as others. Last year a bed and breakfast in the UK refused to allow a gay couple to stay in their accomodation: their decision was ultimately overturned by the high court, but by that point the vacation of the couple involved had been ruined. Bearing this in mind, you should always reserve your hotel room with knowledge. Take to the internet to find out how welcoming to gay people the country you’re wishing to visit is. Some hotels won’t allow same-sex guests to stay in a room with one bed: you may find you are put in a room with twin beds or even separate rooms. It’s best to inquire before booking, to avoid any upset when you arrive at your destination hotel.
Be Drug Aware
Research has shown that drug use is around seven times higher amongst the gay community, and approximately one third of Americans who are imprisoned abroad are imprisoned on drug offences. Because of this it’s important to be drug-aware when you’re travelling abroad. The government advises a zero tolerance policy towards buying and taking drugs abroad. In many countries drug offences carry full life penalties, and the risk just isn’t worth the reward. If you can’t spend two weeks on vacation without taking recreational drugs then you should explore rehab options before you travel. Buying and using drugs abroad can lead to criminal charges, arrest and imprisonment. You should be aware when buying medication abroad too: although your regular medication may be a much lower cost in a different country, they may not be the same quality or have the same safety testing standards as the medication you take back home. It is also illegal to bring medication from foreign soil into the United States. If in doubt, just don’t do it!
Trust Your Instincts
Whenever you’re travelling in a foreign and unfamiliar country you should keep your wits about you. Be aware of what’s going on around you and trust your instincts. If you’re in a situation you don’t feel comfortable with then get out of it, if possible. Always keep enough cash on you to jump into a taxi to your hotel, and carry your hotel’s business card so that you always have the address to hand. In January a pair of gay tourists were attacked in Rome by two Russian tourists. They were subjected to homophobic insults, kicks and punches. If you do find yourself in a dangerous situation then try to keep as calm as possible. It’s unlikely for any attack to be motivated by homophobia: Often any threatening behavior will ultimately be a simple robbery. Remember that it’s better to lose your wallet or your camera than to risk injury.
Who’s Your Next of Kin?
If you need any emergency hospital treatment whilst you’re abroad then it’s worth carrying a legal document of your wishes that will authorize, on your behalf, any medical treatment you need (if you’re in a situation where you can’t voice your wishes and needs for yourself). You should take this safety precaution because in some less-liberal parts of the world, your same sex partner may not be recognized as your next of kin, and therefore will not be able to speak for you, or make decisions on your behalf if needed.
Get With the Program
Finally if you’re a frequent traveler, or just planning a one-off vacation then you should register for the Government’s Smart Traveler Program. The program is open to everyone, regardless of your color, creed, or sexual orientation. All you do is register your intention to travel on the website, and then the state department will know where you are if a crisis arises. They will also be able to send you emails updating you on the status in the country your visiting, and warning you if a dangerous situation arises.