Culture

Traveling While LGBTQ+

If you’ve ever had questions about international travel this is the place for you. There are many spectacular things to see and experience around the world, but where do you start? Sometimes you might need help making your destination list. You might need help with knowing if it’s safe to travel somewhere. We have recommendations for you for LGBTQ+ friendly cities across the world.

TheWordQueer interviewed full time traveler, Keith Brooks (pronouns he/him) about his travel experiences. Keith is an openly queer black man, living abroad in Turkey. He first traveled outside of the United States back in 2006. Since then Keith has visited over 50 countries and isn’t done yet! It is safe to say that Keith is an experienced traveler and a good resource for travel questions. Keith runs the blog (keithmeetsworld) where he shares his travel lifestyle firsthand. We are grateful for the opportunity to have spoken with Keith and we hope that you enjoy his insight about traveling. 

Antigua, Guatemala, at the Arch of Santa Catalina

Where have you traveled so far?

I have been to 65 countries! I’m currently living in Turkey and have been to a lot of countries more than once…

United Kingdom (2006), France (2008), Norway (2010), Italy (2011), Turkey (2011), South Korea (2012), Japan (2012), Germany (2013), Iceland (2014), Sweden (2014), Denmark (2014), Canada (2014), Austria (2015), Spain (2015), Portugal (2015), Greece (2015), México (2016), Argentina (2016), Uruguay (2016), Brazil (2016), Kuwait (2016), India (2016), Bahrain (2016), Lebanon (2016), Qatar (2016), Colombia (2016), Serbia (2017), Hungary (2017), Ukraine (2017), Czech Republic (2017), Dominican Republic (2017), Morocco (2017) Benin (2017), Togo (2017), Ghana (2017), UAE (2017), Singapore (2017), Australia (2017), New Zealand (2017-2018), Finland (2018), Estonia (2018), Latvia (2018), Costa Rica (2018), Taiwan (2018), Hong Kong (2018), Thailand (2018), China (2018), Angola (2018), South Africa (2018), Netherlands (2011/2019), Poland (2017/2019), Jordan (2019), Romania (2019), Israel (2019), Egypt (2019), Panamá (2019), Ireland (2019), Azerbaijan (2019), Armenia (2019), Georgia (2019)Guatemala (2019), Honduras (2019), El Salvador (2019), Bosnia & Herzegovina (2021), Croatia (2021)

What was/are your favorite places you’ve traveled? Why? 

There’s so many! Lisbon is my favorite European city by far. I can go on about its delights, but the architecture, food, history, diversity and overall feeling whenever I’m there makes me feel like I’m at home. I also really love Tokyo because it’s so dynamic and bustling. You can go to an adjacent neighborhood and have a totally different experience. I also really adore Melbourne, Australia. Capetown, South Africa is also a city that has it all — stunning nature and robust urbanness.

What was your least favorite? Why?

I could easily not go to Benin again. It was fascinating to visit as a Black American, but I never expected to be treated as a foreigner there (I was called the word for a white person, or ‘yovo’). I was also stopped by the police and interrogated at a station for taking photos at a market. I could also pass on going to Singapore again. It felt like a luxury playground for Asian billionaires, and overly clean without a real ‘soul’.

Where to next on your destination list? 

I really want to head to Mongolia. It’s been on my list for a while, and it’s not a common destination, but this region mystifies me. I’ve been to a lot of the Balkans recently since I’m pretty close (via İstanbul), so I’d also like to go to Bulgaria and Albania. I’m also overdue to return to Brazil, Tokyo and several other cities!

inciriye Medresesi in Mardin, Turkey

How do you decide on a travel location? 

I typically pick places I haven’t been to before, and because I love exploring the energy of different cities, I usually defer to urban areas and capitals. But this has become much more loose in recent years. Now I try to go outside of major cities and off the beaten path if I have enough time or follow the suggestions of locals.

Walk us through your typical day of travel (living) in other countries (like a schedule of activities). 

In Turkey, typically I wake up around 10 am. I live in Pangaltı, a pretty busy neighborhood not too far from Taksim Square, the center of the city, so I hear traffic and street noise a lot, or usually someone selling something (it could range from furniture to auto parts, to simit, a circular encrusted bread). I tend to run errands like going to the store, picking up deliveries or sometimes shopping a little, usually at a fancy mall called Cehavir Center. Other days I’m out meeting friends in other neighborhoods, or taking a ferry to the Asian side, usually to Kadıköy, the most popular district. Because there is a lockdown still, options are limited in terms of dining and eating in restaurants, so I’ve been going to the parks with my friends in the evenings, as most people have been doing throughout the city. 

What would you tell your younger self about traveling? 

I would have told my younger self to get a passport and start traveling right now, and to live or study abroad — don’t wait until you’re older and don’t be afraid! I’m 36 now and don’t hold many regrets, but I wish I had taken advantage of traveling and living in another country when I was in college or my early 20s. 

What inspires your travel lifestyle? 

The idea of seeing a new place really excites me. I also just love the freedom of traveling alone and seeing as much as I can in a short amount of time. Sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge, but navigating new destinations, stumbling with language barriers and meeting and connecting with people along the way really invigorates me. I can’t even count the number of remarkable stories I have. I can’t get enough of it.

Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

Travel Safety Tips: 

What are at least 3 important safety tips for lgbtq travelers? 

1 Be cautious when using dating apps. This applies especially for LGBTQ men, but people on apps like Grindr, Tinder, Hornet, etc. use fake profiles, are highly discreet or in a few instances, have other malevolent intentions — the worst cases being extortion, blackmail or robbery. People also lie about their sexual history and may be unaware they have STIs. If you meet someone from the apps, I recommend meeting them in a public place first and getting a sense of who they are, especially if you’re in a country where being queer is taboo. It’s also a good idea to let a friend know your plans, and to write down an emergency number or your respective embassy’s contact information in case you lose your phone. If your gut is telling you ‘no’, always trust your gut!

“Even in the large cities, holding hands and kissing as a queer couple is no-no.”

2 Avoid being open about being LGBTQ if visiting a very conservative country. This really depends on where you’re going, but it’s always good to do lots of research about the most queer-friendly neighborhoods, ask locals (I find this is the most effective practice) and take a temperature check when you arrive. In most places in the Middle East, a lot of African countries and in some parts of Eastern Europe and Latin America, people are generally very friendly toward tourists, but homosexuality and openly identifying as trans or gender-expansive is taboo or outright unheard of (and in the most extreme cases, forbidden and punishable).

Even in the large cities, holding hands and kissing as a queer couple is no-no. If you are trans or gender-expansive, try to find a ‘family/accessible restroom’ or look for a single stall restroom or water closet. If people are persistent about asking if you are married or have a (straight) partner, you can just mention “I’m traveling alone right now, but seeing someone back home, thanks for asking.”

“…write down the name of your hotel or accommodation and have it stored in your phone”

3 Make sure you know where your accommodation is and that you have a safe, reliable way of getting there. This could apply to non-LGBTQ people as well when visiting areas that are not used to tourists or are potentially risky, but it’s a good idea to write down the name of your hotel or accommodation and have it stored in your phone, along with any contact information of the host or hotel staff. If you are unable to use a ride sharing app such as Uber or public transportation is limited, try to ask your host or hotel for a taxi company or a taxi driver and keep their number handy — emergencies can happen, and being stranded in an unfamiliar and potentially unsafe place as a queer person can make it even worse. 

Have you ever felt unsafe traveling? 

Typically, no, but sometimes a little nervous or worried. But I consistently find now that people in different countries leave tourists alone or try to help them if there’s a problem. If anything, stares are the most common inconvenience.

How did you handle it? 

I usually try to put my worries aside with smart practices, for example: Not traveling alone at night unless in a safe, populated area where there are lots of people, and reliable transit or taxis are available, understanding basic essential phrases, not carrying a lot of money or credit cards and avoiding friendly solicitations. I also try to have my phone and valuables in a bag or pouch that never leaves my side. Being confident in knowing where you’re going also helps.

Are there places you recommend for other lgbtq travelers? Where? Why?

There are too many to name, but in terms of known LGBTQ-friendly destinations I’ve been to, I would definitely recommend my favorites Lisbon, Paris, Melbourne and Cape Town, along with México City, Montréal, Madrid, Amsterdam, Berlin, Tokyo, London, Hong Kong, Copenhagen, Sydney, Buenos Aires and lots of others — these cities have it all in terms of cultural attractions, interesting neighborhoods, cuisine, queer points of interest, LGBTQ nightlife and more. I’d also recommend Istanbul, which gets a bad rap for being unwelcoming to queer people. There are challenges for sure, but it’s a bustling and cosmopolitan city with a large queer population, several gay clubs, LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods and lots of equally LGBTQ-friendly places. I have never felt unsafe as a queer person here.

Thank you so much Keith for interviewing with us. We hope that this blog post can help someone else to make an informed decision about their next travel experience. Please check out Keith’s blog/instagram at www.keithmeetsworld.com

TheWordQueer

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