While traveling is one of the most amazing experiences in the world, backpacking is revolutionary.
It’s impossible not to be romantic about it. Carrying all your belongings on your back as the Earth’s most spectacular sights unfold around you. Eating new food and meeting new people. Unfortunately for LGBTI people, that last one is a bit trickier.
No matter where you go, you’ll need a place to stay. And for most backpackers, the amount you’ll have to spend on accommodation is a spare shoelace and sheer desperation. So that means hostels.
Hostels are a great way to meet other people. But they can sometimes feel like bastions of heterosexuality. In order for you survive as an LGBTI person in this environment, there’s a few things to remember.
1 Choose the right place
This is more important than you think. While going for the one offering single digit rates might sound good to your wallet, it might not be great for your health.
Scan the reviews on Google or HostelWorld for any mention of violence or friendliness. I flagrantly ignored a review of a hostel where the owner, the world’s angriest Scottish man, fought a bunch of lads ‘for no reason’. Then when I tried to get into the place one day, he was having a fight in the front doorway. Queer people can often be at greater threat of violence, so make sure it’s safe.
Location is just as important too. If you are visibly queer in certain areas of a city, you might attract the wrong attention. However, paying a bit more to stay in the gay district pretty much guarantees you a safe stay. I normally search for ‘worst parts of [city name]’ and go by the advice of locals on forums.
Single gender dorms can be helpful for extra safety. However, if you’re comfortable and want to meet new people, the mixed dorms are a cheaper, more exciting option.
2 The Closet and meeting new people
It’s one of those annoying things, being an LGBTI person. Straight people just get to be assumed straight. We have to come out to every person we meet and then roll a dice to see how they are going to react.
It’s an unfortunate reality that sometimes you’re going to have to go back in the closet for your own safety. It’s always best to suss people out before divulging this information.
If conversation goes towards sex or relationships, I tend to use gender neutral words to describe sexual/potential partners. Those who are LGBTI-friendly tend to clock that pretty quickly. Otherwise, I’ll just come out to people when I feel I’m safe.
A lot of people don’t come from big cities or don’t know any other LGBTI people, so you might get a few awkward questions (a lot of cis-het people have a burning desire to know what we do in bed). Only answer what makes you feel comfortable, most people are fine when you explain: ‘I don’t want to answer that, it’s a bit personal.’
Coming out also depends on the country you’re in. In many places in Europe, the Americas and Australia, there are hate crime laws. If the worst happens, a lot of the time you can be confident to know the law has your back. However, in countries where they don’t, you need to be extra cautious.
If you’re visiting countries where it’s illegal to be LGBTI, then the upmost care is needed. A rule of thumb is to not tell strangers your sexuality unless you’re in a safe space. You never know how someone will react. Also, follow how the locals act. In Singapore, homosexuality is illegal, but there are a plethora of gay bars.
3 Safety and meeting locals
Part of the fun of traveling is immersing yourself in the local culture. While it’s all fun and games when you’re dining in the best local spots or hooking up with the sexiest person in the bar, you still need to identify some of the risks.
An important rule is to keep where you’re staying to yourself. If someone you don’t know and/or trust yet asks you where you’re staying, you don’t have to be rude about it. Just be vague – an area rather than a street name. (‘Oh I’m staying near Alexanderplatz!’).
On top of that, try not to let people share cabs with you. In this situation, you’re not in control. But if it happens and there’s nothing you can do about it – drop them off first. Obviously, if you’re confident they aren’t bad people, then this is over-cautious and you can do what you want. Better safe than sorry.
4 Think about sexual health
It’s all very exciting, staying in hostels. Most of the time you’re in the coolest parts of the city and loading up Grindr/Tinder/Her will allow you to pinpoint any queer within throwing distance. This is how I met a gorgeous Mexican receptionist at a hostel in Prague for a brief encounter in a toilet cubicle. It happens.
(Though having sex in a communal room is a big no – everyone can hear and see you and I will ask you to stop)
However, travelers are much less likely to use protection when having sex. In this study of Swedish and UK backpackers, 37% of those having sex with a new partner on their travels use ‘no or erratic’ protection while having sex.
This is especially dangerous as you might not be able to access sexual health services in different countries. Some laws will prevent you, some might come with hefty bills your insurance can’t cover. However, condoms aren’t expensive and a lot of LGBTI bars will hand them (and lube) out for free.
Also, and you should do this anyway, let someone know if you’re going to someone’s apartment for a hook up. And let the person you’re hooking up with know someone else is aware of your location.
5 Make friends
There’s a lot of horrible people in the world. There’s lots of possibilities for danger. But you also get the chance to meet some of the most interesting people you’ll ever come across. Friendships while traveling are incredibly intense for the short while you cross paths. These friendships are also just one ‘hi’ away; most people are looking to meet others. It’s a weird, wonderful, unique situation.
Just bear in mind a few safety tips and take extra precautions. Don’t let it stop you from connecting with people. It’s one of the best things about exploring: discovering new people as you discover the world.