Travel in 2021 will be the definition of queer. It will defy norms, and the only thing to expect is the unexpected. But unlike 2020, which taught us the dangers of expectations as we tore up our itineraries, this coming year brings hope for LGBTQ travelers. With that being said, traveling again will give LGBTQ folx plenty to ponder and two things will be most important: the impact visiting another place has on their wellbeing and on the communities they visit. With questions of what next year will bring and current travel trends in mind, here are the top tips and places LGBTQ travelers should consider in 2021.
What Is Next for LGBTQ Travel in 2021?
1. Celebrate queerness with your chosen family
In-person Pride celebrations suffered in 2020, and next year, the LGBTQ community might make up for lost time. It’s unclear whether parades in May and June will occur, but if you’re looking to plan a trip, assume the later the festival, the better chance it has of happening.
Visit Copenhagen for World Pride
The tiny city known for tasteful Scandinavian simplicity hopes to be the site of Europe’s biggest glitter explosion this summer. World Pride, an eleven-day event organized by the international organization InterPride, is expected to attract over half-a-million people to the streets of Copenhagen and nearby Malmö from August 12-22. Since you can’t have too much of a good thing, the city will also host EuroGames from August 18-20. This LGBTQ sporting competition features 29 different events like water polo, ballroom dancing, and even chess. The smart queen’s gambit for this midsummer gala? Book your hotel in advance — rooms are bound to sell faster than the Pfizer vaccine.
World Pride aside, Copenhagen should still top the list for LGBTQ travelers. Denmark became the first country to recognize same-sex partnerships in 1989 and continues to be a progressive bellwether for LGBTQ rights around the world. Studiestræde reigns supreme as the city’s go-to gayborhood, but it doesn’t matter if you’re walking by the pastel-painted townhouses of Nyhavn, smoking hash with the hippies of Christiania, or enjoying a Michelin-star meal in Nørrebro: All are welcome in Copenhagen no matter the time of year.
Turn up the heat in Atlanta
They don’t call it Hotlanta for nothing, and this fall, it’s time to see what all the fuss is about. Georgia’s Big Peach will host a series of queer festivals starting with Atlanta’s Black Pride, a boisterous celebration that culminates in Piedmont Park on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Next up is the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, which will hold its 37th global convention at the W Atlanta-Midtown from September 8-11. The Out on Film festival, which usually takes place at the end of the month, will follow. In October, Atlanta Pride will button nearly two months of LGTBQ celebrations with a festival that regularly attracts over 300,000 rainbow-clad revelers. Based on the current timeline for vaccinations, this will be one of the country’s largest Pride events once it’s safe to gather in groups again.
Known as the LGBTQ capital of the American South, Atlanta is a worthy queer-cation destination outside of Pride festivities. Most queer life revolves around Midtown, but visitors will find LGBTQ enclaves stretching from Buckhead’s swanky streets to Decatur’s suburbs. The growing population of young folx who call these neighborhoods home are cultural trendsetters responsible for making Atlanta a hotbed for street artists, gastronomes, and even up-and-coming TikTok influencers.
2. Make the most of the outdoors
Choosing open-air adventures over indoor experiences is key for LGBTQ travelers until it’s completely safe to gather in groups. On top of the emotional benefits of spending time outside, it’s also one of the safest places to be during the on-going health crisis. Activities like hiking, diving, snowshoeing, and sailing are some of the best low-risk ways to enjoy the outdoors — all of which can be experienced in the wilds of these two queer-friendly locales.
Soak up the sun Costa Rica
Costa Rica scores tens across the board for LGBTQ travelers this year. In May, the country made headlines by becoming the first Central American nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Between March and August, local tourism officials implemented new health and sanitation protocols that earned the nation a “Safe Travels” stamp from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Now, with borders reopened for countries that meet Costa Rica’s visa and COVID-19 requirements, it’s time for Vitamin-D deficient queer folx to start planning a getaway.
There are plenty of places to escape the madding crowd in Costa Rica, but LGBTQ travelers should head to Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast. With a 1,700-acre national park and 136,000 acres of protected marine territory, you could go an entire trip without seeing a single soul — save for the Central American squirrel monkeys, toucans, and sloths that call this lush jungle peninsula home. If you’re on safari to see fellow queer people, check out Hotel Villa Roca — a luxury lodge that caters to LGBTQ travelers. La Playita, the local gay beach, is only accessible at low tide, so take extra precaution on the hunt for fellow speedo connoisseurs. Those who want to throw caution to the wind should head to Playa La Macha, a nude beach where the only thing you’re encouraged to wear is your mask.
Let out last year’s angst by screaming into Iceland’s abyss
This past year taught LGBTQ travelers lots about pent-up frustration. Some gay folx blew their lids by throwing illegal indoor raves while others went to dangerously-overcrowded beach parties. Most of us screamed into our pillows.
With the promise of travel on the horizon, it’s time to stop smothering your face in memory foam and start planning a vacation somewhere that wants you to scream into the void: Iceland. The country’s current tourism campaign encourages visitors to “come let it out for real” in front of the country’s bubbling hot pots, ice-capped volcanoes, and roaring waterfalls. Pink Iceland, an LGBTQ-run tour operator, offers private excursions to help tourists find the perfect place to belt into the abyss.
Although Iceland is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly nations in the world, you’re unlikely to find a sizable LGBTQ nightlife scene unless you visit during an event like Rainbow Reykjavik, Reykjavik Bear, or Reykjavik Pride. Pride is usually scheduled for the second week in August.
If you want to be a part of queer history in 2021, the boutique cruise company Vacaya will make waves as the first all-LGBTQ group to circumnavigate Iceland on an eight-day cruise in early September. And for those who don’t think eight days is enough, Iceland’s new long-term work visa will buy you six months so you can shout into as many fjords as your heart desires.
3. Relax on an all-inclusive Mediterranean cruise
The only cruising available to LGBTQ travelers in 2020 was of the pre-Grindr Meat Rack variety, but in late 2021, it’ll (hopefully) be time for boat lovers to throw on a swimsuit and hit the poop deck once more. After nearly a year stuck in port, cruise ships plan to set sail in the coming months, and major cruise companies have already seen an uptick in bookings for the second half of 2021.
For boys in search of a Bacchanalian boat tour, check out Atlantis’ Mediterranean cruise from August 30 to September 7. This eleven-day journey on the world’s newest ship, Odyssey of the Sea, will sail through cerulean waters to Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Corsica. If you’d rather cruise with the Sapphos set, try Olivia’s lady-centric trip to Greece, Cyprus, and Israel from October 16-23.
Both trips allow travelers to see a large swath of the Mediterranean without the hassle of booking a bunch of airline tickets, lugging your bags through airports, or even worrying about where to eat dinner. After the year we’ve all had, it’s time to lay back and let others make the big decisions.
4. Support queer communities hit hard by the pandemic
Safe spaces for queer folx must be supported by queer folx if they’re going to survive, and in 2021, LGBTQ travelers should consider how their money can positively impact businesses and destinations they hold dear.
See what’s new in New York City
New York City was forced into hibernation for much of 2020, but nap time will be over starting next summer. Times Square will buzzing with Broadway’s late-May reopening, restaurants will lure in the epicurious with elaborate outdoor dining options, and green spaces like the new floating island at Pier 55 will welcome packed crowds.
But with an estimated 60 percent of the city’s restaurants and bars projected to close in the coming year, it’s impossible to predict what LGBTQ life in New York will look like once it emerges from the pandemic. Queer haunts like the Hell’s Kitchen-based Therapy bar and 9th Avenue Saloon have already shuttered, and iconic LGBTQ outposts like Stonewall and Cubby Hole are struggling. Glitter-clad crowds at Brooklyn’s queer-friendly House of Yes might’ve danced their last dance. Many queer artists fled the city while others struggle to pay their astronomical rent.
Still, the reason New York became an early epicenter of the pandemic will be the same thing that helps the LGBTQ scene rise from the ashes: proximity. The sheer amount of creativity bouncing around this urban jungle will lead to a rebirth in 2021 that queer travelers will want to experience.
Travelers should plan a trip in late summer or early fall when LGBTQ beaches like Jacob Riis and Sandy Hook are still crawling with the city’s prettiest sun worshippers. With a slow return to tourism and cheaper-than-usual deals to be had, this might be the only time when travelers can actually afford to “heart” NY.
Explore Cape Town’s diverse topography
Cape Town is the South African equivalent of San Francisco. Not only does it boast beautiful rocky mountains, an expansive rugged coastline, and easy access to the country’s prime wine region, it’s the most gay-friendly city on the continent. American visitors should take a particular interest this year — it’s one of the few foreign LGBTQ hotspots where they’re currently welcome. As of November 2020, South Africa opened its borders to all international travelers who can present a negative COVID-19 certificate upon arrival and abide by local health protocols.
Beach bums will want to visit Cape Town before the end of February when warmer weather brings speedo-clad boys to Clifton Third, the defacto gay beach. Autumn, which stretches until June, is ideal for wildlife lovers who want to hike around Table Mountain National Park and top the Twelve Apostles’ peaks. LGBTQ life within the actual city revolves around Somerset Strip, a street passing between the Green Point and De Waterkant neighborhoods, and draws large crowds year-round.
Like many economies around the world, Cape Town has struggled during the pandemic. South Africa’s economy reportedly shrank by more than half during the second quarter of 2020, and once it’s safe to travel, locals will welcome tourists with open arms.
5. Plan a US beach stay to celebrate the pandemic’s end
Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci thinks the United States might reach herd immunity by the end of next summer if the on-going vaccination campaign goes as planned. If that’s true, queer travelers could get a head start on booking trips to beachside gaycation destinations.
New York’s hottest sandbar, Fire Island, will burn brightest around the annual Pines Party (July 23-25), which features a beachside rave that runs until dawn. Provincetown’s Carnival (August 15-21) will be Cape Cod’s most carnal week of the 2021 season, too. With costume balls, parades, art fairs, and parties, this themed week’s unmatched frivolity might be enough to send you back into quarantine even once the pandemic ends.
For early summer travel plans, opt for small-town LGBTQ destinations, where the focus is on tiny gatherings and outdoor adventures. Maine’s artsy-fartsy Ogunquit, Pennsylvania’s quaint New Hope, and Arkansas’ surprisingly liberal Eureka Springs are all queer-friendly getaways without the rowdy affairs you’ll find in popular spots like Fire Island.