As a queer, nonbinary person, I’ve often struggled with feelings of isolation while traveling, especially in countries where it’s not completely safe to be out. That’s why I’m grateful when I find some LGBTQ “family” on the road. For just a few days or even just a moment, I can let down my guard. I can stop switching around pronouns when I talk about partners or exes, and I can feel fully welcomed as I am.
These moments often come unexpectedly: In Taiwan, I was at dinner with a new friend, and she told me about her relationship troubles with her girlfriend. In Vietnam, my Airbnb host introduced me to her same-gender partner. In South Korea, I made friends with some fellow feminist activists who gave me the inside scoop on the queer scene in Seoul.
Finding “family” is important, and it doesn’t just happen by accident. Below are a few suggestions for becoming plugged into queer and trans communities around the world.
1. Pride festivals and queer events
From Beirut to Tokyo to Sydney, Pride festivals happen all around the globe, and they’re a great way to meet LGBTQ folks and gain insight into the local scene. See if you can catch one while you travel, or even go pride-hopping to any of these festivals in Europe.
Prides aren’t the only queer events to check out, though. There are film festivals (like this one in Seoul), annual LGBTQ conferences (like this one hosted by the International Lesbian and Gay Association), talks at universities, and even international gay sporting events, including gay ski weeks and even the Gay Games. So find an event that floats your boat, bring a friend (or partner), and go have fun.
2. Bars and clubs
In Osaka, I had an amazing conversation about the queer community in Japan with a handful of women at a tiny lesbian bar. At a gay club in Singapore (a country where homosexuality is still technically illegal), I rang in the New Year with one of my best friends, dancing to pop songs and admiring the “Love is a Mixtape” wall art.
A word of warning, though: Some of the gay and lesbian bars I found in Asia were strictly “women only” or “men only,” which might make some trans and gender-nonconforming folks uncomfortable. So try to do your research before putting on your dancing shoes and heading out the door.
3. Other LGBTQ-owned and friendly spaces
From a queer bookstore in Taipei to a rainbow-friendly cafe in Hanoi to an LGBTQ-affirming retreat center in the Australian desert, just because you’re not into the bar scene doesn’t mean you can’t find other places and people that welcome queer and trans folks.
Use online resources like Utopia Asia, ILGTA, local Time Out magazines, guidebooks, and other publications by LGBTQ folks and allies to find LGBTQ-owned or -friendly restaurants, cafes, stores, and even places of worship.
And don’t forget to also think local, too. Do some research to see if the city, state, or province you’re planning to visit has an LGBTQ organization or specific information on LGBTQ travel. You might be as surprised as I was to find a gay Salzburg travel guide or a gay tour company in Hanoi.
If you’re staying somewhere for a while or simply want to check out the scene, you can often find LGBTQ groups through Meetup, a fun site that connects grownups to extracurricular activities and social groups. You can also use the site to join non-LGBTQ book clubs, language conversation groups, hiking groups, and more, so it can be a nice way to make new friends.
5. Dating apps
Dating apps are obviously one way to find a date, but I discovered that on the road, many LGBTQ folks are also using them to meet friends. A lesbian friend of mine used OkCupid to make queer friends when she moved to South Carolina, and I found new Irish and Singaporean LGBTQ friends during my travels thanks to Tinder.
Just be up front if you’re only looking for travel buddies — you don’t want to break anyone’s heart.
Of course, wherever you’re looking for your LGBTQ crew, be aware of local laws and culture. Remember that in some places, it’s still not particularly safe to be out, and in others, “homosexual acts” and even cross-dressing are against the law. Some Pride festivals are giant parties, while others are still political protests (which may be dangerous for foreigners to take part in). So take whatever precautions you need to, and remember to be respectful of the LGBTQ folks you meet. For example, don’t post pictures of people at LGBTQ events without their permission — in some countries, being outed could get them fired, or worse.
Regardless of where you find them, queer folks are everywhere, and even in countries that criminalize homosexuality, you can find vibrant LGBTQ communities. So if you’re an LGBTQ traveler, know you’re not alone on your journey alone — a new friend might be just around the corner.