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  • Mattheu Jost

The Isolation Behind “Traveling While Gay” And Why Connecting With Locals is The Key

Very few people outside of our community know and understand the risk involved with “traveling while gay”. It’s easy to travel if you’re a cis, heterosexual person. You plan a trip, you book it, and before you know it you’re having the time of your life in Joshua Tree or Miami. There are so many layers of complexity when you travel to unknown locations when you’re gay. There’s always some level of apprehension that you may end up in a neighborhood that has a history of hate crimes, or to a country that has medieval era laws around same-sex relationships. Or just too many people who look at you and your partner with a scowl. 


Unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse. Over the last few years, for example, there has been a staggering number of bills that are attacking LGTQ+ rights in the U.S., and a surge in demonstrations against our community. Beyond these American borders, the situation can be even more dire, with penalties for “traveling while gay” ranging from fines to prison - to worse, which I’d rather not even mention because it’s so dark.


I’ll never forget the rude awakening, many years ago as a young man, when I traveled to Barcelona with my partner. We were walking on air, ready for the vacation of our lives - until we arrived at the room we had rented through a third party tool for travelers. The host was extremely abusive when they learned that we were together, leading us to leave in a frazzled hurry, and cut our vacation short. 


I had never felt that humiliated in my life. 


Since then, I’ve realized that there is a critical element when traveling abroad or even in your home country: That is of first being able to connect to locals before you even leave your home. This might sound obvious - of course you’ll meet people when you get to your destination! But there are particular benefits to doing a little pre-work before you even step foot out of your house. Had I known this, and if I would have made connections with locals before arriving in this particular neighborhood, I may have been able to avoid the terrible experience.


I would have also done some research to make sure my host was welcoming and not homophobic. This is actually why I went on to create my travel startup that connects the LGBTQ+ community while they travel.   


Here's why seeking out and meeting locals is critical before any vacation:


1. Safety in Knowing 

By reaching out to locals before even starting your journey, you get invaluable insights into LGBTQ+ safe spaces at your destination. You can use this knowledge to create an itinerary that helps you avoid any questionable scenarios, or ask your new friends to help suss out a particular location. This creates a more welcoming travel experience from the start.


2. Authentic Cultural Immersion

Who wants to do what every traveler before you has done? Engaging with locals before your trip lets you experience the authentic side of each town, avoiding the “oblivious American tourist” stereotype or the “hot spots” that are on every travel list online. Instead of visiting typical destinations everyone’s been to, you’ll find hidden gem eateries, the LGBTQ+ scene, things like local PRIDE festivals, or learn more about local LGBTQ history, culture and traditions and more. 


3. Creating Your Dream Vacation

Having a personal connection to a knowledgeable local helps you create an uber personalized experience that’s just for you. The days of blindly planning your itinerary and ending up in one boring activity after another. You’ll basically travel like a gay local, and instantly know insider tips on things like parties, local food gems, PRIDE events, art exhibits, drag shows, brunching, and make sure your only worry is having enough time to do everything. 


4. Avoid Feeling Isolated

Studies have explored the experiences of LGBTQ travelers and found that worrying about safety and discrimination has the potential to make people feel isolated and excluded. Even thinking about the “unknown” at your destination may make you anxious, and you may struggle to navigate social situations and be too weary or suspicious to create meaningful connections with locals. Connecting with local before you travel lets you arrive at your vacation knowing that you have a built in support network to help you and new friends to welcome you. This is particularly true if you’re an introvert. 


In a world where our rights remain under threat in many corners of the world, the significance of fostering connections with local communities during even a simple vacation cannot be overstated. Beyond enhancing the quality of individual journeys, this approach fosters solidarity and understanding across borders, contributing to the collective pursuit of tolerance and acceptance worldwide.


We can empower ourselves to have the best experiences by tapping into the knowledge of the community, and supporting each other in this global community. In this way, we can transform our travels from “a nice vacation” to the best trip of your life. So the next time you plan your dream vacation, remember: your journey begins with the connections you forge with the LGBTQ+ locals who already call your destination home.


-- Author Mattheu Jost is CEO and founder of the world’s largest LGBTQ+ travel community misterb&b, with the new feature, Weere, which lets travelers connect like they were in a social network, to get safety and fun tips, and create or join trips and activities with locals. He lives in Paris with his partner and loves traveling the world and taking notes. 

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