Travelling abroad is one of the best ways to live your life to the fullest — but being away from home can also leave you vulnerable.
Being aware of risks to personal safety and security is important for all travellers. However due to homophobia and transphobia, and the criminalization of homosexuality in some countries, LGBT people must take extra precautions while travelling.
Xtra spoke with a private investigator from the agency cs2i (who asked to stay anonymous, due to the nature of investigative work) on some tips and safety measures that LGBT folks can take to stay safe while abroad.
When planning a trip, she stresses that research is key prior to departure.
Travellers should first consult the government of Canada’s travel advisory site. The site includes country-specific information, safety warnings and advisories, as well as a page dedicated to overall LGBT safety abroad. The United States government also has a travel advisory site that can be used for additional confirmation and research. She also recommends checking out forums and trusted websites and reading up on laws that criminalize homosexuality as well as cultural norms in the destination of interest.
She also suggests booking through an LGBT-friendly travel agency.
“They can give you nuggets of information that other agencies may not be privy to,” she says. “Things change, you can’t go by a list [online] created five years ago.”
When travelling to a country that is known to not be LGBT-friendly, she suggests taking extra precautions prior to departure.
“I don’t want to narrow anyone by saying don’t visit these countries,” she says. “But if you’re travelling to a country that has been listed as not being favourable, you need to share flight details [with friends and family] and contact the Canadian embassy [in that country].”
This includes sharing trip details with the Canadian government prior to departure and checking in with the embassy when you arrive, especially in countries under conflict. At least one person at home should know where you are travelling to, how long you’ll be gone and when you will be back. Make sure to contact them when you arrive at your destination, and let them know you will call them when you return home.
Upon arrival, she suggests removing name tags and addresses from your luggage and making sure to keep your passport securely on your person.
At your hotel, she suggests excluding your name from the hotel registry or using an alias. If travelling with a partner, depending on the country, booking two separate beds in a shared room may be more advisable than a shared bed. She also suggests limiting affection in public.
“Try to keep it minimal unless you’re in a [safe] resort. Out in public we do suggest you tone it down,” she says. “Don’t make assumptions. Different cultures have different codes of behaviour . . . You’re already vulnerable in another country, be safe and be aware of the cultural norms.”
Within the room, she suggests discretion with any personal items that may indicate your sexual preference, including sex toys. She also recommends locking doors and windows and investing in a portable door lock for additional security.
She also advises making your social media accounts private and not sharing details of your plans and locations. While travelling, she says to be cautious of giving out your social media handles, as well as your full name, to people you don’t know well.
“You don’t have to share all your details. That goes with being safe.”
Be cautious with invitations, as there have been instances of traps and luring. If traveling solo, try to pre-book activities or use the hotel concierge.
If dating abroad, she recommends knowing as much about an individual as possible before heading to your room or another private place, as well as limiting alcohol or drug intake. If possible, let someone back home know if you intend to meet up with someone, and share their name and details of appearance. If a date arrives to your room with an additional person, do not let them in.
Upon returning to the hotel, be aware if anyone is following you and thoroughly check your room.
“Do not dismiss anything, do not leave anything to chance,” she advises. “Listen to that voice, that voice makes a huge difference.”
“Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel safe get out of the situation.”