Travel
3 min

Top 5 things to look for in a gay vacation destination

A checklist to help you decide the best way to spend your hard-earned vacation time

The website for Greater Fort Lauderdale (sunny.org) has an LGBT section with suggestions about activities, attractions, restaurants and hotels. Credit: Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau

No two travellers are alike, of course. That’s why there are so many different kinds of gay vacation destinations around the globe. With more cities and hotels targeting LGBT travellers than ever before, it can seem a bit overwhelming at times. How do you decide which is the best way to spend your hard-earned vacation time? Here are a few tips to get you started.

1.  Find the destination that suits your mood
Some vacationers are happy just relaxing on a quiet stretch of sand and soaking in the sun. Others prefer cultural activities that will enrich them intellectually. Others crave the adrenaline of outdoor sports and adventures or perhaps a festive getaway with lots of nightlife and nonstop parties. Consider your own priorities and preferences, and research which destination best suits your needs. If you’re looking for a peaceful, romantic getaway for two, an isolated upscale resort on Mexico’s Mayan Riviera would be ideal. For a more festive environment, consider Key West. Travellers looking for a mix of big-city culture and sophistication, as well as gay nightlife, might prefer cities like Paris, New York and San Francisco — the choices are limited only by the tastes of the traveller.

2.  Make sure it’s gay-friendly
One sign of a gay-friendly destination is an official tourism website that features LGBT-specific travel information. The websites for London, England, Greater Fort Lauderdale and Puerto Vallarta, for example, all have LGBT sections with suggestions about activities, attractions, restaurants and hotels. When a tourism organization recognizes the need for an LGBT section on its site, that’s a good indicator that it’s a popular place for gay travel.

Still, the fact that a destination doesn’t have a gay section on its site doesn’t necessarily indicate that it’s not gay-friendly or gay-popular — it may just mean that the tourism office either doesn’t have the resources to add specialized content or isn’t aware of how big the gay market is. The website for Rio de Janeiro, for one, has no LGBT-specific section, but we all know how massively popular the city is with gay travellers.

3.  Find the best accommodations
The instances when hotel clerks look strangely upon giving a room with one bed to a same-sex couple are, happily, becoming less common. But you still might want to make sure you’re booking a hotel that understands your needs. To find gay-friendly accommodations, try scanning websites that belong to organizations like the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), TAG Approved and Purple Roofs, all of which list gay-owned and gay-friendly hotels and travel businesses.

Several major hotel chains also offer LGBT specials and programs. Kimpton Hotels, which operates a number of unique properties in the United States, has a gay travel section on its site and allows loyalty program members to get extra perks when they check off the “LGBT” box upon signing up. Large hoteliers, including Hilton Hotels & Resorts, also feature LGBT travel information, and individual properties like the Fairmont Chateau Whistler list their own LGBT travel packages.

4.  Choose the right location
Wherever you decide to visit, you’ll likely want the convenience and safety of a good location. The time to study those maps is before you finalize the trip. Check and see where your top activities and attractions are located and how close to them you might be able to stay. When I visit San Francisco, I try to stay relatively close to Castro Street so I can stroll among the bars, shops and restaurants. In Key West, I stayed most recently at Island House, a gay men’s resort that’s far enough from Duval Street to be quiet but close enough to make for an easy walk or bicycle ride.

5.  Time your trip right
Most destinations have peak and off-peak travel seasons, and airfares and hotel-room rates can vary widely depending on travel dates. So doing a bit of research can help you to avoid not only bad weather but also high prices and big crowds (granted, sometimes you might want big crowds, especially for special events). Shoulder seasons sometimes offer the best value, since the weather can be just as nice, but destinations are less crowded and it’s easier to get a good hotel rate. If attending a major event is your goal, it’s generally best to reserve travel as far in advance as possible, or you might miss out. Gay-popular hotels, logically, fill up faster during Pride festivals and parades, and New Year’s Eve can also mean less availability in many cities. But with the right planning, there’s no reason not to enjoy a fabulous gay holiday, any time of the year.