Story & Photos By Sam & Justine Goldon
*Does quick Google search* “Is it illegal to be gay in Indonesia?”
The answer: kind of? After doing more research, it seemed like Bali was a bit of a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community. As in, it’s not one of the 60+ countries that officially criminalize homosexuality, or one of those really scary ones where it’s punishable by death.This was good news, considering we had the opportunity to host a queer group trip to Bali.
Now that we’re on the other side, we’re here to report: it was better than we could’ve ever imagined. One of our travelers put it perfectly: “To feel safe being my authentic self while traveling, connecting deeply with others, and proudly taking up space will forever be one of my most cherished experiences.”
Based on this and many more trips we’ve gone on, here are our tips for LGBTQ+ travelers, including how to stay safe, where to go, and who to go with.
1. Do your research to find out how welcoming your destination is to LGBTQ+ travelers.
We have to start by saying: We hate that we have to include all the “keep you safe stuff”, but it’s the reality of our world, so let’s get it out of the way before moving on to the fun stuff.
If you’re queer, you probably know the drill. Only 34 of the world’s 195 countries have legalized same sex marriage or offer any protections for LGBTQ+ people. So when we travel, we have to research whether our destination is safe for queer folks. For example, what’s considered “culturally appropriate” vs. straight-up illegal? In some countries it’s illegal to cohabitate with someone of the same sex, while many cultures frown upon PDA. Would we be recognized as a family if anything serious happened to either of us? As a trans person, what are the laws around bathroom usage? Luckily, there are lots of blogs out there by LGBTQ+ travelers who’ve shared their experience! (We highly recommend checking out @coupleofmen and @ourtasteforlife!)
After researching, make an informed decision on whether or not you feel safe about traveling. If you’re heading somewhere where queerness is illegal or not socially accepted, always prioritize safety. In these circumstances, we wouldn’t recommend going too far off the beaten path—sticking to the tourist areas will generally be safer. Also, it might be better to pretend your partner is just your friend, as unfortunate as that is. For trans folks: it’s probably best if your legal documents match up with how you’re presenting, which may be a hard ask. As always, before heading out, be sure to tell multiple family or friends when you’re going, where you’ll be, and how to contact you. Check in with them frequently as you travel and always carry copies of your legal/travel documents.
2. Find your people and travel with them.
Having just gotten back from our first-ever queer group trip, we can safely say that community travel is life-changing. We spent eight days in Bali, frolicking on shimmering beaches, absorbing a new culture, and conquering fears of heights and snorkeling and first-time traveling. We consoled each other through motion sickness, bonded over meals, shared our highs and lows every night, and watched the confidence emerge from our friends as we took glamor shots of each other, all different body types and genders and sexualities represented. There was a palpable feeling of comfort and safety in numbers, and honestly we can’t imagine traveling any other way again.
So reach out to your friends and plan that bucket list trip together! Or you can find group trips already in the works through travel companies. We did our trip through Trova Trip and would highly recommend.
3. When the vibes are vibing, and the flags are there, listen to your gaydar!
If you see someone—another traveler or a local—giving off queerness, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and introduce yourself. (Yes, of course, be safe about it.) You never know when you’re going to meet your new best friend, or your next travel companion, or even someone who just temporarily feels like a beacon of comfort.
We did this in Bali, and it turned out so lovely. We saw two women sitting together on the beach at sunset—the space between them minimal, but they were careful not to actually touch.You could tell by the way they looked at each other they were not “just friends.” So we went and struck up a conversation, which turned into dinner, which now is a new online friendship and a sweet connection if we ever find ourselves in Holland. 10/10 would recommend.
4. In case you’re not lucky enough to stumble upon queer community, seek out local queer spaces.
They may not always be easy to find or outwardly advertised as queer, but there are hidden gems out there in most destinations, we’d imagine! We usually do some research beforehand, either Googling “gay bar in xyz” or asking for advice from friendly locals in your orbit. In younger, trendier spaces, you’ll typically find some allies who can point you in the right direction.
During our first few days in Bali, we stumbled upon this amazing queer & deaf bar/restaurant/event space called Inklusiv. The drag show, the education and advocacy they do for the deaf community, and the fact that we were experiencing it halfway around the world was phenomenal.
5. Remember that queer people exist everywhere, even in places that aren’t advertised as “queer friendly.”
Oftentimes, those of us who are white, cis, financially stable or English-speaking have a non-negligible amount of privilege while traveling. As tourists, our identities and behaviors may be tolerated in ways that wouldn’t hold true for LGBTQ+ people who actually live in said places. For example, a new law was passed in Indonesia that makes it illegal for people to cohabitate with anyone they aren’t married to, and same sex marriage is illegal there, so essentially, same sex couples living together or sleeping in the same bed is illegal. However, the government of Bali announced that this rule wouldn’t apply to tourists visiting Bali. Our tour guide further explained that while homosexuality is frowned upon in their culture, they’re still happy to welcome queer tourists, which again, is a huge privilege.
We believe that if you do have the privilege of safely, outwardly existing, you can use that as an opportunity to be visible. It matters for the folks who are living in secret and may find hope from your example. And it matters for those who misunderstand or sow hateful beliefs, so they can see that we are here and we are valid and we are worthy. We deserve to take up that space.
6. Don’t necessarily write off visiting whole continents or countries, because they appear to be unfriendly to the LGBTQ+ community. Allow places to surprise you.
We learned this lesson when researching Indonesia for our queer group trip. This is a country that is notoriously homophobic, and it is the most Muslim country in the world. However, Bali—an island off Indonesia’s mainland—is majority Hindu and welcomes queer travelers! There are queer people and queer spaces everywhere, and we deserve to experience them.
7. DO IT! Travel! And while you’re there, do good.
Give back to the local community. Leave it better than you found it. Be respectful. Represent your community well. We want to show off to the world the caring, authentic, beautiful people we are! We want others to openly welcome queer travelers, knowing the immense strengths, perspectives, and light they bring.
8. Lastly, share your LGBTQ+ travel experiences so others can learn from them.
No gatekeeping allowed! We believe we should all make sure that others who want to follow in our footsteps are more informed, better prepared, and get to enjoy their travels to the fullest. Spread the word on those local queer hangouts. Post about the super queer-friendly lodging you found. Connect queer friends here with queer friends there. Be willing to host or help out a queer traveler who visits your area. Plan queer group trips! (Speaking of, if you ever need a queer driver or LGBTQ-friendly tour guide in Bali, hit us up for recs!)
Queer people are everywhere. Queer people belong everywhere. Queer joy belongs everywhere.
Sam & Justine in Bali
Justine (she/her) & Sam (they/them) Goldon are a queer, outdoorsy, travel-loving couple based out of Anchorage, Alaska. The @wanderfulwives share their adventures, provide queer & trans visibility, and, most importantly, build community.