How to make friends & build an LGBT network while travelling
“Community” is a word often used when talking about LGBT issues. At a broad stroke, the LGBTQ community is made up of a mix of genders and sexualities—all lumped together with an all-encompassing acronym and a diversity of people and ideas. But here’s the thing: the LGBT community is real. And it’s alive and thriving. When you’re backpacking in Southeast Asia, solo traveling in South America, or just on a city break in Europe, you’re a part of a community of travelers. And as an LGBT traveler, there’s an instant connection and sense of camaraderie: an international LGBT network of travelers out there in the world looking for friends, connections, and experiences. Traveling in far-off places as a part of that LGBT network is sometimes a challenge, but as the world is increasingly more open and friendly (and tourists are always at an advantage), there are more opportunities for LGBT travelers today. Luckily, it’s also become easier to expand your LGBT network and build your own community while you travel. Who doesn’t love a good travel buddy on the road? Here are my 8 tips for making friends as an LGBT Traveler.
1. Connect on LGBT Facebook groups
Our world is increasingly more connected on social media networks, and by far the biggest is Facebook. One of the best ways to meet other LGBT travelers is connecting through Facebook networking groups before or even during a trip. There are countless groups for specific cities and destinations, as well as global ones such as the new LGBTQ Travelers group. How do you find them? Well, you’ve got to look! Use the Facebook search feature to look for groups based in the city you plan to visit with popular terms like gay, LGBT or queer + the city you plan to visit. Any typical person part of an LGBT network of travelers is likely to be more than happy to share tips and ideas for travelers in town. Start here: www.facebook.com/groups/lgbtqtravelers
2. Use Instagram
Likewise on social media, there’s Instagram with its often under-utilized search feature. Instagram is one of the best social media networks for travelers because it’s so visual. Using certain hashtags and searching a specific location, you can often find LGBT people from that area. Hopefully, they’re friendly and willing to connect—sometimes a simple message or comment on a recent photo will trigger an immediate reply! And, at the very least, you can always scroll through users’ recent photos and search hashtags like #gaylondon or #lgbtaustin to get ideas on where to go and what looks fun or interesting!
3. Visit LGBT community centers
While LGBT community centers and health clinics are almost exclusively set up to provide for the locals, they’re still a great resource for travelers—if you can find them! In many large, international, gay-friendly cities, you’ll find these to be a hotspot for LGBT networking. The centers often organize events and some even produce LGBT maps, guides and other resources to make navigating the LGBT life of that city easier. And they will 100% be staffed with friendly and welcoming people, who are more than happy to point tourists and travelers in the right direction with suggested things to do and places to go. Plus, some LGBT community centers even have their own coffee shops and bookstores.
4. Go to the drag shows
Drag queens often have their fingers on the pulse of the city. If you follow any of them on social media (Instagram and Facebook, in particular), you’ll find them advertising and promoting any number of LGBT events. When you show up at a local drag show, the atmosphere is almost guaranteed to be lively – and while there are distinct differences between a drag show in Jerusalem versus Brooklyn, there’s still a strong sense of camaraderie. People are talkative at the shows, there’s audience interaction, and they’re just generally a lot of fun. It’s a great way to meet and interact with locals.
5. Shop at independent bookstores
Whether you’re in a gay hotspot or a less-than-gay-friendly destination, independent bookshops are oftentimes a hub for creative thinkers and intellectual, open-minded individuals. In many American and European cities, there are even LGBT-exclusive bookshops, such as Gay’s the Word in London, Prinz Eisenherz in Berlin, or Les Mots à la Bouche in Paris. These queer owned-and-operated bookstores serve equally as places to discover LGBT literature as well as a meeting point for the community. Many host special events and authors. But even if you’re not in a gay city, sometimes those independent bookshops are safe and friendly spaces. And many of the English-language bookshops around the world will have international guides and local maps and magazines to make exploration easier.
6. Use the gay apps
As some gay-specific places (many gay and lesbian bars) are shut down around the world, the LGBT community has increasingly turned to apps for meeting others. Grindr recently launched an explore feature where you can search destinations, while the Scruff app has long had the Venture feature which makes it easy to connect with local ambassadors for each city. Other location-specific dating apps such as Tinder and a new app for trans individuals (Transdr) make it easier to expand your LGBT network on the road.
7. Post on the travel forums
For many years, the Queer Couchsurfing group was one of the best LGBT travel resources—a global online forum that was part of the Couchsurfing community and signaled to its users whether a host was queer-friendly. It was a heartwarming place. The community still exists (with nearly 50,000 members!) but now there are expanded groups for specific cities and countries, creating separate queer Couchsurfing networking groups. Most Couchsurfing hosts are happy to be ambassadors for their region, so you can expect friendly meetups, local events, or even a place to sleep through the Couchsurfing network. Another useful forum is the one hosted on NomadicMatt.com—a friendly community of backpackers and budget travelers where gay travel questions are quickly answered.
8. Read LGBT print media – local and global
Finding gay and gay-friendly places while you’re traveling has become increasingly easier as more and more websites publish LGBT guides and travel tips. But as the media landscape continues to change, there are still some traditional outlets that continue to be especially useful for LGBT travelers and local gay magazines are one of them. These are often printed weekly or monthly and are available for free in many bars, clubs, and other gay-friendly venues. From the Philadelphia Gay News to Shangay in Spain, there are still at least 100+ independent LGBT publications (try this list for a small directory). For places where gay resources may be more limited, these publications are often online-only, such as Element Mag which serves Singapore. Within these independent magazines, you’ll find local guides and curated tips, plus often event and directory listings—the first place you should start when looking to make friends with LGBT locals or other travelers.
About the author
Adam Groffman is an award-winning travel writer, blogger and marketer based in New York City where he covers city trips around the world, expat life, LGBT travel, festivals, and nightlife. Find more LGBT travel tips on his popular gay travel blog, Travels of Adam. When he’s not out exploring the coolest bars and clubs, you’ll find him in an art gallery or museum—or most likely, on Twitter and Instagram.
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