41 Things Trans People Have to Think About While Traveling
There are endless safety, financial, and logistical factors that have to be considered.
An estimated 85% of Americans plan to travel this summer—an overwhelming amount of the population, signaling that travel is reaching (and even exceeding) pre-pandemic travel numbers. Planning any trip requires a fair amount of logistics and headaches; you've got to book accommodations, tours, transportation, and figure out how you plan on paying for it all. These are the basic, universal hassles of a traveler. If you are trans or nonbinary, the logistics immediately get more complicated.
It's not just questions like which hostel to stay at, or what time to arrive at the airport to get through security you have to answer. It's also: Will the hostels have gendered bathrooms or dormitories? What is the best way to navigate invasive questions about IDs and body scans? The reality of traveling while trans or gender-nonconforming means navigating spaces that are not only inhospitable, but can also be outright hostile.
"We've traveled pretty extensively in anti-LGBT destinations and so are pretty well-versed in navigating that fine line between wanting to be your authentic self and how can you safely fit into the new culture you're in," Lindsay Cale, director of digital content at EveryQueer, explains to Thrillist. EveryQueer is an organization that provides detailed travel content, curated lesbian parties, and worldwide LGBTQ tours. The team teaches queer travelers how to safely see the world.
In the United States, domestic travel has become an increasingly challenging endeavor, as states and cities across the country have proposed or recently passed legislation that targets and criminalizes trans, nonbinary, and queer people. In Florida, the advocacy group Equality Florida issued a travel warning for the state, citing "the passage of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community, restrict access to reproductive health care, repeal gun safety laws, foment racial prejudice, and attack public education by banning books and censoring curriculum."
Many other states, such as Texas, Tennessee, and Utah, have passed or proposed similar legislation in 2023. Reporter Erin Reed has created a risk assessment map of the country based on anti-trans laws that have been passed.
Globally, the societal and legal acceptance of trans, gender-nonconforming, and queer people also varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, country to country.
"There's so many nuances from destination to destination. There's so many different cultural things that don't necessarily lead to a place being anti-LGBT or being unsafe for LGBT travelers," Meg Ten Eyck, CEO of EveryQueer, tells Thrillist. Ten Eyck is also a member of the board of directors at the International LGBT Travel Association. "There's 70 countries where it's illegal to be gay. When you narrow it down state by state with different LGBTQ policies, there's no utopia for LGBT people."
But these circumstances shouldn't—and aren't—stopping trans and nonbinary travelers from getting out there. Here are just some of the perspectives from trans and gender non-conforming travelers on what they have to think about when planning a trip today, what tips they have for other trans travelers, and what they wish cis people would understand about the challenges they face while traveling.
On going to places with openly hostile anti-trans policies:
"Be knowledgeable, understand what's happening around you, but I'm definitely coming from the place of: I'm gonna go, I'm gonna see and not let [these circumstances] dictate too many of my decisions. But I acknowledge that comes from a level of a lot of privilege." — Lindsay, 36, Brooklyn (she/her)
"There are cities and states I will never visit again. It's led to difficult conversations I've had with my parents because they split their time between Florida and Chicagoland. When they asked a few months ago if I'd visit them, I had a frank discussion with my father about the realities of my being queer and nonbinary, and why I can no longer do so. It would put my life at risk, and my physical proximity to my parents in Florida could put them at risk as well. It's hard on all of us because they’re older and the time we have to spend with one another in healthier years is rapidly running out. I’d like to have more time with them, but now the way we see each other has to change, given the intersections of my identity. There are layers to my life, beyond being nonbinary, where being extra prudent is critical.
My parents are immigrants, and our conversations as of late about what's happening in Florida specifically, and across the country has made my father even recently question if he made the right decision in emigrating to the US back in the '70s. To make the sacrifices they did only for decades later for this new reality to set in this country they decided to make their home, and the dangerous realities of one of their children being openly nonbinary, are difficult to parse through and reckon with. I cannot begin to fathom that, but I'm now in the position where I have to decide how long I'll remain in America." — anonymous, 30s, Chicago (they/them)
"I traveled to Florida less than a week ago. I have plenty of anxieties going out in public as it is, here in Wisconsin, but Florida is a whole other state. Not long before my trip, a travel advisory was sent out to LGBTQ+ people that told us to avoid Florida. That, coupled with the change in gun laws there (concealed carry without a permit), I almost didn't go. Our trip was to Disney and Disney has made it pretty clear that they are LGBTQ+ friendly, but I was very afraid in the airport and driving to and from. I have been told that I pass, but I am 6'2" and very wide-shouldered, so I am always afraid someone might clock me. That did not happen this trip (or if it did, I was unaware), but the threat to my safety truly put things in perspective.
My goal is to pass (although it isn't every transgender person's goal), so when people know that I'm trans from just looking/interacting with me, I get anxious and down on myself. I went on the trip with seven other girls, so I think everyone assumed I was cis, because I was with a large group of cis girls. This was probably key to keeping my anxiety low and fear for my safety at bay. I was, however, unable to use public restrooms because I wasn't confident enough in my ability to pass to use the women's room (because of the bathroom bill); and using the men's room would be incredibly dangerous and just not where I belong. I was upfront with the girls on the trip that I was trans, to make sure they were all comfortable with that, in which they were. They expressed their frustration on my behalf of this. I would wait until we got back to the hotel to use the restroom; and once, I had to leave a park early to use the hotel restroom." — Breeann, 28, Madison, Wisconsin (she/her)
"The open hostility and potential for violence over the simple daily essentials such as using a bathroom or picking which clothes to wear makes me apprehensive to travel, especially places like Florida where I've formerly had only positive experiences but now no longer feel safe." — Mar, 33, Chicago (they/them)
On safety and comfort while traveling:
"When I traveled recently within the US and as I'm looking to go abroad later this year and the next, I keep abreast of what the political situation and legislation is like at these destinations. I check to see how conservative different countries may be and pack accordingly, namely with clothing. I still dress to my own specific style, but I make sure to pack a few more feminine pieces in case I need to blend in a little more. It's hard to truly be anonymous since my gender presentation is androgynous and by virtue of my being Indian, my brown skin can stand out in some of these places which can invite more scrutiny from people I may not want looking my way." — anonymous, 30s, Chicago (they/them)
"Sometimes all you can do is stay aware of your surroundings and situation, and act confident in the face of confrontation. Don't feel ashamed to remove yourself from hostile or uncomfortable situations, as your safety is more important than trying to change hearts and minds in those immediate situations. I've reverted back to using the bathroom that matches my ID gender marker assigned at birth, to try to avoid possible confrontations." — Mar, 33, Chicago (they/them)
"It's uncomfortable as a queer person to really be honest with yourself in terms of how you're being perceived. If your pronouns or—you identify as one way, and when you land in a destination and you quickly realize that you are being read as the other, that is sometimes really, really hard and puts you into a situation where it's a toss up between what makes me feel most authentic and what keeps me feeling like the most safe." — Lindsay, 36, Brooklyn (she/her)
"The biggest plans that I made were plans for my safety after an attack or if I were arrested. I communicated with my group that if I was attacked and couldn't respond for myself, that I wanted to be taken to a certain hospital; because I knew it was trans-friendly. The second was that I did extensive research on lawyers there, in case I was arrested and needed rapid representation. Neither of these things came to pass, but it was nice to have at least this little bit of peace of mind. Obviously, I had my documents in order and packed efficiently, so that I could get through any airport/customs quickly and efficiently." — Breeann, 28, Madison, Wisconsin (she/her)
"Sometimes you choose the more expensive option to feel safer and some people don't have the privilege to choose those options."
On the costs of traveling:
"When I first started traveling, the idea of doing hostel travel, especially through places like Europe, was really appealing. But having gendered spaces makes things a little bit more complicated. So I often opted for a single room or a private room in a hostel to eliminate any—especially bathroom—situations. I know hostels are often mixed in terms of the room, but then the bathrooms are gendered. I obviously had additional costs there. Hotels, in general, can cost more. A lot of times in destinations that are less welcoming to the community, it means finding the global brands. The ones that are associated with IGLTA often are the ones that are doing the training and have familiarity with LGBT people. And so you opt to stay in those accommodations rather than local boutique hotels or even sometimes Airbnbs, where you're more directly working with local people. Sometimes you opt for the safer option, which is often a global chain.
The difference between riding the local bus or taking a cab, for us in that situation it didn't make a huge financial difference. But when you think about the accessibility for all people and then, also, traveling for years and years. When you add up that $50 extra or $100 extra—maybe we took the Uber home rather than walking the five blocks just because it felt more safe—when you add all of that up and you really look at that as a whole, the cost of traveling while trans is higher.” — Lindsay, 36, Brooklyn (she/her)
"Just choosing the safer option—I sometimes even do that in my daily life, just as a visibly queer person. If it's late at night or if it's an area you don't know, a new place you're traveling to especially, or different languages, sometimes you choose the more expensive option to feel safer and some people don't have the privilege to choose those options.” — Oliver, 24, NYC (he/they)
"I've been far more careful about my presentation. I spend extra time making sure I look as put together as possible, and in some cases, dress even more fashionably so that people go, “Oh, that’s a creative person” before they can consider whether or not I'm nonbinary. If I look like it's almost a part of my work or lifestyle, then my outfits, hair, shoes—my entire being—becomes my armor. I go so far in some of my outfits that I literally become unapproachable, and it genuinely makes me feel more confident. Sometimes I don't want any eyes on me, but other times I want every eye to turn my way because it can create an aura of my being removed from larger society." — anonymous, 30s, Chicago (they/them)
On IDs and security checkpoints:
"TSA is awful. Getting TSA Precheck is a huge life hack to recommend to almost anyone. You get it, you go through the situation one time and then it is a lot easier from there on out. I've gotten to the point where [I'm] advocating for myself before going through the body scanner by communicating that I need to be scanned as female. Then when you go through the scanner, it gets the correct reading the first time and then you don't have to have the uncomfortable pat-down and ask for the correct gender to pat you down. And sometimes just advocating for yourself before you go through is something that I have found as a huge help. But it took me years and years and years and dozens of flights to get to the point where I felt comfortable enough to advocate for myself." — Lindsay, 36, Brooklyn (she/her)
"When I am traveling through the TSA for example, my ID isn't changed. Like, I sound and present a certain way. And so I unfortunately just kind of go through that to get through that. Once I'm in a destination, depending on, you know, the research we've done and also just how we're feeling destination of how LGBT-friendly it is deciding then, OK, how much am I going to present super authentically and whether I'm gonna be l adamant about that or if I'm just gonna let things slide depending on safety levels and also just who I'm with as well. If I'm traveling with other people, it's easier to do that, to know that you're with people who support you and will, you know, back you up.
At this point in my life I'm still read as female fairly often. When I travel especially, there is a little double check of my licenses, which are from when I was like 15. So I do look very different. They do a little double check, but usually, it's all good. There are fears in my mind for the future, like once I sound and look a different way and thinking of, OK, is my ID going to be changed because if not, what? Some people sometimes will get a doctor's note or something like that or a therapist's note. I've heard of some of my friends doing that. Also, especially if you're traveling with testosterone, like, that's liquid, you'll need a note from your doctor. I think that's really helpful to try to, as much as possible, limit those uncomfortable situations." — Oliver, 24, NYC (he/they)
"We have every right to joy, leisure, travel, and comfort that cisgender people do."
On what cisgender people can do:
"I wish cisgender people really grasped that what is happening to trans/nonbinary/gender-nonconforming people does not exist in specific vacuums. The threats, the violence, the anxiety and fear are all real and well-founded. Our lives are already at risk whenever we leave our homes or decide to travel outside of our bubbles, and there are many of us who cannot leave the places we live. The hatred coming our way is the result of a minority group of people leveraging legislation against us so that we can disappear, and this is absolutely a domino effect.
I also wish cisgender people would recognize too that the experiences of trans/nonbinary/gender-nonconforming people are deeply varied with regards to race, disability, socio-economic backgrounds, religion, etc. Our risk assessments aren’t one note because of these myriad differences we embody, sometimes all at once. Places which may be safer for a white trans/nonbinary/gender-nonconforming person to travel to aren’t necessarily the same as someone who is non-white.
We have every right to joy, leisure, travel, and comfort that cisgender people do. To experience the world, to hold joy even in a moment by traveling is restorative, and to expect us to never leave or go places all feed into the same conservative bullshit going on across the country. So please, if you're an ally, we need you to use your privilege to help keep us safe." — anonymous, 30s, Chicago (they/them)
"Trans people just want to safely exist while traveling and present zero threat, but the threat we face from aggressive transphobes and bigots is very real. Please be an ally if and when the opportunity arises. Intervening when you see someone being harmed for being trans is so vitally important at this time." — Mar, 33, Chicago (they/them)
"I wish cisgender people realized how complicated it is going out in public for trans people. Being trans, I'm in a constant state of 'Do they know I'm trans?' because that's not how I want to be perceived. I want to be perceived as just any other girl and just that." — Breeann, 28, Madison, Wisconsin (she/her)