Travel can be frustrating and complicated for anyone, but for transgender people there’s an entirely separate list of considerations to add. It can take some extra research and planning to make sure trans travelers are going somewhere they won’t be targeted during vacation.
According to research from Booking.com, 74% of trans-identifying travelers say they feel like some destinations are off-limits to them because those places are potentially unsafe.
“Do your homework and make sure it’s going to be safe for you,” C.P. Hoffman, senior policy counsel at the National Center for Transgender Equality told USA TODAY. “There are a lot of places in the world where people are incredibly transphobic.”
But that doesn’t mean there’s no trans joy in travel. It does mean, however, that finding that joy can take a little extra preparation.
What are the biggest barriers for trans travelers?
Airports can be especially fraught for trans travelers, with both security checkpoints and passport control presenting potential points of conflict.
“The way that (the Transportation Security Administration has) the software built, it makes assumptions as to items of clothing, body parts, etc., based on whether the TSA agent pushes a blue button for if they think you’re a boy or a pink button for if they think you’re a girl,” Hoffman said. “If they push that pink button, it’s not going to flag that you’re wearing a bra, and if they push that blue button it’s not going to flag that there’s a little bit more stuff in the front of your pants.”
But if TSA agents push the wrong button for a trans traveler, the result can be a more intensive security screening, including a pat down in some cases.
“It’s deeply, deeply frustrating,” Hoffman said. “It’s something that a huge number of trans people know that if they go to the airport, they’re just going to have to deal with this.”
Hoffman acknowledged that such issues are becoming less common over time.
Going through customs and even renewing their passport can be an exercise in frustration for trans travelers too. Even as the U.S. allows nongendered identification markers on official documents now, Hoffman said using them isn’t always the best choice for everyone.
“Do you want an ID that identifies you to whoever will be seeing it as trans?” Hoffman said. “Passports are the things that nonbinary folk end up going with a binary gender marker on because a lot of us are worried about just what might happen in a foreign country.”
Beyond that, concerns about safety rank high for trans travelers.
Barber said 87% of transmasculine (male presenting) and 89% of transfeminine (female presenting) travelers feel they have to consider the safety landscape of the destinations they want to visit.
“They do face a disproportionate rate of violence, of hate crimes than the rest of us do,” Kristofer Barber, Booking.com’s director of global communications, told USA TODAY.
How can trans travelers optimize their travel experiences?
Even with some extra obstacles to navigate, trans travelers can go and experience joy in many places.
Hoffman and Barber both said that the key to great travel, especially for trans folks, is to connect with the destination’s local queer community and try to have authentic experiences.
“Search the local groups in the area and see if there’s cool, queer clubs that are around and what the great stuff is locally that people go to,” Hoffman said. “There are things that don’t end up in the Rick Steeves guidebook or whatever.”
For example, Hoffman said they’re planning a trip to Uruguay to visit an “extremely queer beach” they read about in a novel.
“The beach is a real place," they said. “These lesbians from Montevideo found this little space for themselves away from the city where they could go and be themselves.”
Hoffman added that Uruguay is routinely ranked as one of the most queer-friendly travel destinations in the world. It was among the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage nationally. They also said they've been taking tango classes with their partner at the Uruguayan Embassy and found the environment there very welcoming.
Hoffman also offered some practical tips.
To avoid those more invasive pat downs, they said, trans travelers can enroll in the PreCheck program, although they acknowledged that it’s frustrating to need to pay extra.
“You go into a different line where they don’t use those same machines,” Hoffman said. “Basically, all the trans people I know who travel frequently, especially for work, they’re like, ‘this is a tax on trans people, I just have to do this in order to not be harassed all the time.’”
They also said it’s important to remember to pack necessities like medicine in carry-on bags.
“If you’re on hormone replacement therapy, put that in your carry-on so if your bag is lost or delayed, you won’t find yourself without access to your medicine,” Hoffman said.
In general, Hoffman said, understanding the culture of where you're visiting is important to having the best experience.
“I definitely want to make sure that I’m safe for wherever I’m going," they said. "At different points, that’s meant different things. Earlier in my transition, that would mean appearing a way I didn’t necessarily appear every day while going through airport security so I wouldn’t have to deal with the (hassle) ... or making sure I do research so I can know how receptive the local community is to queer people flirting or being smoochy in public.”
Barber added that many brands like airlines and hotels are trying to boost their inclusive profile, and said it could make for a better travel experience to seek out those brands when possible.
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What are the best destinations for trans travelers?
While firm data doesn’t exist on the most trans-friendly destinations specifically, Booking.com’s data shows that New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are among the most welcoming domestic destinations for LGBTQ+ travelers more generally, and Kyoto, Japan, Nice, France; and Chiang Mai, Thailand, are among the best for queer travelers abroad.
Hoffman also said they’ve recently heard of more queer travelers visiting Latin America and Canada.
Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How trans travelers can make the most of their trips