Travel is the best gift any person can give themselves, and for transgender travellers- the joy of travel, soaking in a culture other than your own, giving yourself moments of joy and rest, and seeing places you’ve dreamed of – can be the most inspiring moments in our lives. In honour of Transgender Awareness Week, I’d like to highlight 5 travel safety tips for transgender travellers, so that we maximize joy and curiosity, while also being vigilant of a reality that while the world is our oyster, we have to ensure we make additional steps in ensuring our safety.
Transgender travel tip no. 1: TSA PreCheck®
I can’t stress it enough, I encourage transgender travellers to take the additional step in enrolling in TSA PreCheck®. I know we often face additional challenges, bureaucracy and red tape in our lives as transgender people- from identity documents that are congruent to our gender identity and presentation- to finding gender neutral restrooms in the mall (and why are they always closed for cleaning?! Another blog post, for another day).. BUT, the concept of TSA screenings is purely subjective. We see time and time again that TSA agents will often misgender trans people during full body scanning, only for us to be fondled, touched, groped, and/or worst- taken to one of those private screening rooms. While it seems we can’t get the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to evolve, we can pay the $100 that gets us a bit more ease of security screening. In most airports, TSA PreCheck® allows you to go through the metal detector instead of the body scanner, taking the anxiety out of going through the TSA line. In addition, it’s always comforting to go through security lines with people who’ve actually flown on a plane- the lines move a bit faster, you don’t have to remove your shoes or separate electronics into 20 different bins, and you get to your gate significantly faster- always a plus. TSA PreCheck® renews every 5 years, so the “cost per trip” is more than worth it. Seriously, what are you waiting for?! Get your PreCheck®.
PRO TIP: If you’re a frequent traveller, consider enrolling in Global Entry, which allows you the ability to bypass long lines in US Customs & Border Patrol, you also get automatic enrollment into TSA PreCheck® at no additional cost. Double Duty for nearly the same amount, and one of the best investments I’ve made in my life in regards to travel, safety and reducing anxiety (who doesn’t want to feel less anxious?!)
Transgender travel tip no. 2: New to travel but want to jetset? Consider traveling to “LGBTQ+ friendly cities”
So you want to travel, but are apprehensive about safety, or have fears about socializing in a new city or country where you don’t know anyone, as a trans person? I got you! Some of my first travel experiences, I really focused on “LGBTQ+ Friendly Cities”. A quick search engine query will show you amazing places that have been highly recommended by transgender and queer travellers. Of course, as trans people, we know that “LGBTQ+ Friendly” doesn’t always translate to “Safe for Transgender Travellers”, but it alleviates half of the burden of gauging whether a destination is in fact, safe. If numerous queer and trans folks are reporting good times, then we have process of elimination on our side: it’s more than likely that we’ll have better experiences at these destinations. So if you’re contemplating a new trip in the United States or abroad, do a search query on your favorite search engine for “LGBTQ+ Friendly Cities” and take a browse around. (Hint, hint: they are some of the most exciting cities on the planet- so plan away darling!).
Transgender travel tip no. 3: Traveling solo? Stay in a hotel and/or share your location with your friends
I often have to travel alone for work, and while I’ve made it look absolutely glamorous (if i do say so myself), it can- and often is, a bit daunting. As a transgender traveller who does solo travel, I try to maximize my personal safety by doing two things: First, I opt to stay in a hotel instead of a vacation rental home and second, I set my “location sharing” to “ALWAYS” on my cell phone with a few friends so they can gauge my whereabouts. It can seem paranoid, but I opt for a hotel because hotels have cameras, they have concierge services, and they have room service and often, restaurants- which always set the stage nicely for when you tire out from all the adventuring. But more importantly, there’s safety in knowing that you are interfacing with people who can check on you. One time I lost my phone in a cab, in a foreign country. My friends and family were able to contact the hotel, who informed them of that, on my behalf- because I was traveling alone, and now, without a phone. See? Things like that make life a bit easier! And safer. And location sharing works the same way. You should check in with folks from time to time, especially when traveling solo. If your friends and family can’t reach you- they can at least double check your location before jumping to conclusions.
Transgender travel tip no. 4: Be a student of the world
Learning the customs, traditions, values, and expectations are absolutely necessary when traveling. Let’s face it- a thumbs up in the United States is nice, but in Brazil, it’s the hand gesture you use to start a fight. As trans people, we have to be cognizant of local customs, traditions and expectations of us as we travel – especially, the gendered norms and customs. Knowing those expectations will ensure greater safety as you move through the world. Whether you agree or disagree with the customs is another conversation for another day. But you have a responsibility to yourself and your safety to be aware of the rules of the land you want to go to. If you’re flying to Qatar, you probably shouldn’t wear a crop top and short shorts- and while you may not agree with the rules of modesty, you, at the end of the day, are choosing to travel to a land where modesty is the custom. It’s not the best use of your time, money, or resources to try to rebel against the norms of the country at the customs line. While I’m using Qatar only as an example, it’s important that we learn these elements prior to boarding the plane, so you and your safety don’t feel compromised.
Transgender travel tip no. 5: Learn words + phrases to make your need for accommodation easier
When you’re traveling, you’re going to have needs as a Trans person that you will need to have met at some point during your travels. It only helps to learn some key trans related words or phrases that might help you in a pinch in the language of the country you’re traveling to! For instance- if you need a single stall or private bathroom (what we refer to as “Gender Neutral Restroom”), you’ll need to know how to ask for those accommodations when you’re out and about. Learn those key words and phrases as you can, and your travel experience will be more enjoyable, I promise!
I hope my fellow transgender travellers remember- we can go to the places we dream of without fear and anxiety. The world can be scary, but generally most people mean well before they mean harm, and I think we have to remember that as we travel. As we commemorate Transgender Awareness Week, and memorialize the lives of our transgender siblings on Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20th), I want us to remember that our lives are precious, and deserving of joy, liberation, and opportunity- just ask anyone else. Be safe, be well, and happy travels!
About the writer:
Aria Sa’id is a San Francisco-based transgender & body positivity advocate and award-winning political strategist, and a founder and the President of The Transgender District, the world’s first legally recognized cultural district of its kind. Aria is a luxury fashion and travel enthusiast, and her work has been featured in Travel & Leisure, Forbes, Refinery29, CNN, Harper’s Bazaar, Out Magazine, The Guardian, and more. For more information on her work, check out The Transgender District at www.transgenderdistrictsf.com.
Aria’s Instagram: @ariasaid | Transgender District’s Instagram: @transgenderdistrict
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