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LGBTQ+ and Vegan-Friendly Travel – Vegan Vacations | Jason McGregor | Ep 96

Introducing Jason

Today’s topic is a really interesting one. Jason and I are talking about LGBTQ+ travel and I really invite you to listen in even if you are not a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Even if you are not a member, we talk about how you can be an ally when you are traveling and I will say that much of the information we discussed was very new to me indeed.

In this episode we discuss:

  • – Jason and his vegan business story
    – Issues that face LGBTQ travelers
    – Resources to help  LGBTQ travelers
    – Ranking of certain countries
    – Tour options for LGBTQ+ travelers
    – Specific issues for transgender travelers
    – Ways to be an LGBTQ+ ally when traveling

LGBTQ+ Suggestions

Other World Vegan Travel content connected with this episode

Connect with Jason

Transcript

Brighde: Hello, Jason. Thank you so much for joining me on The World Vegan Travel Podcast.

Jason: Thank you for having me, Brighde.

Brighde: I’m so pleased to have you on. We actually talk to each other a lot because we work on a lot of projects together in the vegan travel space, including the Vegan Travel Association and the Vegan Travel Summit, which is coming up in January.

But before we talk about like the main topic of our conversation today, I would love for you to tell our listeners a little bit about what it is you do in the Vegan travel space because you do something a little bit unique, I think.

Jason: Well, thank you again for having me, Brighde. I actually am a travel agent, and travel advisor, who runs a travel agency called Vegan Vacations. We are located in Ontario and we are what’s called a full-service travel agency that’s able to help clients. And our specialization is helping clients craft plant-based vacations, and veggie-forward vacations and we’re really working to amplify the voice of the Vegan traveler. So my goal with Vegan Vacations is to make sure that as we move forward, there are more and more great plant-based and vegan options for any traveler who wants them. A stretch goal is hopefully the world will become a completely vegan space one day.

Brighde: Let’s hope so. I have talked about this topic before with Donna, and this was way back, I think, in episode six of the podcast. So like more than 80 episodes before. We talked a little bit about, the benefits of choosing a travel advisor to help with travel. 20 years ago, I think most people would use a travel advisor, but nowadays a lot of people book things themselves. But there are still, even today, a lot of really good reasons why you might like to book with a travel advisor. Would you please maybe summarize some of those for us? Because it really does save a lot of hard work.

Jason: Well, again, back to my story. The reason I came to want to run a travel agency was that I loved putting together itineraries, you know, as well as I do. It takes a lot of time to put that together to make sure all of the pieces work together, and while there are tons of options where people can quickly book things, we’re finding most of our clients are the people who either don’t want to have to go through the work of researching the trip or wanna make sure that their experience is tailored exactly the way they want. There are so many choices out there now. You click a website and you have to be sure that you’re actually booking with who you’re booking with. And I tell clients, you have to be really careful if you’re doing this on your own because there are a lot of ways to trip up. I call myself, a travel advisor, more so than a travel agent, because there are people and online travel agencies that have agents available to book their products, at any time and can do it very quickly for you. My sort of service, as an advisor is more about having a conversation similar to how we are here and doing a consultation, where we talk about what you want, out of your vacation. Where do you want to go? One of the things, that I’ve spoken about at sessions we’ve done in the past is, what type of vegan are you? There are tons of people who’ve come to veganism for different reasons. So if you are at it for healthy eating, then let’s find you the greatest vegan food. If you’re in it for animal rights, let’s make sure you’re at the resort or you’re at the hotel, that’s taking that into consideration. Then the other thing that we do for our clients is once we’ve had that consultation, we give them all the options and the same things that they’d find online. But once we’ve booked the trip, we’re there right until they get home. So some of the concierge-style services that we do are; we provide additional customized resources so you have something that you can access on your phone when you’re in a destination, you know what’s coming up, if you’ve booked multiple pieces of a trip if you wanna add your own things onto a map, that you can create so that you don’t have to be worried about where you’re going next.

 We also include the latest vegan-friendly spots that we have heard about or that our clients have mentioned in the past. I’ve had people call me and want to just get a vacation booked right away, and I’m like, might not be for us because a travel advisor is there to go, let’s make sure the trip is exactly what you want because you know, with your tours, it’s all about value. People should be looking at the value they’re getting from their vacation. You don’t want to just get the cheapest price, cuz that might not be the best vacation for you. So that’s where we come in as travel advisors some people really like the service and those are our clients and the folks who like doing things on their own.

I have a lot of clients who do a lot of the research and come to me and just say: Hey, I just want to have you book it. So that way again, should anything happen, you’re there to assist us. I think we can all agree this day and age, travel is a challenge. So I think it’s good and smart on you to be able to have somebody in your corner that you can call and say, okay, have we done this right? Can we make changes? I’ve got clients now who are trying to make changes before they travel, so they have as minimal possible issues. If they didn’t have me, they’d have to be on the phone for how many hours?

Brighde: That’s great. Thank you, Jason. I think we can all imagine a situation where we could be on hold for a really long time and trying to get hold of the right person that can help us at that moment. Travel agents, have alternative means of contacting airlines or hotels or whatever. While I think these days, tourism providers wanna keep customers happy because anyone can write a review on Google or Trip Advisor or what have you. They also really want to keep the travel advisor happy as well. They’re even keener to look after travelers who book with a trusted travel agent with whom they have a personal connection.

Jason: I don’t like recommending places to my clients first that, I haven’t either experienced myself. Had clients experience or have a partnership with, and we have partnerships with people all over the world. Even World Vegan Travel, we have you on our website, as one of our partners because we trust that the tours that you’re gonna be offering, will be at a level that we would want our service to be if we were running the trip ourselves. I think there are clients who come with ideas and go, Hey, I want to go. Where I come in, I try and provide as much advice as possible, and I think sometimes travel advisors, and I’m sure Donna would agree with me, is we get really invested in your vacation too. So I have clients leaving, this evening where I’ve been on the phone with them all day, just texting to make sure everything is where they want it to be. I think that’s where the value is, for travel advisors. There are lots of ways you can get your vacation booked. It’s more about the personalized experience that we can provide. In my particular case, we’ve specialized and said we provide vegan vacations. Now, the challenge for us has been trying to remind people that as a full-service agency, we don’t just offer vegan vacations.

There are great tour operators that have awesome vegan tours. We’re not trying to enter that space. We’re gonna piece together the trip from the time you get, you leave your house to the time you get home and we have access to all of these great tours. Some of our providers, don’t provide all of the little pieces on the tour. I think when people see the tour package, it’s very clearly listed what’s included and not included. But often people get so excited they click the book and then they again don’t realize, oh, okay. There were things that weren’t necessarily included. So we like to just piece it all together and go, here’s your trip. You don’t have to worry. We thought about everything. I get granular right down to the airport, like, how you’re walking from this gate to this gate, and here’s the way you go. It’s my nature.

Brighde: I will say listeners, that I have worked with Jason, on a lot of projects and you have the most amazing problem-solving attitude I don’t like to use this analogy so much like a dog with a bone. Like you will figure it out. 

 Working with you. I always appreciate that you always such have such an amazing attitude as well. So thank you. Thank you so much and of course, travelers can always book a World Vegan Travel tour through Jason or our other few travel agents that we work with or even your travel agent. If you’re listening, we are always willing to work with any travel agent at all.

Do you only work with Ontario travelers or do you work with them throughout Canada or throughout the world?

Jason: We actually work with mostly Canadian and US clients. There are many providers in other parts of the world where that have restrictions on who they can work with. So we don’t usually work with people who are overseas, but no, we have clients in both Canada and the US. We can provide, as we say, tons of different options, not only tours. We can talk to you about insurance products if you’re in Ontario or if you’re in certain states in the US and we have access to a ton of different products for anybody in North America.

Brighde: I love it. I love it. Okay. Let’s go onto our topic today, which is about travel for members of the LGBTQ-plus community. This is a really interesting topic. It’s something I know a small amount about, but not much. We really wanted to talk about this topic today because we think it’s something that really everybody should know about, should be aware of, even if you are not a member of the LGBTQ-plus community because there are some really important things that members of this community need to know about and you can also be an ally, as well.

In these cases, even if you are not a member of the community. So that’s what we are going to talk about today. I was wondering, Jason, could you maybe talk a little bit about, what are some of the issues that face members of the LGBTQ plus community when it comes to traveling domestically and internationally?

Jason: Well, that’s a really big question. So first, I am a member of the LGBTQ plus family. I am married, I have a husband. We have been married for 13 years. So part of the other services we provide at Vegan Vacations, is we work with LGBTQ-plus clients, to make sure their trips are as friendly and as inviting, as they expect. The issues surrounding LGBTQ plus travel are, immense. There are tons of different things to be thinking about. Before we get started on things like safety and things to be concerned about, you and I chatted about this before, making sure that everybody knows that there are tons of amazing spots you can go to in the world. There is a variety of determining factors on, is a place LGBTQ plus friendly. There are also tons of different travelers who have different risk assessments and would like to explore some of these not often experienced countries.

 Before we get into any safety or anything about it, this is not a great country, this is a good country. There are a lot of LGBTQ-plus people who are exploring the world safely, all the time. It’s a matter of finding out again, what will work for you as a traveler and where maybe you should focus your travel dollars to try and encourage some change. Because we are seeing a lot of countries changing their laws around, homosexuality. You wanna make sure that you’re not getting too scared about things because that’s where a travel advisor or doing some research online, can find out all the information that you need to make sure that you’re traveling safely.

So, safety is the first thing I start off with, whenever I talk to clients about what they should be thinking about. You really wanna research the local laws of the country that you’re going to, in my case, with a husband, we don’t share the same last name. When we’re traveling to other countries, we’ll make sure to check in and not say that we’re married because it might not give us the greatest experience or we might run into challenges. We just present ourselves as friends or as traveling companions, which tends to not cause as many issues when you’re traveling through airports. You also really wanna look at the social norms of a destination because there are tons of destinations that have a lot of security and a lot of laws that protect transgendered, lesbian, and gay folks but you look at the social norms and it’s a very religious country. So when you’re looking at where you want to travel, the kind of first thing to look at is what are the laws of the country. What challenges could you face? And are you willing to accept those challenges if you end up going somewhere? We were chatting about an LGBTQ travel safety index that is available online. I’m sure you’ll link it in the podcast notes. It is a fantastic resource that I use that is ranked 203 different countries across the world based on a variety of issues, including transgender protection rights. You’ve got LGBTQ. Do they allow same-sex marriage? Are there laws on the books that would result in somebody being sent to prison for being in a same-sex relationship? I hate using best and worst, in these cases, cuz there’s a lot on the list that have an F grade, but it’s the first best place to look at if somebody says, I want to go here.

Cuz one of the places that always trips me up is the Maldives. It’s a beautiful destination. But in terms of LGBTQ-plus folks, I wouldn’t recommend it because of the way they socially accept homosexuality and some of the laws that they have on-site.

Brighde: Mm-hmm. Right. Before we started recording this podcast, I did go and have a look at that website and it really is an amazing place to go and check out. I think you said that they review it every year. I guess depending on what’s gone on in their country, maybe some new laws have been introduced which might affect its grade up or down, I guess. So I think this is a really great place to start because I’m sure whether they’re a member of the LGBTQ-plus community or not, might decide that they don’t want to go to a place that is scoring particularly low on that index for good reasons.

Jason: I think some of them, and the way they’ve laid everything out is you actually get to see, there are descriptions of what the punishments are in these countries for being who we are. So again, it’s not a place that’s only for LGBTQ-plus travelers. Any traveler can use it. It’s a great resource and I think it was really eye-opening even for me, as a travel advisor to say, okay, wow, there are some destinations here that I love recommending to clients, but for this particular niche, when I have an LGBTQ plus traveler, we’re not gonna recommend certain spots for them, just from this score alone.

Brighde: Yeah. So, if people do some research and decide that there is a particular country that they might like to go to and we are getting a little bit micro here. Like how can they find out about perhaps LGBTQ-plus friendly resorts or where might they find some resources that would help them identify great things to see and do that are LGBTQ-plus friendly and maybe specifically for the LGBTQ-plus community?

Jason: Uh, There are a ton of resources online if you type in gay travel, lesbian travel, transgendered travel, just those two words. You will get pages and pages of results. There are people, like you said, who are macro and have looked at cities. The one I was looking at last week for some clients was Puerto Vallarta.

It is a very gay-friendly destination. I have clients going there, for a couple of events in the new year, but there are gay Puerto Vallarta travel guides online. They’re updated. For some of them, you have to look again. When was the page created? Is it still up to date? Don’t just take what for face value, what you’re reading.

Try and find a couple of other sources. But there are a ton; travel bloggers, there are travels of Adam, there’s Globetrotter girls, nomadic boys, and dopes on the road. These travel bloggers have gone across the world as LGBTQ-plus members of our community and said, I’m gonna go and experience it. They give you a rundown of what to expect. If you are the type of person, that’s the way you want to start researching and planning, that’s the perfect way to get started. There are also some travel guides that I know our agency has access to, and I’m sure there are travel guides that you can find online that will give you some information, just to get you started thinking about, okay, what is the handful of spots that we’re looking at? Once you’ve narrowed down a few countries that you like, then there are even more resources that we can get for you. I also tell folks when they’re traveling, there are a lot of, what people will call hookup apps, but they’re not really hookup apps. They’re being used in the gay LGBTQ-plus community to build friends, build networks, building communities. There are people who will hop on there, will tell people that they’re traveling to a country soon, and then will ask locally, okay, anybody want to tell me what it’s like traveling there? So before they even have booked their ticket, they’ve maybe built a few contacts that they can say, Hey, I’ve got a question about this place. Is it safe? Is it there? Things that travel advisors will do, but that you can do for yourself to be able to make sure that you’re gonna end up on a vacation that you feel comfortable at and hopefully you can even make a few new friends. I’ve traveled in the past and used a couple of apps and been able to meet new locals who knew the gay community in the local area, and was able to point out some things, that we might not have caught had we not spoken to somebody locally. So don’t be afraid of using the apps as well.

Brighde: That reminds me of how sometimes when I go to a new place for vegan stuff. I’ll often reach out to like a Vegan Facebook community or something like that just to get information, not necessarily about a restaurant recommendation because I can Google that, but maybe for example, finding out whether a sanctuary is legitimate or not and nothing can beat having contact with members of the local community cuz they know maybe the more dangerous areas to go or particular places that you should avoid so that you can stay safe. Cuz, of course, staying safe, is the most important thing. Having a really great time is another thing. 

Jason: On that. Brighde, I would say there’s an organization called the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, the I G L T A. It is an organization that allows businesses to join and be a member. There are hotels, there are travel agencies, there are tour operators. They have joined this organization and they’ve committed to ensuring that LGBTQ-positive folks can have an experience, that they don’t have to worry about the experience that they’re gonna have.

There’s an accreditation, set of criteria that you have to meet. There’s a training that you have to do. I would say, again, another resource that you start off with when you’re looking at travel is the I G L T A because they really have been doing it for decades now and have been making sure that businesses can have a way of differentiating themselves as a place that’s gonna be safe because it’s very easy for someone to put, say a rainbow flag up out in front of their business but does that mean you know that the person is going to be safe or entering a business that is true, LGBTQ plus friendly.

Brighde: Yeah, of course. I’m also imagining that there must be some tour companies specifically for members of this community because traveling as a group is so much safer because you often are with people that know the country really well. Do LGBTQ plus tours exist where if you are maybe a traveler by yourself, you can go and join and you can be with members of new friends?

Jason: A hundred percent. I was saying to you earlier today, it is amazing the number of tour operators that are in this space now and offering not only LGBTQ plus tours, but they’re LGBTQ plus positive tours, meaning that in a lot of cases, you don’t have to be LGBTQ plus to be on these tours.

There are some tour operators that are more for gay males. There are some for people who identify as lesbian or bisexual or transgender. But generally what we see now across the space is that it’s more like we have the Gay Luxury Tour Company, which would be Zoom Vacations. You’ve got Out Adventures, which is an active tour company in Ontario. They’ve been in business for quite a long time. Olivia is a company that hosts lesbian events and they do things like cruises, bookings, and all-inclusive vacation buyouts. Sometimes they’ll rent an entire, resort for the week. So you can just go down, you can let your hair down. You don’t need to be worried that anybody’s gonna be offended, by you living your life and being who you are. It’s a safe, positive space in terms of gay cruises, which I think is the first thing that people think about when they think about LGBTQ-plus travel, is the gay cruises. Those have been going on for quite some time, and there’s a company called Atlantis events. They’ve been a longstanding organization that has hosted from very small, 50 cabins on a ship to full charter buyouts of the ship. So what amazes me about it is you can find river cruises and ocean cruises and all-inclusive resorts. You can find Safari that is LGBTQ-plus friendly. In itself, is its own market and there are a ton of great tour operators that I don’t think are getting enough voice. So it’s always great to chat about them because even my friends who don’t identify as LGBTQ plus are like, I would love to go with you on vacation where you and your husband can feel safe and secure, where we can all just go have a great time and experience this awesome trip. So yes, definitely a ton of tour operators.

Brighde: Yeah, it’s really reassuring to know that there are so many great opportunities, and I love this idea of being LGBTQ plus positive and just, supporting members of the industry who are really trying to create this safe space for their travelers. I just think it’s absolutely wonderful. You talked a little bit about this ranking tool before. Can you summarize some of the countries that rank really high on this ranking system?

Jason: In 2022, there were 11 countries that got an A grade so at the very end of each of these indexes, they give you a grade, an A, and a minus. Similar in school all the way down to F and of the 203 countries and 11 of them landed in that A category. I was really impressed. Canada actually landed at the top of this list this year, which I think is fantastic. There have been countries that have been consistently supportive of LGBTQ-plus rights that are appearing in this top 10. So you’ve got Sweden, Netherlands, Malta, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Norway, Spain, and France in the top 10. I give Iceland to like, shout out as number 11 because it’s an A minus and it’s the last A minus.

 Those countries are ranked at the very, very top now. Does that mean that they are perfect countries, or that there aren’t areas of those countries that you might not want to visit as an LGBTQ-plus traveler? No. But these countries are consistently ones where you can go and you’re not gonna have to be as worried.

I would say, again, look at where you’re going individually and try and see what the social norms are. Go on Facebook groups, like you said, Brighde, and see, is it gonna be okay if I’m holding my partner’s hand when I’m walking down the street? Is there something that’s gonna not make me feel comfortable and safe, or something that I can do to keep myself feeling more comfortable and safe while traveling? But Canada ranked number one, which was a pretty good feeling, to know that we live in that country.

Brighde: Yeah, that is really nice. As somebody who calls Canada home now, I feel very happy to know that is the case, the country that I’m choosing to be home is just generally speaking quite positive for 

Jason: it does. I know there’s still A lot of work that needs to be done. So I think this is the other thing if we’re supporting these top countries as travelers, and again, giving travel dollars is really important to countries. They want us to travel to visit them. That’s why we’re seeing, a lot of changes. It’ll be interesting to see over the next couple of years now that we’re opening up a bit more, what further changes are gonna happen because you and I chatted about Caribbean countries that are not really the safest, the one that comes to mind for Canadians, cuz it’s one of the top destinations for Canada, is Jamaica. There are so many folks who hate the fact that they love going to Jamaica, but they don’t want to support that country that has very strict LGBTQ-plus laws. Things are changing. Jamaica is one of those countries that has said that they’re working on removing some of the laws that may be on the books, but I think LGBTQ-plus travelers, they’re not willing to spend the money on that destination cuz they don’t want to support it until they know that they’re supportive of them.

But also they don’t want to end up in a place where something could be perceived that maybe is illegal, that could get them in a lot of hot water. We’ve said this before when you’re leaving your country, you really are contractually accepting the laws of the country that you’re going to while you’re there. So, we have to make sure that maybe if you are the type of person who is outspoken about your LGBTQ plus rights, to not go to a country that has a very hardcore stance about that because it’s ain’t not going to be the vacation that you won’t necessarily or the experience that you want to come home with. If you do that’s a completely different conversation. That’s maybe not leisure travel. It’s really important to remember that the countries are trying to do this, and there are communities within most of these countries, that are a hundred percent supportive of LGBTQ plus. It’s just taking their country a little bit longer to move the needle a little bit further.

Brighde: Hmm. Absolutely. I think probably we were talking about this before we press record, how a lot of countries in Africa generally do not score highly on this ranking system at all I’ve stumbled across a few articles, and I really wanna dig deeper into this because I’m very interested in the issue of colonization and the legacy of colonization and the few articles that I read were indicating that actually before the colonizers came in many countries in Africa, same-sex relationships were quite accepted. It was through that period of colonization that these laws were introduced with very harsh punishments. I don’t know how accurate that is or much about it, but I think it’s a very interesting thing to think about because colonization has just had such a devastating impact on these countries, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this was also one of the legacies of that.

Jason: Uh, Yeah. When you mentioned it, I was like, I never actually considered that. So it is something that I think we need to look at because we are going through a big change in a lot of these countries that have been colonized, they weren’t the way they are now, and I think it’s gonna be interesting to see as we move forward, because a lot of the countries do want to make a change and they’re noticing that in within their countries, they have growing LGBTQ plus communities of people, they want representation. So we need to be supporting countries that are making a change but pushing everybody farther down. As I said, at the top of this list, make sure to support those countries and if you are so the type of person that wants to get involved politically, start reaching out to your own government officials and talking to them because I know in Canada we have a lot of embassies and a lot of offices, they can speak to each other, country to country. I’m a believer that even one letter is affecting a little bit of change. Somebody’s reading that letter and slow, but sure we’re gonna keep chugging along and there’s gonna be more LGBTQ-plus options in the future.

Brighde: Great. Something I’m wondering about is what people that are not members of the LGBTQ plus community, what is it that we can do to be an ally and support them. What can we notice that might be alarm bells where we could maybe step in and help in such a situation? Do you have any tips for that?

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think first and foremost, keep yourself very safe. I know a lot of people would say, Hey, I want to jump in and I want to come to the defense of somebody, but we never know what the situation is or where the person’s coming from. So before you insert yourself in a situation, See if you actually are needed, if you are even just watching somebody do something that could be perceived as, something against someone from the LGBTQ plus. If you’re standing just there watching, not saying anything, that in itself, is a great support because you are acting as a witness to whatever may be transpiring. If possible, find someone to help. The biggest tip that I can give somebody who’s an ally is just don’t let it happen. Stand up and make sure, even if it’s after a confrontation happens, that you just tap the person who had occurred to you on the shoulder and you say, I’m here. I saw what happened. If you need me, I can help. That in itself, I think is able to be a great support. I think where people find challenges, and I’m this way myself, is when I see somebody being wronged, I want to jump in. But it’s sometimes not the best course because that person may have a way that they’re handling it or may have already sorted out the situation or knew how they wanted to handle it. When you’re an ally, be there for whoever needs you. If somebody asks you for help, make sure that you help them. I tell my travelers if they’ve gone to a resort and it’s maybe not the most LGBTQ-plus friendly spot, try and find those people that they can connect with who you do get that sense that they would have a support mechanism.

Because when you’ve been staying on the resort for a little while, you start to see people who you’re like, oh, I’d hang out with them and know where you can reach people that you know will be there to support you because you don’t wanna end up in a place all by yourself. Allies just being on the lookout and making sure that they are witnessing what’s going on, that in itself is gonna be huge.

Brighde: Yeah. Great tips and something you mentioned in the notes here, which surprised me when I read it, was getting a VPN, a virtual private network when you travel. Could you explain why that is important as a member of the LGBTQ community? 

Jason: What I think this is again, for any traveler, but it’s something that I say to LGBTQ plus friendly folks for sure is, you never know who’s watching what’s happening on a wireless network. All the resorts offer wifi and in some places, it’s in your room. In some places, it’s across the entire resort. They can track what you’re doing. When you’re using their network. I will use the example, had a client who was traveling, made a critique of a restaurant one evening on social media, and the next day had a little note from the general manager asking if they could remove what was on their personal page talking about this hotel because the hotel didn’t feel, and it was in that moment my client realized, oh my gosh, there they could be monitoring what we’re doing. So a VPN is something that’s very easily downloaded onto any device that you have. It’s very cost-effective in the sense. I think I pay like $10 for two or three years of service. But it lets you choose where you want to appear that your computer. You can change the country. It will open you up to different streaming services, but the security feature that you have is, it doesn’t let them know that you’ve written the review from the resort, it only lets them know that you are in another country and you’re writing this review and you’re on, so they can’t monitor as well.

So if you want to use an app like Grindr or Tinder or Scruff or any one of the LGBTQ-plus friendly apps, make sure that you turn your VP on first and then you use it because one of the safety tips that I’ve mentioned, especially if you’re traveling to a country not so highly rated, is that in some cases, the government tries to entrap people, and they do this through doing online social media accounts and trying to get you to admit who you are. It’s a sad fact and it doesn’t happen everywhere. But this is another reason I would say this to people. Get a VPN if you sit at a coffee shop, in your hometown, because even that wifi network can be monitored, everything can be monitored. Incognito browsers do not mean anything. Like you really need to have the VPN to give yourself a little bit more privacy and security, for your travels.

Brighde: Not just for that, but just for hacking generally. It’s so funny that we should be talking about this and it is a top topic a little bit, but I’m just about to head to Africa for several weeks. Something I always try to do is to just do a little check-in and just make sure that I have all of the things that I need to stay safe and secure and this trip, I’m gonna really try hard with this. I do have a VPN, but I often don’t think to turn it on when I’m on a shared wifi network, and this is definitely something that we should be doing, so I’m gonna really try 

Jason: Be careful with your banking Be careful because you can transmit your banking info unnoticed to yourself if you don’t have that VPN in place. And test it out before you go.

Brighde: If you have your passwords saved on your Google account, then you wanna make sure that your Google account is very secure. There are a number of really great ways that you can do that. But I was listening to, one of the language Polyglot YouTubers that I follow, and she was hacked. She’s from South Africa. She had her phone stolen, sorry, I should say. It was pretty terrible and after that, I was like; I really need to deal with this. So great advice for everyone no matter what.

Jason: On that actual, when you said to check in, it also said to me, it reminded me of another tip, which is making sure that before you leave, no matter what’s your persuasion, make sure that you let someone know your travel itinerary. As a travel advisor, I am legally in Ontario and not allowed to discuss anyone’s itinerary even with their spouse or their children. It is, you have to be on the itinerary for me to talk to you about it. So if your sister calls and says, I haven’t heard from you in a while where are they at in their trip? What’s going on? We can’t help. So like checking in, before you go for your safety, make sure that you’ve printed a copy of everything that you’ve got. You’ve given it to someone that you trust at home, and you’ve got a way of doing a check-in while you’re away. So that if you do go on a day trip to a spot that may not be too LGBTQ-plus friendly, you’ve gotta, Hey, I’m back at home. Turn on your, find me on your social device. There are even websites. I actually work with a company that does an assurance plan where they let you download an app and you pay a fee to be a part of the service. You can book it for 30 days up to a year, depending on how much you travel, but they offer you services of being able to locate you exactly in the country that you’re in, and you just have one button, ‘I need immediate help’, and they will immediately send off whatever help that you need.

This is if you are in a natural disaster. This is if you have any government issues if there’s any crime if you’ve lost all of your passport documents. They came and actually started this program out of the need for quarantine evacuation from Covid. So there’s also quarantine and medical evacuation assistance there. But look into things like that if you’re traveling, because then you technically have a point of contact. If you’re a person who likes to go to national parks in the US, I would recommend this sort of thing because you can right away be able to tell someone, where you are located if you break your legs somewhere, it’s just how can I keep myself safe?

I broke my ankle earlier this year, Brighde, and I think now I’ve been explaining to people more. You don’t know how immediate that sort of challenge is that could happen anywhere. So you want to make sure, especially traveling, that you’ve got some layers of protection and don’t end up in a situation where you’re by yourself and you don’t have access to some support.

Brighde: It’s connected to my phone, but I don’t have a problem so much with privacy areas in this thing, although I know some people might. But I share my location with a few trusted people, my Google Maps location, and it’s just to them, and I get reminded every month by Google, do I still want to be sharing my location with them? And I always say, yes. This can be a really nice thing as well. I know some people are using air tags for a similar thing as well. I, there are some issues with that, I believe, but I think generally speaking, there are some really great tools that we can use to stay safe. Registering with your embassy in the country that you are going. For example, when I was living in Thailand, I was registered with the Australian embassy so that if something happened, they would be able to get in contact with me, for an evacuation flight. So this is another great tip as well. Now, something specific that we really did wanna talk about, in this topic is transgender issues because I know there are some very unique issues for members of this community as well pertaining to like travel documents and this kind of thing. Feel free to educate us about this because honestly, I never thought about this before.

Jason: There is a unique set of issues that can arise from transgender folks who are traveling. A lot of things that people would never even think about. If you are on medications from your doctor or you have to take, medication by syringe. You may be traveling with more medications than you normally would be traveling with. You might have prosthetics if you are in the midst of your transition. For things like this, we need to be aware of when you’re traveling because as you leave your country, as I said, you’ve signed a sort of a contract with the country you’re going to. So you really need to be aware of what are the challenges that I’m gonna face along the way, in particular security screenings. They have these new security screening devices that will essentially photograph you and it can tell if there’s something that isn’t supposed to be there or if something that is artificial.

So if you were wearing, say if you are transitioning to a female and you were wearing a breastplate, or if you were transitioning a male and you had a prosthetic, carrying those while you’re traveling could add traumatic experiences for those folks as they get pulled aside and forced to undergo further screenings.

So whatever you can do as a traveler to make that experience. Cuz the last thing I want is for anybody to be triggered, and that’s very specific to a person and how they feel about a situation. So knowing how to mitigate any sort of challenges as you move forward in your travel will make that a lot easier. Passports, like you, said, are government IDs. If your likeness does not match the picture that is on your ID, there could be challenges and guards that pull you aside because that’s what they’re trained to do. Try and decipher if this person is who they say they are. Now it’s very hard for a lot of people to get their ID, in their gender identity.

Some countries are changing now. We were talking about the United States. They are now starting to allow folks to use a gender X on their IDs, which will help border guards as we move forward. But if your name doesn’t match the name that you’re going by or the name that your ticket is on, again, there are more challenges. So you wanna make sure that everything matches your government passport, you are following that exactly. I would say that to any traveler because nowadays if your middle name is not spelled correctly on your airline ticket, you’re not getting on that flight and that could be one character. So make sure it matches.

 If you want to change your name to match your preferred gender, work on making that happen before you travel because then things will be very smooth for you. Again, pick places where you may not run into these challenges. In the United States. We were talking, LGBTQ plus folks who often look at leaving the countries of Canada and the US but there are tons of great domestic travel opportunities and within domestic travel opportunities, all the US border guards have been trained about the gender X and they’ve all taken sensitivity training to understand. If a person says, I want a private screening, I don’t want it to be screened out in front, that they know, is not a problem. Let’s make that happen for you. Another tip about the screenings, while I’m thinking about it, is, if you’re going into a screening room with someone, ask to have a witness there with you.

So if you are going into a room with a screener, in the United States, get to ask if you would like a male or a female guard to be able to screen you, but also you can ask to have a witness there. So somebody that is just a silent party that’s watching exactly what happens so that you can feel safe and secure. I always say, come prepared. Have all your information ready. So if you have your medications, have them in their original packaging. Have your doctor’s note, don’t pack them away. Make sure that you are putting all of those things in your carry-on so you can explain what they’re needed for and that they’re medications that you take medically. Make sure that right off the top, if there’s anything you think that the guard’s going to find untoward, make sure that you let them know about it in advance and don’t try and hide it. Because what they’re looking for is deception, and they’re looking for people who are misrepresenting who they are.

So there are things to think about, that other travelers don’t have to think about, which are a consistent concern for trans folks. If you’re traveling with somebody who’s trans, make sure that you understand that there are a few extra steps. Again, as an ally, just say, Hey, if you need any support while we’re going through the airport, I’m here. Don’t let them on there. Don’t leave them alone if you’re traveling with folks because they may need your support getting through.

Brighde: Let them go through first so that you’re behind them. Yeah. Something I’m wondering is if a person did have an X. Have you heard of any situations where somebody has not been allowed in or just made it really difficult?

Jason: I have not done a ton of research on this. I have a few clients who are transgendered but this was before the allowance of this. We were talking about it, it’s great to see. But the next logical question is how is that going to work internationally when you’ve got all these countries that have different roles? So, I would say to go expecting at this point that probably, unless it’s one of the top 10 countries on the list, you may run into some issues with it. I going to do some research on it so I can absolutely come back and share a bit more about it once I have some more information. But it is gonna be a challenge because it’s not recognized by everybody.

Brighde: Hmm. As we are talking, I’m just realizing, I always knew that I had a lot of privilege as it was, as a person with a powerful passport as a white person. This is just another area where I have privilege, where I identify as a woman and I’m not a member of the LGBTQ plus community. As a result, I have all of this privilege, but also with that privilege comes some responsibility as well, 

Jason: as somebody who can present as it says the white male gendered person. I come with a lot of privileges as well. So I think it’s incumbent upon all of our allies, whether you’re in the community or not, that we’re just recognizing that privilege and supporting those who may be in a position that is way more marginalized than we are, and when we see it happening, that we’re trying to be there saying, no, this isn’t okay. We have to move past this and we have to grow as people.

Brighde: Absolutely. I agree. Yeah.

Jason: So Brighde, I have a question for you as a tour operator. Do you incorporate any sort of research into LGBTQ plus regulations for the countries that you book, on your itinerary?

Brighde: That’s a really great question. Certainly, we have a section, on each of our trip pages. This talks about LGBTQ travelers and it talks about, the laws that are in that place, of course, we try very hard to make sure that our tours, are a very safe place and we have zero tolerance for any discrimination at all. This is a really good question. I don’t know whether that has been a huge factor in choosing the destinations that we go to. Now, I’m very curious and I want to go and look at all of the destinations that we go to, in terms of where they appear on that ranking. I do have here that South Africa, which is the country that we are heading to soon, is one of the only African nations that recognize same-sex relationships as well and homosexual marriages are recognized by law. So that’s great. I was very curious. I actually did research about this recently and in Rwanda, there are no laws against it, but they’re certainly, homosexual marriages are not recognized by law as well. And of course, there are lots of other issues, but this is a really great question. I’m sure there’s work that we can do in this area to do better in this space.

Jason: Having it on your website is like the first step because I think having something that shows people that you are LGBTQ plus positive is the first thing that makes them feel confident that they at least talk about this with you and not be worried that you’re gonna come from a place that you’re not going to want to either provide the service or allow me on the tour.

So having the information is really good. As I said, things are changing so much and within each country, there are most likely, a majority of countries are going to have a group of people who are LGBTQ plus positive who want to create a safe space, and it’s a matter of hooking up with one of these tour operators that has done a bit of research if you want to go to a specific location, and then making sure that when you’re booking your tour, that you’re booking it with a tour operator who has at least thought about it. Because if you see a booking come in for a couple that’s a married gay couple, I’m sure the first thing that you’re thinking about is, okay, how do we keep those people safe? How do we make sure they have a great experience? That I think all tour operators need to do is remember to think about that and more LGBTQ-plus folks will book vacations and will start feeling confident in these Cuz you don’t have to worry if you’re on a tour with somebody where you’re like, they know my lifestyle and we have this conversation when we talk about vegan. Going to places where people understand what your particular needs are, is really the goal for any traveler. Knowing that there are LGBTQ-plus friendly tour operators just makes my job as an advisor easier because I can confidently go to World Vegan Travel. You don’t have to worry about it. You are going to have a great trip. You don’t have to worry about who you are or compromising any of your morals or your lifestyle.

Brighde: Exactly. Awesome. Alright. Jason, you have given me so much food for thought. I know there’s plenty more work that I can be doing in this area personally and professionally. I really wanna thank you for taking the time to talk about these issues because they really are so important. Before you go, would you mind telling our listeners, your social media handles, and how people might reach out to you in case they’re interested in booking some travel with you?

Jason: Well, you can stay in touch with me. We have our website, which is veganvacations.ca because we’re up in Canada if you’re down in the States, we are dot ca, there you’ll be able to find tons of booking engines. I will say the one note we have about our website is not everything on our website is 100% vegan. We work to do that for folks. So if you do happen to be searching through our website, just keep that in mind. But that’s the best place for you to be able to connect with us. We also do have Facebook @veganvacations, and we have Instagram at veganvacations.ca, we have an active blog on our website.

We are very close to announcing our first, vegan-friendly group cruise, which we’re gonna be on next November. So keep that month in mind. If you’re thinking you’d like to maybe join a vegan-friendly group, on an adults-only cruise. We’ll have more details that will come out through our Vegan Travel Summit as you mentioned at the beginning. We’re working on a Vegan Travel Association and have an event coming up in January. It’s from January 22nd to the 28th of 2023. It’s a virtual vegan travel summit where we’re going to have, I believe, 26 different sessions. We have a Facebook group called Vegan Travel Summit that people can join if they’d like to be able to stay in touch with us there because we’re building a community, I think we’re up over 2,600 now, if not more, in our little vegan group. So be sure to join us.

Brighde: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Jason. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today, and I’ll see you at our meeting on Monday.

Jason: Thank you very much, Brighde.

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