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LGBTQ travelers to the rescue!

Queers leading the way to tourism recovery

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Gay cruises have been on pause during the pandemic but organizers are reporting robust interest in the near future. (Photo courtesy of David Halpern)

Since the tragic events of 9/11 and the abrupt halt to travel that followed, about every 10 years, the tourism industry is knocked back on its heels. The economic meltdown of 2008 and 2009 was even worse on the travel industry than 2001. And the pandemic is a once-a-century calamity exacerbated by the very things that make travel so enriching: large in-person events, meeting new friends at a hotel lounge, slaloming through a crowded bar in a far-flung city.

The travel industry rebooted before, and it will bounce back again soon. And if history is any guide, LGBTQ travelers will lead the way.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, the Washington, D.C.-based organization representing all segments of travel in America, says, “Gays lead, and the rest follow. They’re adventurous and like new experiences. They have a penchant for travel far greater than their heterosexual counterparts. They travel more and spend more when they travel. They’re the darlings of the travel industry when it comes to spending and dollars.”

Recent history has demonstrated that LGBTQ travelers — especially those in dual-income-no-child households — are always among the first to travel after social and economic crises. Following 9/11 and again after the 2008/2009 financial crisis, destinations, hospitality companies and travel brands noticed that LGBTQ travelers were prioritizing tourism over other purchase decisions, helping fill airplanes, hotels and, restaurants and animating destinations. So, they began to market to this segment in earnest.

Smart travel marketers will note that this is happening again now. We see — anecdotally and with the support of research by Community Marketing, Inc., Harris Interactive and IGLTA — that this segment travels in higher proportions and intends to book and execute travel in greater proportions than their non-LGBTQ counterparts.

Queer travelers tend to have more disposable income and time to spend it, helping fill destinations and hotels, especially during the quieter periods when kids are in school. Being among the first to travel safely, this resilient segment grants permission to others that they can return to travel safely. The LGBTQ segment has always been disproportionately present in online platforms, which provide a safer way to meet and interact with others in an otherwise potentially anti-LGBTQ world.

They also help achieve travel marketers’ goals by experiencing more, creating social media content and generating buzz.

The segment displays intense loyalty to brands that welcome and include them. There are also surprising halo effects: By signaling welcome to this group, marketers send a sign of inclusiveness to other overlooked and marginalized segments, like Black and LatinX travelers, and the family and friends of queer people are also positively motivated by outreach to LGBTQ people. Finally, these messages resonate strongly with millennial and Gen Z audiences who plan their travel — as well as plot their careers — to destinations and at hospitality brands whose missions align with their more inclusive values.

The segment has also demonstrated a strong affinity for cruises of all sorts, including all-gay or all-lesbian cruises, LGBTQ groups on mainstream cruises, and simply joining mainstream cruises as a same-sex couple or in small friend groups. While cruise vacations are still on a pandemic-induced pause in the U.S., cruise companies — including Carnival, Celebrity, Cunard, Uniworld and the brand-new Virgin Voyages — have all firmly established LGBTQ travelers as a core segment.

“National Travel and Tourism Week takes on special significance this year as we look ahead to recovery following the most challenging year this industry has experienced,” says Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line and national chair of the U.S. Travel Association. “Across the country, we are recognizing travel’s value, and the long-standing support of the LGBTQ community will help accelerate our rebound. I know that for Carnival, we pride ourselves on an inclusive atmosphere where every guest is appreciated, and we look forward to welcoming them back as soon as possible.”

One reason queer travelers are uniquely suited to help power the return of travel during this crisis has to do with their decades of experience living under the ever-looming shadow of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, during which they learned the importance of risk mitigation for the good of all. Wearing masks to protect yourself and others resonates with a community that understands the importance of condoms and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

According to Randle Roper, co-founder and CEO of VACAYA Full-Ship and Full-Resort LGBT+Vacations, “[Our] guests showed incredible resilience by traveling safely during the pandemic, and they proved they could adapt to live with health protocols that would keep each other and their loved ones back home safe.”

Travel safety is organically entwined with the LGBTQ community’s DNA. In 70+ countries, many popular with LGBTQ travelers, homosexuality is criminalized. That includes 11 countries in which death is the punishment meted out for those convicted of homosexuality and other “crimes” of sexual and gender non-conformity.

While travelers would be spared the harsh treatments locals may suffer, they nonetheless have a great deal to consider when traveling. Same-sex couples still receive awkward and uncomfortable service when checking into hotels with a single bed on the reservation or even simply existing in places where everyone’s assumed to be heterosexual. When a lesbian boards a plane with her legally married wife and their legally adopted children, they could land in a destination where their marriage license is void and their legal guardianship of their kids is in question. Trans and non-binary travelers, especially those oF color, may encounter challenges including lack of safe bathroom access, awkward encounters at TSA security and even outright hostility and worse in any public setting. In the face of all this, queer people still explore and have a lot to teach the rest of the world about how to travel with intent and joy while
maintaining their own safety and that of the community around them.

LGBTQ travelers can also show the world how best to support the tourism and hospitality industries in ways that also strengthen their own communities. “LGBTQ consumers have the power to make change and support LGBTQ-friendly companies and destinations by choosing to spend their travel dollars with those that support our community,” says Jeff Guaracino, co-author of the “Handbook of LGBT Tourism and Hospitality.” “LGBTQ-owned hotels, bed and breakfasts, tour companies, bars and restaurants, festivals and destinations have been especially hard hit by COVID, and as a community, we can support LGBTQ-owned and friendly businesses and their employees by spending our travel dollars with them first.”

LGBTQ tour companies and travel agents have a direct connection to queer travelers and report strong interest in and bookings of travel. According to Robert Sharp, co-founder and CEO of Out Adventures, “After [releasing] our entire tour schedule through the end of 2022, we saw our largest month of sales in our 12-year history.”

Kelli Carpenter, co-founder of R Family Vacations, adds, “Our highest sales have come from our river cruise products and international tour business, showing that travelers are ready to explore the world again.”

VACAYA’s Roper has seen extremely robust sales over the past several months — including selling out their Antarctica Cruise. “With a starting price of around $25,000 per room, that was our best sign yet that our community members are ready to break free from their cages and return to travel,” he says.

Robert Geller, founder of FabStayz, agrees: “Pent-up demand is visible, palpable and quantifiable.”

 

NYC-based Ed Salvato is a freelance travel writer, instructor at NYU and the University of Texas at Austin’s NYC Center, and an LGBTQ tourism marketing consultant.

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A voyage to Iceland, Greenland, Denmark and beyond

Cruise of a lifetime to unforgettable ports of call

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Reykjavik deserves a few days to tour since it has some of the greatest landscapes and wonders on Earth (Photo by Jason Villemez)

(Mark Segal is publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. This story is courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.)

LGBTQ people like to travel, and like many people they take cruises to see the world or just to relax. It used to be when taking something as personal as a cruise, where you’ll be with people in close quarters and where conversations can be easily overheard, you might have felt uncomfortable to be yourself. Today there are numerous LGBTQ cruises for almost every segment of the LGBTQ community where you can be your fabulous self and party until dawn or more. Among those companies are Atlantis adventures, primarily for men, and Olivia cruises for women. But those companies still comprise only a fraction of available cruise sailings. So, how welcoming are non-LGBTQ cruises? 

My husband Jason and I have been on numerous cruises on many LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ cruise lines. For our current trip we booked a cruise on Oceania, a line known for its food (they claim the best food at sea), exceptional attention to detail, and out of the ordinary shore excursions. We chose Oceania once before, and it was above most of the other cruises we’ve done. Another advantage of Oceania is that they do exotic itineraries. Our July cruise started in Reykjavik, Iceland and then proceeded to Greenland, the Shetland Islands, Denmark, and Sweden before ending in Oslo, Norway after a whopping 15 days. We traveled with another gay couple, our friends Klay and Val, who are out and proud like us.

And that really is the heart of the question: How out and proud can LGBTQ people be on a traditional cruise?

On the first night of the cruise, the ship promoted an “LGBTQQIA+ Get Together” in their daily schedule printout. The 4 of us attended along with 3 other couples, though we weren’t the only LGBTQ people on board. Throughout the trip, we met many other LGBTQ people, mostly couples, who also had other cruise experiences. I asked many of them why they picked this cruise over an LGBTQ cruise, as well as how comfortable they felt being out on this cruise. 

The overwhelming answer was that people on a cruise, like the general population, gravitate to like minded people, and since everyone’s on vacation it’s easier to get along. Most of them were comfortable being open about their sexuality. Jason and I felt comfortable enough to show our emotions at times and hold hands or put an arm around each other, just like non-LGBTQ couples. It made a larger point for me. Could we have done that a decade ago? The answer is: probably not. So in that regard, traditional cruises pass the comfort level for LGBTQ people. But what about the more nuanced reality of being an LGBTQ person on a cruise with 97% non-LGBTQ people?

Like any cruise, we found ourselves finding our own friends who turned out to be a fascinating lot. One of those was a couple who work at a small college and are developing new ways to be inclusive to LGBTQ students. Another was a retired couple from Seattle, another from Dallas. That’s the secret sauce in cruising, finding the people you get along with and having a nice time.

For all of us, the two factors that led us to this cruise were the itinerary and the reputation of Oceania. Let’s start with the cruise stops.

Reykjavik, Iceland

The departing port of the cruise, Reykjavik, deserves a few days to tour since it has some of the greatest landscapes and wonders on Earth, and if you’re lucky as we were, you will be met by an active volcano. We had arranged 3 days of touring with an LGBTQ tour company called Pink Iceland. There not only is a sizable LGBTQ population in Iceland, but it seems everywhere you go there are rainbows. The country even has had a lesbian Prime minister. It’s one of the most LGBTQ-friendly places on earth.

Our first day we traveled to the south shore and marveled at the raw natural landscape, which looks like something from the moon but is actually dried lava with moss growing atop. The volcanoes and glaciers are everywhere, and with an abundance of volcanoes, you’ll see steam coming up from the ground in certain places. This has translated to natural geothermal power that powers the country, as well as natural glacier water (which tastes better than any bottled water) in every home. Later that day we went to the black beach at Reynisfjara with its basalt rock formation from eruptions thousands of years ago. We also visited and walked behind several waterfalls, and the sunshine meant that rainbows were aplenty. It was wet, magical, and romantic. 

Our second day began with an adventurous ATV ride on that moonscape with a stop at a dormant volcano’s top ridge. With me driving, Jason held on for dear life. Afterwards, we spent the afternoon in the world famous Blue Lagoon spa, where there are pools of volcanic minerals and silica that are a color of blue you’ll see no other place on earth. As you soak you can apply those minerals as a face mask. Even though it was around 50 degrees outside, by the time we finished, we were all pleasantly overheated.

Our third day we toured the capital city, which is easily walkable and features a giant rainbow street, and then attended a get-together organized by Eva and Birna, the owners of Pink Iceland, with some local LGBTQ community members, including a member of parliament and a playwright who was the first to come out in his village in western Iceland. The audience was among the most engaged I’ve ever spoken to, and they asked insightful questions and were delightful to engage with. Iceland is a country built on stories (called the Sagas), so the people are keen to learn the stories of others.

After our three days in Reykjavik, we went onto our ship, the Oceania Riviera. 

The ship had recently come out of dry dock with a total renovation. The cabin was the most beautiful we’ve ever seen at sea and had ample closet space and a bathroom with a rainfall shower. Our home away from home would be comfy. 

Our friends Klay and Val opted for a larger room with butler service. The room had more closet space than some New York apartments, and the amenities were above average. But their butler, as they learned, seemed to have had no understanding of his role and often overcomplicated things. 

Isafjordur, Iceland

Iceland is still developing its infrastructure for tourism. Our ship had provided 10 shore excursions, but all were completely sold before we even boarded the ship, including the one we wanted most, whale watching. The fact that shore excursions sell out months before the trip was not fully communicated to us. When we attempted to book 6 weeks before the trip, many ports had no available excursions. Nevertheless, in this small fishing village, left to our own devices we discovered one of the treasures of Iceland, The Tjoruhusid Restaurant. Known to be the most traditional Icelandic food in the country, you still needed a reservation since locals and tourists come from all over for its cuisine. But in true Icelandic hospitality, the staff found room and were kind enough to seat us, and I must admit that while I’m not a seafood eater it was amazing. The buffet meal included a fish soup, five types of fish entrees, including fish throat, which I didn’t know existed, various vegetable combinations, and coffee, biscuits, and chocolate. 

After the meal, we took a stroll through the village and discovered that among the fishing boats, fjords, and homes, the town square had a giant rainbow painted down the center. That’s two for two cities in Iceland with rainbow streets.

Paamiut, Greenland

Our second stop was a small village of about 1300 whose complete economy was fishing and seal hunting. Very few cruise ships have ever stopped there, and for good reason. While there are very few facilities and the infrastructure is sparse, the main problem was that as we approached, the seas were somewhat choppy and we found ourselves in a sea of Icebergs. Before I could suggest to everyone that we all break out into a chorus of “My Heart Will Go On,” the captain stated the obvious: he canceled the adventure in Paamiut. It was not safe to take the tender boats to shore (there was nowhere to dock in a port that small). However, a consolation prize was being treated to a sea of majestic icebergs as we sailed away. 

That evening the entertainment and information system in all the staterooms went down. No television, no stateroom information, no map. Not only was the television system down, but the ship’s entire network went down as well. The casinos were out of service, and bartenders and shop staff had to write down stateroom numbers on paper receipts. Getting information about the problem was met with what would become a common complaint on this trip: a lack of communications skills from the staff. 

But we moved on to the next port of call, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

Nuuk, Greenland 

The capital of Greenland, Nuuk, held its Pride celebration the week before we arrived. Discovering small cities with Pride events astonishes me even to this day. We had tried to find a Nuuk Pride T-shirt but since the city is so small (17,000 people) the organizers told me they didn’t have the funds to create merch. 

For our excursion for the day, we chose the Fjord Boat Tour, which was majestic. Our boat driver dodged icebergs like a taxi weaving in and out of traffic. When we stopped for a few minutes, the calmness and solitude, being surrounded by ice and mountains, was otherworldly.

Sadly, our driver said that ten years ago, none of the ice in the water was there, and that it has been a result of climate change and melting ice. I shudder to think what the area will be like in another ten years. There might be so much ice that boats can’t get anywhere.

Qaqortoq, Greenland

In Qaqortoq, a 1,500-person city south of Nuuk, the excursion we chose was the “Kaffemik,” basically enjoying coffee and traditional Greenland cakes in a private house. We walked up the hills and passed by colorful homes to get to the residence of our host, an 80 year old widow with Swedish ancestry who was charming and explained Greenlandic culture. One of her children was there to help translate, while her other children live in Denmark, which Greenland is a territory of. During the pandemic, Greenland received ample funds from Denmark to make up for the loss of income in industry.

After we wrapped up our sightseeing, that evening, while walking around the ship, we came across a portrait of a woman who is the godmother of the ship, Cat Cora, the famous Iron Chef. She and her wife and children were also among the guests on board with us. We went to see her give a talk the following evening. We figured since there was no working casino or state room entertainment, that meeting an Iron Chef would be entertainment worth seeing. During her presentation she introduced her family, and afterwards we got a chance to chat. When I asked her about how it felt introducing her wife, she said “that’s what we need as a community, we need to be more visible.” That was music to our ears. 

Torshavn (Faroe Islands), Denmark

This charming capital of the Faroe Islands is a wonder of old architecture and homes with grass roofs. The town’s Library had several LGBTQ books on display in the window due to the previous week’s Pride celebration. This trip, after learning about Pride in Nuuk, Greenland and also the Faroe Islands, proved to me what I’ve always believed, that Pride is one of the best exports America has ever given to the world. I thought of my friend Ellen Broidy who helped write the resolution that created Pride, and all of us who marched in that first Pride in 1970 in New York.

Lerwick (Shetlands Islands), Scotland

Believe it or not, it was actually stated in the ship’s excursion brochure “encounters with Shetland ponies is not guaranteed” which gave me a chuckle. The tour we were on in Lerwick included going to the town’s museum to learn about the Shetland Bus, where people ferried people and supplies back and forth between Norway during WWII, as well as, thankfully, a stop at a Shetland Pony farm. Seeing the ponies and the beautiful green hills full of sheep was the highlight of this stop. One surprise was that while the Shetlands are part of Scotland, the citizens feel culturally closer to Norway, and there are lots of Viking motifs.

Haugesund, Norway

While there were excursions available to see the Norwegian fjords, by this point in the trip we needed a little bit of a break, so we simply walked around the town’s main square, bought a magnet as a souvenir, and enjoyed the warm sunshine, the first day above 50 degrees we’d had in two weeks. One of the LGBTQ couples did go on a fjord tour, and they said it was beautiful despite spending three hours in a bus to get to them. 

Skagen, Denmark

Skagen is the picture-perfect Danish seaside town. I’d recommend not doing any guided tours and just walking around the city’s downtown area on your own. There are museums, art galleries, shopping, and plenty of outdoor cafes and bistros. There are also top notch garden shops and plenty of greenery for those who have a green thumb.

Gothenburg, Sweden

Sweden’s second largest city has a population of 579,000 and is a model of a beautiful European city with second empire buildings and a very large central shopping area. We stumbled upon some fun shops, including one dedicated to Pippi Longstocking, as well as the largest cinnamon rolls and cookies we’ve ever seen. We took some time to sit in a city park and enjoy the surroundings.

On the final night of the cruise, we enjoyed a performance by Tiano, the tenor and piano duo of Shimi Goodman and Chris Hamilton. They dedicated one of the love songs to Val and Klay, who were celebrating their 25th anniversary. The duo will soon embark on a North American tour, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again. They’re also a couple, and they mentioned that they were glad to meet other LGBTQ people on the ship.

Oslo, Norway

The cruise ended in Oslo, Norway, and many passengers planned a couple day layover before heading home. But others, like Jason and I, decided to head to the airport the morning of disembarkation, and we purchased tickets from the ship that would transfer us and our luggage to the airport. The luggage was put in a truck, and we were ushered into buses. The process was confusing, and there was no ship representative at the airport to direct us where our luggage was. Ultimately, the truck with the luggage arrived about 15 minutes after we did, and everyone was reunited with their bags.

Compared to the other Oceania cruise we did, this one failed to meet expectations. While it had what seemed like the best cabin at sea and a wonderful itinerary, the staff, while helpful, seemed to be learning on the job. The other major disappointment was the food. Oceania no longer has the best food at sea. Other than the specialty restaurants, the food was similar to any other cruise at best, and at times some of the food was severely disappointing. Also disappointing were the ships lack of available shore excursions, and lack of communications skills. The lack of information, especially from the cruise director and excursion staff, was subpar compared to many other cruises we’ve been on. And while the cruise did go to ports that have little infrastructure, there are ways to mitigate that which the cruise staff did not do. 

While the cruise did not meet Oceania’s reputation, it still afforded us the delight in the people we met and the destinations we saw along the way. That’s what we’ll remember most. A private party with some of the LGBTQ guests we met; Tiano on that final night; the maitre’d in the dining room who seemed to know the name of every passenger on the ship. Each evening we had the delight of sharing our experience with our friends over dinner. 

To sum up the reason for this trip, as an LGBTQ couple, we felt comfortable being ourselves on a non-LGBTQ cruise, and the other LGBTQ people we spoke with didn’t seem to have any issues either. As for whether we’d take Oceania again, we sadly would not unless the itinerary was completely unique. Oceania seemed to have lost the sparkle that made it one of the best cruise companies around.

But despite the ship’s faults, seeing Iceland, Greenland, and so many other places was an experience of a lifetime. We can’t wait to go back to Reykjavik someday and see more of the country and meet more of the people, and we’re forever grateful to have seen Greenland, a place of unparalleled beauty and where few others have ever been. It’s a reminder that the planet has existed long before humans, and that we are but a small part of the wide wonder of nature

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Loving the Land Down Under

Australia offers LGBTQ travelers a welcoming and diverse culture

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(Photo courtesy Destination NSW)

Having grown up in Kansas, in the middle of the United States, I’ve always longed to see more than the flat, flyover states that are the Midwest.

When I was a kid, my dad was a huge Olivia Newton John fan. She was his Australian heartthrob. Many a school day, I would come home to her music blaring or one of her live concerts in the VCR. And as a young gay boy, I was mesmerized by her as well. She was pretty, sang beautifully, and was from this great land far, far away.

I wondered how this pop chanteuse from Down Under got into my living room. And I always wondered what her homeland of Australia was like. Was it filled with dangerous animals as everyone suggested?  Was there something at every turn that could kill me?

To me, it sounded exciting! I’ve always tried to live my life by a Helen Keller quote I heard while in high school: “Lift is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” And it was with that mindset firmly in place that I packed my bags this past spring to visit that mystical Land Down Under. 

Australia is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries in the world, with a progressive culture that embraces diversity and inclusivity. Australia decriminalized homosexuality in the 1970s and legally recognized same-sex marriage in 2017. The country has a very vibrant and dynamic LGBTQ community, and it is a popular destination for LGBTQ+ travelers.

Sydney, the largest city in Australia, is often considered the LGBTQ capital of the country. The city hosts the famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, an annual festival and parade that attracts more than 300,000 visitors from around the world. The festival, with colorful floats, music, and performances, has become a symbol of Australia’s commitment to LGBTQ rights and is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Australia.

The parade, beginning with the roar of hundreds of “dykes on bikes,” is truly a sight to behold. The whole country comes to SLAY at this parade! Everyone puts on their brightest colors and outfits for this over-the-top event. It was one of the best (and longest) Pride parades I’ve ever been to in my life.

In 2023, Sydney was home to the 2023 WorldPride festival, and the city rolled out the rainbow carpet for the estimated 1 million-plus people, staging more than 400 events. And when I tell you that this city went over the top — well, that’s a complete understatement. EVERYWHERE I went, EVERYTHING was covered in rainbows — from the city sidewalks to the lighting on buildings, to every employee I saw in every shop with their rainbow pins and buttons. It was like gay was the norm and straight was the minority; it was weirdly fabulous!

Melbourne

Melbourne is another great city for LGBTQ travelers to visit. Aside from being the current home to my favorite pop star, Troye Sivan, the city is known for its vibrant arts and culture scene and is home to a thriving LGBTQ community. The annual Midsumma Festival, a three-week celebration of queer arts and culture, is held in Melbourne and features a range of exhibitions, performances, parties, and other events.

If shopping is your thing, check out the 145-year-old Queen Victoria Market. This open-air market is home to more than 600 small businesses where you can buy everything from Australian fruits and veggies to gourmet food, clothing, and souvenirs. There is literally something for everyone.

Wild Australia

What initially drew me Down Under were the lush landscapes and wild animals I saw on TV growing up. The country is home to some of the world’s most stunning natural wonders, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, and the Blue Mountains. LGBTQ travelers can explore these natural wonders through a range of activities, including hiking, snorkeling and even zip lines and hot air balloon rides.

One stop for me was the breathtaking Heron Island, a stunning coral cay located on the southern Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland. It is accessible only by catamaran or helicopter and offers a secluded and pristine escape for travelers looking for a uniquely tranquil experience.

The island boasts world-class snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities, giving visitors the chance to swim among vibrant coral reefs and an abundance of marine life including sea turtles, manta rays and reef sharks, while its sandy beaches provide a picturesque setting for sunbathing and leisurely walks. The island is an also breeding ground for several species of seabirds, including the endangered black noddy tern and the wedge-tailed shearwater, making it perfect for birding enthusiasts.

I spent three glorious days on this piece of paradise and have never felt so relaxed in my life. I got up close with nature — every kind of wildlife you could imagine birds — in a way that I’ve never experienced before and will never forget.

Accommodation options on Heron Island range from eco-friendly tents to luxurious suites, with all rooms offering stunning views of the reef and the island’s lush vegetation. Facilities include a restaurant and bar and well as guided nature walks and reef talks.

If you need a chance for some peaceful rest and rejuvenation, especially after all the excitement of Sydney and Melbourne, Heron Island is the perfect destination. Its remote location and unparalleled natural beauty make it a must-visit destination.

Bondi Beach

Australia has several LGBTQ-friendly beaches, including the popular Bondi Beach in Sydney. The beach is home to the Bondi Gay and Lesbian Beach Picnic, which is held on the first Sunday of every month and is a great way to meet other LGBTQ travelers.

Food and wine

Australia’s food and wine culture is yet another draw for LGBTQ travelers, offering a range of culinary delights from fresh seafood to world-class wines and unique indigenous cuisine. I know I came back to the states 10 pounds heavier! The cities of Melbourne and Sydney are particularly known for their food and wine scenes, with a range of LGBTQ-friendly restaurants and bars.

Overall, I spent a little more than two weeks in The Land Down Under. I loved it so much that I’ve decided I will definitely be going back to vacation there again, and I might even move there some day. The welcome I felt from the people there is something I will never forget.

Aussies care about their country and the people in it. From the moment I touched down until the minute that I left, I never felt unwelcome anywhere I went.

The country’s progressive culture, natural beauty, and diverse cities make it an ideal vacation spot for LGBTQ individuals and couples. Whether you’re looking to attend a Pride parade, explore the great outdoors or simply relax on a beautiful beach, Australia has something to offer everyone.

So, pack your bags and come and say G’day; you won’t regret it. For more info on traveling to Australia, visit www.australia.com

 Chad Mantooth is a writer for the Dallas Voice. This story is courtesy of the National LGBT Media Association.

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Fabulous San Diego beckons with array of attractions

Torrey Pines Reserve, Liberty Station Public Market, Hillcrest among highlights

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San Diego’s perfect weather draws visitors year round. (Photo courtesy Bill Malcolm)

You cannot beat a vacation in San Diego and there is always something fun and new going on in the city, including the vibrant Hillcrest gayborhood (fabuloushillcrest.com). The city of 1.4 million borders Mexico and is built on mesas surrounded by canyons on the Pacific Ocean. Interesting neighborhoods and parks will keep you busy. The climate is mild, so any month is perfect for a visit given the climate. The city combines the best of Southern California combined with a strong Mexican influence given the proximity to Tijuana. 

WHAT TO DO

Don’t miss the Farmers Market Sundays in Hillcrest Sundays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Enjoy the Southern California strawberries and dates. I had salmon for lunch. There are lots of local vendors. You will find them on Normal Avenue between Lincoln and University Avenue near the rainbow flag.

On Saturdays, the city’s other large farmers market in Little Italy is also very popular. Little Italy is a cute neighborhood near downtown with lots of trendy restaurants and shops. (Details at littleitalysd.com).

Hike up Maple Canyon and enjoy the native vegetation on Bankers Hill.

See the rarest pine in the world, the Torrey Pine, and enjoy the wildflowers and views from bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean at the Torrey Pine Natural Reserve just north of La Jolla. You will also see the beaver tail prickly pear cacti, yuccas, cholla cactus, manzanitas, and native wildflowers. To get there without a car (and to avoid the $25 parking charge), take the Blue Line MTS trolley (light rail) to La Jolla (Noble Drive Station) and then catch the 110 North County Coaster bus to Torrey Pines Beach. The bus ride goes through the UCSD campus and is interesting. (See SDMTS.com)

Once at the beach, walk up the hill going south into the preserve and enjoy the Guy Fleming loop trail, which features stunning views of the ocean and the rare and unusual Torrey pines, which are found only here and on Catalina Island. These rare and endangered pines are found nowhere else on Earth except these two small locations. Plan your trip at torreypines.org

Then enjoy the Torrey Pines or Blacks beaches. Then catch the 101 bus back to La Jolla and enjoy fish tacos at Rubio’s Coastal Grill (Nobel and La Jolla Drive) and a fresh carrot juice at the Nektre Juice Bar (8855 Villa La Jolla Drive). 

Walk along the bay at the trails on Harbor Island near the Sheraton. It’s just over a mile to the Liberty Public Market, a new food hall that had been a Navy Mess Hall at the former Navy training facility. It also features museums and an Arts District. Try the craft beer at Bottlecraft or craft cocktails at Mess Hall. There are local clothing, soap, and jewelry vendors as well. Pick up some homemade soap at the Old Town Soap Company. You will find Liberty Station at 2820 Historic Decatur Rd. (libertypublicmarketsd.com). They are celebrating 100 years. On the way back, stop at Spanish Landing, the site where California was discovered in the 1500s by Cabrillo, a Spanish explorer.  

Visit the North Park neighborhood. Take in a drag and dinner show at Lips on El Cajon Boulevard. Stop by the Eagle Bar.

Balboa Park includes museums as well the San Diego Zoo. It is a must for first-time visitors. 

For more ideas, visit the Metropolitan Transit System website. Enjoy a car free, carefree stay.

NIGHTLIFE

You cannot beat the selection of bars, restaurants, and shops in Hillcrest, one of the best gayborhoods in the world.

I stumbled on a fun Saturday night show featuring drag, strippers, and burlesque at Urban Mos in Hillcrest. The strippers and bottomless Mimosas on Sunday were a hit. They also have great food. I loved the fries. 

Richs is always fun as is Flicks, the latter of which has an all-day happy hour on Tuesday. Number One has a DJ on Sunday afternoons. You can dance on the patio. The Loft is a fun neighborhood bar.

WHERE TO STAY

This was my second stay at the Sheraton Hotel and Suites on the marina near the airport on Harbor Island. It’s a quick Uber to Hillcrest or take the 922 MTS Bus downtown, Union Station, and the attractions. Get a room in the main tower facing downtown and the bay. Check Trip Advisor for other hotel ideas. However, there are few lodging options in the Hillcrest. 

GETTING THERE 

I took the Southwest nonstop from Indianapolis. You don’t need a rental car as San Diego has great transit. MTS runs the trolley system (aka light rail). Plus you can walk everywhere in this fairly compact city if you stay around Hillcrest, Downton, Old Town, and the Gas light District. 

USEFUL TRAVEL TIPS

Visit San Diego listed all the new attractions, hotels, and happenings for summer in San Diego. As for Hillcrest, San Diego will be celebrating with the San Diego Pride Parade, one of the largest in the country, with over 300,000 attendees July 8-16.

OTHER INFORMATION

San Diego has a bad homeless problem, and many are mentally ill. I was attacked at 8th Avenue and Hillcrest while walking down the sidewalk at 5 p.m. on a Sunday. The psychotic looking shirtless man tried to steal my day pack and then pulled me. Fortunately, Mayor Todd Garcia pushed through a new ordinance banning public camping by the homeless to deal with the problem. 

San Diego has prohibitive costs including hotel rates. Book your hotel before you book your air. You may want to avoid the peak summer season where folks from Phoenix flee here to escape the summer heat. And beware of annoying resort fees. 

Although you are close to Tijuana, Mexico, it is unsafe to visit at this time. 

There are four publications you can find at the bars or online to help you plan your trip:

• LGBTQ San Diego County News (LGBTQSD.news) is a newspaper covering the community.

• RAGE Monthly covers all of San Diego. (rage.lgbtq)

• GedMag.com (GED Magazine) is a Palm Springs magazine distributed in San Diego.

• Metro Magazine is a New York publication that publishes a Los Angeles edition.

You cannot beat a trip to San Diego, with a perfect climate and set on mesas above canyons. There is always something new to do. And it has something for everyone. 

Bill Malcolm is a syndicated LGBTQ value travel columnist. His column is now carried in LGBTQ publications in Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Dallas.

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