LGBTQ family travel tips to keep you safe and sane

Jul 20, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

The world is a wonderful place, full of people to meet and places to explore. Travel can be more complicated for LGBTQ families, but that doesn’t mean they should stick to the Village in New York City or Boys Town in Chicago. The wide world is out there for everyone to experience.

Our same-sex family has travelled near and far since our daughters were little, earning and using points and miles along the way. We’ve got some tips about how to make these jaunts as smooth and stress-free as possible. These LGBTQ family travel tips shouldn’t be necessary. Yet here we are.

Our girls are two of some 3.7 million children who live in LGBTQ families in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition to the complications of family travel that all parents with kids encounter, there are unique challenges to travelling as a parent who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community.

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Our family always has a great time in Mexico - passports included. (photo courtesy of Jon Bailey)
Our family always has a great time in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Jon Bailey)

My husband and I decided we would continue travelling after adopting our daughters. We wanted to instil the travel bug into these beautiful girls, encouraging them to be citizens of the world and appreciate similarities while respecting differences. As evidenced by our thinner wallets and multi-stamped passport booklets, we’ve definitely succeeded.

Related: Flying with a baby checklist

How many stamps can one passport handle? (photo courtesy of Дмитрий Ларичев)
How many stamps can one passport handle? (Photo courtesy of Дмитрий Ларичев)

Travelling as an LGBTQ family takes some organisation and planning other families may not have to do. That doesn’t stop us though, and it shouldn’t stop you.

5 Documents LGBTQ Families Should Carry

You’ve got passports for your whole family and that’s all you need, right? That’s not necessarily the case for LGBTQ parents. You may need to carry additional documents.

It wasn’t that long ago that my husband and I had to prove to several airline employees that our oldest girl was actually our daughter. Returning to the U.S. from a foreign country, we had to establish that we were her legal guardians. They actually accused us of child smuggling. It was scary, and even though we had all of our travel documents, they still detained us while they clarified our status.

Events like that happen rarely and are more relevant with younger children who can’t speak for themselves, but these situations are still ones to prepare for. Here’s a checklist of what you may need to carry to feel safe and secure through airport and hotel check-ins, security screenings and passport control.

TSA Security Check can certainly cause travel anxiety. (photo courtesy of Jon Bailey)
TSA security checks can certainly cause travel anxiety. (photo courtesy of Jon Bailey)

Your child’s birth certificate

If you or your partner are not a parent listed on your child’s birth certificate, make sure you have a notarized letter from the parent whose name is listed that authorizes you to travel with the child.

Official adoption paperwork

We only stopped carrying adoption papers for our daughters when they were 10 or 11 years old. It wasn’t until then that we felt comfortable that they could answer questions for themselves. Add your child’s official adoption paperwork to your carry-on bag.

Custody documents for minors

Carrying custody documents for minors is even more important if your children do not have the same last name as you.

Notarized “permission to travel” letter

If you and the child you are travelling with don’t share the same last name, it is smart to have a letter from your partner that stipulates that you have permission to travel with your child.

Emergency contact information

Carry a list that includes phone numbers for your family’s paediatrician, dentist and any other medical professionals.

This list underscores the one thing LGBTQ families should never leave home without, whether your destination is Peoria or Peru: a bag full of your important documents. Carrying these in a sealed plastic bag can help you feel more secure when travelling with your kids.

LGBTQ parents should always make sure they travel with the necessary documents to prove custody. (photo courtesy of Michael Burrell)
LGBTQ parents should always make sure they travel with the necessary documents to prove custody. (Photo courtesy of Michael Burrell)

LGBTQ Family Traveler Tips

In addition to the documents outlined above, some extra preparations may be helpful LGBTQ families travel securely and happily.

Choose your destination wisely

There are more than 70 countries that consider consensual same-sex relations a crime. In some of them, these “crimes” may carry a severe punishment. So why go there? Why would you take your kids there? We decided not to travel to specific places because we didn’t want our daughters in a country where the government says we’re going to burn in hell. You can check out the government’s website for safety tips for LGBTQ travellers. Also use International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), as it is a comprehensive travel-planning resource.

Gay pride can be found in countries all over the world.
Gay pride can be found in countries all over the world.

Be ready for dumb questions

Unfortunately, people all over the world can occasionally be ignorant. Cringe-worthy questions ensue. We’ve been asked, “Where’s the mommy?” when checking into a hotel or for a flight. It gets uncomfortable but instead of reacting angrily, I try to use it as a teaching moment to help the person better understand my family. Most times the person apologizes when corrected, embarrassed by their faux pas.

Patronize companies that support the LGBTQ community

Anyone who travels wants to feel welcome. For LGBTQ families there is the added anxiety of not knowing how they will be received. Take away some of that anxiety by using travel brands that train employees on inclusion and make a concerted effort to be queer-friendly. Hilton, Kimpton and Fairmont are some of our favourite hotel brands for this very reason. Most of the US and European-based airlines also have inclusivity training and programmes dedicated specifically to LGBTQ customers and families.

Be prepared for the paperwork headaches

Before you can plan your next fabulous overseas adventure, you have to obtain passports for your family. And for LGBTQ families, that is not always straightforward.

No matter how small or cute, your child needs to travel with the proper documents. (photo courtesy of LightFieldStudios)
No matter how small or cute, your child needs to travel with the proper documents. (Photo courtesy of LightFieldStudios)

Be a Rainbow Ambassador

Although it can be difficult to travel as an LGBTQ family, it is beyond worth it. I honestly believe that every time LGBTQ families travel, we’re showing the world that we are just the same as any other family. For a lot of people who haven’t seen families like mine, we are changing their perspective. And travelling somewhere awesome at the same time.

Featured image by iStock.com/Mizina

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