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LGBTQI+ family travel tips to keep you safe and sane

June 04, 2022
8 min read
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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 LGBTQI+ families, but that doesn’t mean they should stick to Greenwich Village in New York City or Boystown in Chicago. The wide world is out there for everyone to experience.

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

Our girls are two of some 3.7 million children who live in LGBTQI+ families nationwide, 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 traveling as a parent who identifies as a member of the LGBTQI+ community.

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

My husband and I decided we would continue traveling after adopting our daughters. We wanted to instill 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 passports full of stamps, we’ve definitely succeeded.

Traveling as an LGBTQI+ family takes some organization and planning other families may not have to do. That doesn’t stop us though, and it shouldn’t stop you.

Related: Here’s why every family should enroll in TSA PreCheck

6 documents LGBTQI+ families should carry

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

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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 of a concern 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.

Related: Everything you need to know about getting your child’s passport

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 from the state in which you live 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 traveling with don’t share the same last name, it is smart to have a letter from your partner (preferably notarized) that stipulates that you have permission to travel with your child. If you're traveling internationally with a child who's under 16, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol advises that: "Unless the child is accompanied by both parents, the child should have a notarized letter from the other parent or signed by both parents stating, 'I acknowledge that my son/daughter is traveling outside the country with [the name of the adult] with my permission.'"

Related: Kids under 18 can use Clear with you for free

Copy of health insurance cards

In addition to the health insurance cards you have in your wallet, take pictures of the cards so you'll have digital copies, too. It doesn't hurt to carry an additional paper copy, as well. Reach out to your insurance company and see if they will issue a card with your child's name on it along with yours (however, most insurance companies only issue cards under the policyholder's name).

Emergency contact information

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

This list underscores the one thing LGBTQI+ 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 traveling with your kids.

LGBTQI+ parents should always make sure they travel with the necessary documents to prove custody. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Travel tips for LGBTQI+ families

In addition to the documents outlined above, some extra preparations may be helpful for LGBTQI+ families to 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 would you 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 those types of countries. You can check out the U.S. Department of State’s website for safety tips for LGBTQI+ travelers. Also use the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, as it is a comprehensive travel-planning resource.

Related: How to survive a flight with a child of every age

Be ready for dumb questions

Unfortunately, people all over the world can occasionally be ignorant and cringe-worthy questions ensue. We’ve been asked, “Where’s the mommy?” when checking in to a hotel or 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.

Related: The documents you need to fly with a lap infant

Patronize companies that support the LGBTQI+ community

Anyone who travels wants to feel welcome. For LGBTQI+ 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 favorite hotel brands for this very reason. Most of the U.S.-based airlines also have inclusivity training and programs dedicated specifically to LGBTQI+ 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. For LGBTQI+ families, that is not always straightforward. You'll need an original birth certificate to obtain a passport from the U.S. Department of State. Get the birth certificate by submitting a request to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. The request must be submitted in the state of your child’s birth, which is not necessarily the state you live in now. Single parents may get pushback from the agency because of the lack of a custody agreement. Look for the newest forms that stipulate “Father/Mother/Parent” to help alleviate this issue.

When you apply for a child’s passport, you must do so in person with the child and both parents present.

Bottom line

Although it can be difficult to travel as an LGBTQI+ family, it's beyond worth it. I honestly believe that every time LGBTQI+ 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 traveling somewhere awesome at the same time.

Additional reporting by Melissa Klurman.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
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  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees