‘Out in the World: An LGBTQIA+ (and Friends!) Travel Guide to More Than 100 Destinations Around the World’ is National Geographic’s first travel book aimed at the LGBTQIA+ community. Authors Amy B. Scher and Mark Jason Williams dive into 120 destinations — from Austin to Antarctica — and what makes them both great vacations as well as inclusive for every traveler. I spoke with Scher and Williams about the need for this book and what they love most about travel.

Mark Jason Williams: We wrote this book because it didn’t exist. The LGBTQIA+ section in travel guides is usually in the back and focused on hotspots and bars and clubs. Those things are great but they’re not for everyone. Sometimes I want to go to a small town and go antiquing and stay in a welcoming inn. We wanted to create a book that was inclusive and provided lots of different ideas and inspirations for various types of travelers.

Amy B. Scher: Our litmus test for this book was is this somewhere we could take our mom? We want the same diversity that other communities have access to. We all know the places to go for Pride, what can we do beyond that? There’s drag brunches in the book but also places you could go on a family reunion. The idea was to create a curated list of safe and welcoming destinations.

How has being part of a same-sex couple affected your travel experiences?

ABS: Until I met my future wife I had never dated women before. As a single woman I had to think about places I could and couldn’t go — like many straight people. But I never thought about places I couldn’t go as a same-sex couple. When we got married I wanted to go to Marrakesh. I was lovingly told by some family members that — at that time — they worried it might not be welcoming. It made me understand what the community deals with, not being able to freely be themselves as they travel. But I’m happy to say that things have really changed there and it looks like we’re finally going after 15 years together.

MJW: My husband and I checked into this boutique hotel once and there was a welcome card that started with “Welcome Mr. & Mrs.” I was upset because I had exchanged emails with the concierge and they knew that we were a gay couple. I brought it to the attention of the innkeeper. She said, “I have a lot of gay friends. We’re not homophobic.” And that made me realize: we’re beyond the obvious homophobia but there are still ways we’re not being welcoming to the community.

MJW: Antarctica is one of the most epic mind-blowing soul-healing journeys that I’ve ever been on. You’re at the end of the world. I was so close to a whale that I could hear it breathe. The penguins. The glaciers. The astounding scenery and wildlife.

ABS: One of my biggest surprises was the Hill Country that surrounds Austin, Texas. Most people know that Austin is very LGBTQIA+ friendly, but as my wife and I got further out in some of these tiny towns we felt very welcome. And I don’t think that’s a place that I would’ve gone many years ago.

Is the book purely positive or also cautionary about places not to travel?

ABS: It’s overwhelmingly positive. It’s mini-guides to 120 curated destinations. What to do, see and where to eat and stay. A sample itinerary and a taste of all the possibilities. If a business is in the book that means we like them.

But there are also caveats that maybe in this place, you want to exercise this type of caution or be more conscious in terms of public displays of affection.

Is that one of the more frustrating aspects of traveling with a same-sex partner?

MJW: People universally want to have the same freedom as the straight community to hold each other’s hands or sneak a kiss. But if you are going to a place where PDA is frowned upon and you can’t go without holding somebody’s hand — maybe that just isn’t the place for you.

In some countries the resorts are in a bubble and are going to be welcoming to the LGBTQIA+ community. Holding your partner’s hand on the beach is going to be fine. But if outside the resort is a less progressive place where I would say don’t do that — then you need to ask yourself if the concession is worth it.

Are there locations where you give separate advice for different members of the LGBTQIA+ community?

ABS: Each chapter has an LGBTQIA+ lowdown which does point out when certain parts of the community should be more aware. But we also point out a lot of positives. Like in this particular area trans rights and inclusiveness has come really far or this place is very popular with lesbian couples.

MJW: Even in less progressive U.S. states there are welcoming pockets and very inclusive communities. There’s Galena, Illinois or Eureka Springs in Arkansas. Kentucky has Louisville. There were more pride flags and LGBTQIA+ owned and welcoming businesses there than I ever would’ve realized. Same thing with Salt Lake City, which per capita has more LGBTQIA+ identifying people than Los Angeles. Don’t rule out a place because of political beliefs.

Are there ways straight travelers can help make destinations more inclusive?

ABS: One way is to support businesses that outwardly state they’re welcoming to the community. Put money into those places so they can continue to operate. It’s a vacation and you certainly don’t have to look up every business. But spending a few extra minutes sometimes can make a big difference to the community.

MJW: If you are a straight person traveling with an LGBTQIA+ person, sometimes they may need a little space and that’s okay. There may be a bar they want to go to on their own and if they don’t want company don’t take it personally. And if they don’t feel comfortable in a particular space and want to leave don’t undermine their feelings. It’s small things but they do go a long way.

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