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Say the word "Sandals," and gay travelers remember how, until just three years ago, the resort company by that name, whose slogan is "For couples only," accepted only hetero couples at its dozen Caribbean properties. Although the company rescinded its notorious policy in 2004, the whole unpleasant history brings to light the challenges LGBT couples have whenever they book a trip: Who wants to deal with homophobia while on vacation? Gay singles and even gays with kids can often blend in more easily with straight tourists than partners of the same gender who simply want to enjoy a romantic candlelit dinner or hold hands on the beach.
To be sure, more and more tourism boards are openly courting the LGBT traveler (at last count, 60-plus worldwide), and mainstream hotel chains like Sheraton, Westin, and Hilton have designed special packages for gay travelers. But at some hotels, just asking for one bed for two people of the same gender can send the front desk into bewilderment.
"The first thing you should do when choosing a place to stay is call them," advises David Toussaint, author of Gay and Lesbian Weddings: Planning the Perfect Same-Sex Ceremony. "Tell them right away if it's your honeymoon and [gauge] how they feel about it. If they're uncomfortable, get off the phone and find another place."
Gay couples these days travel more for commitment ceremonies and honeymoons, which have turned into a boon for places like Vermont and Massachusetts, where a cottage industry of mainstream romantic bed-and-breakfasts began marketing to gay couples. "Nowadays, I have friends going to Canada or London to get married. It seems to be the big thing," says Toussaint, "regardless of whether the marriage is legal when they get back home." A good rule of thumb when choosing an appropriate destination for gay couples is to head to a place where a form of gay marriage is legal or at least being seriously considered. For instance, you'll probably choose South Africa (where same-sex marriage was legalized in late 2006) over Egypt (where gay men have been jailed), or Hawaii (which currently has several marriage-equality bills being considered) over Texas (which passed one of the toughest anti-same-sex marriage amendments in the country in 2005).
Before you hop on a plane for a wedding, honeymoon, or a simple lovey-dovey weekend, a little planning can go a long way in assuring you'll have romance instead of strife. It's important to find a place where you'll feel at ease putting an arm around your lover, but not necessarily where you'll have a hunky nude guy by the pool winking at him as you do so.
"Cough up the bucks and aim for relatively upscale lodgings," says Andrew Collins, who writes the gay travel section for About.com. "They attract professionals and couples that are not really looking to get laid the way guests often do at the less-expensive gay resorts."
But what if you want to stay in and snuggle by the fire, while she wants to go to the theater every night? Vacations bring a couple's lingering differences to the surface--so remember to follow the number 1 rule of relationships: Communication before a problem develops can be a marriage saver. Miami-based travel writer LoAnn Halden explains, "My girlfriend and I always ask each other before we leave, 'If you only get to do one thing while we're on this trip, what do you want it to be?' Then we make sure that we each get our wish. It's been the key to many successful vacations because we both feel like a priority, and it allows room for spontaneity too."
Another rule is to play to each other's strengths: "Know how to be a good team," advises Peter Frank, editor in chief of the luxury travel Web site Concierge.com. "I'm good at reading a map, and my boyfriend, Brian, is good at getting reservations at a great restaurant. We're always thinking we'd be great contestants on The Amazing Race." If done right, a vacation with your significant other can ultimately strengthen your bond.