Traveling internationally while queer can sometimes be a scary experience -- especially if you're using services like Airbnb, CouchSurfing, or NightSwapping to stay in people's homes and get a taste of local living on the cheap, but you're unsure how to gauge in advance whether your hosts will be cool or homophobic.
Now, thankfully (FINALLY), there's an app for that. Wimbify is designed to connect LGBT travelers with local LGBT hosts, so that we're not only always sure to feel safe and welcome where we're staying, but we'll also be able to gain some immediate insights (and an "in") to the local LGBT scene. We caught up with Wimbify's co-founder and CEO Alessio Virgili to learn more.
Virgili, who was born and lives in Rome (with frequent stays in Milan and San Francisco) and also acts as the Italian ambassador for the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), told MTV News that he and his long-time partner were inspired to create Wimbify in part because a lesbian couple they're friends with scheduled a home-stay during their vacation, but when they arrived, they were disappointed to find that "the owner was not happy to have two lesbians in his home."
"I think this is absurd in 2015," Virgili continued, "but unfortunately there is still a need to know if someone is gay-friendly or not."
Virgili also said the company's market research suggested that 53% of LGBT people travel alone at least once a year. He said, "When I travel, I want to be able to discover the gay scene of a destination, be able to get a coffee with my partner without shame, meet like-minded new people, and learn more about the history of the local LGBT community."
He added that depending on where you're traveling, those kinds of goals can present some challenges.
"Sometimes, unfortunately, it is not easy to find information about the local gay scene, especially in destinations where the gay life is more underground," Virgili told MTV News. That's why with Wimbify, you're able to find more than just a safe place to stay -- you'll also be connected with a friendly LGBT host who's eager to show you around.
The best part? It's mostly free. The idea is that you'll offer your own services -- giving people rides to and from the airport, acting as a tour guide, teaching travelers how to cook local dishes and/or letting people stay in your own home -- to earn credits that you'll then be able to use toward those services during your own travels. In the future, people who are unable or unwilling to host will also be able to purchase credits at affordable rates.
"The LGBT community, like all minorities, is linked by strong feelings of identity and belonging to a group that shares the same values," Virgili said. "[So] hospitality between members of the LGBT community is a widespread prerogative."
Vladimir Diaz, a 35-year-old who was born in Cuba and now lives in Barcelona, told MTV News that his experiences as both a host and traveler through Wimbify have been rewarding, and have led him to develop new international friendships. He also said that he's currently planning a trip to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico with a friend he made through Wimbify who lives in LA.
"When I learned about this app from a friend, I was surprised," Diaz said. "I thought it was very innovative, because you can find not only accommodations, but also you can meet other friends for planning trips." He added that "the app is also very user-friendly and there is a very good help center."
Wimbify is currently only available for IOS, but Virgili told MTV News that due to a large number of requests, it will also be available on Android beginning December 16th, and that the company plans to launch a Windows version within the next year.