There are an astonishing number of women of all ages who no longer seek or need permission -- nor emotional support or encouragement from spouses, friends or colleagues -- to travel. They are gutsy and bold, courageous and impressively strong.
-- Patricia Schultz, author of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die
Solo travel is the single best risk I ever took. It allowed me to develop as a person, to make friends in faraway places, and to observe other cultures quietly. However, solo travel isn't for everyone, and it's not for every destination, either. I remember traveling through certain countries wishing that my gender didn't attract so much attention. This vulnerability, this pervasive sense of situational awareness (bordering on paranoia) is shared by many women, and with good reason.
Here are some reasons why you might consider taking a women-only tour instead.
Around the world, women are still largely at a disadvantage due to the ubiquitous patriarchy. On average, we make $.80 to a man's dollar, invest dozens of hours weekly on invisible household work, and are still fighting for our reproductive rights. When it comes to travel, all these hindrances are combined with the fact that we are generally still seen as the weaker gender. It's the reason that matriarchies are still considered newsworthy and far-flung in the 21st century.
Traveling alone as a female is liberating, but it can also be perilous. We are warned to wear fake wedding bands if we're single, to cover our shoulders and knees from the male gaze, and certainly not to roam the streets alone after the sun has set. The risks range from unwanted catcalling to being followed to rape and murder. While this is not a given for every woman or every destination, these possibilities are real. I know several women -- including myself -- who have been victims of sexual assault while on the road.
For many women, just leaving home alone can be frightening -- let alone venturing into unknown lands.
Tours dedicated just to women serve many purposes. Historically speaking, when you think of any great explorer, he most likely is a man. Just take a quick moment to Google "famous explorers" and you'll be inundated with male faces from Christopher Columbus to John Muir. There's nothing wrong with men getting out into the world; women are just largely underrepresented in the realm of travel. Tours for women are helping females take back the landscape of exploration.
As Intrepid Travel's Jenny Gray stated, "These female-led, women-only expeditions offer a socially responsible and culturally sensitive way for travelers to access female-only establishments, experiences and customs in these traditionally conservative countries."
Such excursions offer a safe space for women to establish real connections while delving into intercultural topics that affect females worldwide. From Mexico to Egypt to China, we walk through the world with expectations of what it means to be female placed upon us. We accept the burdens of "normality" in order to function within our societies, careers, families, and partnerships. These tours allow us to join together, openly discussing our cultures and how we can progress.
Female-only tours allow us to put those encumbrances aside and to show up as we are, eager to learn and connect. They help us break down barriers and allow us an accessibility to see the world that we may not have otherwise had. All women deserve the opportunity to take that dream trip and return with a renewed outlook on life.
My friend Mary Cecchini left corporate America to start her female-only company, Living Big Travel, which focuses on international adventure travel. She was determined to help other women overcome their unique obstacles and get out into the world. Whether it's not having time to plan a trip, fearing solo travel, or simply wanting to be surrounded by like-minded individuals, women-only tours provide the solution.
Expeditions geared toward females are on the rise as more women discover how empowering these experiences can be. Often, taking the first step is the hardest part. In a Trafalgar survey, 73% of women from the United States stated that travel was a source of strength and independence. The same study found that 76% of women prefer to travel with their partners or families.
Just by looking at the math, women-only tours make sense in so many ways. Females want to get out on the road, to contribute to global society, to discover what's going on in other women's backyards. Tour companies are listening to this ever-growing demand. In fact, the Chicago Tribune found in 2015 that female-centric tour companies grew by 230 percent in six years. As such, outfits like Intrepid Travel plan to double their female tours by 2020. They're not alone.
Gone are the times of "ladies' night out" and superficial shopping sprees. Women-only tours offer a variety of opportunities for women of all ages. Whether you're looking to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro or connect with locals from different cultures, here's a sample of what companies have to offer:
AdventureWomen: Take a Kenai Wilderness Odyssey in Alaska, spending much of your time living alongside grizzly bears. This nine-day, wildlife-focused trip is priced at $4,990 USD and includes double-occupancy accommodations, activities, transportation, happy hour, and most meals.
Damesly: Wander through the "Souks + Sahara" of Morocco, taking in the colors, tastes, and sites of Northern Africa. For 11 days, including shared accommodation, air-conditioned transport, meals, activities, and local guides, the cost is $2,850 USD.
Getaway Goddess: Get in touch with your spiritual side with a Shreyas Yoga Retreat in Bengaluru, India. Four days and three nights, including hotel, activities, meals, and transportation, costs $930 USD.
Living Big Travel: Discover the best of Croatia -- from its cobblestone streets to it lush national parks -- for eight days and seven nights. The $3,695 USD price covers planning, hotels, transport, most meals, activities, and gratuities.
WanderTours: Experience the highlights of Ireland, including the Wild Atlantic Way, the Aran Islands, and a traditional Irish cooking class. Starting at $5,550 USD, this trip lasts 13 days and includes entrance fees, most meals, accommodation, activities, and an English-speaking guide.
Wild Women Expeditions: Delve into the wonders of the Galapagos, hiking, snorkeling, and kayaking along the way. The $5,795 fee covers too much to list, but you'll enjoy nine days on this archipelago -- including return flights from mainland Ecuador.
Venus Adventures: Take an African Safari through Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda for 21 days. Highlights include gorilla trekking, visiting the Masai tribe, and spotting pink flamingoes. Prices start from $5,430.
As a long-time traveler, I strongly believe that everyone should have access to travel. Not just the rich, not just men, not just English-speaking individuals. With women-only tours, companies are helping to bridge that gap. Armed with thoughtfully-researched itineraries, trustworthy guides, and unpretentious companionship, there's no telling how we women may transform the world.