Travel for Women Only

Organized tours for moms, wives, sisters, and solo female travelers

By , Friday, Apr 15, 2005, 12:00 AM

Should women travel only with other women? Should they do so on occasion? If the trip is one of outdoor adventure, involving physical challenge, should they travel only with other women? Should they agree to include men on a group tour only if the group is led by a woman?

Because so many women are responding to one or more of the above questions with a resounding "Yes," a sizable new segment of the travel industry has emerged to serve their wants. As surprising as it may seem, more than 50 tour companies in a dozen major states are now openly feminist in their orientation, and limit their clients or leadership to women only.

The reason is unrelated to sexual proclivities or the lack of them. From a review of their literature, not one of the 50 new firms seems operated for lesbians, and most stand carefully apart from a wholly separate group of tour companies openly appealing to gay men or gay women.

The premise of only female travel

Rather, the move to feminist travel seems motivated by a combined goal of consciousness raising and female solidarity, and by the belief that women enjoy a holiday change of pace, stress-free, and relaxing, when they travel only with other women. Though the philosophy is rarely articulated in the feminists' tour brochures, and is obtained with difficulty even in conversations with feminist tour operators (I've now spoken with several), the gist of it seems as follows:

When women travel with men, and especially on outdoor trips, both they and the men, say tour leaders, tend to fall into predetermined gender roles: the men do the heavy work, the women putter about and cook. Traveling only with other women, women accept greater challenges, court greater responsibility, acquire new skills, gain confidence and a heightened sense of worth.

Male travelers are conditioned by society to be excessively goal-oriented: they must conquer this or that mountain, show prowess and strength, domineer. Most women, by contrast, enjoy the mere experience of travel, the joy of encountering nature, all without stressful competition or expectations. They have less need to boast and strut; they lack the male's inner urge (from early upbringing) to seem always skillful, strong, serene, and protecting. "I don't want to be protected on vacation," say many women, "I want to be myself."

In the presence of the other sex, so goes the argument, both sexes find it difficult to "let down their hair." On a tour limited to women, say the feminists, these tensions subside. Women spend less time on personal appearance and grooming, dispense with sexual role-playing, care only for themselves.

"And why should men feel threatened by that need?" asks one prominent female tour operator. "Why should an all-female tour be the subject of sneers? Men have been going off to hike or fish 'with the boys' for centuries."

Practical considerations: Since everyone on a woman-only trip is "single," participants pay no single supplement, but instead share rooms and costs.

Since some male spouses don't care for outdoor trips, feminist tours often provide the only vacation outlet for women who genuinely enjoy the attractions of nature. Then, too, women who are recently widowed or divorced are enabled by such tours to meet others in the same situation; the experience is healing, restorative. But mainly, the women "take charge" of their holiday, free from the customary domination of men.

Vacations for women over 30

The first, Adventure Women, Inc. was founded more than twenty-two ago by Susan Eckert to promote adventure travel to women over 30, in areas she had herself traveled while in the Peace Corps. Today, along with standard, mild safaris, treks and ski trips limited to women, she also deals in challenges of considerably greater daringsafaris in Botswana and Zambia, sailing in Greece, and lodge trekking in the Himalayas. The international trips, priced from $2,095-$6,595 for a 5 to 16-day adventure, are all-inclusive--including international airfare, meals, lodgings and all else. Contact Adventure Women, Inc. (for women over 30) at 15033 Kelly Canyon Road, Bozeman, MT 59715, (phone 800/804-8686 or 406/587-3883, e-mail advwomen@aol.com). Or visit the Web site at adventurewomen.com/.

Also for women in their prime is Canyon Calling, a wilderness travel organization for women over 30, and Explorations in Travel, which handles "cultural" tours as well as outdoor adventure, this time for women over the age of 40. Canyon Calling (200 Carol Canyon Drive, Sedona, AZ 86336; phone 800/664-8922 or 928/282-0916, Website: canyoncalling.com/) offers what it calls "multi-adventure" tours--each day participants engage in a different kind of activity, from hiking and "glacier walking" to jetboating and kayaking. Destinations include Fiji and New Zealand, Greece, Iceland and various areas of the southwestern United States. Prices range from $1,695 per week all the way up to $4,575 (these rates include all meals, equipment, entrance fees and accommodations but not airfare).

Explorations in Travel (2458 River Road, Guilford, VT 05301, phone 802/257-0152, Web site: exploretravel.com) offers 30 trips throughout the year to destinations all over the world, but with a definite emphasis on New England (where the company is based). In the U.S. its trips are wilderness oriented, including cross-country skiing, hiking and whale-watching vacations. Overseas, the focus is cultural with jaunts to such exotic destinations as Ecuador, Belize and Costa Rica. Exceptions to its age specification are the popular "Multi-Generational Weekends," attended by mothers and daughters or grandmothers and granddaughters (one must be over 40, the other over 21). At these gatherings, the women engage in various outdoor activities such as hiking or canoeing, staying in rustic but nice accommodations in New England and the South. Price for the weekends is $495 per person, weeklong offerings tend to average $1,500 in the U.S. and $3,000 overseas (not including airfare).

Wilderness companies

Wild Women Expeditions (WWE) is an all-women outdoor adventure company that has been operating in Northern Ontario, Canada for 15 years. Set at a restored 1920's northern fishing camp, WWE offers the low-tech simplicity of outdoor showers, outhouses, wood heat, private waterfront for swimming, canoeing, and excellent country road cycling. With rustic amenities comes low prices: a three-night vacation in the fall, including hiking in the LaCloche mountains, paddling on the Spanish River, and enjoying the base camp, costs US$256. Formore information, contact Wild Women Expeditions, P.O. Box 145, Station B, Sudbury, Ontario Canada P3E 4N5 (Phone: 705/ 866-1260, e-mail beth@wildwomenexp.com, or check out the Web site at wildwomenexp.com/).

Adventures in Good Company is one of the newest organizations in women's travel. Founded by Marian Marbury, a former guide for Woodswoman (the influential hiking, backpacking and adventure travel organization) until it shut its doors in 1999, AGC offers outdoor and wilderness trips primarily in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area in winter (dog sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing), throughout the West and Canada the rest of the year. Though it is a newish enterprise, all of the group leaders are former Woodswomen guides and thus bring with them years of experience in the field (and in the forest, on the stream and river, and behind the dogsled). Trips include "sea Kayaking the Alaskan Fjords," "Living the Cowgirl Life," and "Navajo Land Trek". Adventures also offers mixed hotel and camping adventures in Belize, Spain, Nepal and the UK. Prices start at $595 all the way up to $2,2,650. For more information, write, call or e-mail Adventures in Good Company, 5913 Brackenridge Ave, Baltimore, MD 21212 (phone 877/439-4042 or 410/435-1965, Web site: goodadventure.com/, e-mail: info@goodadventure.com).

Boating, biking and hiking

Still another relatively large firm is Womanship, of Annapolis, Maryland, offering a learn-to-sail program in a field of sport heavily dominated by men. Because (according to founder Suzanne Pogell) men tend to handle the main tasks on sailing expeditions, women are rarely able to do more than prepare the sandwiches; certainly they never "take charge" of the vessel. With Womanship, they do, gaining confidence, achieving independence. Weekend, weekday, and week-long cruises are offered for both beginners and advanced sailors aged 18 to 82, in locations ranging from Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, New England and Long Island Sound, the west coast of Florida, and the Pacific Northwest (San Juan and the Gulf Islands) to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Trips range from 2-7 days in length and $495-$3890 in price, all-inclusive except transportation costs. Learn-to-sail programs include the Young Womanship course for girls aged 10-17--a 2-7 day program for beginning sailors, as well as a Mothers and Daughters course. Contact Womanship, 137 Conduit St., Annapolis, MD 21401, (phone 800/342-9295, Web site womanship.com/, email: sail@womanship.com.

For the avid walker, Going Places! offers extensive women-only walking tours in Europe, the Pacific Northwest, the Canadian Rockies, New Mexico and northern California. Though the trips involve walking from inn to inn, they are not meant as "endurance tests." The typical walk is about eight to 12 miles per day on "well marked, well maintained trails" with stops along the way at cafes, pubs, picnic sites and viewpoints. The groups are limited to 10 or 14 walkers (depending on the specific tour) and the cost of the trip, between $2,495-$2995, covers accommodations, most meals, permits and entrance fees, maps, transportation en route and guide service. For more information, call or write Going Places! P.O. Box 2034, Sonoma, CA 95476 (phone/fax 707/935-0595 or visit its Web site at goingplacestours.com/).

Bike tours in New Zealand, Hawaii, France, the U.S. and Canada are the focus of WomanTours. It offers 37 tours in total, from Maine to South Africa. WomanTours accommodates all levels of experience--a van accompanies the cyclists on their routes to carry luggage and provide a ride for anyone who may need a break during the trip. The weeklong trips are usually composed of 12 to 18 cyclists costing between $990 and $2,300 per person. For more information, contact Woman Tours, 2340 Elmwood Ave., Rochester, NY, 14618 (phone 800/247-1444, Web site: womantours.com/, e-mail info@womantours.com)

Other major operators include Mariah Wilderness Expeditions, P.O. Box 1160, Lotus, CA 95651 (phone 530/626-6049 or toll free 800/462-7424, Web site: mariahwe.com), with an impressive four-color catalog featuring white-water rafting, kayaking, and hiking; and Adventures for Women, 15 Victoria Lane, Morristown, NJ 07960 (Phone 973/644-3592, Web site: adventuresforwomen.org/), for its hiking trips in New Jersey and New York.

Cultural tours

With roughly 1,300 current members, The Women's Travel Club is the largest organization running women's tours. Unlike the other companies we've mentioned, this club offers a yearly membership of $35, which provides members with a monthly newsletter and full access to all areas of its Web site, in addition to participation on the club's trips. Also unlike many of the other organizations in this chapter, instead of focusing on adventure travel to one or a few particular regions of the world, the Women's Travel Club offers a wide variety of different trips, from four days in the California Wine Country to 15 days exploring Egypt to tours of Southern Italy's medieval villages. Prices are on the highish side, averaging $250 per day, but groups are limited to no more than 15-20 women per trip, and the amenities abound. For more information, contact The Women's Travel Club (USA), Inc., suite 301, 36 W. 20th St., New York, NY 10011 (phone 800/480-4448 or Web site: womenstravelclub.com/).

Spiritual vacations

Several women's travel groups offer spiritual retreats and journeys with a focus on mind-body renewal. Sacred Journeys for Women, founded in 1996, offers trips to places where female deities (they call them "The Goddess") have been honored for millennia. On these tours, scholars and guides lecture on the mythology of the "sacred sites" and the group engages in "healing circles" and ceremonial dances. Destinations include Hawaii, Ireland, England and Crete, with prices averaging $2,995 per trip (for eight to 13 days), not including airfare. For further information, contact Sacred Journeys directly at sacredjourneys.com/or e-mail: info@sacredjouneys.com. You can also reach it the old fashioned way by writing to P.O. Box 8007, Roseland Station, Santa Rosa, CA 95407 or phoning 888/779-6696.

GATE (Global Awareness Through Experience) is perhaps best known for its "reality tours". But for the past six years it has also been offering "Women's Spiritual Quest" tours for women only. As with GATE's regular offerings, much of the emphasis is on cultural exchange: participants meet with impressive local women, officials at community clinics, workers at base Christian communities, doctors, nurses, teachers and the like. They learn in this way about the struggle for women's dignity and empowerment in these communities.

But there is also a spiritual component to these tours, which sets them apart from GATE's regular programming. Led by Sister Cecilia Corcoran, who holds a doctorate in women's studies, participants are introduced to the history and rituals of the various ancient Goddesses. In Mexico, this means communing with the major mother deities of the central highlands (around Mexico City, primarily) with visits to such archeological sites as Cuicuilco and the pyramids of Teoticuacan. In Eastern Europe, the tour ranges from Vienna for a look at the Venus of Willendorf (at the Natural History Museum) to Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic where mammoth hunters carved goddess images on the tusks of their prey. The group will even visit Auschwitz to learn about the painful women's history there. At many of these sites, along with lively discussions and lectures, participants engage in circle dances or other rituals to help them better connect with the spiritual energies of these places. According to Sister Cecilia, these tours are for women who wish to "explore the feminine face of God."

To learn more, contact GATE at gate-travel.org/ or call 608/791-5283. GATE's mail address is 912 Market Street, LaCrosse, WI 54601.

Earth Island Expeditions also offers spiritual tours, but with an emphasis on nature and the earth. Heading into its seventh year, the company is shifting its focus homeward. It's leading more programs in the wilds of the Northeast, as well as running workshops and trainings from its newly-established Yurt Sanctuary at the Ten Stones Community in Charlotte, VT. Contact Earth Island Expeditions, 201 Ten Stone Circle, Charlotte, VT 05445 (phone 802/425-4710, Web site: earthislandexpeditions.org/).

Resources

To learn of other women's travel companies, contact EarthWise Journeys, a clearinghouse of information on non-profit organizations and tour operators that focus on "local cultures, wilderness programs, learning adventures, volunteering, personal growth and environmental awareness." Be sure to specify you are interested in their women's trips resources. Contact EarthWise Journeys, PO Box 16177, Portland, OR 97292 (e-mail earthwyz@teleport.com and see its Web site at teleport.com~earthwyz/).