Women’s Equality Day is August 26, but for a big part of the travel industry, every day is women’s equality day. Female travel is one of the fastest growing segments in the business. According to AdventureWomen — a trailblazer that launched in 1982 — bookings are up 42% over last year, while REI Adventures reports a 60% increase in women travelers since 2010. Last year alone, 58% of all REI’s guests were women.
So it’s no surprise that companies are responding to the surge in demand, from REI Adventures, which is embracing the movement with new women-only trips, to Intrepid Travel, which has launched women-only expeditions in the Middle East, to startups like the Womanaire Club, aimed at women of color. There have never been more ways for women to see the world.
Many of the new initiatives are focused on adventure and helping women break boundaries in this formerly male-dominated space. Sally Johnson, senior manager of events marketing at REI, says the company created REI Outessa — a series of women-only long-weekend retreats — in order to grow and strengthen the community of women in the outdoors. “REI Outessa celebrates a life outside and helps break down some of the barriers women face to spending time outside,” says Johnson.
Intrepid Travel’s commitment to women’s equality extends well beyond its new line of Women’s Expeditions: The company is committed to diversity and inclusion at all levels of the business, with the goal of doubling its number of female tour leaders globally by 2020.
“There’s still a long way to go, but through our ongoing efforts and by launching these new expeditions, we’re making encouraging progress in promoting women’s independence and boosting female employment around the world,” says Jenny Gray, Intrepid Travel’s regional product manager for the Middle East and Africa.
Andrea Ross, CEO of Journeys Within, believes that women’s travel is all about empowerment. “It’s about empowering ourselves to step away and put our needs and our desire for an adventure first,” says Ross. “It’s empowering to our families and friends as we often leave them with some added responsibility and independence, and it’s empowering to the local communities we visit.”
Inspired to head out with a group of amazing women? Check out these incredible adventures.
One of the original leaders in the space, AdventureWomen was founded 35 years ago by Judi Wineland, the first woman to launch and operate an adventure travel company when she created Overseas Adventure Travel in 1978. AdventureWomen offers carefully crafted active journeys full of discoveries, cultural insights — and fun. The company recently launched dedicated mother-daughter tours. “Travel opens our eyes to the challenges that we as women face throughout the world,” says Wineland. “The new connections we make with other women on our trips inspire us to triumph over these hurdles, whether they be in relationships, businesses, families or just life in general.”
“Adventure travel can be inspiring and life-transforming,” says Cynthia Dunbar, general manager of REI Adventures. “We are excited to roll out incredible itineraries for women to experience some of the world’s best places, have a special sense of discovery and inspiration and learn with women and from women around the world.” REI Women’s Adventures is a new collection of trips led by female guides, blending outdoor activities and culture. Locations range from the Africa to the Sea of Cortez. During REI’s Outessa series, you’ll find workshops on topics ranging from wilderness survival to reframing goal setting, as well as activities such as rock climbing and standup paddleboarding.
A small group adventure travel company, Intrepid Travel recently developed a new line of women-only expeditions in Morocco, Iran and Jordan that encourage female empowerment and connect travelers with local women, showcasing their traditions, food and culture. For instance, on a trip to Morocco travelers will visit both Marrakech and remote parts of the country, where they can break bread with Berber families in their private homes.
Damesly is a boutique women’s tour company that combines travel with workshop-based learning. The tours are custom-built for creative and professional women, with the understanding that meeting like-minded women can help you grow creatively and in your career. The next trip is Cameras + Canyons, a photography workshop through the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, led by a professional female photographer. Founder Kelly Lewis says she launched Damesly because she saw the amazing connections that were forming at the annual Women’s Travel Fest workshops that she runs. “I think too often group travel is either for the young (18-30) or the older (60+),” says Lewis. Damesly was created for the badass women who find themselves in between.”
A social space devoted to helping women entrepreneurs attain their goals — in particular, women of color — Womanaire Club is the brainchild of Milan Harris, a successful entrepreneur and the designer behind the apparel lifestyle brand Milano di Rouge. Harris recently launched Womanaire Reciprocity Retreats: The first was a three-day wellness retreat in Scottsdale, Arizona, catering to self empowerment through spirituality, meditation and therapeutic sessions. There were nature hikes, therapy and healing sessions, as well as business coaching. She is also starting a series of sleepovers for girl bosses.
For The Love of Travel
Los-Angeles based For The Love of Travel (FTLO) is a boutique curated travel company that offers travelers age 24-36 the opportunity to connect with like-minded travel buddies while exploring new places. The company recently partnered with women’s travel blogger Nastasia Yakoub of Dame Traveler to offer a trip to Amalfi and Puglia (September 9-16). You’ll learn to cook an authentic Italian meal with local ingredients, hike the breathtaking Path of the Gods and more. “As a female-run company, FTLO wholeheartedly supports female solo travel, and it’s important to us to empower women to travel,” says FTLO founder Tara Cappel. “Women may also have partners who aren’t as interested in travel, so having the option to join an all-female group trip makes it easier to go abroad and explore.”
Wild Women Expeditions
When it launched, the focus of Wild Women Expeditions was on canoeing on remote Ontario waters. Now the company hosts guests all over the world, offering canoe and kayak trips, multi-sport adventures, hiking trips, yoga retreats and more. Jennifer Haddow, the company’s owner and director, says that transformational travel is one of the big trends she is seeing. “When women sign up for one of our trips, ‘transformation’ isn’t on the tips of their tongues,” she says. “But to choose to spend a week kayaking, hiking and no-frills camping usually means they’re on a quest of some kind, whether they know it or not. On a daily basis they test their own comfort zones by meeting one challenge after another.”
Journeys Within, a Wild Frontiers Company
Journeys Within is a boutique Southeast Asia tour company that was acquired by a high-octane adventure company, Wild Frontiers, earlier this year. The company runs an annual Women’s Empowerment Trip to Cambodia (November 25-December 6), aimed at women who want to take on the personal challenge of the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon while also exploring temples and meeting empowered women who are changing the culture of this unique country. The trip will be led by Karen Canton-Brunings, a certified fitness trainer and wellness/life coach.
Dare to Detour
Dare to Detour is a lifestyle brand dedicated to encouraging women to develop a confident, uplifted and empowered approach to life’s opportunities and challenges where they can immerse themselves in nature in the company of like-minded women. It was inspired by a trip that founder Sheryl Ott took. “When I was 20 years old, I moved to NYC on a dare. Fast-forward to a few years ago, and I realized I was stuck in my life,” says Ott. “I took off for a hunting retreat in Texas as an attempt to reconnect with parts of myself that I had lost in adulthood. It became clear that providing a similar experience for other women could be absolutely amazing.” This year’s four-day Dare to Detour retreat is at the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch in Bozeman, Montana (September 13-16).
Entrepreneur Kristina Roth is so passionate about the idea of women’s travel that she built an island off the coast of Finland that only allows women. Called SuperShe, this female-friendly sanctuary is currently open to just eight guests at a time — a place where badass women from around the world can connect with each other. Everyone who works on the island is a woman, including the bus drivers who take the guests to the harbor where Roth picks everyone up. Even the food is sourced from nearby female farmers.
Girls on Travel
A Britain-based startup, Girls on Travel is the brainchild of globetrotter and entrepreneur Gaëlle De Vriendt, who is on a mission to connect women adventurers and disrupt the travel market. The online platform allows customers to connect, chat and bond before they set off on a global adventure with up to a dozen other like-minded women. Trips range from weekends in the United Kingdom and Europe to long haul trips in Mexico or India.
Israel’s leading celebrity and luxury travel planner, Tova Wald creates bespoke itineraries for clients seeking to visit and connect with Israel on a deep and personal level. One of the original architects of Birthright, Wald has spent the last 30 years promoting Israel through custom-made, authentic, on-the-ground experiences. Her latest development is an all-woman fleet of guides, operators and logisticians who work together to craft trips for high net-worth individuals from Hong Kong to Sao Paolo to Paris to New York.
And here are a few more companies to check out:
• Journey of Discovery, which focuses on women’s travel to Peru and the Galápagos.
• Explorations in Travel, which is aimed at women over the age of 40.
• Mariah Wilderness Expeditions, which specializes in white-water rafting trips.