In 2017, Judi Wineland sat in a tent with a group of Maasai women in remote Tanzania, accompanied by a female interpreter. The group compared notes about one aspect of the female experience that they all shared: childbirth.
“They don’t have access to hospitals; they told us how the midwife uses her hands and goes in and gets the baby out,” recalls Wineland, the CEO of the travel outfitter AdventureWomen. “Then we told them what a Caesarean section is, and they all about fell out of their chairs. It was just so wonderful—having a meaningful dialogue where we were as surprised about them as they were about us.”
Unique encounters such as these—which connect women with other women around the world—are what Wineland, together with her two daughters, Nicole Wineland-Thomson and Erica Landerson, wanted to replicate when they bought AdventureWomen, a 36-year-old company, in 2016. Their objective: to empower a growing number of female travelers to explore the world more boldly on women-only trips.
Demand for this kind of trip is booming. AdventureWomen’s business has grown 42 percent in the last year, and Wild Women Expeditions, another female-only outfitter, says it has increased annual revenue by 1,000 percent since 2010 and doubled its profits in the last year alone.
Non-gender-specific companies, too, are building new itineraries to appeal to this growing segment of female travelers.
Melbourne-based Intrepid Travel offers a series of Women’s Expeditions, including a homestay with Qashqai women in Iran; and REI Adventures, which has seen a 108 percent increase in participation on its women-only trips compared to 2017, leads yoga retreats in Greece, multiday treks in the Peruvian Andes, and more than a dozen other trips.
Make no mistake: These aren’t the clichéd “Girlfriend Getaways” that focus on spa treatments and pampering. Oftentimes, they’re adrenaline-pumping adventures such as climbing glaciers in Iceland with women-only outfitter WHOA Travel, or eye-opening cultural encounters, such as Wineland’s in Tanzania.
Vancouver resident Shawn Siak, 64, took her first women-only trip in 2016, a year after her husband died, joining a sailing trip to Greece with Wild Women Expeditions. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” Siak says, “but it was just immediately like I was traveling with my friends and sisters.” She also liked the fact that most of her companions were solo travelers, not couples.
According to many outfitters, one of the most common concerns among prospective guests on all-female trips is safety. There’s a general perception that traveling while female poses more risks. REI Adventures hires guides exclusively from the communities it visits to ensure they know the region inside and out—and are better equipped to deal with issues on the ground if they arise. Wineland-Thomson, who creates all of AdventureWomen’s itineraries, explains that the company provides travelers with local guides and a company ambassador for the duration of their trip. WHOA Travel, whose name stands for Women High On Adventure, reassures its travelers that it has local team members in each of its destinations who are trained extensively in mountain rescue, first aid, and wildlife issues.
But it’s not about coddling guests, Wineland-Thompson says. “We don’t overprotect. We support and promote these women [travelers] as being strong and independent. But knowing that other women have their back makes them more open to experiences that are right in front of them.”
Women in the World
These five outfitters deliver trips geared toward female travelers.
New itineraries for 2019 include a 17-day trek to Everest Base Camp and a cycling tour alongside olive groves and the Mediterranean Sea in Puglia, Italy.
New women’s expeditions include hikes in the Atlas Mountains with Morocco’s first female mountaineering guide and intimate trips in Jordan with local Bedouin women, who teach guests how to apply henna and kohl.
A nine-day Greek island−hopping trip and a kayaking tour of Washington’s San Juan Islands are among REI Adventures’ women-only itineraries. Coming in 2019: backpacking in Yellowstone National Park and kayaking in the Carolinas.
Wild Women Expeditions
By 2019, Wild Women Expeditions will offer 200 tours in 25 countries. You can bathe rescued elephants and ride bamboo rafts in Northern Thailand or live like a gaucho riding criollo horses in Patagonia—with female guides on every trip.
Interacting with local women is a hallmark for WHOA. Case in point: You can climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with a woman who has lived alongside the peak her entire life. On the docket for 2019: scaling Russia’s Mount Elbrus, a dormant volcano in the Caucasus Mountains.