Women have an outsize influence in the travel industry: They make close to 85 percent of all travel decisions, including where to go, when to fly, where to stay, and what to see. And shares in the travel industry are only increasing: Women make up 50 percent of Intrepid’s (a small group adventure travel company dedicated to more conscientious travel) global solo travelers—compared to 45 percent prepandemic—and per travel industry news publication Skift, Travel Leaders Group’s 2019 Travel Trends Survey of advisors.
Still, women in travel are not always represented; research from the Global Business Travel Association found that only 18 percent of corporate travel policies “specifically address matters related to the safety needs of female business travelers.” And while 54 percent of all employees in travel are women—compared to 39 percent in the broader economy—they are primarily represented in service and clerical jobs dominated by informality, high staff turnover, long working hours, and subcontracting. These are important, essential jobs. But crucially, they often lack decision-making power.
With this in mind, we at AFAR turned our attention toward women who don’t just have the power to effect real change—but who are actually doing it. From sustainability warriors to plucky cruise ship captains, here are 15 women changing the way we travel.
The Inclusive Guide’s Crystal Egli and Parker McMullen Bushmen
Helping travelers feel safe, respected, and represented since 2019.
From 1936 to 1966, a Black postal worker named Victor Green and his wife, Alma, published The Negro Motorist Green Book, “the bible of Black travel,” which provided useful—and at times, lifesaving—information during the Jim Crow era when businesses were allowed to openly discriminate against Blacks and other people of color. Now, almost 60 years later, two Black women from Colorado, Crystal Egli and Parker McMullen Bushman, have created a modern version of the original Green Book: the Inclusive Guide.
Founded in Denver in 2019, the Inclusive Guide is an online user-review site, similar to Yelp, that allows users to rate businesses on a scale of one to five (with five being the best) based on whether they felt safe, if they were treated respectfully, if they felt better having visited, and if they saw themselves represented in the advertising and products. Reviews are then shared with the businesses, along with advice on how they can become more inclusive.
“Your experience can be greatly affected depending on what’s going on in your life, so we decided if we really wanted to understand how a place is and what it is for multiple people, we needed to find some way to allow lots of people to give their thoughts about particular places,” McMullen Bushman said in a July 2022 interview with AFAR.
Although the Green Book inspired the Inclusive Guide, there’s one major difference: Rather than focusing solely on the experiences of Black people, the Inclusive Guide aims to include everyone, from people of color to people who identify with another gender than they were assigned at birth to those with disabilities. —Bailey Berg
Marlene Valle of Deafinitely Wanderlust
On YouTube and Instagram, Valle gives deaf travelers a place to share their experiences.
“I’ve always been a bit of a rebel,” says Marlene Valle, a deaf Latina travel content creator and YouTuber who shares travel stories to spread awareness about deaf travel and culture, and creates travel tips for deaf travelers. “I remember being told, ‘It’s best if you travel with people with “normal” hearing.’ It was as if it was not possible for me to take care of myself. . . I knew I had to find the answers for myself.”
In 2011, she started traveling with other deaf people, first to domestic U.S. cities and soon to the wider world. Then in 2015, after a backpacking trip to Asia, she was inspired to take another big step. “When I was researching for that trip, I noticed that there were little to no resources about traveling as a deaf person and almost no deaf travelers I could look up to,” she says. “I realized that I shouldn’t wait for someone to start this.” So, Valle started it herself.
On her Deafinitely Wanderlust YouTube channel and Instagram feed, she shares valuable intel and insights—what’s more, her videos showcase deaf artists, entrepreneurs, and communities around the world (a painter in Mexico, news anchors in Taiwan, a deaf-owned pizza place in San Francisco). “My platform became a space for other deaf travelers, especially deaf female travelers, to share their own traveling experiences, because not every deaf traveler will relate to me,” Valle says.
During the pandemic, Valle took a well-deserved break from traveling, but now she’s planning her next steps: possible trips to South Korea, Japan, and Puerto Rico; a return to vlogging and blogging; plus more educational content to make travel accessible. She’s also thinking about public speaking and maybe even a book. We, and her followers, are eager to see it all. —Billie Cohen
The Textured Waves trio
Where are all the Black female surfers? Paddling with this inspiring crew.
Best friends and avid surfers Chelsea Woody, Danielle Black Lyons, and Martina Duran were drawn to the ocean for similar reasons: Surfing was calming, meditative, and above all, fun. But Woody, Lyons, and Duran didn’t see any other Black women in their respective lineups and felt isolated from the sport as a result. So, in 2019, the three started an Instagram page, Textured Waves, which soon blossomed into a thriving surf community of women of color across the globe. Today, Textured Waves is an organization that operates with a three-pronged mission: to introduce the joy of surfing to more people of color; to foster an inclusive, international sisterhood of surfers; and to create a culture where seeing a Black woman surfing isn’t a surprise. They now have over 27,000 followers on Instagram.
“[Building] this space became very important to all of us,” Black Lyons said in a 2022 interview with AFAR. “We wanted other people to feel like they could find community no matter where they were in the world.”
In addition to advocating for the unique needs and experiences of Black surfers (such as maintaining Black hair and hairstyles in the water), Textured Waves occasionally hosts events to unite local surf communities: In 2020, it helped arrange Paddle Out for Unity in Solidarity With Black Lives Matter with other organizations like Changing Tides Foundation and Kindhumans Movement, in response to George Floyd’s murder—thousands of people attended. Additionally, Textured Waves hosts an annual retreat, or “co-wash,” in Waikiki where dozens of women of color from around the world join the founders for a day of surf lessons. Check their social media and events page to keep up with what Textured Waves is doing next. —Mae Hamilton
A travel advisor helps clients with mobility issues navigate the highs and lows of globe trotting.
Through her work at the woman-founded travel agency Fora, which aims to provide more inclusive and tech-driven vacation plans for their clients, travel advisor Judy Tudor aims to make seeing the world a more accessible experience for everyone. Tudor has been a wheelchair user since she was 16 years old, after a mysterious illness, transverse myelitis, left her paralyzed from the waist down. Tudor wasn’t much of a traveler until her 20s when she met her husband Glenn, who is an avid globe trotter. Since then, she has visited much of the United States and been to more than 40 other countries—and she believes that with a little guidance, anybody can do the same.
“When I first thought about the idea of traveling, I really didn’t know what was possible,” Tudor says. “[I had to see] where I could go, what I could do, and if I could do it. Helping people understand how accessible travel can be for everyone is a key tenant of why I decided to become a travel advisor.”
In addition to finding trips that will suit her clients’ individual needs, Tudor is also able to coach them through all the steps they’ll need to go through to get to their destination, like how to get through security, how to let the airline know about their needs ahead of time, finding the right mode of transportation (for example, flying is notoriously tricky for wheelchair users, but cruising is a more easygoing alternative), and finding accessible accommodation. Tudor envisions a world where comfortable travel experiences are available to everyone, regardless of their physical abilities.
“The reality is, the more accessible we make things, everybody wins,” Tudor says. —M.H.
The president of the Black Travel Alliance has updated the “Green Book” for modern Black travelers.
In 2018, Martinique Lewis was in Amsterdam, and something was bothering her. Lewis, president of the Black Travel Alliance and creative lead for the travel community Nomadness, had been exploring the world for more than two decades, but couldn’t find Black-owned businesses: “I was trying to find other Black people in Amsterdam,” she told AFAR in 2020. “I didn’t know if there were any, but I was like, ‘I see a few!’’’ Eventually, Lewis connected with Lene, creator of the expat group Amsterdam Black Women, who introduced Lewis to the extensive Black community in Amsterdam. Lewis then had a revelation: “I thought if I don’t know about all these places, and I consider myself this travel guru, there are so many [others] who don’t know. I started thinking, ‘How can I tell the world about this other than through social media?’”
The old-fashioned way: In 2020 Lewis published The ABC Travel Greenbook. Inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s legendary Green Book—the 33-year series that guided Black travelers to safe places to eat, stay, and more during the era of segregation and sundown towns—it’s a compendium of resources for any traveler who wants to connect with the Black diaspora wherever they go.
This year, both books were fodder for Lewis’s latest venture: Black Travel Across America, a National Geographic TV show that sees the travel consultant visit historically listed Green Book locations and modern black travel destinations. To Lewis, centering Black experiences is just the beginning of how real change occurs in travel. —Katherine LaGrave
Meet the “rhino whisperer” and first woman head ranger for South Africa’s biggest game reserve.
At more than 7,500 square miles, Kruger National Park is the largest and the most famous game reserve in South Africa. It’s no wonder why: The park contains more than 2,000 plant species, over 500 kinds of birds, and 147 mammal species, including the critically endangered black rhino. Thanks to its extraordinary biodiversity, the park has inspired millions of travelers to become advocates of conservation. On the front lines protecting it all is Cathy Dreyer, Kruger’s head ranger, who in May 2021 became the first woman to hold this position.
Today, Dreyer guides a team of about 400 rangers to manage a landscape that’s roughly the size of New Jersey. She’s the lead on relationship building with the more than 2.5 million people who live around the outskirts of the park, 80 percent of which is supported by tourism dollars. She’s at the forefront of another crucial effort: fighting wildlife crime. Kruger is set in a region with some of the world’s most intense poaching pressure on rhinos, which are hunted illegally for their horns (some cultures in Asia still hold the false belief that they have medicinal purposes).
Few people are better suited for this role. In her early 20s, Dreyer started out as a conservation student helping to monitor black rhinos. Her efforts in helping to establish new rhino populations in South Africa have earned her the nickname “the rhino whisperer,” and in 2016, Sir David Attenborough presented her with a Tusk Conservation Award for her conservation work. Her daily vigilance continues to galvanize countless travelers to support the world’s last remaining wild places with their visits and their advocacy. —Jennifer Flowers
Zakia Moulaoui Guery
Her Invisible Cities tours, led by people who have experienced homelessness, gives travelers a different perspective.
Zakia Moulaoui Guery’s chance involvement with Homeless World Cup, an international nonprofit that uses soccer tournaments as a way to empower those experiencing homelessness, turned her 20s into a blur of travel that took her around the world. Engaging with people who were unhoused led to some incredible stories, but Moulaoui Guery realized it was hard to convey the depth of the stories she’d heard to her friends. “I realized there was a big wish to know more, to learn about people from different backgrounds,” she says. In 2015, she thought of a way that could bridge the gap: city guides.
Moulaoui Guery launched Invisible Cities in 2016, introducing a social enterprise that offers tours by people who have experienced homelessness (and, in turn, reinvesting the business’s profits into the development of trainees). Tour themes can include anything from York’s economic growth to Manchester’s music scene, all the while weaving in the tour guides’ personal experiences with the city. Since the program’s launch in its homebase of Edinburgh, Invisible Cities has expanded to four cities in the United Kingdom and employs 16 active guides.
Through the new perspectives shared by Invisible Cities, Moulaoui Guery says she hopes to encourage authentic travel experiences—even when that means learning about a city’s darker histories and themes. “It’s OK to talk about these themes because they make up who or what the cities are,” she says. “That’s what I think a lot of travelers want to see.” —Chloe Arrojado
Have wheelchair, will absolutely travel, thanks to her platform AccessNow.
In September 2022, Maayan Ziv boarded a flight from Toronto, Canada, to Tel Aviv, Israel, to speak at an accessibility conference. Ziv, 32, lives with muscular dystrophy and is an ardent advocate for inclusivity and normalizing conversations about disability.
After Ziv deplaned in Tel Aviv, she found that her wheelchair had been damaged beyond repair. “This wheelchair is my mobility,” she wrote on Twitter. “My entire life is powered by this wheelchair.” Unfortunately, she says this wasn’t the first time an airline had destroyed one of her mobility devices—and, she says, this kind of mistreatment is a reality for many people with disabilities who travel the world. (After a social media furor, the airline eventually agreed to cover the cost of a replacement wheelchair.)
Back in 2015, Ziv founded AccessNow, a crowd-sourced app that maps accessibility status of locations worldwide. Users can share their own experiences at specific hotels or restaurants or attractions, rather than, as she shared with AFAR, “play detective” to piece together information from disparate online sources.
Many places say they comply with accessibility standards; for the 41 million people in the United States who have a disability, what’s more valuable than a business’s own claims are stories from other disabled travelers. This is something Ziv has found herself on multiple occasions.
AccessNow has grown to have 15 full-time employees, 40 part-time employees, and tens of thousands of contributors. During the pandemic, they created AccessOutdoors to track accessible parks and trails so travelers can go even farther afield with trustworthy information. —Sarika Bansal
The president of the World Travel & Tourism Council has some ambitious, carbon net-zero goals.
The good: Travel can have an enormous impact on the world. The bad? Well, that: Travel can have an enormous impact on the world.
In recent years, nowhere has this been more apparent than with the environment: As climate journalist Kendra Pierre-Louis reported for AFAR in December 2022, worldwide aviation is responsible for 2 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide. This percentage isn’t huge: In the United States, electricity, combustion-engine cars, or heating our homes each releases more greenhouse gas emissions—but flying is the most difficult to decarbonize.
For many in the industry, the pandemic pause offered an opportunity to reset—to reconsider the relationship to the planet and how we could travel better. In November 2021, the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) developed a road map to decarbonize travel and reach net zero by 2050. It’s not the only action the forum—which works with governments to raise awareness about best practices in travel and tourism—has taken on the sustainability front. In April 2022, it launched a set of criteria called “Hotel Sustainability Basics” that all hotels should implement as a minimum to drive responsible Travel & Tourism and in June of last year, inaugurated a Sustainability and Investment summit in Puerto Rico. It’s a team effort, of course, but at the helm of the organization is Julia Simpson, who took over as president in May 2021 to lead WTTC as it emerged from the worst crisis in travel’s history.
Simpson, who previously served on the board of British Airways, worked as chief of staff at International Airlines Group, and was an advisor for the U.K. prime minister, said in her appointment announcement that she welcomed the challenge. “I look forward to shaping and driving the sector’s ambitious agenda to achieve long-term sustainable and inclusive growth.” —K.L.
This all-women community of motorcycle riders go glam and feel free in America’s Southeast.
For New Orleans–based Caramel Curves, high heels, curled hair, and faces full of makeup are more than just ways they feel comfortable—the look is a beloved trademark of their motorcycle club. “It’s the pull up for me,” founding member Nakosha “Coco” Smith says. “I like to see people, just their reaction of seeing us pull up on bikes.” In 2007, Smith debuted the all-women group for those searching for a motorbike sisterhood, which now includes 17 members. They come from different walks of life—day jobs include a mortician’s assistant, pharmacist, and nail technician. But all share a love for getting together on motorbike trips that range from neighborhood jaunts to rides hundreds of miles long. Caramel Curves’ commitment to “burning rubber” and “popping wheelies” while wearing unapologetically girly outfits has garnered fans that even include Rihanna, who recruited them for a Fenty Beauty campaign in 2021.
They didn’t intend to become symbols of representation in the motorcycling community, but their constant DMs on social media signal otherwise. Member Shanika “Tru” Beatty characterizes their effect on women, saying, “We make women think outside the box and feel like they can do it too.” With the start of an Atlanta chapter in 2021, Caramel Curves members hope to continue spreading their message of confidence. “Get on the bike and ride if you got a desire to do it. Or even if you just have that need to be free,” says member Andrea “Hoodpriss” Shepherd. “Because ultimately at the end of the day, that’s what it brings to a lot of us.” —C.A.
Welcoming the first Native American person to serve as a cabinet secretary in the U.S. government.
For many travelers, America’s most inspiring places to visit are its wilderness areas: glacier-capped mountains, prairies where bison roam. But stories about these places that are often overlooked are those of Indigenous groups who were involuntarily removed from their land to make way for national parks and other conservation areas. Since she was sworn in as the 54th U.S. Department Secretary of the Interior in 2021, Deb Haaland has been responsible for managing America’s public lands and cultural heritage.
As the first Native American person to serve as a cabinet secretary, she’s been putting Indigenous voices front and center. Haaland is working to return control of land to its original inhabitants through the reparation of broken treaties between the government and tribal nations. With her help, Indigenous groups can reclaim their narratives and re-establish long-held connections with wildlife and landscapes.
Haaland’s advocacy has already changed the way we experience America’s wild places. In 2021 she signed the law that transferred the National Bison Range in Montana from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai groups, after it was taken away from them without consent for bison conservation nearly a century ago. Today, the two groups manage the area of nearly 19,000 acres in Montana, where visitors can see bison grazing on sweeping plains and near rushing streams. The visitor center has been updated to more accurately reflect cultural and historical context, including the story behind the original bison herd the Confederated Salish and Kootenai groups had already established and managed in the face of bison extinction, long before the U.S. government arrived on the scene.
“With the loss of tribal homelands and the depletion of the buffalo herds, the plains tribes lost traditional connections with this beautiful animal,” Haaland said in 2022 when speaking to a group during a weekend celebration. “But despite that terrible tragedy and loss, we are still here. You are still here. And that is something to celebrate.” —J.F.
Queensland Indigenous Women Rangers Network
An organization empowering Indigenous Australian women to protect the land.
According to the National Indigenous Australians Agency, around 50 percent of Australia is owned (or their land rights are recognized) by Indigenous Australians—and much of that land is stewarded by Indigenous rangers, trained conservationists who combine traditional knowledge with modern tools, like drones that can monitor changes in coral reefs. One organization, however, is emphasizing the importance of the women who patrol Australia’s wilds.
Founded in 2018, the nonprofit Queensland Indigenous Women Rangers Network works in every type of landscape across the country, from rain forests to deserts to coastlines, and is led by managing director Larissa Hale.
In Queensland, only 20 percent of rangers are women. But since its establishment, the program has trained more than 60 women to protect critical ecosystems in Australia. There are also valuable mentorship, workshops, and networking opportunities available to members of the organization.
“When I first started as a Ranger Coordinator for Jalunji Warra [an Indigenous Australian clan], I was the only female Indigenous Ranger Coordinator in Queensland,” Hale said over email. “When we bring women together, they gather strength and knowledge. This confidence translates back to community.”
One chapter of the organization, the Indigenous Women of the Great Barrier Reef, were recently awarded the Earthshot Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious environmental prizes, founded in 2021 by Prince William and Sir David Attenborough—winners receive 1 million euros to continue their work. To Hale, Traditional Custodians—the term for Indigenous people who have invested rights and interests in the land and sea—are a part of the country and the country is part of them. It makes sense that they, and this group of women, are a part of the solution to managing Australia’s vast tracts of land.
“When Traditional Custodians are looking after, caring for their country, and making it healthy, the country in return makes us healthy,” Hale says. “The more opportunities we can create for women to be rangers and to support them in their roles as successful rangers, the better the environmental outcomes for everyone.” —M.H.
Captain Kate McCue
America’s first female mega-cruise captain is a Celebrity at sea.
In 2019, Captain Kate McCue—known to her half-million Instagram followers as “Captain Kate”—became the first American woman to take command of a mega (aka “very large”) cruise ship: Celebrity Cruises’ $1.2 billion flagship vessel Celebrity Edge, where she was responsible for 3,405 guests and 1,350 crew members. (Consider that the next time you think your job is exhausting.) Since then, she’s been promoted to captain of Celebrity Beyond, the newest and most luxurious ship in the Celebrity roster sailing the Caribbean and Mediterranean, where she has become a—dare we say it—celebrity in her own right.
Celebrity’s first female president and CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, appointed McCue as Master sailer in 2015. Lutoff-Perlo has made it a point of pride—and a recruitment tool—to promote women to senior leadership positions at the luxury cruise line. As of 2020, only nine of 300 passenger cruise ships worldwide were captained by women, according to the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association. Though it’s better than the 19th-century adage that women on ships are considered bad luck, there’s still a long way to go.
Which is why it’s so important, and joyful, to see Captain McCue getting tens of thousands of likes for her Instagram videos celebrating her right-hand woman, chief officer Eva Pavlou, executing an A+ maneuver to get out of St. Martin’s port; or the back-to-back rescues at sea of refugee boats in January; and even the antics of Bug Naked, her hairless Elf Sphynx cat living its best life on deck. —Laura Dannen Redman
For the professional dancer, creator and star of TV show Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi, travel is not a spectator sport.
New York City–based dancer Mickela Mallozzi seems to learn new moves by osmosis. Throw anything at her: Tango. Scottish reels. A Viennese waltz. The Lumbee dance of the Spring Moon. Within a few minutes she gets her feet, hips, and arms to all play nicely together—plus, she does it on camera, and can encourage even the most rooted of wallflowers to do the same. To Mallozzi, one of the greatest gifts in life is being able to connect with strangers and cultures through music and dance—it’s a major reason why she travels, and the genesis of her Emmy Award–winning TV show Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi, now heading into its sixth season.
“Early on, I realized this is an incredible way to travel and an easy way to connect with locals immediately while traveling,” Mallozzi told AFAR on a Bare Feet tour of Ireland last year. As AFAR contributor Hillary Richard confirmed, “dance after dance, song after song, people of all ages twirled, marched, shuffled, bumped into each other, and shrieked with laughter. It was an instant initiation into the local culture—a boundary breaker better than most.” With her openness and infectious energy, Mallozzi has a knack of making a stranger feel like family. She brings joy wherever she goes, one step at a time. —L.D.R.
As the first Indigenous woman to own an airline, this Métis pilot is literally forging new pathways to remote First Nation communities.
It’s no small feat to get an airline off the ground—imagine trying to do so amid a pandemic. The challenge didn’t deter British Columbia–based commercial pilot Teara Fraser, who became the first Indigenous woman in Canada to start an airline…right before the world shut down. Initially meant to act as a charter service between Vancouver International Airport and remote Indigenous communities, opening up travel and business opportunities, Fraser pivoted and started ferrying essential goods instead. With fundraising help from SheEO and Lift Collective, two organizations supporting women entrepreneurs and Indigenous business leaders, Fraser packed food, masks, and hand sanitizer into her twin engine PA31 Piper Navajo Chieftain off to First Nations people on Vancouver Island. “If there are communities that have unmet needs and we can bring them, then Iskwew Air is doing what it’s meant to do,” Fraser told Indigenous television newscast APTN News.
Iskwew (pronounced Iss-kway-yo) is the Cree word for “woman,” selected purposely by Fraser, who is Métis, one of Canada’s three distinct Indigenous peoples. “The name was chosen as an active reclamation, reclamation of womanhood, reclamation of matriarchal leadership, and reclamation of language. Yes, I am a woman and I am a very proud Métis woman,” Fraser told CBC affiliate Chek News in 2021. “You know, in this industry, there isn’t a lot of diversity. There are few women and few women of color certainly, and this is about creating some diversity and celebrating and amplifying the importance of diversity in our industry.” Fraser continues to lift others, with scheduled nonstop service now piloting more people toward cultural exchange. —L.D.R.