Women are doing it for themselves when it comes to touring

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An AdventureWomen excursion to Iceland features at least 20 miles a day of horseback riding.
An AdventureWomen excursion to Iceland features at least 20 miles a day of horseback riding. Photo Credit: AdventureWomen

In early August, Susan Eckert was in Sri Lanka, leading a group of 16 women on an AdventureWomen tour that included a visit to the Dambulla cave temple, meeting indigenous hunter-gatherers and going on a leopard-spotting safari in Yala National Park.

Just before that, AdventureWomen had led a group in Iceland that included riding up to 20 miles per day on horses and a tour in Alaska that included two nights at a remote bear camp and a rafting trip down the Kenai River. The common denominator among all three excursions? No men.

Since founding AdventureWomen in 1982, Eckert has led energetic, outdoor tours exclusively for women. Though the idea of women-only tours was novel when the company launched, almost 35 years later she’s far from alone.

“Now there are so many companies doing everything from shopping trips to girlfriend getaways,” Eckert said. “Take any aspect of travel, not just adventure travel but travel, and there’s someone doing it for women.”

Canyon Calling caters to adrenaline-seeking baby boomers with itineraries that include whitewater rafting, hiking and horseback riding.

You Go Girls Travel’s all-female tours stop at museums and markets.

This September, Damesly will launch its first tour, a women-only photography workshop that visits the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, all in Arizona.

Travel agents are also escorting their own all-female groups. Middleton Travel president and CEO Mary Miller started offering partially escorted Girls Getaways in 2001 and said the company has taken more than 1,300 women on ladies-only trips over the last 15 years.

A Girl’s Gotta Go focuses on women’s travel as well as honeymoons and destination weddings. Co-president Tracy Oliphant said she sees a strong demand for women-only travel, whether it’s group trips or semi- or fully escorted tours.

What you don’t see are women’s tour companies’ male counterparts. While there are male-only itineraries for gay men, the market seems to be void of operators offering tours exclusively for adult men regardless of sexual orientation.

Eckert said she doesn’t believe there’s a demand for men-only tours.

“Men aren’t going to go like women do,” she said. “They’re not going to go with a bunch of men they don’t know.”

Who goes on a women’s tour? Eckert’s trips are limited to age 30 and older, and she said her clients are mostly in their late 50s or early 60s. Seventy percent are repeat customers, the majority are or have been married, many have kids and most have worked.

“Oftentimes, their kids are finally out of school or out of college, and they say to their husband, ‘Hey, honey, I want to go to Africa.’ And he says, ‘Africa? I don’t want to go to Africa.’ So they start looking on the internet,” Eckert said.

Janet Scalzo, owner and chief adventurer at Canyon Calling, said that 80% of her guests travel solo.

“They’re empty-nesters,” she said. “They’re either divorced, widowed or unpartnered.”

They might not have someone to travel with, but they still want to go somewhere new and have an adventure without feeling unsafe in an unfamiliar part of the world or worrying about being the odd woman out on a tour full of couples. Canyon Calling rotates roommates on its trips, so there’s no single supplement.

Other women come with their sisters or friends, looking to explore different places and push their boundaries in a comfortable environment.

“It’s very supportive,” Eckert said. “Especially if they’re doing something physical, if they’re snowshoeing or trekking in Nepal. They often end up being able to do things they didn’t think they could do. It’s a real confidence builder.”

Scalzo echoed that sentiment, particularly when it comes to more physical challenges. “Guests can try a new activity, like whitewater rafting, for example, in a safe setting, and when they meet the challenge — and they do — it’s growth,” she said.

AdventureWomen’s “Wonders of Brazil” tour sails down the Rio Negro through the Amazon rain forest.
AdventureWomen’s “Wonders of Brazil” tour sails down the Rio Negro through the Amazon rain forest. Photo Credit: AdventureWomen

On a recent Canyon Calling trip, a two-hour hike ended up taking four, but everyone made it to the top.

“It was awesome, and there were tears,” Scalzo said. “You couldn’t do that with a bunch of dudes, and I say that lovingly.”

Marcia Miller, who launched You Go Girls Travel in 1999 and is publishing a book on women’s travel, also leads co-ed culinary tours. She said her all-female departures are more group-focused and inclusive. In 17 years of tours, she said she could count the number of interpersonal issues on one hand.

“I think there’s a little bit of a sisterhood between women,” she said. “If they’re on the bus for a long bus ride, you can talk about your hot flashes knowing that men aren’t going to be part of the conversation. We can kind of be uncorked a little bit.”

Building and encouraging that community of women is the focus of tour company Damesly, which launched this month with an initial lineup of four women-only itineraries in Arizona, Buenos Aires, Hawaii and Colorado.

“Damesly is for creative and professional women who want to do more in their travels than just travel,” said founder Kelly Lewis, who also created the Go! Girl line of travel guidebooks and the Women’s Travel Fest.

The company’s tours are built around expert-led workshops on topics such as photography, design and creative writing.

“These tours are for women who are invested in their lives, invested in their careers and also invested in the greater good of helping each other out,” Lewis said. “What we’re really trying to do here is build a community. In my perspective, this changes the sort of tour operator model, because it stops being about where you’re going and it starts being about who you’re going with.”

Lewis is already dreaming up workshops and itineraries to expand her newborn business. Somewhere down the road, she said, one of those expansions might even include something totally new for Damesly: men.

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