Women are doing it for themselves when it comes to touring

Women are doing it for themselves when it comes to touring

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

“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

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

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

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

“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. 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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