I travelled to Colombia in November 2016 to give back to the local community. I booked an immersive trip from the Caribbean to Antioquia with the goal of supporting local farmers, artists, indigenous rights groups and other charitable activities. While all of those activities made me an ethically-conscious traveller, there was an unexpected aspect that changed the way I travel: travelling with women.
Although my travel group was not explicitly advertised for women, the majority of the participants, including our accompanying photographer and our translator, were female. Our group included twenty women over the age of twenty from all walks of life.
Looking back now, it doesn’t surprise me that our trip was mostly women. As recent findings show, women make up 64% of travellers aged 25–39 years old. Experts attribute this to several factors, including the gradually rising socio-economic equality between men and women, making women more likely to spend their income on leisure, particularly travel. Others, however, indicate that this trend is related to freedom, as women increasingly link travel to social change. I think it’s a little bit of both — women today are more independent than ever and travel has become symbolic of empowerment. But what does this have to do with travelling alongside other women?
In my personal experience, women often provide an empathetic and encouraging atmosphere for exploration. As travel writer Jordi Lippe-McGraw recently put it:
“When women travel together, they tend to be a more cohesive and closer-knit group than mixed groups…they support each other and encourage each other to try something that they may have never done before. It’s a win-win for all women.”
Here’s why I believe travelling with other women is such a special experience.
1. It’s empowering
It’s not only sharing adventures with other women that’s empowering. On many of my trips, girls became as close as sisters and shared intimate stories of empowerment. During my most recent trip to Nicaragua, an American travel buddy shared stories of her grandmother’s fantasies of travelling the world, and how she was unable to do so because of familial expectations and motherhood. Today, my friend travels as a means of celebrating her grandmother’s life and as an ode to her struggles.
Other women have shared diverse stories of their lives with me, and in turn they have enriched my travels and provided me with inspiration. Meeting these women has given me a grander perspective on what it means to be a woman.
2. It’s a great way to meet like-minded women
I met many like-minded women in group travel. Although we came from different walks of life, we often had similar feelings about exploration and giving back. For example, we frequently bonded over picking up ethically-sourced souvenirs made by artisans who predominantly supported girls’ education. These bonds have also culminated into post-travel projects. My last group of travel buddies recently started a crowdfunding project to support a women’s handicraft group on the coast of Colombia. Most of us are still in touch today, and we support one another whenever we can. Maintaining a support system of like-minded women is a valuable resource, and is as beneficial — if not more — as networking in a work environment.
3. It’s an encouraging, supportive environment
Another great aspect about travelling with women is the encouragement; it’s helped me step out of my comfort zone quite a few times. Whether we were salsa dancing in Havana or jumping into a 200-meter volcano in Cartagena, my travel companions offered solace and support. Had I not been with other women who loved adventure, exploration and new experiences, I would have missed out on activities I was too afraid to do. Encouragement is a common characteristic in women’s travel groups and I highly recommend it for those that typically shy away from daring experiences.
4. It’s a great way to travel solo
“Solo Travel” has become a buzzword in recent years. Everyone is praising the benefits and perks of solo travel. It’s less costly, it’s liberating and is a spiritual pursuit of sorts. However, for many women, solo travel is intimidating and safety is a very valid concern. Many of the women that join these trips — including myself — do so as an alternative to travelling solo, especially in cases where you might not be very familiar with the language or culture. Women’s groups can be great for those who want to travel solo but need a kick-starter.
More and more women are embarking on journeys exclusively with other women. They travel together as an “act of feminism”, a choice that embodies empowerment and freedom. Travelling with these women shaped the way I experienced the trips — I felt safe and supported while learning new things. Since then I’ve vowed to travel with a women’s group whenever I got the chance; I’ve been on trips with three different women’s groups and look forward to more.
Darah Ghanem is a journalist based in Dubai.