There are many reasons women choose to travel without men, writes Jane E. Fraser (Traveller online columnist who keeps a keen eye on trends and new directions in tourism)
Try not to take it personally, guys, but you’re not invited. Women-only holidays consists options ranging from women-only spas and hotel rooms to overseas tours and adventures such as mountain climbing and four-wheel-driving.
The reasons for women turning to testosterone-free travel can be anything from a relationship break-up to wanting to spend their holiday unapologetically hitting the shops.
Many leave behind partners and children to have some “me time” or improve their health, while others are single travelers who are happy exploring alone or are booking women-only tours to have the security of travelling with a group.
Research by a US-based travel-insurance provider, Travel Guard, found solo travel is more common than it was 10 years ago and women are leading the way, taking more solo trips than men.
One of the key reasons for women travelling alone is widowhood or divorce, with other reasons including wanting to follow their own schedule, having more time to travel than their family and friends, or wanting to pursue a specific interest.
In Australia, a survey by lastminute.com.au of nearly 5000 women found 46 per cent have holidayed alone.
Half of those surveyed said they thought solo travel sounded adventurous and rewarding, while about a quarter said they would be too scared to try it and the rest thought it sounded lonely.
Women also like to call the shots when they travel with their partner or family. Lastminute’s Female Travel and Lifestyle report found 48 per cent of women take most of the responsibility for travel decision-making, while 47 per cent share the load with their partner, indicating few men are taking charge.
Travelling Divas specialises in the women’s travel market, with experiences ranging from drinking champagne in the French Riviera to exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. Those looking for pampering might opt for a week in Bali with yoga, spa treatments, guided hikes and shopping excursions, while those looking for a party might sign up for New Year’s Eve in New York.
“There are many reasons why women like to travel together,” Travelling Divas founder Andrea Powis says.
- “For some, husbands or partners may not enjoy travel, or don’t want to travel to the particular destination.
- Women like to call the shots when they travel.
- “For others, it is just wanting to do ‘girl things’, such as shopping or spa time … or about having the time and space to reconnect with themselves.”
Another company targeting the female market is Travelscene agency The Travel Studio, which has noted a growing disparity in men and women’s travel wishes.
“We are finding that more and more women, particularly the over-50s, are keen to keep exploring the world, while their husbands or partners are not,” managing director Lee-Anne Levett says.
Among the agency’s offerings are a Sex and the City-style trip to New York and a women-only trip to Bali.
Holidays such as these tap into what Powis says is a key aspect of women-only travel: making women feel special.
“For some, just being looked after and not having to worry about anything is fabulous,” she says.
Renee Williams, a Melbourne-based personal travel manager with the Travel Managers group, has identified a niche in the “suddenly single” market, offering holidays for women who have been through a relationship breakup. Based on her own experience of going through a divorce and wanting to rediscover the benefits of single life, she has scheduled trips featuring cocktails, shopping, spa treatments and VIP entry at nightclubs.
At the other end of the scale, the Africa specialist Bench International is targeting those looking for adventure, with women-only climbing trips up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The guided trips include two nights in a hotel and five nights camping on the mountain, with the next departure scheduled for November.
Here in Australia, Queensland’s Moreton Island will offer a “Dirty Girls” four-wheel-drive weekend combining off-roading with “glamping” at the island’s new upmarket permanent tent accommodation, next up on November 2 and 3.
Women-only walking tours are also taking off around the world, with options including Britain, Europe and Africa.
Powis believes there is “a great deal of growth to come” in women-only travel.
“Women are doing more independently, taking control of their lives, and experiencing much more in life before they choose to settle down,” she says.
“This is also true of many women once their children have left home and they are able to travel in a different way.”
Powis says passengers on her tours have ranged in age from 20s to 70s and she often gets family members travelling together.
However, those travelling alone have the option of being paired up to avoid paying single supplements.
A growing area of demand is groups of friends who want to travel with a professionally planned itinerary, but without an escort.
“It opens up some very exciting opportunities to help women make their travel dreams a reality,” Powis says.
A more controversial area of women’s travel is women-only hotel rooms, which have been trialed with mixed success over the past decade.
Promoting everything from extra security to magazines and bath salts, hotels have tried to tap into women’s need to feel secure, as well as comfortable. The idea has failed to take off in Australia, where safety is less of a concern than in some countries and hotels are reluctant to set aside rooms for use by only half the population.
Long-time hotel executive Peter Hook says better systems now enable hotels to cater for the individual needs and likes of all travelers, male or female.
The Small Luxury Hotels group, which has a handful of hotels with women-only floors, says it has seen a global rise in female guests travelling alone or in all-female groups.
Last year saw a 53 per cent increase in room nights booked by single female occupants in the group’s core markets, which include Australia.
Female travelers show signs of catching up to male travelers, with the number of rooms booked by solo male travelers rising only 38 per cent.
While business travel accounts for much of the growth in women-only hotel bookings, Small Luxury Hotels believes solo leisure travel has become a preferred option for many women.
An obvious area of demand for women’s holidays is spas and health retreats, often combining yoga and spa treatments with more active pursuits, such as surfing or hiking.
Surf Goddess Retreats in Bali have been a popular option for Australian women over recent years and now we have a similar offering closer to home at Byron Bay. Escape Haven markets packages focused on either surfing or yoga, combined with massage and cooking workshops, to give women a week-long rest or a healthy kick-start.
A slightly different approach is taken by Bliss Sanctuary for Women in Bali, where women plan their own holiday, rather than taking part in an organised retreat.
Bliss says it has averaged 85 to 100 per cent occupancy in its two years of operation and the property has already been expanded, with further development scheduled this year.
Owner Zoe Watson believes most women fail to achieve true rest and rejuvenation when they travel, returning home feeling like they need a holiday to get over their holiday.
“Women need to take a break for themselves, to refuel and enhance their well being,” she says.
Sydney woman Christina Hanna Mifsud spent a week at Bliss earlier this year, choosing it because she wanted to holiday alone in a safe environment, without demanding children or other distractions.
Hanna Mifsud is married but enjoys travelling alone and having some time to herself, without worrying about anyone else’s needs.
- “I don’t think I could have relaxed as much as I did if I’d travelled with other people..
- “It was just the right amount of time with others versus time alone,” she says.
- “It [a women-only retreat] was important, because I wanted to feel free to go there and just be myself and to be able to step out of my room with that feeling of safety.”
Hanna Mifsud works in the corporate world and has also been setting up her own business.
- “I’ve been running around like a crazy person for the past few years,” she says. “I work hard and I thought it was time that I took more time out for myself.
- “I just wanted to be able to turn off the phone and computer and to absolutely stop.
- “It was a really genuine break and I came back much more relaxed … I’d like to be able to do it every year.”
FIVE WEBSITES FOR TRAVELLING WOMEN
Read about one young woman’s brave solo adventures around the globe, from eating insects and drinking snake blood to surviving a shipwreck.
What it lacks in design it makes up for in content: this site is claimed to be the largest online travel resource for women, with about 75,000 newsletter subscribers consuming Evelyn Hannon’s tips on everything from safety to clothing.
One for outdoor types – or those who would like to be – with activities including cycling, hiking, skiing and diving.
If you’re young and on a budget, this one is for you. Written by a full-time traveller and blogger, it contains plenty of practical tips on stretching out your travel funds.
For those who think they’re not brave enough to go travelling alone, this blog tells the story of a “scaredy cat” woman and how she took on the world.