(Greek Isles Cruise- image by Sumitra Senapati)
Women-only travel groups and packages, which are fast gaining popularity in India, are a vital indicator of the independence of urban women and their desire to explore the world. It also dispels the common myth that women can’t get along with each other.
(Homestay at Sarmoli- image by Mimi Chakrabarty)
Founder of Mumbai based Girls on the Go Club (GOTG), Piya Desai says, “I wouldn’t say there are no disagreements, but women get along like wild fire in no time. Travelling helps them to get out of office politics and domestic confines.”
The average group size is 15, with women from different parts of the country. Bonding, helping, and sharing personal stories have made the overall experience of women-only groups more meaningful even for organisors.
Recollecting an instance in Egypt, Piya adds, ‘We were on a cruise in Red Sea, one of the women suddenly got up and asked, ‘how many of you are divorced?’ 11 out of the 18 women raised their hands. Some just wanted to get their experiences out of their system and soon they were sharing stories and spoke of things they may never told even their closest friends. It was touching.”
Besides trips, members of The WOW Club-Women on Wanderlust, started by Sumitra Senapaty in 2005, also meet up for movies, parties and other activities.
Benefits of only-women groups
(Egypt- image by Aadil Desai)
Indian women rarely venture out on trips alone; privy to this well-travelled women from the country have purposefully tapped into the urban woman’s long awaited desire to travel at her convenience. They offer a platform to travel on their own, without being alone. So the very first benefit to Indian women is that they can explore the world even when friends and family don’t have the time.
Vidya Deshpande, who started Sole Purpose in Gurgaon with Mimi Chakrbarty, in January this year, finds that women are a lot more relaxed travelling in all-women groups. "A 50-year-old lady who had never worn shorts put them on for the first time during our rafting trip. We were going for water sports and seeing everyone sport them she was comfortable doing so too. A lot of women feel conscious about their clothes, getting wet, or doing adventure sports with men around. Very often they often stopped from trying out things,” she says.
Young girls find it easier to get permission to travel in women-only groups and women of all ages, experiences, and lifestyles are welcome.
"Age doesn`t matter as long as they are fit. Sometimes young mothers get a lot more free time because others in the group, especially older women, lookout for small kids," adds Vidya.
But Sumitra, of The WOW Club, is strongly against the idea of taking kids along. "Women should just be on their own during trips, but a lot of young women can’t leave their kids anywhere, so due to their requests I allows kids to join on one trip annually."
WHAT WOMEN WANT
(South Africa- image by Sumitra Senapati)
There is never one correct answer to this question, but Sumitra starts by telling us what women don’t want. "Single women don`t have the patience for others` children. After all the stress and hard work, women want to be comfortable and pampered on trips. They want to check out shops and food bazaars, which is not of interest to men. They want some soft adventure and sample local food. When travelling with regular groups, they are worried about men hitting on them. "
After the initial few trips, Piya of GOTG realized that while it’s a good idea to keep trips action packed, women want some time to themselves.
She shares, "One of the most important things I learnt from this whole experience is that women have so much going on--responsibilities, sexual politics and abuse of one form or another at home or in office. So we try to keep things flexible and give time to them to do their own thing. Women want to meet like-minded people and 200% security."
Ground handling agents and local emergency contacts are the most common security solutions adopted by all travel organisors. Some groups have a woman guide or security person to accompany the group and hotels are also selected very carefully.
What’s different on the travel menu?
Fortunately, safety doesn’t threaten the choice of places or activities. Locations include everything from less traveled destinations in India, such as Assam and Nagaland, and around the world, such as Brazil and Arctic Circle, to popular destinations like Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Singapore, Turkey, Egypt and so on.
Cost of trips generally ranges from Rs.15, 000-Rs.500, 000.
Another interesting facet is that women-only groups re-invent the popular destinations to make trips experiential for women—through exposure to textile workshops in Rajasthan, camping and village stay in Uttarakhand, meeting with Buddhist Lamas in Ladakh to understand Buddhism or going on River Cruise in Budapest during Christmas.
Organizer’s are getting more inventive in their approach than even before, with special theme based trips such as: cooking trips to exotic places(Bali, Morocco) , bird watching trips, rafting trips, astronomy trips, trekking trips, literature trips (Jaipur Lit Fest), wine tasting trips and so on.
Considering the variety and depth offered by women-only groups, the girl gangs are surely getting something for their mind, money and soul.