The popularity of women-only travel groups and packages in India, is indicative of urban women’s desire to assert their independence and explore the world. It also dispels the myth that women can’t get along.
Founder of Mumbai-based Girls on the Go (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 escape office politics and domestic confines.”
The average group size is 15, and features women from different parts of the country. Bonding through shared experiences has made women-only travel meaningful, even for organisers. Recollecting a trip to Egypt, Piya adds, “We were cruising the Red Sea, when one of the women suddenly asked, ‘how many of you are divorced?’ 11 of the 18 women raised their hands. Soon, they were sharing things they may never have told even their closest friends. Some just wanted to get their experiences out of their systems.”
Besides travel, Members of The WOW (Women on Wanderlust) Club, started by Sumitra Senapaty in 2005, also meet up for movies, parties and other activities.
Indian women rarely travel alone; privy to this information, well-travelled women are offering a platform to travel solo, without being lonely. Now, Indian women can venture out, even when their friends and family don’t have the time to.
Vidya Deshpande, who started Sole Purpose, Gurgaon, with Mimi Chakrabarti, in January this year, finds that women are more relaxed in all-women groups. “A 50-year-old lady, who had never worn shorts. tried them out during our rafting trip. Seeing everyone wearing them, she was comfortable doing so too. Many women feel conscious about their clothes, getting wet, or participating in adventure sports, with men around. Often, they are prevented from trying things out,” she says.
Young girls get permission more easily to travel in women-only groups, and women of all ages, experiences, and lifestyles are welcome. “Age doesn’t matter, as long as you are fit. Sometimes young mothers get more free time because others in the group, especially older women, watch over small kids,” adds Vidya.
However, Sumitra, of The WOW Club, is strongly against the idea of taking kids along. “Women should travel on their own, but a lot of young women can’t leave their kids anywhere, so I allow kids on one of our trips, annually.”
What do women want?
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 children. After the stress of work, they want to be pampered. They want to check out shops and bazaars, which is of no interest to men. They want soft adventure and local food. When travelling with regular groups, they have to worry about men hitting on them. “After the initial 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, “Women have so much going on—responsibilities, sexual politics and abuse in one form or another at home or office, so we try to keep things flexible and give them time to themselves. Women want to meet like-minded people and have 200% security.”
Ground handling agents and local emergency contacts are common security solutions adopted by all travel organisers. Some groups have a female guide or security persons to accompany the group. Hotels are also carefully screened
Fortunately, safety doesn’t threaten the choice of places or activities. Destinations vary from less-travelled areas in India, such as Assam and Nagaland, and around the world, such as Brazil and the Arctic Circle, to popular tourist regions like Rajasthan, Singapore, Turkey and Egypt.
The cost ranges from Rs.15,000-Rs.500,000.
Women-only groups also re-invent popular destinations to make trips experiential—through exposure to textile workshops in Rajasthan, meeting Lamas in Ladakh, or river cruises in Budapest during the Christmas season. Theme-based expeditions could include cooking in exotic places (Bali, Morocco), bird watching, astronomy, literature (Jaipur Lit Fest), wine tasting and more.
Considering the variety, the girl gangs are definitely getting value for mind, money and soul.