What to Expect in a Woman Only Tour?
The Good The Bad and The Ugly
By Phyllis Stoller
|The Women's Travel Group's Thrilling Trip to Tehran, Iran, November 2016.
We are in the carpet museum.
Let's start by saying that dynamics are different when only women are in any "room." Send yourself back to a high school hang out, the single-sex college dorm or the locker room at a favorite gym. Then listen to the all-women table at a restaurant. Our differences can subtly change a group tour.
Lots of Talking
Women talk a lot more. What does a lot of talking do to change a women’s tour? There is more sharing of thoughts, reactions, and experiences. After our visit in Varanasi, India, to the Ganges River and after a body was carried right past us, there was a lot of talking. Women from different backgrounds and religions emotionally challenged. The discussion became a moving one about life and death. Was a Ganges burial more comforting to the family? Was it meaningful to us as Westerners? Did we feel closer to nature and humanity? Were we nosy voyeurs? Did a cremation feel more ashes to ashes normal than a burial? There was a lot of talking, and, for a few, an unexpected way to remember a recent loss. Women’s only tours create memories about thoughts and deep feelings, not just scenes.
Women share. When a suitcase is late, we share socks and shampoo. On the bus, we share medicine and cookies. We share health care solutions, empathy for a recent widow or anyone with a loss. As a result of TV news, women are now sharing the memory of a groping boss and discrimination during their corporate pasts. Retired executives now want to share experiences with young professionals in the group. Women’s need to share will profoundly change a tour. A photographer might offer camera lessons. A textile lover might draw the group into that area of a pre-Columbian museum and talk expertly about the cloth. A doctor will help us understand the French diet.
Most students at adult education courses are women. We like to learn, and this translates into itineraries we choose, questions we pose to a guide, books we read to prep for a trip. Women’s tours usually have a learning component. It can be a provocative speaker, whose politics are not for everyone. In Ethiopia, it was two men who had been jailed as part of the opposition party. We visited a hospital for women who had a fistula, a health problem caused by youthful pregnancies and female circumcision. In Mexico, we met a charming woman from the Puebla Tourist Authority; after her speech, she was surrounded by women asking about life as a foreigner in Mexico.
Women are more questioning and demanding than men. Why do we need to leave at 8 for the Pyramids in the Yucatan? Why did we visit a village? Was it a violation of privacy? Why are women’s heads covered by scarves (Iran)? Demanding women enhance a trip by encouraging guides to talk more freely. In certain countries with strict censorship, women’s demands can elicit information guides would be afraid to offer otherwise. In an Arab country, this insight might result in a guide talking about discrimination or female circumcision. In Europe, this might be a guide sharing how Americans are perceived. Demanding women help color the area between the lines and further compel the guide to provide information that is complete and true.
Women perceive differently. A man might see a sunny landscape; we see the indigenous family in the foreground. While photographing a mosque, we might also see the shy reaction of a Turkish woman examining our clothes. We see signs of malnutrition in adorable children. Conversely, we see affluence in children wearing shoes even if plastic. Tours of women slow down while we watch tribes people as they navigate a market in Africa. We are born unashamed people-watchers.
We are helpers. We help someone who falls. If someone sneezes, there are 15 tissues offered. We help others choose gifts for their friends in a Roman stationary shop. We help bargain for the weird Frida Kahlo shoes in Mexico City on the street. We often help when visiting a school or community center; unsolicited gifts from women are not uncommon. Knowing you are traveling with other women is comforting to solo first timers; our helping hand mentality takes the stress out of new experiences along the way.
We are everyone’s protective mother. Here is just one impressive anecdote illustrating women protecting women. A woman on a trip had an arranged room share. Her share arrived late the first night. At breakfast, after she the had left, she said, “So and so arrived late and she is fine. She met a man on the plane — a doctor — and she is going to travel with him and skip our trip.” The share continued her story, "I would not allow her to go unless I had a photo of his passport. If she does not call me in a week, I was reporting him to the police in the U.S.” Women tours inherently incorporate mutual protection so that by the end we feel more like a family or community.
In sum, all women tours are different because we are different. If you don’t want more than two of any of the above differences, don’t go. If you do want welcoming, helpful, protective, insightful, thinking, and talking travel companions, do go.
Phyllis Stoller is President of The Women’s Travel Group and is avid about travel, adventure, and women’s issues. See her blog as well as her Facebook page. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.