Women and wanderlust: Spending me-time away from families (March 8 International Women's Day)
You may not always have the company of your parents, friends or partner, but who's stopping you from travelling the world? A burgeoning number of social clubs offering secure women-only tours are turning out to be a treat for those looking out for a fun getaway.
There has been a 22 percent rise in bookings by women's groups and single travellers in India from October 2013 to February 2014 as compared to last year, data compiled by the Indian arm of global guided-holiday company Trafalgar indicates.
Clubs like WOW - Women On Wanderlust - Girls on the Go and Femmes En Voyage, as well as individual tour operators and specialised travel companies are bringing women from all nooks and corners, of varied interests, different age groups - but with the common aim of travel - together for trips to exotic destinations in and out of country.
Amrita Seth, 34, embarked on one such trip to Coorg in Karnataka last year. The experience, she says, was truly memorable.
"Post my wedding, I could never imagine myself on a holiday without my husband, but he was always too busy. In fact, he suggested I go on a trip by myself. Since I was not keen to go alone, I decided to book myself on an all-women's tour, and it was a liberating experience," Seth said.
She made new friends, learnt new things and most of all "realised the importance of stepping out of a comfort zone of your parents, husband, child and friends".
Thanks to the changing attitude of women, clubs and online communities promoting group travel have cropped up over the years. Women as young as 25 and the young-at-heart oldies too travel in mixed groups, which often have candidates from the country's Tier-I and Tier-II cities as well as NRIs from the US, Britain and the Middle East.
Sumitra Senapaty, founded the WOW Club in 2005 as a "solution for women who want to travel safe and solo, along with a group of like-minded women".
"I promote this concept because of the security and safety that a group provides. It's more fun too because it gives you the chance to make good friends and importantly, experiences when shared are memorable," Senapaty told IANS.
The biggest challenge for her was the concept itself.
"Women had to really make a huge effort to convince themselves to join the platform. Today they have come a long way; they simply pack up their bags and hop on...they are more than convinced to leave their families behind for some well earned 'me time'," said Senapaty, who organises around eight such trips a year.
Her observation lies in the fact that WOW now has a database of 30,000 women, and as many as 4,000 women have travelled with it in nine years.
Of course, women have safety concerns, so guided vacations are preferred.
According to Trafalgar India's survey, 10 percent of the women preferred guided vacations for a guided experience, 30 percent for safety, 11 percent to meet new people, 26 percent for convenience and comfort, while 23 percent women found it cost-effective.
"Solo women travellers and groups of women prefer escorted vacations as these give them a sense of safety and security. Our Travel Directors are especially trained to look after women travelling with us on our holidays," Trafalgar India country manager Darshan Maheshwari told IANS.
The trend of women-only travellers is only poised for growth, says globetrotter Shivani Gupta, managing director of research and advocacy firm SPAG Asia, which recently released the MustWander India Outbound Travel Report 2014.
"Women-only travellers, though not a big segment in India's outbound travel market at present, have a lot of potential to grow significantly in the coming years.
"This can be predicted as women in the country are becoming economically and socially independent and want to explore the world around. Women today travel out of choice to take a much-deserved break from their personal and work commitments," said Gupta, who believes these are a great escape from routine to "catch up on girlie banter".
The cost of the trips varies to suit every pocket - but it depends on the destination.
Europe has emerged as the most preferred destination for women according to Trafalgar India, which has found that a large number of solo women and groups of women are making bookings to international destinations such as Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Britain.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 07-03-2014)