Mountains of snow in the Himalayas, mountains of Parmesan cheese in Italy — there’s a women-only travel group ready to lead you on whatever adventure you seek.
Although not exactly new, female-only vacations have soared in popularity in the last decade; the Chicago Tribune reported in 2015 that women-only tour companies had grown 230 percent in six years. Given that women can make best friends in night club bathrooms, it’s easy to understand the life-changing impact of facing new goals, places, and experiences with a group of like-minded ladies.
So, gather your girls — or go on your own — and meet the inspiring founders behind your next big adventure.
For the Adventurer
WHOA founders Allison Fleece & Danielle Thornton met on an email chain while planning their first trip to Kilimanjaro in 2013. At the time of the first email, “I didn’t know where the mountain was,” says Thornton.
And the pair also didn’t know that they would go on to climb the peak, quit their jobs, travel the world, and start a women-only tour company together.
Their first trip as a tour company was Oktoberfest in 2013, followed by a 30-person hike of Kilimanjaro on International Women’s Day in March 2014, and WHOA, which stands for “Women High On Adventure,” has made it their mission to empower local women wherever they host trips.
WHOA sponsors local women to hike with them, connects with nonprofits for activities with local communities, and works with local hotels and companies training local women as mountain guides. “The more women that are out there climbing, the more women whose lives will be changed,” Thornton says.
Fleece and Thornton want their trips to challenge their guests — whether that’s physically or culturally, such as taking on a mountain or the stimulation overload of India. “We look at a place like that and say, ‘Where does our community want to go and what is going to be an adventure,’ and adventure doesn’t always have to be physical,” Fleece says.
The company also has a great track record for forming a community amongst its clients; 1 in four become repeat customers.
For The Jet-Setter: Living Big
Living Big founder Mary Cecchini was working as a marketing manager when she faced corporate burnout, a family health scare, and a breakup. She asked herself “is this really what life’s all about?” and decided to save up, quit her job, and embark on a “five-month solo sabbatical.”
Cecchini says her clients gain what she refers to as “the stretch.” It’s what happens when we interact with different cultures, personalities, histories, and experiences.
“[W]hen we take a look through the lens of another woman, we not only grow, but become more empathetic to women, and the world around us,” she says.
Living Big staffers have individual phone calls with every client to ensure they can physically participate in all facets of the trip in a safe manner and are open to the style and culture of the trips, which the company plans from start to finish.
Some trips, including the Canadian Rockies tour, focus on outdoors activities, while the trip to Italy is more about food, food, food — sign us up.
For The Goal-Getter: Damesly
This boutique tour group gives new meaning to “Business Travel.”
Launched in 2016 by Alyson Kilday and Kelly Lewis, creator of a series of travel guidebooks for women and the annual Women’s Travel Fest, Damesly incorporates professional and creative workshops into fun trips to everywhere from New Orleans to Iceland.
Lewis, a former arts journalist, was inspired after seeing the success of industry workshops at her Travel Fest and thought, why not take this on the road?
Damesly caps its group size at ten, and participants of all-ages come from around the world (it’s never too late to chase your passion) for trips that focus on subjects, such as PR, personal growth, and photographs.
In the upcoming “Cameras + Canyons” tour in Arizona, the trip starts off with a workshop on how to use a DSLR camera, taught by Jaye Callahan, a photographer and cinematographer who’s worked with National Geographic and the Travel Channel.
Participants will learn various photo and social media skills and photograph the Grand Canyons, with the goal of being able to shoot manually by the end of the trip.
“If your traveling, you would already be taking photos,” explains Lewis. This trip just hones your skills and lets you “create this community of women who can help you.”
For The Fitness Fiend: Goddess Retreats
Chelsea Ross was basking in the glow of a post-surf sunset with girlfriends in Bali when she dreamed up her tour company, Goddess Retreats. Ross wanted to make it easier for women to experience her joy and join surf culture. But, at the time, surf camps were geared toward advanced male riders — housed in grass huts with cold showers and warm beer.
Ross went on to launch the Southern hemisphere’s first women’s solo travel surf retreat 16 years ago, and most of the guests today are beginner surfers or paddle boarders of all ages.
“Something wonderful happens when women surf,” Ross says. “We grow more confident in ourselves, we find new places in our soul, we wash away the cares of the world and see the big picture of our lives and our place within it.”
The amenities also sure beat huts and hopps. There are organic meals, daily yoga and meditation sessions, and fruit and cookie baskets delivered to rooms equipped with kimono robes and queen beds. The trip includes additional experiences off the boards, such as white water rafting through Bali, traditional Indonesian cuisine lessons, and a spa day with unlimited treatments.
Since opening Surf Goddess Retreats, Ross has founded other retreats focusing on fitness and yoga in Bali and snowing and skiing in Japan.