My new friend Donna, who had suffered a hypoglycemic attack, reaches a river that is raging. The once-clear path of stones has been submerged. “I don’t see it. Mariana, our guide, helped her with a hiking pole. She said, “I don’t know.” Donna continues to walk through the rain while praising the beautiful turquoise lake on the horizon.
I’m hiking with 12 women in Patagonia Torres del Paine National Park. We are at the beginning of a 10-day Wild Women Expeditions trip. As a travel writer for more than ten years, I’ve never given much thought to women-only trips. As we continue to march into the vast UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, listening as we do to laughter, whipping wind, and Eso, I find myself surprised. Eso! I’m so glad you asked!
Before being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes seven years ago, at the age of 50, Donna was one of those how-does-she-do-it-all types:
- Racing bikes.
- Raising two kids.
- Conquering the Teton Grand Traverse.
- Running a successful business.Donna’s
Mother died suddenly just a month before. “I lost myself,” Donna says. “I wanted to go on a trip with other women because I knew that they would be nurturing and caring. I knew that you would all be there to help me.”
We toasted Donna’s strength and our strength that first night as we warmed up in our underwear on the floor of the Refugio Los Cuernos cabin with two bottles of wine, Pringles and Pringles. This was one of those moments of travel when you are stripped down and feel like part of something larger than yourself.
No two stories are the same. One woman was contemplating divorce, another was prepared for life after her husband’s cancer diagnosis, and a third wanted to go on a trip with other adventurous women. Donna’s words rang true. We were there for each other before we met. The connective thread, a wild flame, and the desire to discover our new sides in nature easily created a sisterhood you might call the gauchos saved.
Women’s adventure travel has been around for a long time.
Wild Women Expeditions and Gusty Women Travel were founded in 1998, respectively. However, social media, financial independence, and the progressive empowerment of women have helped to accelerate this community. These women are mostly in their 40s or 50s. They want to share outdoor experiences beyond a vineyard tour or cruise.
The female-focused tourism industry is growing. The Adventure Travel Trade Association’s 2018 industry study found that 53 percent of adventure travelers are women, compared to 51 percent in 2017. Marybeth Bond is one of the modern female pioneers in travel. She cites an increase of 230 percent in the number of women-only companies over the last six years. Women spend $50 billion on gear each year.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we’ve been fighting sexism for decades in the outdoor industry. Companies have become better at marketing women. This is good because women are now a bigger part of the conversation,” Abigail Wise, online managing editor for Outside.
She describes the women she showcases, “For example, Sasha Cox, who founded a href= “http://trailmavens.com/”>Trail Mavens/a> to help teach interested women wilderness survival skills, or Shelma Jun, who founded the ‘Women’s Climbing Fest/a> in an effort to connect female climbers of all levels with other women who climb and give them the skills and stoke they need to make She describes her women, “For instance, Sasha Cox who founded Trail Mavens, to teach interested women wilderness skills. Or Shelma Jul, who created the Women’s Climbing Fest to connect female climbers at all levels to other women climbers and to give them the skills they need to make this happen.”
In a fog of postpartum depression and happiness, I began to plan my first adventure. My husband encouraged me to find camaraderie outdoors. I was surprised that there were high-quality, all-women adventures for every budget, sport, and location.
Keely’s Camp offers you the opportunity to train with Olympic skiers in the Chilean Andes. What about a trek to Everest Base Camp in Colorado with Sharon Wood or a clinic on alpine climbing chicks with picks? In between aquatic pursuits in Playa del Carmen with newly launched Vaera Journeys, you can workshop a bold career move with a business coach and entrepreneurial-minded travelers. Gutsy Women Travel will launch Gutsy Girlfriends, a new travel company for millennials and younger women in 2019, to offer Nepal and the Mystical Mountains. Kelly Lewis, the co-founder of Damesly, has expanded the women’s travel market with a variety of offbeat programs, such as an “Islands + Identity”, a surf trip in Hawaii, and a weekend retreat, “Canyons + Camera” in Arizona. The Women’s Travel Fest and Girl Guides are two of the most popular travel events for women. The fact that this is a women’s event makes it even more rewarding, as I want to help women succeed and grow.
Not only boutique tour operators are trying to change adventure travel for women. Intrepid Travel is the world’s biggest adventure travel company. This year, Morocco, Jordan, and Iran will be hosting their first women-only trips. Intrepid Travel, which focuses on female empowerment and travel, says that women-only trips are “a culturally sensitive and socially responsible way for travelers” to experience female-only experiences and customs.
REI Women’s Adventures was launched in 2017 and operated 19 different women-led trips around the world, ranging from an eight-day trek on Macchupicchu’s Lares Trail to a three-day weekend in the San Juan Islands. In 2017, 59 percent (or 25%) of REI Adventure participants were female. Cynthia Dunbar, REI Adventures manager, says that in 2018, more women want to get outdoors. She also attributes REI programs such as the Force of Nature fund and Outessaretreats for fostering an ethnically and racially varied group of women. REI Women’s Adventures makes it possible for women to learn a new skill, such as backpacking, with other like-minded women.