What Makes a Great Women-Only Tour
By Larissa C. Kulczycky
Photos courtesy of Sights and Soul Travel
Over the years, Joan Soriano had visited countries around the world with her husband. But when a disability left him unable to travel, he encouraged her to continue. Soriano began researching women-only tours, and in 2008 visited Italy with Sights and Soul Travels
“With a women-only tour, you don’t feel like you’re infringing on couples that may be on the trip,” says Soriano, who lives in Bremerton, Washington.
Not wanting to feel like a fifth wheel in a group filled with couples is one of the reasons many women choose a women-only tour.
“If there are couples on a tour, most activities are geared toward the couples,” says Yolanta Barnes
, owner of Sights and Soul Travels
. “When it’s a women-only tour, we can really be ourselves and we all feel equal.”
For the past five years, Barnes’ travel company has been offering women-only tours to unique European destinations and recently expanded to include South American locales. Her groups include women traveling alone, as well as those vacationing with friends, family members, or “travel buddies.” All share a love of travel and a curiosity about different countries and cultures. (...)
Big Praise for Small Groups
Linda Pirard traveled to Provence in 2008. For her, the size of the group was an important consideration when selecting a women-only tour.
“I had never been on a tour before and wasn’t sure I would like it,” says Pirard, who is from Nova Scotia, Canada. “But what I liked about this tour was that it was really small. There were just seven of us.”
“I can’t see myself on a big bus where you ride and ride and everyone has to get out and check in at the same time,” she continues.
Smaller groups also lead to a greater sense of camaraderie, which can be important to women traveling by themselves.
“Our groups average only 10-12 people,” says Barnes. “On the first evening, we have a welcome dinner, and by the end of the dinner, everyone knows everything about you. We share stories and photos and there’s lots of laughter. There’s a real sense of friendship.”
Smaller groups also enjoy greater flexibility. If there’s an activity planned that none of the women want to participate in, the tour leaders can recommend an alternative.
Sherrie Rudick saw this first hand on her small, 5-woman tour to Croatia in 2007.
“We were supposed to have a spa day, but Yolanta came up with another option to visit an interesting small town,” says Rudick, who lives in Arlington, Virginia. “It turned out we all wanted to go there instead, so we decided to give up the spa day.”
For Rudick, the tour leader can also play an important role in the success of a trip.
“The tour leader really knows the locations and speaks the language,” says Rudick. “They can also make changes if need be.”
When Barnes does not go on a trip herself, she sends along a tour leader who is native to that particular country.
“For Portugal, we have a Portuguese American tour leader. She’s been living in America for over 20 years but she is from Portugal,” says Barnes. “She speaks the language. She knows the culture. That makes the tour special and increases the feeling that you are traveling with friends.”
In addition to the tour leader, each trip also includes an experienced local guide.
“We’ve been very lucky to find guides who are not only very knowledgeable but also very passionate about what they want to share with the group,” says Barnes. “They all try to make us fall in love with their city or country.”
On Pirard’s trip to Provence with a group, the tour leader and local guide were able to recommend attractions that were out of the ordinary.
“They knew the area really well and had scouted out places that were non-touristy,” says Pirard. “They took us to a little place that pressed their own walnut oil the way it was done in the 1800s. It’s just a tiny little mill with one man. There was a feeling that you were seeing part of the country that other people didn’t get to see.”
“On the last day, one of the women in the group wanted to make a detour to see a poppy field,” Pirard continues. “The guides knew about a beautiful old castle near the field that was open to the public, even though it was privately owned. Because the guides were local, we got to do things like that.”
In 2008, Robin Eisenberg went on her first women-only tour, a trip to Hungary and Prague. For Eisenberg, who lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the variety of activities made the vacation special.
“There was a nice mix of culture and food and relaxation…things that I thought appealed more to women than a mixed tour,” she says.
Women-only tours such as Sights and Soul sometimes combine art, history, outdoor adventure, spa visits and cultural immersion. According to Barnes, the opportunities for true cultural immersion set her tours apart.
“Women are more curious about people in foreign countries,” says Barnes. “And after a while, that is what you remember…the interaction with the local people. We incorporate activities that put them in touch with locals.”
“In Croatia we go into a private home and meet the women who make silk. They show us how they spin and weave the silk,” continues Barnes. “They don’t speak a word of English so we have a guide who translates for us. We are able to meet these women and see what their lives are like compared to ours. And, we are able to find the common bond, despite all the cultural, linguistic, and historical differences.”
“Yolanta seems to pick locations slightly off the beaten path where there’s still an interesting assortment of things to do,” says Eisenberg. “She’s very good at putting together some time in the city and some time out in the countryside.”
A visit to the resort town of Heviz offered Eisenberg the chance to experience more of Hungary’s culture than she would have in Budapest alone.
“Hardly anyone spoke English, and American tourists were uncommon in Heviz,” says Eisenberg. “We really got a sense of the culture and the country.”
Like some other women travel tours, Sights and Soul tours include activities in the city as well as the countryside. What they don’t include is early morning wake-up calls and bus departures.
“You hear about people on tours who have to be ready with their suitcase outside the door by seven or eight every morning,” says Pirard. “I really liked that we weren’t moving around all the time.”
Soriano agrees. “On other tours, there’s no time to really see a place because you’re always on the move,” she says. “Yolanta zeroes in on one area. You only move once so you’re not always packing and unpacking.”
Having a more relaxed pace—traveling slowly--allows for more free time, something that many women travelers appreciate.
“The place we stayed at in Provence was like an old farmhouse and there was a village within walking distance,” says Pirard. “Another gal and I took off one morning and hiked there. It was a wonderful old village that you could only walk into. You couldn’t drive. It was nice to have time to do that before the daily tour started. It was really very special.”
Sometimes it’s the little personal touches that stand out to the women on a tour.
“At the airport when I first landed, the tour leader met each of us individually and handed us a rose,” says Eisenberg. “You really felt like you were being welcomed and treated in a special way.”
For Pirard, the “personal touch” was the information she received weeks before her tour even started.
“Yolanta had each woman send out an email to introduce themselves and say why they were going on the tour,” says Pirard. “Everyone responded with a picture so you sort of had a feeling in advance about the type of women you would be traveling with. I believe we all felt good about that.”
And for Soriano, whose husband had encouraged her to keep traveling even when he could no longer accompany her, the personalized service from the tour also meant a great deal.
“Every night, Yolanta put pictures on the Internet,” says Soriano. “Family at home could get an idea of what you were experiencing each day. My husband was able to travel vicariously through me and that meant a great deal.”