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The Self as a Souvenir: Benefits of Travel for Women
Phyllis Stoller

Whether working, playing, entertaining, mother or daughtering, women tend to be there for others before themselves. We are the volunteers, girl scout leaders, cookie purveyors, school project managers and inventory analysts of camp trunks and lunch boxes. So what do these roles have to do with travel and women?

Today women make most of the travel decisions in the family but we do not necessarily take vacations where we want or do what we like. The Womenapostrophes Travel Club is a tour operator for womenapostrophes trips. For nine years we have been asked , why should women travel with other women? Putting aside the obvious-- many women do not have families/friends who wish to travel-- there are many reasons for women to travel with other women:

Women rarely set aside time for themselves. The hostess in us serves others first. We are usually the caretakers for elderly parents and young children. We are more often the support staff, less often the boss. One of the beauties of travel-and travel alone-is that you can focus on yourself. There is a joy in listing museums, buildings, streets to see. You can decide to walk out of the Science Wing of the Smithsonian, eat Dutch cookies for lunch, spend an hour trying on Parisian hair accessories, and not explain your silliness to anyone. Self indulgence is not life threatening; in fact. the lack of it in our lives probably is. Even though the trend in travel today is to learn, a word not used in the past. It is a kind of learning that fulfills us. Look at what the Disney Institute offers: photography, gardens, athletic challenge.

Women of the current working generation are entirely too serious even though casual Friday has replaced the business suit. Travel gives you an outlet to be just a little crazy for just a little bit of time. Men do it on the 19th hole and in the Sharper Image. Women need to let loose more often and why not in the form of a trip. Of course, do put safety first, but after that, go find the girl in yourself and in a place far from your responsibilities. It is not a chore to leaf through old magazines on Portobello Road or slurp gelato on a stoop in Venice. Here is a suggestion before you go: read the suggestions of Harvard juniors and seniors from their excellent series of guidebooks: Letapostrophes Go Series. Much more lighthearted than traditional guidebooks.

One of the big differences between men and women in travel is we have different priorities. Men like to eat; women want to get on with it. In our experience, most women will opt for a lighter lunch, less waiting time and more shopping and sightseeing. Women use guidebooks, research more and often know precisely what they want to do. A woman traveling alone simply gets more done. And doing a lot on a trip opens the door to more serendipity and fun encounters.

Solo travel is the quickest and easiest way to grow your independence. Women returning from their first trip solo or with other women feel they have accomplished a certain something. How often we, as tour operators, hear: I never thought I could XXXXX without my husband or without help. And yes, you can figure out a tip amount in Irish Pounds, how to hail a cab in Rome, how to order a glass of beer in Dehli. Women traveling with other women learn a lot from each other; we like to teach and share our travel tips. We want you to take a taste of our tandoori chicken if you so much as glance at it.

Women are more gregarious and we share more than men. Women find that travel without friends and family can bring you in contact with interesting people. A casual chat in the airport can turn into dinner with another woman alone. Travel friends made on a temporary basis supply a perfect combination: opportunism without obligation. Travel friends are sort of a one night stand that brings you a loan of a guidebook or tip on a great street market. PS when in Paris: donapostrophet miss the Ternes/Poncelet food market! And in London, go to Church Street and eat at the Sea Shell nearby.

Women are generally more open to appreciating othersapostrophe lifestyles and cultures. We like to meet children in a village not just photograph them. When we buy a craft, it comes home with a mental description of the person who sold it not just with a receipt for customs... We are people people, a trait that enhances our lives. Read the great travel writers: Dervla Murphy writes about how she felt and the people she met; Paul Theroux writes about what he saw and the hardships therein. The obvious exception of The Snow Leopard, written by a man but full of feeling and growing. We comprise more than half of the adventure travel segment-we like exploration of ourselves in unusual situations. We began with outward bound type trips in the 80apostrophes but most of us now want a cultural adventure but a bed to sleep in.

Being alone and away from it all, gives you time to think, another long forgotten pleasure. Again more than men we use travel to regroup. Statistically women tack vacation time onto business trips much more often. We need extra days to hang out. Being away for even one extra day, gives women time to kick it off and relax. Women are more concerned with the hotelapostrophes amenities than their male counterparts; we want to combine travel with an aromatherapy shower or massage. We use travel even business travel differently than our male counterparts. (Wyndham Hotels and New York University have interesting studies on this phenomenon.)

So why should women travel alone? Travel with other women? Or travel at all?

Because it is good for us top to bottom. Travel cleanses the mind, touches the soul and lightens the heart and usually but not always trims the body. Travel can mean new friends and a re-connect with that old one, yourself.

Phyllis Stoller is President of The Womenapostrophes Travel Club. She founded the club in order to find women to travel with when her husband became a workaholic, she says. She is a known expert on womenapostrophes trvel and lectures on security, packing and other travel-related topics. Reprinted with permission. For more info on the club, go to