Prime Edition

Mihika Jindal

Travel clubs for women are breaking new ground

A photograph from a trip to Ladakh conducted by Women on Clouds last year.

Despite a host of responsibilities and obligations — with family, children, work, household work — the modern Indian woman is finally learning to take time out for herself, and stepping out of her comfort zone to travel far and wide.

Solo travelling continues to be an ambitious pipedream due to societal constraints and security concerns, but heading out on journeys with special travelling clubs catering exclusively to women travellers is far more realistic. It's a trend that's gathering momentum, and we've picked a handful of the most desirable travelling clubs around.

WOW (Women on Wanderlust) Club

WOW pioneered the concept of women travelling clubs in India. Sumitra Senapaty founded the club a decade ago, when she felt there was a need to provide for women who wanted to travel alone, but not completely on their own. They conduct around 90 trips a year, both within India and abroad, where individual women travellers get together and travel in groups, thus ensuring safety while also keeping the thrill intact. Their packages are comprehensive in terms of visas, insurance, flight tickets, lodging and touring. "Most women hesitate to call an agent because they fear they'll get duped. Our aim was to provide a single window, where everything can be taken care of in one go," says Senapaty. Signing up with WOW is a beneficial arrangement for everyone concerned; the travelling women can explore a new facet to their personality, and the international embassies also feel more confident granting visas when the application comes through the club. Senapaty feels that the Indian woman has evolved over the last decade. "Ten years ago, most women would make enquiries and promise to revert after discussing the plan with their family, but only a few would actually get back. This doesn't seem to be the case anymore. I also get young mothers who get someone in their family to babysit while they travel. It's a tested method now, and one which makes sure that the woman will come back refereshed after an actual vacation." Their clientele varies from 25 to 65-year-old women. "Everyone gets along regardless of their age. There are no older women; only young, not-so-young and young at heart," says Senapaty. They take a minimum of 16 people and never more than 20 in a group, for a travel period of five to eight nights, where they stay in either a four or a five-star property. The itineraries are well-researched and include sightseeing, relaxation and shopping.

For more details, visit www.wowclub.in

Diva Odysseys

Diva Odysseys thrives on the concept of letting a woman take a break from her busy schedule, which is either a corporate job or taking care of her family, or both. "If a woman decides to head out for a family vacation, she continues to be on duty. But, if she decides to take off alone, we pamper her and let her feel like she is on a real holiday," says Neena Jhanjhee, the founder of Diva Odysseys, who started this club because of her own passion for travel. The idea struck her when she organised a couple of fun trips for her friends and managed to bag some good deals. "Once I decided to step into the travel industry, I had to do something different from a Cox & Kings or a Thomas Cook. That is why we decided to create a niche segment and cater only to woman travellers," says Jhanjhee. Diva Odyssey provides varied interests and offers theme-based packages within India and abroad. They have different categories, like a gastronomic trip where people with a fascination for food come together to learn to cook and get culinary experiences, or an adventure trip where the group heads off to try out sky-diving, as well as a wellness vacation to Bali. The group size varies from eight to 15, with each trip being eight to 10 days long. "We understand that women can never take out too much time. Our packages are designed to create an in-depth eperience of the country," says Jhanjhee. While they do get young travellers, the majority of their customers belong to the older bracket. "The younger ones still get to travel on their own. It's the older women, who are not inclined to either research or plan their travel, and deserve to be pampered." Diva Odyssey offers end-to-end arrangements excluding air-fares. The lodging they provide is usually a well-known four-star hotel, one that's safe for women travellers. "We are big on safety for obvious reasons. We encourage things like a pepper spray on a keychain and other equipment that could come in handy, if required."

For more details, visit www.divaodysseys.com

Women on Clouds

Women on Clouds was established in 2007 after Shireen, the founder, organised an all-girls trip with her friends to Uttarakhand, which turned out to be the most exciting trip of her life. "There are times when your friends or family don't have time or when you just want to take off alone, but safety seems to be a concern. The idea was to gather people with similar interests to travel together in a safe way," says Shireen.

Their groups usually include women between 25 and 65 years of age, with each group ranging between seven to 25 people. "There are no fixed rules though. We recently got an 18-year-old who will join us for an upcoming trip to Ladakh. And once, only two people signed up for a rafting trip, but because they were so keen on doing it, we went ahead with it nevertheless, since we didn't want to spoil their holiday," she says. They get a lot of participation from the older bracket as well. "Older women have started travelling extensively in the last three years or so, and they're the ones who have the most fun. They have fewer responsibilities and they don't need to haggle for permissions to take a trip. The younger lot may feel that they can always come back to a particular destination, but the older women take their vacations very seriously, with the possibility that they might never come back there again." The club ensures that the lodging is not isolated and is well connected to hospitals and police stations. The itineraries are planned in such a way that women are not required to venture out alone. A female coordinator supervises the trip, and a male member — who is either a part of the club or is a trusted local who is well-acquainted with the area — accompanies the group, if required. Their packages are affordable and they generally book three-star deluxe or four-star hotels. For budget travellers, they have a "light-pocket trip" segment as well. It doesn't compromise on arrangements or safety; it's just effective planning, according to them.

The younger lot may feel that they can always come back to a particular destination, but the older women take their vacations very seriously, with the possibility that they might never come back there again.

For more details, visit www.facebook.com/womenoncloudsclub

The Wander Girls

Hetal Doshi, founder of The Wander Girls, comes from a strict family, where she faced a lot of resistance, especially around her travel plans. "But I managed to get my way each time; whether it was for studying abroad or for a leisure trip. Travelling liberated me. Over a period of time, I wanted to empower other women to travel independently too," says Doshi. Her aim was to provide better travelling avenues for women in India, who were either looking to travel solo or in a group with other women. The Wander Girls has managed to build a community of women who frequently travel with them over the last two years. Their travellers range from young 18-year-olds to even women who are in their 70s. However, working women in their 30s make up the bulk of customer base.

Their itineraries are designed to offer unique experiences that go beyond conventional tourist brochures. "Safety should be a standard concern irrespective of the group, all the more when one is responsible for taking a bunch of women out. Our lodging is centrally located, with the best ground handlers and vehicles that are available at every spot. We sensitise our travellers to local customs, which, besides learning, ensures a safe and comfortable trip," says Doshi. They travel in groups of 12-24, either focussing on specific activities or weaving a trip around the destination. Besides their fixed departure trips, they also customise trips for a specific group and take care of all arrangements.

For more details, visit www.thewandergirls.com

 
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