We all travel for different purposes. To experience new place, new food or culture, connect with people, escape from routine or to dwell into a new life. Reasons are many! But why do women travel? is a question that everyone loves to ask & debate. Malini Gowrishankar, founder of F5 Escapes writes about the need, impact of women travel in India & everywhere else.
As the founder of F5 Escapes, I have been asked this question directly or indirectly many times. In the initial days of F5, it was incredibly hard to make people understand this and I guess this post must have been written then. Better late than never! People who come across F5 for the first time still ask this.
By women travel, I mean both solo as well as group travel. I embrace everything as long as women pack their bags and take time out for themselves once in a while. At F5, we have not only conducted group tours but also enabled quite a few women travel by themselves. Here are a few factors that I’ve noticed during my pre-F5 and F5 days that makes me think that this is a dream worth pursuing:
1. Initiation into travel
To set the context, I was not blessed with the natural ability and courage to travel by myself, let alone enable other women travel. Having been born into a conservative family, I had to rebel even to travel by my scooter to my office. The strength was acquired slowly, one travel experience at a time, especially when with other like minded women for company. Even eagles need a push – those born into traditional mindsets need some handholding to embrace the idea of taking space for themselves.
I created that initiation for myself by seeking such company, I wish F5 to enable many more women get there as well. While not everyone might be seeking either, we wish to show how much good they would do to their lives by seeking. A lot of ex-F5ers now travel together, with or without F5’s handholding. We are happy that we initiated them into travel.
2. Friendship and support system
Quite a few women come on our trips in their transition phase. Heartbreak, office politics and a few other reasons. We get really happy to see women forging new friendships and opening up to each other with their stories. There have been many many instances where people have hugged me or one of our tour leads and said a heartfelt thanks. That is not needed, it is after all a commercial trip, one may think. But when the experiences transcend the boundaries of just a commercial transaction to one of an emotional connect, it lays the foundation for relationships to keep for life. Many of our groups stay in touch with each other and share all the happenings of their lives. The whatsapp group becomes their ‘goto’ safe space!
3. Inclination towards social causes
Statistics reveal that women tend to gravitate a lot towards social causes – a lot of women entrepreneurs are into social entrepreneurship and many women are associated with some social causes or the other. So, on our group tours, when we educate our travellers about the local problems and the ways they are being solved by local organizations, it leaves a mark in their minds. Recently, one of our travellers came back after almost 6 months and told us she wants to volunteer for one of the social projects.
There has also been a story where a woman entrepreneur helped another NGO worker with imparting skills to over 50 women of a village – the two of them met on an F5 trip. So, when like minded women come together, a lot of positive things happen which is not only good for them, but also serves the greater good.
4. Unheard stories
In one of our trips, as we were all talking around a campfire, the topic came to child sex abuse. That was when everyone opened up with the stories of their lives. For many girls, it is their teacher or uncle or even grand fathers! It was overwhelming to see that the issue is so ubiquitous yet no one talks about it. Some women told that it was the first time they were sharing it with anyone. The comfort stems from the fact that these women are strangers on a journey together and would go back to their respective lives. We at F5 are happy to create that space for pressing issues to be discussed.
5. Acceptance of people different from oneself
Being a part of several women groups, many a times, I am saddened to see increasing intolerance even among different groups of women on social media – Stay-at-home moms critiquing working moms and vice versa, married women not being able to understand single parents, judging women who travel, cultural intolerance etc. One of the best things that happen at F5 especially on long tours is that when women from drastically different backgrounds come together with an open mind ( which we insist on as a pre trip preparation), they learn to embrace and appreciate each other as they are.
Some learn faster, some learn by the end of or post the trip. Judgement is mostly put in the back burner and only travel is capable of doing that. Quite a few times, it is not just about acceptance, it is also about inspiration – to learn from women who have done it for themselves.
6. The power of a group
Travelling in a group has its own benefits. Dealing with sickness, any form of harassment, calamities – all of these become easier with the power of a group. Also that there is an increased sense of safety with numbers is undeniable.
Solo vs. group travel
Most of our tour leads and I have done both and we appreciate the goodness of both. When a woman travels solo, she is setting an example for reclaiming the space that women have not had traditionally in our country. Also, she has more space to introspect, get creative, decide her own agenda etc. But one needs to understand that not everyone can do that right away – it takes a lot of unlearning and also development of ample courage and conviction to travel by oneself.
The world may not be as bad as we think – but our mind plays the devil most of the time – preventing us from venturing into unknown territories. That is where companies like us come in – we do the initial handholding – we don’t expect our customers to come with us all their life time, even though many a few are very loyal! Some of them start travelling by themselves too, which is still a big win for us.
While people may say that there are several women travelling solo nowadays, that is still a very minuscule number compared to the literate women population we have. The perception that ‘India is unsafe’ will be broken only when we have millions of Indian and foreign women travelling the length and breadth of the country without inhibitions; that will be achieved only when companies like ours form a collective voice to not only run tours but also influence the decision makers to improve infrastructure. We don’t intend to box women into confined spaces, we intend to help everyone grow wings and that is a painfully slow process. But oh girl, aren’t we determined! 🙂
We have miles to go,
many more mindsets to change,
more space to reclaim.
we will keep our heads down and keep working.