On a recent flight to Maui, I boarded the plane behind five women who were returning home from a family trip. They had splurged on ﬁrst-class tickets, while their husbands and kids were relegated to the rear. One mother, clutching her copy of Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, said with a laugh, "We'll send them some drinks."
"The perception of a modern woman is a well-traveled woman," says Ravina Aggarwal, chair of the anthropology department at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she teaches a course on the politics of tourism. "To be fully liberated is to be a traveler."
It's no secret that women have become a driving force in the travel industry, inspiring entrepreneurs to create tour companies like Women & Wine and cruise lines to launch female-only sailings. Hotels are following suit, with safety measures (single-sex floors, jogging companions) and programs that range from the silly (an Almost Desperate Housewives package at the Hotel Commonwealth in Boston) to the serious (Canyon Ranch's annual Journey Through Midlife retreat, which addresses on the physical and emotional challenges of menopause). Barbara Shultz, spa director at Laguna Beach's Montage Resort, has even noted an upsurge in sixtysomething daughters coming in with their octogenarian mothers for first-time pampering: "It's a nice way to give back for a lifetime of support."
Of course, there have always been female globe-trotters. The members of my family, at least, weren't all staying home waiting for their husbands to step off the 5:05 train to Greenwich. In the 1930's and 40's, my widowed grandmother brought up three sons on a teacher's salary and managed to see the world—Egypt, Thailand, Japan, China, Israel—with her sisters. What we're really looking at now is a new era of choice, with all that this implies, including self-awareness and the confidence that comes with being responsible for your own livelihood.
"One of the main reasons women are traveling so much today," Aggarwal says, "is because they can afford it." According to a recent survey conducted by New York University for Wyndham Hotels, titled "Coming of Age: The Continuing Evolution of Female Business Travelers," women hold 50 percent of managerial and professional jobs and are estimated to account for nearly the same percentage of business travelers. Women also enjoy getting away: the survey found that they associate work-related trips with "alone time" and freedom from daily routines.
In other words, women's getaways, whether solo or as part of a group, are happening because women can make them happen; it's a nice choice to have. "Women finally feel it's okay to treat themselves," says Tania Jones, innkeeper at the White Elephant on Nantucket. "Once, they would have been asked, 'You left your children behind?' And now, it's, 'Why shouldn't you?' " In 2003, the hotel launched a Girlfriends Package—complete with chick flicks, champagne, nighties, and popcorn—to fill up its three-bedroom cottages during slow periods. The first season, the hotel sold one package; this year, 15 groups have signed on.
And yet, as I climb into an airport shuttle at Kahului, I get a page from my husband, wanting to know what I've left in the refrigerator for his dinner. After I hang up, the female driver, a middle-aged Hawaiian woman, teaches me a slang expression she learned from some vacationing Japanese housewives: tenshu genki rusu ban gai. Loosely translated, it means, "honorable husband who stays behind to watch the house."
NEW PROPERTIES The 28-suite Sanctuary South Beach (1745 James Ave.; 305/673-5455; www.sanctuarysobe.com; doubles from $200) claims to be Miami Beach's first female-friendly hotel, offering a discount for women traveling solo, as well as jogging companions. · The 97-room Cosmopolitan Toronto (8 Colborne St.; 800/958-3488; www.cosmotoronto.com; doubles from $188) is aimed at businesswomen looking for a soothing work environment. Floors are key-access only.
ALL-WOMEN AREA Men aren't allowed in the new 68-room wing at London's Grange City Hotel (810 Cooper's Row; 44-207/863-3700; www.grange-city-hotel.co.uk; doubles from $518); room-service staffers are female. · The Ladies Floors at the St. Regis Hotel, Shanghai (889 Dong Fang Rd., Pudong; 877/787-3447; www.starwoodhotels.com; doubles from $290) proved so popular that the property added a third. Each is staffed with a female butler who can recommend safe dining options.
BEST PACKAGES In London, the Girls Night In weekend at the Berkeley (Wilton Place, Knightsbridge; 800/637-2869; www.maybourne.com; doubles from $580 a night) is the ultimate in pampering, with in-room manicures, Cosmopolitans, Bliss products, and a hamper full of late-night snacks. · The Principe Comfort Zone at Milan's Principe di Savoia (17 Piazza della Repubblica; 39-02/6230-5555; www.hotelprincipedisavoia.com; doubles from $430 a night) caters to female business travelers. In addition to a room upgrade (when available), female guests receive a manicure and a personal shopper. · In Montana, the Reel Woman special at the Resort at Paws Up (40060 Paws Up Rd., Greenough; 800/473-0601; www.pawsup.com; four nights from $1,850 per person, including meals) includes a fly-fishing lesson, a one-hour massage, and a personal butler for the last day. · With the Girl's Guide to Glamour in Gotham at the Mandarin Oriental, New York (80 Columbus Circle; 866/801-8880; www.mandarinoriental.com; one night from $1,845, double), you get a Chanel makeover, a manicure at Bergdorf's, and a shopping tour in a limo. —BONNIE TSUI
Fashion crisis on the road?DIANE VON FURSTENBERG to the rescue. The designer and W HOTELS have created emergency kits for female travelers, from beauty supplies (lip glosses, mascara, perfume; $24, at all W hotels) to fashion essentials (a classic black wrap dress and undergarments; $320, at the New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego locations). Both kits are also available on-line (www.whotelsthestore.com). —Rima Suqi
In 2006, AdventureWomen (800/804-8686; www.adventurewomen.com; 13-day trip from $5,295 per person, double, including land costs and international airfare; internal airfare not included) has participants take mountain hikes to monasteries and dzongs—medieval fortresses that function as cultural centers—and experience a prayer ceremony at a Buddhist nunnery. · Against the dramatic backdrop of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Big Sur, guests on Artista Creative Safaris (831/625-5748; www.artistacreative.com; all-inclusive five-night packages from $2,395 per person), a retreat just launched by the founder of Las Olas Surf Safaris for Women, take daily art lessons interspersed with hiking, kayaking, surfing, yoga, and spa treatments. · Spend a week learning how to hand-pull pasta dough with the chefs of Tuscan Women Cook (39-057/766-9444; www.tuscanwomencook.com; seven-day courses are $3,350 per person, double, including meals, accommodations, day trips, and tastings). Though this culinary program based in Montefollonico, Italy, isn't exclusive to female participants, it's taught by a local nonna whose recipes have been passed down from mother to daughter for generations. · WomanTours (800/247-1444; www.womantours.com; eight-day tours start at $1,990 per person, double, including lodging and most meals), which specializes in inn-to-inn biking jaunts, will introduce an itinerary to the American Alps, Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains in 2006. A local guide will take you cycling through Sun Valley to the glacier-fed Redﬁsh Lake, white-water rafting in the Salmon River, and for a soak in the steamy natural pools of Challis Hot Springs · Women & Wine (323/850- 5274; www.women-wine.com; three-day Women & Wine Getaways start at $1,795 per person, including all accommodations, meals, and activities; custom trips start at $795 per person per day) organizes trips to established and emerging wine regions, providing access to premier vineyards in places such as Bordeaux, Baja, and Mendoza, Argentina's largest wine district. —B.T.
If you're tired of chunky backpacks that drag you down, try Deuter's FUTURA 22SL (303/652-3102; www.deuterusa.com; $95); it was designed with the female form in mind. In addition to soft padding, an adjustable hip belt, and tapered straps for a shorter torso and narrower shoulders, it has a three-way ventilation network and an Aircomfort suspension system to keep weight off the back. —B.T.
As women become more confident about traveling alone, it's easy for them to get lulled into a false sense of security. Safety expert Phyllis Stoller, founder of the Women's Travel Club (www.womenstravelclub.com), says these seven practical tips are important to keep in mind.
BE VIGILANT Pay attention when you're going through customs, passport control, and security. And if you have a question about a procedure, don't hesitate to speak up. "Women want to be liked," Stoller notes. "By the time we get off the plane, we're already playing hostess."
STAY IN SMALLER HOTELS Staff at hotels with fewer than 100 rooms are more likely to notice and keep track of solo female guests, and in intimate venues it's less likely that you'll be followed through the lobby and into the elevator. Conversely, large hotels are a great place to duck into if you feel you're being followed, or if you need a taxi and want to be sure you're getting a licensed vehicle, not a gypsy cab.
AVOID CULTURAL MISUNDERSTANDINGS Know how eye contact, smiling, bare legs, or entering a bar alone may be construed in your destination by reading the Lonely Planet sections "Dangers & Annoyances" and "Women Travelers" ahead of time. To be safe, dress conservatively. "Men can wear a T-shirt and shorts anywhere," Stoller says. "Women can't."
BOOK HOTELS THAT USE ELECTRONIC KEYS Traditional keys have the room number printed on them, making it easy for a burglar to break into your room with an old one. Electronic cards are replaced after each guest, and if you lose yours, it can be deactivated at the front desk.
DON'T USE THE 'PLEASE SERVICE CARD Hanging this card on your door lets the world know you've gone out. Stoller recommends calling housekeeping instead.
REGISTER WITH THE U.S. CONSULATE Stoller's rule of thumb: If a country requires a visa, register with the consulate. Letting your official representative know where you're staying (and for how long) provides a record that may prove critical if something goes wrong.
DON'T BE CARELESS WITH YOUR BELONGINGS—EVEN AT 30,000 FEET Purses, passports, and travel documents are just as likely to disappear in an airplane cabin as they are on the ground. Take these items with you when you go to the restroom; at the very least, don't leave them out on your seat.
If you're headed to an off-the-beaten-path destination where security is an issue, pack Magellan's small DOOR STOP ALARM (800/962-4943; www.magellans.com; $12.85). Not only will it keep others from opening your door, it'll make a piercing noise should anybody try.