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.
Christine Y. Kim
Associate curator, the Studio Museum in Harlem
Whether scouting for artists in Jakarta or networking at the Venice Biennale, this muse to fashion designer Peter Som is always on the road.
TABLE FOR ONE
Kim prefers to order room service but she sometimes dines out by herself. "There is nothing worse than a guy thinking you need company. Confident body language is key. Or I pretend I don't speak English."
In her travels all over Africa and Asia, Kim has encountered sexism firsthand. After the Dakar Biennial, she and a friend booked a birding trip through a reputable company. "At mealtime, our guide insisted that we—the clients!—serve him. It was unpleasant, but sometimes you have to tolerate small indignities. Without him, we would have been stuck in the jungle."
Kim and her mom take a trip together every year. "In Cambodia, we had such different views. My mom grew up in Korea, while I was raised in California and studied Buddhist art. I saw the imagery from my pedagogical perspective, whereas Buddhism is part of her philosophy."
Author of Sex and the City
"When I was in my twenties, I never left New York," Bushnell says. "But traveling clarifies certain things about different cultures, which helps you mature."
Now Bushnell, who grew up in Connecticut, travels frequently, most recently embarking on a whirlwind 25-city tour for her book Lipstick Jungle.
Whether she's striding down the sidewalks of Litchfield, Connecticut, or snaking through the streets of Hong Kong, Bushnell says she always tries to project an air of certainty. "I look as if I know where I'm going. And I do things to make myself feel comfortable: I wear my glasses and put my hair up." As a result, she says, "I don't get harassed very often. It's all about your attitude. When you get to be forty, you know how to handle uninvited attention from men: you can be polite but you just don't engage."
Among the valuable lessons she's learned from a life on the go?Wear good shoes when you travel (Bushnell favors Gucci slip-ons)—"if something goes wrong, you might get treated better."
A few years ago, Bushnell attended a wedding in India with several female friends. "Whether you're married or single, traveling with girlfriends is a chance to get back in touch with yourself. Successful career women who make their own money don't feel guilty taking time for themselves anymore." While in Bombay, they went treasure hunting for jewelry. "Shopping in India is interactive. It's nothing like on Madison Avenue—you don't just dash in. You sit and talk and drink tea. You might be there for a couple of hours looking at amazing pieces. Someone told me that they put something in the tea to make you buy things, but I don't know if that's true—though I did buy a yellow sapphire ring and a pair of emerald earrings."
— JAIME GROSS
In her decade as a reporter, most recently with the BBC, Ghouri has visited health clinics in the Ethiopian bush, underground raves in Iran, and seedy hotels in Azerbaijan. In 2003, she opened two boutique hotels in Afghanistan. She's now living in London and writing her memoir, tentatively titled Kitten Heels in Kabul.
"Don't push the dress code. When I first arrived in Afghanistan, it was July and the heat was intense. I was desperate to walk outside in a T-shirt, but you can't." Instead, Ghouri wore a shalwar kameez—traditional long trousers and a matching tunic—and a headscarf. "With your shades and your scarf, you can look quite glamorous —like Grace Kelly."
IN HER BAG
Ghouri never travels without a rubber doorstop. "If I'm staying in a hotel where the door is flimsy or I'm concerned about the locks, I put one under my door."
As a journalist, Ghouri saw her share of danger and learned to trust her instincts. "Every time I haven't, it's been at my peril. Be rude if you have to. If you think you're in danger, you probably are."
A few years ago, Ghouri and a close friend embarked on "a Thelma and Louisestyle trip across India." The highlight was Matheran, a small hill town that prohibits cars, where they galloped on horseback through the mountains at dawn. They also had manicures at their hotel. "We were able to be adventurous and also get pampered. Men think it's wimpy to pamper yourself. Women understand it's important to do both." —ERIKA KINETZ
At age 13, Anoushka Shankar began performing with her father, legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar on stages around the world. Since then, Shankar, who splits her time between New Delhi, London, and San Diego, has released four albums, including Rise. She continues to circle the globe while on tour—from Morocco to Kuala Lumpur.
Though her touring life is strictly five-star, when she's on holiday, Shankar prefers to travel in a more rustic, mellow way. Her most recent trip was to Dubrovnik and the Croatian island of Korcula, where she and a friend stayed at small inns. "When I tour, I'm traveling to a new place every two or three days, so comfort is very important. On my own, I see so much more by staying in regular places, with real people."
PACKING TIPS "My sitar is too big to carry on, so I check it every time I fly. First, I put it in a sturdy fiberglass case, then a leather case. It has gone missing only a few times—once, I almost had to cancel a concert." Her clothes are a different story: she uses Atlantic's Infinity suitcase, which is like a chest of drawers. "I can carry three month's worth of stuff and I have no problem finding anything."
"Whenever I'm walking alone, I'll talk on my phone—either to someone real or fictional—and say, 'Hey honey, I'm on my way home,' so anyone listening will think there's someone waiting for me."
Coming from India, where a certain amount of prejudice against women exists, Shankar is used to standing up for herself. "Men are always on the streets staring at you. It can be very extremely intimidating, but if you have enough confidence, you can ignore them. In fact, in countries like Morocco or Turkey, I find that the salesmen get offended when I haggle over a price, because it's behavior they're not used to from a woman."
Designer and author
If you want to know the future of design, ask British style maven Ilse Crawford. The founding editor of Elle Decoration, she now teaches at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands, creates chic interiors for hotels around the globe, and writes books about her no-nonsense decorating philosophy.
For Crawford, the best properties combine sensuality and calm. "Everyone is running around in such a whirl of activity," she says. "Hotels should counterbalance this chaos by being more grounded and human." A few that succeed: the Casa Camper Barcelona ("its lobby tapas bar replaces room service and brings people together"); Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam ("they worked homeyness into an old juvenile detention center"); and the Wolwedans Collection safari camps in Namibia ("the staff is trained in astronomy, biology, and botany").
"When I'm on my own,especially in cities, I talk to people. That's why the Casa Camper tapas bar concept is so interesting. It encourages you to mingle."
"A few years back, I went to Yemen with a friend. We covered up and did all the things we thought were necessary, but we weren't comfortable—not because we felt unsafe, but because we felt curiously neither male nor female. Being excluded from both worlds makes you a distant voyeur."
Chef-owner at Annisa (13 Barrow St.; 212/741- 6699), a contemporary American restaurant in New York, where most of the wines are made by female vintners.
Which women-run wineries are worth visiting?
Some of the best are Crocker & Starr Wines and Selene Wines in Napa Valley; Penner-Ash Cellars in Oregon; Heidi Schrock on Neusiedler Lake, Austria; and Paolo Scavino Estate in Piedmont, Italy. I like to support women in a male-dominated field.
Do you have any favorite women-run restaurants?
The bare simplicity of Alice Waters's food [at Chez Panisse in Berkeley] has had a huge impact on the culinary world. In San Francisco, try Jardinière—as lively as its chef-owner, Traci Des Jardins. At Bayona in New Orleans, Susan Spicer stays true to her regional roots.
Do you have any tips for dining alone?
Bring a book. Or, if you feel social, find a place at the bar. But it shouldn't be a big deal. Everyone has to eat.—JENNIFER V. COLE
Owner of Whitney & Smith Legendary Expeditions (800/ 713-6660; www.legendary.ca).
Any tips on how to choose the right backpacking trip?
Know your fitness level. Can you walk up several flights of stairs carrying 45 pounds? Can you walk over uneven terrain, across boulders and moraine, with a pack for five hours? Women who maintain a general fitness program will be fine.
What's in your backpack?
Petzl makes headlamps that fit in the palm of your hand; it's a good idea to take one as a backup (Petzl Tikka; www.petzl.com; $29). And—people will laugh at this—my cashmere sweater. It folds up to nothing and makes a huge difference when I'm skiing or on cool nights in Mexico.
What gear should a female adventure traveler never be without?
Garmin has a very simple and small GPS, the eTrex (www.garmin.com; $106). But you should always carry a map and compass as well. Iridium satellite phones (www.iridium.com; from $1,000) work anywhere in the world, including above latitude 70 degrees north, where other brands stop working.
Any health advice for women travelers?
Always pack chocolate, nuts, or an energy bar. This is particularly important for women, whose blood sugar levels crash more frequently than men's. —B.T.
Here, four of our favorite new books, by and about women.
· Holly Morris quit her day job for five years of "estro-charged globe-trotting." In Adventure Divas (Villard; $24), she recounts her travels—from a boar hunt in a Borneo jungle to a trek across the Sahara.
· Rachel DeWoskin's rollicking Foreign Babes in Beijing (Norton; $24.95) takes its title from the Chinese soap opera that DeWoskin starred in after moving to Beijing in 1994. Her account of a recent college grad unexpectedly turned leading lady is also a portrait of a city in the midst of upheaval.
· In The Coldest Winter (Henry Holt; $18) Paula Fox, the memoirist, writes of leaving New York City in 1946 to work in battered postwar Europe. Her delicately rendered reminiscences depict a young woman finding her bearings and, with them, her voice.
· In 2003, Joan Didion's husband, John Gregory Dunne, and their daughter were felled by sudden illness —one fatally, the other very nearly. The Year of Magical Thinking (Knopf; $23.95) is Didion's lyrical meditation on her life as a wife and mother in New York and California. —AMY FARLEY
Here, six more women's packages.
The Wonder Women package at all US W Hotels (877/946-8357; www.whotels.com; doubles from $179) includes a Diane von Furstenberg makeup kit, a silk eye mask, and and an autographed copy of the book DVF—The Wrap. And guests who are staying at W's in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York can skip the wait lists at all three of the chain's newly opened Bliss spas.
In Paris, the Hotel Plaza Athenée (25 Ave. Montaigne; 33-1/53-67-66-67; www.plaza-athenee-paris.com; doubles from $850) has launched a Sex in the City Package that features a gift from Christian Dior, a red Plaza umbrella, and a cosmo at Le Barthe location of the Sex in the City wrap party.
All six of Italy's Concerto Fine Italian Hotels, including the Grand Hotel Minerva on Piazza Santa Maria Novella, and the Villa la Vedetta, located at Piazzale Michelangelo, are offering a Travelling Ladies package (www.hotellondra.com; 39-055/238-531). Amenities vary from property to property, but range from a complimentary pair of black tights to free upgrades (when possible) to removing the room-service surcharges.
Active types can learn how to perfect their sailing skills at the You Can Sail! Escape Week for women in the South Seas Island resort in Captiva Island, Florida (800/221-4326; www.offshore-sailing.com; $1,795 for one week, including room and board; May 7-13, 2006). The fee covers tuition to the Offshore Sailing School, boating workshops, and accommodations at the South Seas Island Resort as well as a few complimentary cocktails.
La Posada de Santa Fe (330 E. Palace Ave., Santa Fe, N.M.; 866/331-7625; www.rockresorts.com; doubles from $745 for two nights) just launched a two-night Celebration of Women in the City Different package. (The City Different has been Santa Fe's unfortunate nickname since the turn of the century.) Each female guest gets a lavender relaxation massage, a bottle of champagne, two free museum passes to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, and complimentary tapas to enjoy throughout the stay.
The two-night Girls! Girls! Girls! package at Mississippi's Alluvian Hotel (318 Howard St., Greenwood; 866/600-5201 or 662/453-2114; www.thealluvian.com; doubles from $1,000 for two nights; eight woman minimum) is an epicurean-themed stay. Activities revolve around classes at the Viking Cooking School but also include shopping in historic downtown Greenwood and five free treatments at the hotel's spa. The second night is a chocolate-themed pajama party where the chef at the Alluvian Terrace Room shares recipes, cooking techniques, and chocolate marbled fondue.
The Football Widow's Revenge at Florida's Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate (1500 Masters Blvd., ChampionsGate; 407/390-6664; www.omniorlandoresort.com; doubles from $500) gives female guests a reprieve from both men and sports while sampling Pan-Asian treats at Zen restaurant, lounging in a private poolside cabana, and indulging in massages or pedicures at the hotel's spa. The best part of the package?Guests who overdo it while shopping at the Mall at Millenia can take advantage of the resort's "hide the purchases" shipping service; your bags will be shipped directly to your home. —Sarah Kantrowitz