A Primer for Planning the Perfect Woman's Vacation.
The world has changed, women have changed, but the travel industry still operates on the couples’ model. Check out most brochures, especially cruise materials: you will see lovely couples enjoying the waves, the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. Tour companies and hotels – today even spa hotels - are used to THE COUPLE and their concerns and queries. So if you are a woman taking a vacation, alone or as a girlfriend getaway, you need to ask questions that are not the norm.
Based on years of living in France, Switzerland and England, then traveling The East Coast for corporate work, finally running a women-only tour company, this writer developed a deposition she must have completed, before she takes a solo “blind date vacation”. This article will focus on tours the next on hotels.
1. Is the itinerary uniquely developed for women of my age? Are sites chosen which statistically appeal to women ( ballet? private home visits? crafts? decorative arts? museums with in depth guiding?). Is the guide versed in women’s affairs in the destination? Is there a reading list that prepares you for what you hope is a special experience?
2. Does the person answering the company phone know his/her stuff? Can he/she describe the neighborhood of the hotel? Do they know the cost of extras like non-included meals? Can they intelligently talk about safety if you wish a morning jog or a last minute shop at dusk? Do they answer with specifics about customs or clothing if say, you are going to the Middle East? Or about what to wear to Covent Garden mid week for the Royal Ballet?
3. Safety? Today you can scour the internet for safety in a geopolitical sense; what is trickier is the ‘walking down the street sense” After you check the US State Department, scan what the British, Canadians and Aussies have to say –this information can be quite different. For local situations, hunt down the English speaking newspaper of the area, and read it on line for local crime like pick pocketing, rowdiness during elections. Local on line papers will also list special events that might be on when you are there.
4. Daylight and moonlight: The sun sets as early as 3PM in Northern Europe in the winter, even earlier in Iceland which has an artificial time zone. If your tour leaves a lot of free time, you will want to know how much daylight will be left for your wandering alone.
5. How much free time is there on the trip you are choosing and exactly where is this free time? Free time to some women is a scary concept. It means “eeks I am on my own”. Free time in a country house hotel might be welcome; free time in Mumbai might not be.
6. Look at the people in brochures. If they do not look like you, do not go!
7. Do you receive any of the following with your travel information: a list of others going with their contact addresses or at least city, helpful hints specifically written for women travelers. A reading list prepared for women?
8. Has the company done this trip before? And if so, was it a women’s trip?
9. Ask your tour if any guide books cover women’s issues in the destination? PS, The Lonely Planet series does an admirable job with a section called ‘Dangers and Annoyances’ aimed at women.
10. Basically make your list, ask away and do not be fixed up on a blind date, without knowing the details.
Some good sites to check for women and often other travelers are:
http://travel.state.gov What the US has to say
www.fco.gov.uk What the Brits have to say
http://www.international.gc.ca What Canada says
www.smartraveller.gov.au And the Aussies, the most intrepid of all travelers.
http://www.thebigproject.co.uk/news/ One of the many sites that list and link to English language papers of the non English speaking world
http://www.lonelyplanet.com-- then hunt down women’s chats on thorntree
http://www.womentraveltips.com/ Mary Beth Bond’s always excellent tips for women. Great books also…
Phyllis Stoller is a consultant on travel for women who was voted top in Women’s Travel by Travel & Leisure Magazine for 2 years. She is the recipient of many similar awards and is happy to be the travel columnist for Garden State Woman Magazine. Phyllis still organizes group travel for friends and others who promise not to whine.