From ‘Muslim Travel Girl’ defying stereotypes to Kelly Lewis pioneering Women’s Travel Fest, these female leaders from around the globe are breaking down all sorts of barriers in travel.
Women traveling is nothing new, nor is it a passing trend. So it’s not news that women, just like their male counterparts, have equal if not more desire to travel the world. But what is changing? The world is finally catching up and recognizing 2017 as ‘The year of the modern female traveler’ with more female leadership in the travel space.
Whether it’s storytellers traveling solo, Silicon Valley CEOs making travel booking easier, entrepreneurs catering to underrepresented communities, or scientists leading the way in climate change, these women are the game-changers the travel world needs right now.
Think the female version of Anthony Bourdain—dives into unexpected places and makes no apologies—and you have straight-talking storyteller Paula Froelich. New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and host of the original A Broad Abroad web series, Froelich travels fearlessly to far-flung destinations uncovering the unexpected—skiing in Afghanistan, diving into a wrestling ring in Mexico, or uncovering the dating scene in Jordan—and provides unique insights into other cultures, proving women can go anywhere, especially alone.
A big proponent for solo travel, Froelich has made it a rule, since her 40th birthday when she traveled by herself to Egypt to see the Pyramids, to travel by herself on her birthday every year. “You get to travel at your own speed, do what you want to do, not follow someone else’s schedule, try on a few new hats (figuratively and literally), and experience actual silence and calm. Those are the highs. The lows are: confronting your own loneliness, your own self. Something that we don’t often do, if at all.”
Bringing a strong female voice to the travel masses is Froelich’s main mission, which is paramount in this political climate, adds the American travel personality, “As the world becomes more xenophobic, it is more important than ever to not only build bridges, but see and experience things for yourself, and not to rely on what others tell you to think.”
The notion that no one climbs Mount Kilimanjaro alone sparked the beginnings of WHOA Travel (Women High on Adventure) for co-founders Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton who met while climbing Kilimanjaro in 2013. Tackling one of the world’s toughest summits together was so life-altering, they quit their New York City jobs to start the women’s adventure travel company.
“When Danielle and I climbed Kilimanjaro the first time, we were so transformed by the experience, we knew it was something we needed to share with others,” says Fleece, who has now summited Africa’s highest peak seven times (Thornton has summited five times). “The combination of taking on a shared goal together while connecting with the local community was exactly the way we thought travel should be, and we knew this perfect combination was something other women craved as well.”
In the spirit of empowering women, WHOA Travel leads a group from around the world to the summit of Kilimanjaro on International Women’s Day every year. And instead of including the ‘often hierarchical volunteerism model’, WHOA gives back with shared experiences instead, such as sponsoring local women to join the Kilimanjaro climbs.
While WHOA now leads trips all over the world—hiking Machu Picchu; and climbing more of the seven summits, Mt. Elbrus in Russia, and Everest Base Camp—Kilimanjaro still remains one of their most popular trips. “Even though it’s the tallest mountain in Africa, it’s an achievable goal if you put your heart in it,” says Thornton. “We always tell people that climbing Kilimanjaro is as much a mental challenge as it is physical.”
“There is a perception in the world that Muslim women are oppressed. That we are made to cover and are not enjoying life to its fullest,” shares Elena Nikolova, the creator of the leading Muslim travel blog, Muslim Travel Girl. “However, this cannot be further from the truth. Muslim women are educated, smart, intelligent, and they have the disposable income to travel. Many even started traveling solo to learn about the world and themselves.”
Muslim Travel Girl not only caters to the growing Muslim female traveler community, but a large percentage of Nikolova’s readers are non-Muslim, so the travel blogger and speaker embraces the chance to show a glimpse of Muslim lives through her lens.
In a heated time of travel bans and protests, Nikolova believes it’s become even more important for Muslim women to travel the world, and equally vital for others to see Muslim women traveling the world. “It breaks the stereotypes, and you see that whatever the media is portraying us to be, we are not. Meeting people in real life is super-important as that’s when the change happens, not when we are sitting in front of a TV.”
Nikolova hopes her voice in the travel world will shift perceptions and show that travel can inspire dialogue and peace— “to stop a Muslim on the street and ask them something other than ‘Why do you wear this on your head?’ ’’
When it comes to women’s travel, Kelly Lewis can’t seem to stop shaking it up. Six years ago, she started Go! Girl Guides, travel guidebooks for women. After realizing that the community of female travelers was underrepresented in more than just guidebooks, she created the Women’s Travel Fest in 2014. She clearly tapped into something, with sold-out festivals every year since it started.
“I think it’s really important to have a space for women who love to travel, to come together, connect, and share stories of our adventures,” says the American entrepreneur. “Too often, women are told that it’s impossible, irresponsible, or unsafe to travel. I am doing my part to try to change that.”
Lewis’ latest venture into connecting female travelers is Damesly, a boutique travel company that brings together creative and professional women on trips such as Cameras + Canyons that includes a photography workshop at the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon and is led by a photographer that shoots for the likes of National Geographic.
Donating all profits of the Women’s Travel Fest in 2017 to the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU), Lewis believes in the value of travel to break down barriers: “When we travel, we serve as mini-ambassadors of our country. Traveling, and getting to know other people from other backgrounds and cultures, can only help to enlighten us, and others, who might not have the best perception of America currently.”
While organizing a birthday trip to Turkey, Peek.com co-founder Ruzwana Bashir spent over 20 frantic hours researching the best things to do and calling remote travel companies to try to book these experiences. Ruzwana knew then there needed to be a one-stop shop—like OpenTable for restaurant bookings, but for travel activities—to instantly book these incredible experiences online.
So Bashir created Peek.com, curated travel activities that are easily bookable via computer, tablet or mobile phone. Striving to not only make travel booking easier, the British entrepreneur has also made it part of her company’s mission to help small business owners and activity operators around the world grow their business.
“Peek.com improves the livelihood of these small business owners, and, similar to OpenTable, also ‘wires up’ thousands of activities in a way that had never been done before. With these operators now online, the original dream of being able to instantly book fun things to do is getting closer and closer to reality,” says the Silicon Valley CEO.
After hearing a group of polar scientists joke that candidates had to have a beard to land a leadership role in Antarctic science, Fabian Dattner decided to send a boatload of female scientists to Antarctica. The Australian entrepreneur and leadership activist co-founded the Homeward Bound mission, sending 76 female scientists to the southernmost continent to bring awareness and female leadership to climate change affecting Antarctica, a destination on many intrepid travelers’ lists. This was the largest ever female voyage to Antarctica—a group that included engineers, physicists, and Antarctic and Arctic specialists—over an intense three-week mission in sub-zero temperatures.
Fabian believes female leadership is paramount in preserving and protecting of our planet: “Antarctica is the picture frame for Homeward Bound. It is the last true wilderness on the planet, and a critical barometer on the state of our planet. It is another world within our world—imagine going through the cupboard in The Narnia Stories—and is precious beyond measure.”
Mevish Aslam, founder of the remote work program Terminal 3, realized one central truth after working eight years remotely all over the world—that whether from home, a coffee shop, or another continent, working remotely is lonely. After the former lawyer, whose home base is Birmingham, England, starting living and working with other professionals as part of the Brazilian Entrepreneurs and Business Incubators program, she realized the power of having a community abroad when working.
Back home in Europe after the program ended, Aslam created Terminal 3 to cater to the growing community of digital nomads around the world, and, she adds, is particularly appealing to Millennial and Gen X-ers. Provided you have a remote job, Terminal 3 facilitates your living and working arrangements in a different city every month, and offers community and professional development, including monthly coaching sessions. Social impact opportunities are also the hallmark of Terminal 3—the program mentored social entrepreneurs in Morocco and volunteered at a Syrian refugee camp in Berlin.
“As remote workers, we strive to live like a local—we drown ourselves in local culture, and we commit to making a lasting footprint wherever we are,” Mevish says. “Living outside your comfort zone is what makes remote work fascinating. You are always learning and growing every day.”
As a three-time expat in her early 20s, Evita Robinson didn’t see the community for like-minded travelers of color. So in 2011, she created Nomadness Travel Tribe with a mission to bring together fellow travelers of color through social network and travel experiences, both domestically and abroad.
“I knew I couldn’t be the only person in my demographic that had travel as a priority. I didn’t see the community for us, so being entrepreneur-minded, I decided to create it,” shares Robinson.
With a social community of over 15,000 members, Nomadness Travel Tribe continues to evolve from its roots which began with Robinson’s travel web series, Nomadness TV. Now, the Tribe includes events that bring locals and international travelers together for cultural exchange, Nomadness-led trips, partnerships with brands like Airbnb, and even an upcoming app, launching in summer 2017.
Robinson is also a TED Resident, with the aim of connecting Nomadness members to international development companies in order to make it easier to purchase property abroad. Her TED talk will be in June on this project.