Men routinely hunt, play poker, and golf with their pals. Women get caught up in taking care of their families and everybody else but themselves.
“I think men do a better job than women taking care of that man-only bonding,” says Allison Pease of Durango, Colo. That’s why she thinks women-only travel provides a valuable service. Fresh off one of the women-only rafting trips offered by O.A.R.S. (Outdoor Adventure River Specialists), Pease was still invigorated by her six-day vacation with other women.
“We were all so different, but we just laughed for six days,” says Pease, who at 47 hit the midpoint in the range of ages (24 to 62) of her fellow travelers. The oldest woman was on the trip with two daughters in their 20s, celebrating the fact that one had just passed the bar and the other had just passed a test to get into medical school. “Her husband booked the trip for them,” Pease says. “I was just incredibly proud to be around her, because this was out of her box.”
As an outdoors type herself, Pease fits the profile of “alpha females” seeking adventure. And with a recent divorce in the picture, she was looking for that adventure among fellow females.
“As a single woman, I didn’t want to be around families and men or kids,” she says. “I just wanted to do something that was entirely for me.”
Although recently split from her husband as well, Kathy Smeland of Calgary, Alberta, has enjoyed women-only trips for more than 15 years. Her getaways have included camping and running a half-marathon on Vancouver Island, but last September she took her first dozen helicopter rides as part of a heli-hiking adventure operated by Canadian Mountain Holidays. She and two girlfriends enjoyed the women-only trip so much that they recruited a few more friends to join them on another Bodacious in the Bugaboos trip this September.
“I find it important, because then I can get away from my normal routine and continue to grow those female relationships as well,” Smeland says.
Smeland and two other women also grabbed an opportunity to go out with a guide for a day of mountaineering across mixed terrain. It was her first time wearing crampons and a helmet and carrying ice axes. “It was probably one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life,” she says.
After years of guiding coed adventures, Dez Bartelt founded Best of Both Adventures for Women.
“My flash of recognition that women would respond more wholeheartedly to adventure trips in the absence of men came on a tour in Patagonia,” she says. After watching the women get “fussy” about crossing a river, she separated the women from the men as they crossed a glacier. “All of a sudden, the women were listening to me, ready to explore,” she says. “Then when we got up to where the men were, I noticed they became reserved again. So I decided right then and there all my groups would be women-only... Now everyone is open, and it’s the most amazing feeling on our trips.”
While a number of adventure travel operators (run by women) focus strictly on the women’s market, others have discovered the benefit of including women-only trips in a larger repertoire. O.A.R.S. owner George Wendt took the suggestion of a female travel agent in Florida to offer women-only trips. Now offering two to three such trips a year, O.A.R.S. (which has been in business 39 years) got its feet wet with a women-only trip in 1999 for a group put together by that travel agent.
In the past six years, Patty Gabris of Chicago has taken 10 trips with women-only Adventures in Good Company, including hut-to-hut hiking in British Columbia, climbing Kilimanjaro and hiking in Bulgaria. Married and 50 years old, she takes a trip every year with a woman from Tennessee whom she met on her AGC trip in 2002. This past spring, the two hiked Havasu Canyon with Adventures in Good Company.
But even when Gabris goes it alone, as she will on an AGC adventure in September, she will see at least one familiar face. When she received a list of her traveling companions, she recognized the name of another woman on the Havasu trip. This time, they’ll be backpacking on Isla Royale, a 45-mile long island in Lake Superior.
“The only way in and out is by watercraft,” Gabris says. “We take the ferry out, starting at the east end of the island, spend five days backpacking to the west end of the island and take the ferry back to Minnesota.”
Although Gabris’ passion is hiking, Adventures in Good Company offers a wide-ranging inventory of trips, including canoeing and kayaking, horseback riding, dog sledding, rock climbing, multisport, whitewater rafting and wildlife viewing.
AGC founder Marian Marbury agrees with Pease that women spend their lives taking care of others and says that, as they get older, they are ready to rediscover their adventurous side. She also finds the female-only environment allows women to explore their potential.
“They do things that they would not do when men are around them,” she says. “Guys jump right in and do things like setting up camp, carrying canoes and starting [camp] fires.” Without men around, she notes, women learn skills and then "they feel really proud and pleased.”
Women-only adventures typically require a level of physical fitness that ensures the group can successfully navigate whitewater rapids or reach a mountain summit. Canadian Mountain Holidays, for example, offers a British Columbian adventure that includes crossing a 160-foot span on nothing more than a series of wooden slats and a cable handrail. Beyond that is a via ferrata system of iron ladders up the face of a mountain.
Fortunately, women are very supportive of one another. Even men recognize it.
“Women are more nurturing and more supportive and say, ‘Yeah, we can do it as a team,’ where male egos get in the way and there’s one-upsmanship,” Wendt says. “Women are happy to see other women succeed.”