Not all women are the same, and no female traveler is identical with any other. But that hasn’t stopped the world from coming up with a convenient set of assumed behaviors and stereotypes about women in general and female travelers in particular. For instance, there’s the misguided belief that women shouldn’t travel solo, the false idea that all women like to take the exact same type of trip, the prevailing misconception that women aren’t very adventurous.
In the travel space and in the broader world, it’s important to remember that women, as a whole, are people. It’s equally important to remember that a woman, taken on her own, is an individual.
In that light, it’s just not fair to stereotype female travelers with any sweeping statement that’s predicated on bogus understandings and old prejudices. So, without further ado, here are a few myths you’ve probably heard about women and travel — and a few observations and anecdotes that suggest otherwise.
Women shouldn’t travel without a buddy.
The idea that solo travel is too dangerous, unconventional, or impractical for women is all too pervasive, and it probably has its roots in the age-old belief that all women need a man by their side.
Nellie Bly, the Gilded Age journalist who traveled around the world in 72 days, was one of the first women to feel the impact of this false belief. When she pitched the solo journey to her editor, he told her, “It is impossible for you to do it. In the first place you are a woman and would need a protector… There is no use talking about it; no one but a man can do this.”
But when the editor came around and gave Bly a chance to prove herself, she rose to the occasion and made a huge, headline-making, record-setting success of her journey.
Today, solo travel is on the rise, and most solo travelers are women. Booking.com, Hostelworld, and several other platforms have noted throughout the decade that female solo travel is becoming more and more popular, and publications like Passion Passport are publishing more and more resources for female solo travelers.
From this growth, one thing is clear: solo travel reminds the world that women are much more independent than the old stereotypes give them credit for.
So, if you don’t yet believe that women are capable solo travelers enjoying meaningful experiences and creating strong connections around the world, it’s probably because you’re not paying enough attention.
Women prefer city breaks and trips to Europe over any other type of travel.
Is it just us, or does it seem like a disproportionate number of female-slanted articles tout the merits of Paris, London, and Rome?
There’s nothing wrong with these destinations. They’re beautiful, historic, incredible places, and they deserve their fair share of international attention. But they aren’t the only remarkable places in the world, and they’re certainly not the only locales that women want to visit.
What about the smaller destinations that are quieter, calmer, and just as remarkable as major metropolises? What about the unbelievable scenery, cities, cultures, and colors of North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific?
Female travelers’ interests vary widely, and so do their dream destinations. For some women, going on a safari would be the ultimate adventure, while others might prefer to visit world wonders, bag high-altitude peaks, or feast on the flavors of a small town’s markets and restaurants. For these travelers, visiting a busy European city would probably be enjoyable and eye-opening — but it wouldn’t necessarily be as affirming or meaningful or enriching as going on another journey would be.
That’s why Intrepid Travel offers women-only trips to countries like Jordan, Kenya, India, and Nepal, why Condé Nast Traveler operates all-women tours in Colombia, Mexico, and Cuba. These trips (and others like them) are often fully booked, and the women who arrive to the country of their choice are passionate, engaged, and delighted to be there.
And that’s why the travel industry needs to cater to all types of women — because the women of the world are diverse, not just in their races and first languages and religions, but also in their interests and dreams and travel styles.
Women aren’t adventurous.
Just as it’s incorrect to believe that, given a choice, female travelers will usually opt for a European city break, it’s a mistake to believe that women always shy away from adventure.
Like Intrepid Travel and Condé Nast, REI offers women-only tours around the world, but all of its options emphasize the role of active adventure. Between the company’s backpacking, kayaking, and snowshoeing tours, the trips are designed to get the adrenaline pumping and the endorphins flowing — which is exactly what many women hope to do when they travel.
In my own wanderings, I recently visited Moab, Utah, with three people: my husband, his male co-worker, and one of my oldest friends (a woman). All four of us enjoyed hiking in the area, but when we were trying to decide if we should book a river rafting trip, only two of us were interested: the two women. In the end, my friend and I spent the following day rafting on the Colorado River, while my husband and his co-worker stayed behind, got lunch, and played basketball.
It wasn’t a dangerous excursion by any means, and it wasn’t that my husband and his co-worker couldn’t have handled the Class II rapids we experienced that day. They just didn’t want to go rafting, and my friend and I did.
But the experience was a good reminder that gendered stereotypes are rarely, if ever, a good indication of the type of adventure that people look for when they travel.
With all stereotypes about female travelers, it’s important to remember that millions of women travel every single year — so it’s only natural that those women break the mold in millions of myriad ways.
If you’re reading this and you’re not a woman, here’s how you can support women who travel. Trust them to know what they want. Give them the respect they deserve. Swallow your well-meant advice and words of caution; most female travelers understand safety issues and possible dangers much better than you do. When in doubt, ask yourself if you’d scrutinize a man’s similar choices quite as intently.
And while it’s not possible to paint all women with the same brush, the female travelers of the world can draw strength from the simple fact that we’re women seeking to broaden our horizons through travel. We can feel empowered by the experiences that we bring to the table, we can pride ourselves on our unique abilities and interests, and we can use our feminist values to shape the way we travel.
That’s how we’ll break down the gendered myths that still exist in the travel space. That’s how we’ll make an impact.