Women-Only Tours: “It’s Your Life–Live It!”
By Kathleen Broadhurst
Let’s face it travel is different for women. Whether it’s the usual stresses of the road or the worry about safety, too often women can feel the air taken out from under their wings before they even get off the ground. Thankfully, there is Gutsy Women Travel.
Gutsy Women Travel (GTW) knows that travel can be as much of a pain as it can be a pleasurable experience, they understand that for many women who want to travel, having the right company can make all the difference. With a focus on small groups, great accommodations and incredible sights, Gutsy Women is empowering more women to strike out and see the world. Gutsy Women is travel for women by women.
Filling a Niche
April Merenda founded Gutsy Women Travel in November of 2001, just after 9/11 had most people quivering that the industry was sinking. “ Post 9/11 was the perfect time to create Gutsy, because in this world you need to be gutsy to travel and there is strength in numbers.”
It was after years of working in the travel industry that April first had the idea. It was the numbers that gave it away. “ In 2001 forty percent of women over 40 were single – either widowed, divorced or never married – now it is fifty percent.
Of the fifty percent that are married half of them took trips without their husband because of diverse interests, mismatched vacation times or simply to get away for a bit,” April reported. It was looking at these numbers that she decided that somebody needed to cater to these women, to get them traveling, and that someone was her.
Before Gutsy, solo women travelers faced awkward options. Women could travel independently, always exciting but with downsides large enough to deter all but the most adventurous or they could join a tour. If they joined a tour they faced the prospect of sharing a room with a stranger or paying a steep “ single supplement” fee for their own room. This made solo travel financially impractical for many.
“We broke the glass ceiling,” April explained, “there was always this ungodly priced single supplement and we started to change that by offering reduced supplements and even in some cases we waived the fee entirely.” Gutsy tries hard to get the best value for money without skimping on all the things that make a trip a vacation.
April also focused on the more intangible aspects of the trip, the community of women who traveled. “ I take a tour at least two times a year just to check in and meet the women, it’s really the women who set Gutsy apart. We attract women from across the world.”
Around The World
With tours to destinations from Ireland to Vietnam there is something for everyone. Each tour takes into account the destination, the rigors of the travel and the culture producing tours that are tailored.
Traditionally GWT offered only guided tours but as interest in travel has expanded and word has spread GWT has opened up the options. Gutsy Women has introduced new trips to include more destinations. How about a walk in the Grand Bazaar in Turkey or a Safari in South Africa, complete with bungalow? There are river cruises on the Rhine, and relaxing ‘stay put’ style vacations in Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. Or how about Australia?
The ‘stay-put’ style vacation are perfect for those who would rather not be sleeping in a different city every night. They use one city as a home base and take day trips to surrounding attractions, museums and other points of interest. Unpack once and forget about it!
The Gutsy Touch
Patricia Wilson is a seasoned traveler; a busy executive she is like most of Gutsy’s clientele, well-traveled and looking for a great experience with little fuss. She has been on seven trips with GWT ranging from China to South America.
When asked about her favorite trips she responded; “China, Egypt and Peru. The commonality among the three was walking where Chinese emperors walked in the Forbidden City, where Inca kings lived in Machu Picchu, and where Pharaohs traveled through the Sahara. We walked where they walked.”“It’s the Gutsy Touch. High-end hotels, fantastic tour managers, the feeling of complete security, unique ‘women’ experiences and encounters in the local culture like having dinner with a local Chinese woman official.” Patricia explains.
It wasn’t just the destinations that Gutsy offered that inspired Patricia to return to Gutsy. “What made each special were the small groups, the women-centric points of view that each tour manager provided in the history of the places we visited, and the unique experiences Gutsy designed for us — dinner with a local woman government official in China, a session with a Shaman in Peru, a hookah party in Egypt.”
A Woman Knows
According to April seventy to seventy five percent of all travel decision, from when and if to go on a trip to booking flights to choosing a place to eat while on vacation, are made by women. That’s a lot of ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘too much’, ‘over there’, ‘lets stay here’ and April knows it.
“I’m the perfect one to understand what these women are going through. I work a full time job, I’m busy all the time and when I travel I want it to not be overpriced, to be safe, but I also want to be surprised, I want bragging rights. I want it to be affordable but still luxurious enough to pamper,” April confided.
Gutsy Women is one-stop shopping. You decide to go on a trip and Gutsy handles the rest, from hotel booking, transportation, reservations, they carry your bags. For many of Gusty Women’s customers this is their first time traveling alone, without spouses or children. Gusty Women tries to attend to details and set minds at rest. Most of their tours are only seven days to accommodate crunched time schedules. For those who are worried about the safety of international travel rest assured.
To say Gutsy joined is not wholly accurate, it is more that they use Trafalgar’s superior bargaining power to secure cheaper prices, better reservations and more exciting activities to destinations further afield without jeopardizing the best part of Gutsy tours: the company of other women.“I was in Cairo in April of 2011, the Arab Spring, I was there with 17 women,” April remembers. It was then she decided to band Gutsy up with some more muscle. “I decided to partner with a company that, if that ever happened again, I would know my clients would be safe.” So Gutsy joined Trafalgar.
Some tours are Gutsy only, they operate with as few as 15 travelers, but some trips save seats on a Trafalgar bus for Gutsy Women, so more women can travel to more places, cheaper while knowing there will be other solo women. With this partnership Gutsy now offers trips all over the world, from New Zealand to Cambodia.
Taking the Leap
Gutsy made it easy enough with their one-stop shopping, safe enough with their insurance and their expert Trafalgar backing, and appealing enough with their myriad destinations that many women are venturing out for the first time.
“ I encourage women who haven’t traveled before to try a domestic trip,” April suggests. With such a diverse country a different region can feel as different as a new country. “If they want to explore a little more, then maybe Ireland. There is no language barrier and the Irish as some of the most welcoming people.”
For those who are still holding back, remember, “Solo doesn’t mean alone,” April stresses. She looks at solo travel as empowering. “A lot of women are empty nesters or caretakers, they have spent so much energy taking care of children, husbands, parents, community and friends without giving back to themselves. This is a chance to step away for a week and recharge.”
Weather by empowering them to seek new horizons or relaxing away everyday worries Gutsy Women Travel strives to be more than just a travel company, it strives to be a tool women use to live their dreams. Patricia Wilson said it plainly, “Gutsy has opened parts of the world that I would or could not travel to, alone. “
Kathleen is a writer and photographer based in Boston. She focuses her lens around the globe on issues of sustainability, tourism, and the environment. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @kat_abroad