What Is It About ‘Women Only’ Travel That Makes Us So Uncomfortable?

Posted: November 20, 2018

Society seems to have a huge issue with women travelling alone, or just with other women, without any men. Why, asks Akshata Ram, who has done a fair bit of ‘women only’ travel.

2011

My Mom and I took our first trip together, just the 2 of us, to Malaysia and Singapore, back in 2011. It was her first international trip and my 2nd (after my maiden official trip to Hong Kong). I had landed a plum job with a leading investment bank, and decided to splurge my first bonus pay check by travelling overseas. I could not think of a better companion than my mom.

I wanted to manage this in a cost effective manner and hence decided to go for a Group Tour. There were a host of other travellers with us on this tour – honeymooners, families, cousins etc.

People were amused to see just the 2 of us – “where is your father? Hasn’t he accompanied you?” This was the standard question we had to face from almost everyone. As I was single at that point, there was no enquiry about my spouse.

The next trip we took together was to Kerala. I had to attend a colleague’s  wedding in Cochin and as it was a long weekend with Good Friday and the day after Easter Sunday, I thought it best to utilise this opportunity to explore Munnar and Thekkadi, and then attend the wedding.

We were more at ease and enjoyed ourselves as it was just the 2 of us and not a ‘group tour’. We did have those curious glances though from people, but not many questions on the ‘missing men’.

Fast forward to 2016

My maiden trip to Europe; finally I was stepping out of Asia! A business trip to Switzerland for a month- what more could I have asked for? As my stay, tickets and expenses were being borne by my company, I took my 1.5 year old daughter and Mom along.

It was quite a novel experience, not just in terms of exploring the Swiss Alps and some of the most beautiful places, but also the non intrusive attitude of people. No one looked at us with amusement or asked what 2 women with a child were doing there, sans any men?

2018 May

I went on a trip with my Mom and daughter to Kashmir.

Why not the men? My dad was supposed to join us but due to some work commitments he had to change his mind. May is a very busy period for my husband at work and there was no possibility of a vacation. But May was an ideal time for us – my mom who runs a daycare had kept it closed for a week as the kids were out on summer holidays, my daughter who had just started schooling had her summer holidays, and I was only too happy to take sometime off from work.

We had not even begun our sojourn and the questions popped up – just the 2 of you? Where is your husband? And where is your dad? There were also those who wished us a safe and pleasant trip and stopped at that- why can’t there be more of this kind?

The most shocking incident occurred in Kashmir when our cab was stopped by some army people and we were asked to show our ID’s. The army man was peering curiously as if searching for something “Are there no men? Is it just two of you women?”

“Yes,” I said. “This is my daughter and that is my mom.”

But why no men?

I just looked at him and shrugged, Was I suppose to justify why was I travelling without a man? That too to an army officer? It was the most absurd thing that I had encountered.

Not just the army guy but our shikara man (boat used to travel across the lake), caretaker on the houseboat, and the various sellers who came to sell us trinkets enquired about this. The next time, get your husbands as well and you will have lot of fun they said. I wondered where was it any less fun without our men.

I would have appreciated if any of these questions were due to concerns for our safety but none of them seemed to be directed at that.

My parents share very different interests in life- my Dad is spiritual and loves to travel to Kerala, or Mangalore, his hometown. My mom is free spirited and loves travelling to new destinations to explore them. Travelling with Dad on his spiritual sojourns would bore her to death. Isn’t it all about doing things we love?

My grandma recently travelled to Bhutan on a Group Tour with some senior citizens. None of us accompanied her. This was the first time she travelled without my grandfather (he passed away 4 years ago). She thoroughly enjoyed this trip.

My sis in law drove down to Goa with two of her girlfriends as a part of the Times Drive, an initiative to create awareness about breast cancer.

One of my most treasured travel experiences till date remains my solo trip to Switzerland last year where I travelled for 2.5 months on work and used the opportunity to explore the country solo.

This post is not meant to state that we do not love to travel with our men. We love it, but we also love to travel with our girlfriends, solo, and with people who share similar interests. Why should that be thought of as being incomplete or any less fun?

I would also urge women to get out of their comfort zone. Take that solo trip or the one with your Mom or MIL, cousins, or girlfriends, and promise you it will teach you so many new things and it will be a fun ride. As my grandma said “The trip to Bhutan empowered me. Right from learning to use the vending machine to make my own coffee and buy things at the market, I had never done them alone. I feel a sense of accomplishment.”

I cant find a better way to end that use this quote which aptly summarises the post.

Images: Akshata Ram

Header image: Unsplash

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