Last updated on January 31st, 2023
The Power of Women in Travel
by Carolyn Ray, CEO, JourneyWoman
The power is in your hands: Women make 80 to 85 per cent of travel decisions and comprise two-thirds of all travelers. Our impact as key influencers goes well beyond our role as travel consumers. Whether travelling solo or in a group, there are many things we can do to support and empower women in local communities.
The opportunity to redefine gender balance
Tourism is one of the world’s most important economic sectors. It employs one in every 10 people on Earth and provides livelihoods to hundreds of millions more. Of these, most are women. Tourism also contributes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Number 5: “To achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”
If there is one thing we’ve learned in this time, it’s that we are all connected and interdependent on each other for our livelihoods, if not our very survival. I believe we can be much more intentional, focused, and globally minded when we travel. By lifting one woman up, you can lift an entire household, and ultimately an entire community, one step at a time.
“As a sector with a majority female workforce worldwide (54%) and most women in low-skilled or informal work, women will feel the economic shock to tourism caused by COVID-19 quickest and hardest.”
– United Nations Women in Tourism
“The UNWTO believes that the pandemic has presented tourism with a golden opportunity to redefine its gender balance. Pre-pandemic, tourism was one of the fastest-growing and most important economic sectors in the world, benefitting destinations and communities worldwide, representing an estimated 10 per cent of the world’s GDP and 1 in 10 jobs globally.” – United Nations
12 things you can do to support women
Our ethos at JourneyWoman is to empower women through travel. As we consider the future of travel, we have an opportunity to recast many practices that were damaging to the environment, animals, and communities. We can work harder to advance the UN Sustainability Goals to support women, equality and women-owned businesses, both in our own countries and those that rely on tourism.
Join us on our March 11 Community Call to share your thoughts, or take the brief survey below.
1. Choose a woman-owned business and hire a woman
Any woman who has been able to keep her business going during the pandemic deserves your support. I encourage you to actively seek out and support women-led small businesses, including stores, restaurants, and local experiences run by women.
After many years as an entrepreneur, I am convinced that women work harder, faster and smarter than men. I’m not disparaging men, but I have observed that women know intuitively how to collaborate, share and discuss issues openly – we seek to uplift each other, not compete with each other. (And PS, pay women more than you would a man – she deserves it!)
If you’re looking for a female guide, retreat or tour, browse through our Women’s Travel Directory, which features women-owned small businesses from around the world who need your support. Look for businesses that go above and beyond to invest in and support local communities, hire female employees and guides, and are majority-owned by women.
Meet new Advisory Council member Mariellen Ward at our March 11 Community Call.
Doni Belau from Girls’ Guide to Paris has organized women-only tours since 2009.
2. Seek Indigenous experiences when you travel
As travel’s most influential decision makers, we can actively take steps to support Indigenous communities. In June 2021, we created an Indigenous Tourism Resource Centre, which includes links to many places that need your support and articles that profile Indigenous artisans, tour operators and culinary experts, to name a few.
Not only can we choose Indigenous-led tours and experiences, we can also make good choices when we purchase indigenous handcrafts and art. Learn the origin of any item that you’re buying and make sure you purchase only those items made by local Indigenous artisans.
When I returned from Merida, Mexico recently, I brought home three handmade hennequin mats—there was nothing more wonderful than meeting the 82-year-old female artisan who made it. Avoid mass marketing and be prepared to pay a bit more for these genuine handicrafts, which will always have a special place in your heart and home.
Not travelling right now? Consider Local Purse, co-created by Lola Akinmade, one of the speakers at our upcoming Women’s Travel Wisdom retreat. Local Purse offers curated live video shopping experiences, supporting local guides and artisans.
3. Choose a female guide
In many countries, women guides don’t often have the same access to career opportunities that men have, due to education, language, cultural traditions, discrimination or sexual harassment.
Becoming a tour guide can be seen as an unconventional career path. However, simply meeting travellers from around the world can significantly improve a female guide’s career opportunities, help with leadership, and improve language skills. While we can’t influence cultural restrictions, we can choose to travel with companies that employ female guides or seek out a female guide when we travel.
Read about Cameras for Girls, a charity created by Triple F Photo Tours CEO Amina Mohamed to help female guides in Uganda develop photography skills that empower them to compete in a male-dominated world.
Our Women’s Travel Directory offers free listings to accredited guides. Recommend one here.
4. Choose a woman-owned accommodation
While hotels, Airbnb, booking.com and local rentals might be top-of-mind for many, there are many other ways to travel safely and cost-effectively, including women-owned homestays, hospitality exchanges, housesitting, and volunteering.
Some of these, like Servas and 5W, are well-known to long-time solo travellers. All of them offer cost-effective alternatives for women to travel. You can read more about female-friendly accommodations here.
5. Support women writers, authors, and storytellers
Industry research shows that female authors, particularly women of colour, LGBTQ+ and women with disabilities are underrepresented in the literary world. While Dervla Murphy, Mary Morris, Dame Freya Stark, and Cheryl Strayed might already be on your list, check out our JourneyWoman Book Club for other memoirs that might pique your interest and stimulate new adventures.
Seek out and support women who are writing about travel. There are two incredible travel writers right on our own Advisory Council. Check out Mariellen Ward’s award-winning Breathedreamgo about life in India, and Tonya Fitzpatrick’s website and podcast World Footprints, which focuses on global citizenship and cultural heritage.
Have a story of your own to share? Read our Submission Guidelines and send in your story idea to JourneyWoman here.
6. Volunteer with women when you travel
Volunteering is a wonderful way to give back and get to know a community in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Volunteering doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture—even small things matter. On my last trip to Puerto Rico, I volunteered with World Central Kitchen at a woman-run farm, planting vegetables with my daughter for a day. It remains one of my happiest travel memories, knowing we were helping a woman entrepreneur still recovering from Hurricane Maria provide food to her community.
On a grander scale, many tour companies offer citizen science tours where you can volunteer with animals and help with conservation efforts. Carla Geyser’s Blue Sky Society Trust in South Africa works on the ground with wildlife vets to collar elephants, protect pangolins, and many other ventures.
7. Donate when you travel or when you return home
Making a financial donation is one of the easiest things we can do particularly when we haven’t travelled extensively for a few years. It only takes a moment to reflect on those experiences and consider how even a small amount can go a long way.
When the pandemic began, Global Heart Journeys CEO Linda Higdon moved into action, mobilizing donors across North America to feed an entire Kenyan village from the comfort of their homes. It is one of the only food relief efforts in a rural region of 1.5 million, a testimony to the power of women’s global friendships. Linda was able to raise over $33,000 for one village.
When you travel, the UN recommends that we avoid giving money and gifts to children, saying “this will not improve their future as it will make them more dependent on tourists’ charity. If you wish to show solidarity, talk to your guide or some community leader on how to contribute.”
A pre-pandemic photo of Linda Higdon in Kenya.
8. Bring menstrual supplies when you travel
In many countries, period stigma limits women and girls from education and career opportunities. The pandemic has heightened this need as poverty has increased: During COVID, one in seven young people with periods have struggled to get period products (Always & Plan Canada, 2021).
Menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity—when women cannot access safe bathing facilities and safe and effective means of managing their menstrual hygiene, they are not able to manage their menstruation with dignity. Gender inequality, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises and harmful traditions can all turn menstruation into a time of deprivation and stigma, which can undermine women’s fundamental human rights. This is true for women and girls, as well as for transgender men and non-binary persons who menstruate. (Source: United Nations Population Fund).
When I walked the Camino last fall, many of our readers contributed to my campaign to support the Period Purse, a non-profit registered charity that strives to achieve menstrual equity and reduce the stigma surrounding periods.
By bringing a package of period products with you when you travel you can help empower women who may not have access to these products. The Period Purse CEO Jana Girdauskas recommends Joni tampons and pads – they’re biodegradable and sustainable.
Watch our Community Call with Period Purse to learn more about period poverty.
9. Embrace a curious mind
In a world of misinformation and marketing hype, the curiosity we apply to our travels can also help us distinguish fact from fiction. Asking ‘How do you know?’ or ‘What is the source of this information?’ is a frequent discussion among JourneyWomen. Having a trusted authority can be helpful to resolve concerns about risk, as expert voices can sway behaviour.
Created in 2020, our Women’s Travel Advisory Council supports and empowers women with expert, objective advice. We have 13 women standing by to answer your questions about any and all issues related to solo travel, safety or specific destinations around the world, including India, New Zealand, Africa and more. Have a question? We’re here to help.
10. Celebrate women’s stories and histories
I’m of the view that we shouldn’t focus only on historical narratives when there’s a themed month, be it Women’s History Month or Black History Month—we should do this all year round.
Every woman I’ve ever spoken to has a story about their mother, grandmother or great-grandmother, and the role they played in their lives. Not only should we share these stories with each other, but we should seek out stories about women’s impact. And if they don’t exist, let’s create them.
11. Show gratitude
As Mary Poppins said, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. When you travel, tip generously, knowing that the women serving you may be supporting an entire family.
In the past, tipping was considered optional but now, I think it’s necessary. I’ve become accustomed to leaving tips in homestays, knowing that it’s most likely a woman cleaning that property. Let’s do all we can to support women. I’d love to create a JourneyWoman guide to tipping, but here are some starting thoughts from Tripsavvy.
12. Be Kind
Travel is a privilege and it’s important to remember that while we have been waiting to travel again safely, many women have lost their jobs or left the industry altogether. Restaurants and hotels are operating with less staff, who are working longer hours, so be kind to those you meet on your travels that are doing their best to give you a memorable experience. Adjust your mindset to one of patience, acceptance and kindness and it will go a long way.
There are so many ways that we as women, can support each other. Let’s shine a light on women doing good things around the world. We invite all women to use our platform as a forward-moving force for good. If you have other ideas, please share them in the comments below or email me at [email protected].
Here’s Even More Travel Inspiration
Jane Christmas’s funny memoir of her 780-kilometre trek across Spain on the Camino de Santiago to celebrate her 50th birthday and midlife.
Located in French Polynesia, Bora Bora is a magical ocean paradise well worth the trip, even for women in their 80s.
For women with mobility concerns, Karen Gershowitz wants you to know you can fulfill your travel bucket list, even to Antarctica.