Girl’s Getaway Interviews: Six Top Women Tour Guides

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Women's Tour Companies

From the time I was a young girl I’ve wanted to travel, experience new exotic cultures and go on grand adventures. In fact I always thought that my ideal job would have to involve travel of some sort. I decided to find out from the experts, women at the top of their field in travel tour industry, exactly what it’s like to be a professional traveler, is it as much fun as it sounds? The short answer is ‘hell yes!’ Not that there aren’t also challenges, long hours, and plain hard work involved in running a tour company or group. We’re delighted to profile six fantastic women who are living the dream, let’s take a peek into the lives of these hardworking wandering women.

Wanderlust and Lipstick

Beth Whitman

Q. Talk a bit about what inspired you to start your company.

A. I’ve always been a traveler and much of my travel has been solo. I was always aware that women, in particular, were nervous about traveling on their own and so I began teaching workshops in the Seattle-area in the mid-90’s to encourage women to take the leap and travel, with or without a partner to accompanying them.

A number of years ago I wanted to get my message out to a larger segment of would-be travelers and the natural thing to do was to write a guide book (The Essential Guide for Women Traveling Solo) and launch a website. The subsequent guides (For Women Traveling to India and Traveling with Kids) as well as the tours, were a natural extension from my original mission of inspiring women to travel more.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your tour company and your upcoming trips for women in 2010.

wanderlust_250x250A. Initially, I led a co-ed group of people to Bhutan as a favor to a friend who has a tour company. Then my Wanderlusters – the gals who regularly read my website and newsletter – started asking what other tours I was leading because they wanted to join. I immediately scheduled another Bhutan tour, then India and now Vietnam & Cambodia. I’m looking into Papua New Guinea and a culinary tour to Greece for 2011!

The Wanderlust and Lipstick tours are created to connect the tour participants with locals. It’s our aim to get beyond the surface experience and to really understand, as much as an outsider can, the local culture. We incorporate cooking classes, lectures on Buddhism, private musical performances and the like. I also like to build in opportunities to help the locals. We’ve donated books to school children in Bhutan and have visited (and donated to) ashrams for older people in India.

Q. Do you think travel tours have changed over the years, if so how?

wanderlust and lipstick toursA. This is actually a really exciting time in the tour business. People want to fully experience a place, rather than just being bused around to take pictures from the window. They want a bit of adventure while being exposed to unique opportunities.

With technology making everything so accessible, travelers have information at their fingertips – thus they demand more and have less trepidation about their destination. An example is how a tour to the ghats of Varanasi, while super interesting, can be enhanced by a private musical performance in the home of a local musician. We’ve seen lots of photos of the Ganges River, but you can’t replicate music and dancing in photos – it’s something that must be experienced first-hand, and it’s these types of experiences that I build into the Wanderlust and Lipstick tour.

Q. What has been your most unusual ever travel experience?

women's tour companiesA. I traveled solo from Seattle to Panama on a BMW F650 motorcycle. Everyone said I was going to die, get raped or tossed in jail on that 9-week journey. None of that happened. People were friendly and helpful all along the way.

My philosophy (in travel and life) is that people treat you the way that you treat them. I knew that if I smiled and was nice to people along the way, it would be reciprocated – and it was. It was a great lesson for me and one that I hope I convey adequately in my books and website and also on my tours.

Q. What remains to be done on your personal travel wish list?

A. Papua New Guinea and the Brazilian rainforest. I have a huge interest in and am an advocate of indigenous cultures and these two areas stand out as having some of the most unique cultures on the planet. I think I’ll make it to PNG this year on a scouting trip and then lead a tour there in 2011.

Q. As an expert traveler, share with us your top three travel tips…

1) Pack light. I can’t stress this enough. If for no other reason, this can be a matter of safety. You don’t want to have to be dragging around a bunch of luggage if you need to quickly get yourself out of a situation.

2) Don’t worry about the small stuff. All you really need is your passport and some cash (or access to cash with a credit/debit card or travelers checks). But even those can be replaced if they get stolen. Travel is all about rolling with the punches and enjoying it as much as possible.

3) Unplug. Give yourself a break from email, phones, Skype, the Internet, Facebook and Twitter – just enjoy the ride!

Q. And your top tip specifically for female travelers?

A. Again, pack light. This is even more important for women as we are targeted more often than men by would-be thieves and we’ll want to be aware and able to get out of a sticky situation without too much cumbersome luggage holding us down.

Serendipity Traveler

Peggy R. Coonley

Q. Talk a bit about what inspired you to start your company.

A. Serendipity Traveler emerged from a life full of traveling combined with my art filled entrepreneurial life which included much traveling. I created Serendipity Traveler for women like myself who want savvy travel and who don’t like packaged tours, aren’t youthful backpackers, or extreme adventurists. Women who travel with us are active, educated and love to travel. Our ages range from 40 to 70ish. My clients enjoy culture, local experiences and want all the trip details expertly woven together for them. The mission of Serendipity Traveler is to enhance the lives of active women around the world by providing thoughtful and enriching travel experiences. Traveling to places of great natural beauty and culture, Serendipity Traveler itineraries afford the luxury of a tailor made journey with particular attention to every detail while providing the essence of the local culture.

My professional days are filled with supporting women’s travel dreams and planning. I spend part of each business day on travel research, reading, talking, emailing, and checking resources. Finding just the right accommodations, driver, knowledgeable guides, interesting routes and travel gems to build a handcrafted one of a kind itinerary takes time. Often my desk is strewn with maps, notes on accommodations, train timetables, and museum listings, cultural calendars, as I create a rough draft for a trip. The rest of my work is spent traveling. After having sketched the draft, I travel to hone the routes, places and resources that will meet my goals for the trip. Women travelers want to make stellar memories, relax and have fun when they travel. Women today want authentic and culturally engaging trips. When in England, we stay in a quintessential 14th century family Manor house. On the island of Dominica, our lodge offers rustic luxury perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. When reserving a tour, my travel expertise is an important ingredient as women want to know who they are traveling with. Women get to know Serendipity Traveler through our website and by reading our monthly newsletter and blog.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your tour company and your upcoming trips for women in 2010.

A. Upcoming trips include a Yoga, Adventure & Spa trip to the pristine island of Dominica, The Historic Houses and Gardens of Charleston this spring and our signature Chelsea Flower Show English Garden trip in May. I am working on a trip to Ireland for Autumn 2010 and I may offer a European Christmas Market trip in December. The Serendipity Traveler website keeps women well posted on all our trips as they evolve.

Q. As an expert traveler, share with us your top three travel tips…

A. My top three travel tips for women are to choose your travel company carefully, to pack lighter than you plan, and to walk lots wherever you go as walking immerses you in new cultures stepping out of the familiar.

Q. What remains to be done on your personal travel wish list?

A. My personal travel dream list includes a return to New Zealand , Bali, The Cook Islands, Laos, Japan, Croatia, and parts of Europe yet to explore. I like meandering in fine gardens and always savour an escape to lesser known islands. North America has numerous places on my list too! The National Parks are gems in both Canada and America.

Q. What is a common concern of women who book tours, what are they looking for?

A. Todays women are traveling more and finding the restorative and renewing benefits that

traveling well affords; time out just for themselves, after a divorce, celebrating cancer treatments ending, when the

nest empties or adjusting when a husband dies. I see travel as a tool for transforming the landscapes of our lives. Life is Short, Travel Well.

Adventurous Wench

Deanna Keahey

Q. Talk a bit about what inspired you to start your company.

Women'sA. I’ve always loved travel, adventure, and the outdoors, though that wasn’t always my career. I spent years in the corporate world, when work was a way to pay for vacations. After years of doing that, I reached a point when I realized that climbing the company ladder held no further appeal. I could not see devoting the rest of my life to that. There had to be something more. I had to find something different.

About the same time, I also ended up single, for the first time since college. Being single brought a lot of changes, including the fact that now I had nobody to travel with! I was so used to doing everything as part of a couple, and now that wasn’t possible.

As I got into the “world of single women” and learned how different that life is, I also met many other women in similar circumstances. You want to travel, but have nobody to go with. Many tour groups are full of couples. Going alone can be uncomfortable, or just not as much fun. And a lot of us just aren’t interested in doing a singles trip.

For me, it all came together – my past history and natural inclinations, being at a turning point, discovering this need myself, and talking to lots of others too. That’s why I started Adventurous Wench.

Q. Tell us a little bit about your tour company and your upcoming trips for women in 2010.

A. Adventurous Wench specializes in high-quality active trips for women. Guests enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking or sailing, along with excellent cuisine, fine accommodations, and knowledgeable guides. Our trips are ideal for single women and solo travelers — it’s easier, safer, and more fun, than going on vacation alone.

Most of our guests are single women, but we get about 30% married women, too. Perhaps their husband doesn’t like to travel, or only enjoys golf. This is a great way to take separate vacations they can both feel good about.

Our small groups create a very different feeling than large tour groups do. Guests soon come to feel like they’re out with a group of friends, rather than being herded about. Most of our guests are solo travelers, and even if you come on your own, you’ll soon feel like you’re with friends. If you’re traveling on your own, we can pair you with another solo traveler so you don’t need so pay an expensive single supplement.

Trips vary from a 3-day hiking trip to Sedona, to a 7-day sailing trip in the Virgin Islands, to an 11-day Patagonia exploration. You could be hiking through a canyon in New Mexico, or watching monkeys in Costa Rica, or exploring the remains of an abandoned monastery on top of a craggy island in Ireland. It’s up to you!

Q. Describe a day in the life of a tour company executive.

A. Well, first thing I’d say is it varies a lot, and that’s one of the things I love about it! I spend about half my time on the road, and about half at the office.

On the road, it totally depends on where I am. When I’m with a group, the day is full of whatever the activities are on that trip. When we get back to the hotel for free time, I’ll do prep work for the following day, getting groceries or gas, making phone calls, etc. When I’m on my own, I’m usually scouting things out for a future trip, trying different activities, talking to locals, looking at hotels, etc.

Even back at the office, there’s an enormous range of things to do, which is both challenging and fun. I might be doing research for new trips, or taking care of financial stuff, or discussing things with suppliers in different locations, or writing a newsletter, or doing strategic planning, or reviewing website statistics, or streamlining some of our internal systems, or preparing trip materials. It’s an almost endless list — at least it seems that way! (But I wouldn’t want it any other way.)

Q. What can’t you leave home without when you travel?

Adventurous WenchA. My laptop. It would be different if I was traveling just for fun, when it’s OK (even desirable) to be totally out of touch for awhile. But for business, it’s different. With my laptop along, I can handle e-mails with staff or suppliers, giving them any answers or decisions they need. I can research last-minute things I want to do, or look up restaurants or train schedules. I can coordinate anything I need to for upcoming trips, booking flights or hotels. I can check on finances and pay bills. I can upload and label photos while they’re fresh in my mind. I can update our website, do a blog post, or even make international phone calls via Skype. And of course I can update Facebook! With so many hotels now having wifi, it’s really changed the way I travel. Instead of getting back to the room at the end of a busy day and turning on the TV or reading a book, I turn on the computer…

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