Indian women want to travel solo, safely: Sumitra Senapaty
How did the idea of Women on Wanderlust, or WoW as it’s now known, come about?
I am a writer and I used to travel around the world to write travel stories. Eight years ago, I was in New Zealand and I ran into this group of women from the UK at a cafe. I was alone and I joined their group. I thought they may have been friends or family travelling together, but learned they were members of a women’s travel club. I was struck by the concept and thought to myself, ‘What a wonderful idea’. It seemed to be that Indian women were waiting for something like this.
But I didn’t do anything about it immediately. I had no business background and was contented with my work and life. There didn’t seem to be any need to rock the boat, as it were. But then having discussed it with friends and family and after much persuasion I thought I’d give it a shot. Else, I would always have had to live with the ‘What if...’
So, with a small homemade website, WoW came into being. I relied entirely on word of mouth. All women were my target audience. The very first trip I organised was to Leh. I wanted to go off the beaten path – Ooty, Manali – and include a sense of adventure. The response was phenomenal, the media picked up the story and here we are, doing 80 group trips a year.
Many people had misgivings. They said it was an idea that was 20-30 years ahead of its time. The truth is, they totally underestimated the Indian woman and what she really wants.
So what does the Indian woman want, especially in the realm of leisure?
Indian women want to step out of the house and travel solo – and by this I mean without family or friends – and have an enjoyable holiday with their safety assured. Often, it’s difficult to sync your travel with your family or friends. These are women who have the money, the time and the urge to see the world.
Would you recommend women travelling alone?
Foreign women do it quite frequently, though there are attendant dangers. As for Indian women, look around – how often do you see them drinking coffee alone in a cafe or going to a movie. It’s quite unnerving for them to be in a strange city alone. Also, don’t forget the prohibitive cost of single occupancy supplements.
What’s the WoW travel experience like?
We make all the arrangements from visa to room bookings. The unique element WoW brings to the holiday is the companionship. Women bond naturally and within minutes of meeting the women in the various groups begin to chat and become friends. Many continue to stay in touch after their return and that, I think, is very enriching and rewarding.
Who makes a WoW traveller?
All women between the ages of 25 to 65. Older women can join, as long as they are fit enough for the particular trip. We have younger people, too, travelling with their mothers. Quite a few NRIs sign up and some foreigners, too. It’s mainly professionals – doctors, chartered accountants, entrepreneurs. All WoW travellers are evolved women.
What are some of your favourite places in the world?
There are so many. But the visit to the Galapagos islands would count among my top experiences. New Zealand is another personal favourite, because of the prospects of adventure and being outdoors. The African continent – Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia – is an incredibly beautiful place as is South America.
Which of these activists do you think makes the most impact in the realm of women’s rights?
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- Mallika Sarabhai
- Vrinda Grover
- Brinda Karat
- Urvashi Butalia
- 83 %Kiran Bedi