10 Ways Women's Travel Has Changed in the Last 10 Years

Mar 5, 2020

Binding her chest with strips of linen—and suiting up in loose trousers and a tunic—a French housekeeper named Jeanne Baret prepared to board a naval ship. Her lover, the naturalist Philibert de Commerçon, had been invited to join the 1766 expedition of Commander Louis Antoine de Bougainville, and Baret—a keen botanist herself—wasn’t about to be left behind. There was just one problem: No women allowed. Thus the costume—and the ruse that she was De Commercon’s valet.

Baret became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, and she wasn’t along just for the ride. When her husband fell ill, she led the expedition as chief botanist. One of her greatest finds: a vine with an explosion of bright, beautiful bracts in Rio de Janeiro. Today, the shrub-turned-Insta-star is known as Bougainvillea—named for the captain, naturally. In fact, only in the last decade was Baret similarly honored, when a newly discovered South American plant was named for her.

Over the past decade, not every example of traveling women getting their due has been nearly 250 years in the making—though most are a long time coming. From the monumental to the practical to the good, clean fun, here are 10 of our favorite signs of progress.

O captain, my captain

Capt. Kate McCue—who in 2015 became the first American woman to captain a cruise ship—likes to start her journeys with this announcement: “This is Captain Kate, but you can call me Captain because it took me 19 years to earn this title.” McCue first commanded the Celebrity Equinox, but now helms the Celebrity Edge, whose godmother is none other than Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, and whose parent company is the only publicly traded cruise line with a female CEO (another milestone of the past decade). The onboard design is by women—including superstars Kelly Hoppen and Patricia Urquiola—and women make up 30 percent of the crew (the industry average has been in the high teens). Even the ship’s aluminum water bottles come from a female-founded company.

Host with the most

Breaking into the predominantly white and male world of travel TV, Kellee Edwards became the first black woman to host a regular show on the Travel Channel in 2017, when she began introducing viewers to a series of Mysterious Islands. Outside quickly pronounced her The Most Interesting Woman in the World, in part because she not only pilots planes around the globe, but will also happily jump out of them (and ride motorcycles, scuba dive and mountaineer for good measure).

Peak performance

Lhakpa Phuti Sherpa is perhaps best known as the first Nepali woman to ascend Everest and descend successfully (tragically, the first Nepali woman to summit the peak died on the way down). But Lhakpa has achieved all kinds of figurative heights, too—among them, establishing the Female Trekking Guide Course at the Nepal Mountain Academy and just this past January, the first master's degree in adventure tourism at Nepal's oldest university. But even if you're not ready to sign up for an advanced degree in Himalayan travel, you can still do a deep dive into the region on a trip with the company she founded

Woman to woman

A pioneering women's travel outfitter—one of its first trips was to Papua New Guinea in the 1980s—AdventureWomen hasn't had to change all that much over the intervening decades (a benefit of being ahead of the curve). But one big step forward took place 2016 with the advent of “Women to Women” experiences, each designed to encourage interactions with local women that—in some cultures—wouldn’t be possible if men were around. Consider Oman, a new destination for the company. “Because there aren’t any men, the local women can take off their burkas and really show us who they are,” says co-owner Nicole Wineland-Thomson. “We’re getting to see something special because we’re women."

The good life

Having paddled around the world in an inflatable kayak—where she kept a supply of good wine in 35-millimeter film cans— Audrey Sutherland, died in 2015, age 94, just as women were realizing in droves that she had the right idea: That is, adventure travel need not preclude life's little luxuries. And life's big luxuries don't hurt either, if the recent boom in women's high-end adventures is any indication. Natural World Safaris, for example, has done Arctic extravaganzas led by female guides, while the aforementioned AdventureWomen offers luxe tented camps in Botswana, a private yacht in the Galapagos and spa days at a posh Dead Sea resort (after a twirl through Egypt and Jordan's greatest hits). “Our typical age used to be women in their 50s,” says Wineland-Thomson, “but now we’re seeing women in their 30s with the resources to do this.” 

Adventure for all

At the same time, women's adventure getaways are exploding across the price and special interest spectrum. REI, which debuted a collection in 2017, saw registration for the trips more than double from 2018 to 2019. Meanwhile, Intrepid Travel’s women-only expeditions are in their third year after an increase of 116 percent in 2019—the brand’s fastest-growing offering to date. There's even a whole subset of women's fitness getaways that includes the likes of Run Wild Retreats, Women High on Adventure, Escape to Shape and the specifically body-positive adventures of WHOA+.

Eat Pray Love made me do it

2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the theatrical release of Eat Pray Love, the blockbuster based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling travel memoir of the same name. But the movie was hardly the only follow-up project inspired by the book: 2016 saw the publication of Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It, an anthology of 47 essays—most about transformative journeys—by devotees of the original. And a quick sift through the social media suggests that fans continue to quit unsatisfying marriages or jobs (or both) to go traveling.

Travel fashion goes legit

Once the sole province of flatter-nobody beige and zip-off everything, the world of travel fashion is oxymoronic no more. Thanks in part to the simultaneous rise of athleisure and baggage fees, we now have unprecedented options—one of the earliest signs of which was the 2015 travel capsule collection Net-A-Porter launched with the Row. The latter continues to make travel-fabulous pieces that hold up to hours of rollaboard ensquashment, as does every brand from Theory (try the crepe knits) to ADAY (check out the 5-piece carry-on capsule). 

Beauty on the fly

Amelia Earhart, who hated her freckles, reportedly traveled with a glass pot of Dr. C. H. Berry’s Freckle Ointment (11 percent mercury, and guaranteed to make freckles fade). We’re happy to report that both product packaging and ingredients have evolved significantly. Airports have vending machines from the likes of Sephora and Benefit (the latter also dispensing beauty tips and tricks at its old-timey pink kiosks—via decidedly modern touch screens). In fact, this decade has also brought the five-year-old Stowaway Cosmetics, purveyor of all manner of pint-size premium makeup. Meanwhile, several Laura Mercier essentials come as minis—and the same goes for Nars, Fenty and countless other cult favorites. Also, now that the sheet mask trend has gone global (and the packaging is almost always TSA-friendly), you no longer have to be either completely shameless or a celebrity (or both) to apply a face mask mid-flight, so you can prevent (or at least mitigate) the tight, dry, worn feeling your skin gets at 30,000 feet.

Closing the gender gap

Nearly a decade has passed since Beyonce first asked who run the world. And increasingly, the travel industry agrees with her on the answer—with ever more female leaders entering the fold. Intrepid, for one, sought to double its female tour leaders by this past January, when the number rose to from 154 to 342. (The company’s current goal: doubling the number of female porters on mountain hikes in Tanzania, Peru and Nepal). Meanwhile, women-led travel businesses such as Wild Terrains are partnering with local women hoteliers, chefs, artists and designers in Mexico City, Portugal and beyond. Then there's G Adventures' Planeterra Foundation, whose ever-growing, earth-spanning women's empowerment initiatives are mounting evidence of who, exactly, runs this motha.

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