“Twelve women, each with their own personal reason for being there, supported one another on this adventure of a lifetime,” wrote Deb Borden of her heli-hiking trip in Canada’s Bugaboo Mountains. “We learned how to ‘hot load’ a helicopter, woke early for morning stretches, tramped on glaciers, and hiked through landscapes that resembled scenes from ‘The Sound of Music.’
“With each deep cleansing breath I took, I realized this was exactly what I needed to move forward.”
Borden was on her first trip with Women Traveling Together, a company founded in 1997 by Debra Asberry and the only tour operator whose exclusive focus is to provide scheduled, small-group experiences for active women over 50 traveling unaccompanied.
In her article, “Discovering My New ‘Normal,’” published in a recent issue of WTT’s member magazine, “SoloTogether,” Borden — now a WTT tour leader — discusses how her experience with WTT gave her the confidence to come out of her shell and regain her sense of “normal” after her husband died unexpectedly in 2016.
Each year, more than 1,600 women travel on WTT tours, which range from five to 17 days and offer a variety of activity levels. Group sizes typically are 14 women for North American tours and 18 for international tours. Destinations include U.S. National Parks, London and Paris, Holland and Belgium, Italy by train, Ireland, Croatia, South America, Antarctica and more.
WTT’s mission? Making travel accessible, safe and secure, comfortable and thoroughly enjoyable for women who want to travel and see the world without needing a travel partner. The best part: WTT arranges all the details.
Not 'senior travel'
What WTT isn’t is girlfriends, singles or senior travel.
“We’re all about walking, wanting to get out and explore, wanting new experiences — not sitting on the bus,” said Asberry. “Mobility is huge. We’re very clear about the need to be mobile and active.”
According to the 2018 Travel Leaders Group’s Fall Travel Trends survey, “women-only” travel is ranked as one of the most requested specialty travel categories and expected to be a billion-dollar industry by 2025. And though only 7% of women, regardless of age, say they would travel solo, 93% say they would go on an all-women’s tour where women travel unaccompanied.
It is a formula that is working for Women Traveling Together, with more women traveling with the tour operator each year, many returning for experiences to different destinations and some joining the WTT organization. In fact, of its 42 tour leaders, about 30% traveled on its tours before becoming a tour leader and, in the case of one leader who was a traveler, becoming its director of tour development.
“I think the women who have previously been a traveler have a better understanding how important the tour leader role is to the group cohesion and dynamics,” said Asberry.
Karen Gardner of Greenville, North Carolina, made the transition from traveler to tour leader years ago. A retired school librarian, Gardner had dreamed of roaming the world with her husband.
“Much to my dismay, my husband told me he didn’t enjoy traveling,” she said. “He told me he would support my travel, but I needed to find a different travel partner. I was crushed!”
A support system
This is where Women Traveling Together steps in, becoming that travel partner and support system. Asberry's tour model was designed to foster community and put women at ease from the very beginning of their experiences with WTT.
“It starts with an introduction to the program manager, who makes all the arrangements,” said Asberry. “She’s the expert, someone to talk to about the tour, someone to reach out to if a woman gets cold feet. The women who travel with us, especially first-timers, use this connection a lot.”
Once on tour, the leader steps into the travel partner role.
“The women make friends on tour, but for solving problems, dealing with anxiety, even with accidents, they look to the tour leader to be that person to them.”
Gardner enjoyed her first WTT trip to the Galapagos so much that, once home, she found herself applying for tour leader training.
“During my tour leader-in-training time, I continued to go on WTT trips as a traveler,” she said. “I went to China and Egypt and, even after becoming an experienced tour leader, I continue to travel with WTT as a traveler, going to Australia and Morocco.”
Asberry admitted that traveling with WTT can be addicting.
“I come back from these tours and my cheek muscles hurt because I’ve spent a week smiling. There is a level of sharing on these tours that will blow your mind. Nobody is judging you. You can take a long walk, go ziplining beside someone, and you’re opening up and laughing and not being serious. It’s cleansing.”
Both Borden and Gardner call traveling with WTT a life-changing experience, bringing lasting friendships with fellow travelers from all over the country, even other countries.
“You will see beautiful destinations and explore the histories and cultures of the world,” said Gardner. “You will travel with like-minded women in security and safety.”
You may even learn how to "hot load" a helicopter.
PLAN YOUR TRAVELS
Women Traveling Together offers tours to more than more than 100 worldwide destinations including the United States and Canada (including National Parks); Europe and Mediterranean; Asia and Pacific, Africa and Middle East; Caribbean; Arctic and Antarctic; plus adventure and exotic travel; retreats; and cruise, sail and rail journeys. A third of WTT’s 3,200 members are armchair travelers, but with an optional $45/year membership perk, all can have access to the WTT network to create a personal profile and connect with other members. Visit women-traveling.com or call 443-458-5634.