Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women-Only Travel Moves into the Fast Lane

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Women-Only Travel Moves into the Fast Lane

Article excerpt

FOR A FEW blustery days in late October, they gathered here from across the United States to show that a woman's place is in the home - as long as it can be parallel-parked.

Indeed, the first convention of RVing Women, billed as "women's history in the making," was perhaps the only event where one could learn cross-stitchery, self-defense and basic diesel mechanics all in one weekend.

Pat Montague cruised up from Huntington Beach, Calif., in a 24-foot Robin Hood motor home to join 600 sister enthusiasts for the occasion. She credits the 4,000-member club with helping her into the driver's seat after her husband died in 1993. "All these women are adventurers at heart," she said, gesturing to the 300-plus motor homes and campers aligned in neat rows at a fairgrounds. "I found out I wasn't the only one." Women-only travel, long the stuff of bus tours to distant shopping malls, has quickened its pedestrian pace and is moving into the fast lane. Rising incomes, delayed marriage, divorce and longer life spans have produced a burgeoning number of women with the means to see the world, but without husband or family to accompany them. Social change and sheer demographics are shattering lingering taboos that once discouraged women from traveling far without a male protector. Many are going solo, inspired by a crop of new books and magazines spotlighting women's voices from the road. Others are opting for the camaraderie and safety of groups, hooking up with like-minded women through travel clubs. Still others are turning to a growing number of companies that specialize in women-only vacations. Fifteen years ago, only a handful of such offerings existed. Now, more than 100 companies are designing trips exclusively for sister travelers, often to locations well off the beaten path. Outfitters with names such as Woodswomen and Dirt Roads and Damsels are taking women into the wilderness to climb mountains, shoot the rapids, cast fly rods and learn other outdoor skills in a supportive environment. Other tour operators are putting a matriarchal twist on more civilized destinations, focusing on women's art, history, culture, even religion. These include the upcoming "Goddess Tour" of Hawaii and the English "Wicca/Druid Spiritual Adventure" offered by women-owned Earthwise Journeys of Portland, Ore. There are women's wellness retreats, lesbian-only getaways, and cultural exchanges where Westerners can discuss women's issues with their Third World counterparts. Then there are companies such as Wild Women Adventures, whose feminist sensibility is more on the order of Lucy and Ethel meet Thelma and Louise. Promotional materials for the travel agency's women-only tours feature owners Carol Rivendell and Martha Lindt decked out in Carmen Miranda regalia, complete with fruit headdresses. Among the offerings in their road show is an excursion to Ireland dubbed "Erin Go Braghless." "It can be a transformational experience of just a big ol' slumber party," said Rivendell, 49, who has led several of the trips. "The whole point of traveling with other women is to have fun. It's our turn now." Women hitting the road alone or in the company of other women accounted for 238 million trips in 1995, according to D. …

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