Top holidays for female travellers: How women travel differently

Women are sick of staying at home. At least, that is what figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest. Ten years ago, for every 100 women who headed overseas on a trip, 117 men also jetted off. These days, that number is down to 110. Numbers only tell part of the story, however. The skew towards male travellers – reflecting that more men than women travel for business – disguises the fact that when it comes to holidays, it is often women calling the shots.

Women are estimated to make more than 80 per cent of the decisions when it comes to household purchases, and travel is no different, with women typically doing much of the planning and booking. "Definitely more women than men do the organising," says Claudia Rossi Hudson of Mary Rossi Travel.

As a result, travel trends tend to reflect women's interests. Booming areas such as culinary holidays, voluntourism and cultural tourism are all driven by female demand. Even in traditionally male areas such as adventure holidays, women are shaking things up.

"The number of women booking our World Adventures trips has grown from around 38 per cent in 1996 to 53 per cent in 2016," says Sue Badyari of World Expeditions. And while women are as enthusiastic about trekking, cycling and mountain climbing as men, she adds that "[women] also look for additional elements, such as giving back to communities and meaningful cultural immersion experiences."

Women also engage more with the places they visit. "Women focus on the why of a destination rather than a what," says Rossi Hudson. "Women want to really know what makes a place tick." They are more likely to pay for a private guide who can offer personalised insights, for instance, than to sign up for a bus tour with a canned commentary.

"Women travellers want to be in the thick of it - to get amongst things and have a real, un-manufactured experience," agrees Hayley Baillie, co-owner of Baillie Lodges, which runs some of Australia's most luxurious lodges.

For that reason, women are drawn to hotels that offer quality concierges and immersive activities. "You want someone to open the door and allow you an authentic connection with the destination you're visiting, without having to do a huge amount of work in preparation," Baillie says.

Joining the traditional options of family holidays and couples' trips is the increasingly popular girls' getaway, where groups of female friends travel together. For many women, a family holiday is not really a holiday, says Dr Jennie Small. A senior lecturer in the School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism at the University of Technology, Sydney, Small has researched women's memories of their travel experiences.

"When we asked women in their 40s about their most positive holiday memories, they tend to be holidays without their children," says Small. "It doesn't mean they don't love their kids, but they enjoy holidays that get them away from the physical labour and the emotional labour of running a family."

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The same impulse has driven the rise of the solo female traveller. Associate Professor Erica Wilson of Southern Cross University's School of Business and Tourism, who has researched the phenomenon, says that for many women, solo travel is "a journey of self-discovery, as cliched as that sounds." Wilson says that even today, the idea of a woman travelling alone remains somewhat transgressive. For many women, travelling alone offers a release from the constraints of daily responsibilities.

"That is why people find books such as Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love so fascinating: they are women who have broken out of the social mould," Wilson says.

For any would-be travellers seeking inspiration, we have put together this list of terrific trips for women. Whether you are travelling alone, with a partner or with friends, these trips offer something for women of all ages.

For food fans

From dumplings to Peking duck

Gourmet travellers can feast on an array of cuisines in China, from the spicy dishes of Sichuan to Beijing's imperial traditions and the Muslim-influenced cuisine of Xi'An. On Intrepid Travel's 12-day Real Food Adventure China, you can try them all, as you graze your way through night markets, visit tea farming villages and try your hand at making dumplings. Visits to popular attractions such as the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors and the panda conservation centre are also included.

Need to know: From $US2845 a person, intrepidtravel.com

Souk it to me

Chopped olives and preserved lemon; fresh fish coated in cumin and coriander; pigeon-stuffed pie dusted with cinnamon: Moroccan cuisine is known for packing a flavour punch. Eat your way through the country's best-loved dishes on Butterfield & Robinson's seven-day Morocco Saveur Culinary adventure. Criss-crossing the country from the coast to the desert trading hub of Marrakech, the itinerary emphasises grass-roots experiences, from farm visits and couscous-making lessons from Moroccan housewives to shopping trips through souks and spice markets.

Need to know: From $US5995 a person; butterfield.com/trip/morocco-saveur-culinary

Grape expectations

Ready for some guilt-free indulgence? On Tour De Vines' gourmet cycling programs, you can feast on good food and wine, knowing you are working off those kilojoules as fast as you consume them. The five-day Grand Gourmet itinerary takes you through North East Victoria's loveliest landscapes, with stops at farm gates, wineries and even a cooking class. Choose between a self-guided itinerary and scheduled small group departures.

Need to know: From $1199 per person for group trips; $1299 per person for two-person self-guided trip; tourdevines.com.au

For explorers

Invisible empire

More than 20 million people a year visit Venice; few of them, however, explore the lands once governed by this powerful city. U Tracks has an eight-day Ancient Venetian Empire By Bike itinerary that takes in some of the less-visited parts of Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Centuries-old palaces, salt mines and ancient Roman towns all feature on this diverse trip, which follows the coast all the way to the Croatian town of Porec.

Need to know: From $1490 per person, utracks.com

Persian pleasures

Grab a headscarf and prepare for a surprise: despite the restrictive dress code, Iran is a fascinating destination for female travellers. Its many attractions, including the ancient city of Persepolis and the beauties of Isfahan, should not be underrated; however, a large part of the fun is the encounters you will have with local women, who are often intrigued by foreign travellers. Try Cox and Kings' 10-day Treasures of Persia itinerary.

Need to know: From $3626 per person, coxandkings.com.au

Silk degrees

Even the most intrepid traveller might think twice before tackling the mountains and deserts of Central Asia on her own. That makes Abercrombie & Kent's 15-day Ancient Trade Routes of Central Asia itinerary a tempting option. Explore ancient cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara, where powerful emperors commissioned spectacular architecture to help spread their reputation across the known world. The area's covered markets are an opportunity to find some unusual souvenirs.

Need to know: From $10,995 per person, abercrombiekent.com.au

For pleasure seekers

Tropical time-out

Perched on a quiet corner of Koh Samui, Kamalaya will fix what ails you, whether that is stress, sleeplessness, burnout or just an urgent need to relax. With a staff of naturopaths, acupuncturists and Ayurvedic healers, the treatments go way beyond massages and facials. Choose one of the existing programs, or have one tailored specifically to your needs.

Need to know: From 54,022 baht for a three-night Relax & Renew package, kamalaya.com

Indochina indulgence

Why didn't anyone think of this before? Gorgeous Girls Safaris focus on just one thing: taking time out for yourself. Take their seven-day Vietnam safari, which is the stuff that dream getaways are made of. Apart from beauty and body treatments, there are trips to the tailor, cooking classes, and plenty of time just to chill out by the pool.

Need to know: $4985 per person, gourmetsafaris.com.au

Healing on the high seas

Ready to explore the world one massage at a time? Then hop on board Celebrity Solstice. Celebrity Cruises' onboard Canyon Ranch spas have long been considered among the industry's best, but Celebrity Solstice takes things a step further with its Aquaclass staterooms, which offer passengers a host of spa-related benefits, including unlimited access to the Persian Garden steam room. The 14-day Australian Coast and Bali cruise allows you plenty of time to work your way through the treatment menu.

From $3173 ex Sydney; celebritycruises.com

For outdoor types

Plunging in

Kakadu may be Australia's most famous national park but around Darwin, locals prefer the lesser known Litchfield National Park, just 90 minutes out of town. Grab a hire car to discover Litchfield's spectacular, and croc-free, swimming holes for yourself. Laze around in the shallows at Buley Rockhole, or take the energetic hike from Greenant Creek to Tjaetaba Falls, where the clifftop, waterfall-fed pool offers spectacular views across the plains. Just outside the park entrance, Litchfield Tourist Park offers convenient accommodation.

Need to know: From $249 for a two-bedroom Ringers Cabin; litchfieldtouristpark.com.au

Mother of dragons

Deserted pink sand beaches, pristine coral reefs and tropical islands are all on the itinerary of No Roads' five day Komodo Kayaking, which navigates through the many islands of Komodo National Park. From snorkelling with manta rays to visiting stilt villages, every day brings a new adventure, while nights are spent camping by the shore. And of course, there is the opportunity to encounter the park's best-known resident, the Komodo dragon.

Need to know: From $1500 per person; noroads.com.au.

Easy riders

New Zealand is known for its snow-capped mountains and pristine lakes, and what better way to admire them than from the back of a bike. If you love a challenge, Women's Adventures New Zealand offers a six-night Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail itinerary that covers almost 300 kilometres. Starting and finishing in Christchurch, participants travel through locations used in The Hobbit films, and get to soak in outdoor hot tubs along the way.

Need to know: From NZ$1686 per person; womensadventuresnz.com

For cruisers

Knit one, purl one

Craft Cruises offers a seven-day Christmas Markets on the Rhine cruise especially designed for knitters. Cruising through Switzerland, Germany, France and the Netherlands gives you plenty of opportunities to pick up tips from the onboard instructor, knitwear designer Chris Bylsma. In addition to Christmas market visits, there are opportunities to shop for European yarns and take in medieval castles and towns.

Need to know: From $3008.60 per person ex Basel, craftcruises.com

Animal adventures

The best way to enjoy the extraordinary wildlife adventure of the Galapagos Island is aboard a private yacht, with the Adventure Associates' 10-day women's-only Galapagos Wilderness cruise. As well as getting up close to the famous wildlife – sea lions, tortoises, blue-footed boobies and much more – pick up insights from the onboard naturalist, or take one of the glass-bottomed kayaks out for a burl.

Need to know: From $5415 ex Quito, adventureassociates.net

A river runs through it

Golden pagodas, remote villages and fishing boats gliding silently through the pre-dawn darkness: a boat trip along the Ayeyarwady river gives you front-row seats to life in rural Myanmar. Sanctuary Retreats' four-day cruise from Mandalay to Bagan includes cooking classes, visits to textile workshops and the opportunity to see the sun set across the astonishing temples of Bagan.

Need to know: from $1573, sanctuaryretreats.com

Mum's the word

Ready for some family bonding? Try one of these destinations for a great mother-daughter escape.

Kyoto, Japan: Cherry blossoms and Shinto shrines, Zen gardens and superb cuisine: Kyoto has it all. Wander the picturebook streets of Gion before settling in for a traditional tea ceremony.

New York: The Big Apple is the ultimate getaway for girls of all ages. From classy cocktail bars to amazing museums – not to mention some serious shopping options – NYC never disappoints.

Sri Lanka: Hire a car and driver for a road trip with a difference. From ancient temples to tea plantations, wild elephants to cruisy days on the coast, every day brings a different adventure.

Lisbon, Portugal: Grand cathedrals and narrow cobblestone streets, ancient ruins and bustling bars, fried sardines and custard tarts. If you don't have a good time in Lisbon, you're not really trying.

Fiji: Sometimes it's important to get back to the basics: a deckchair, a book, and some crystal-clear water to swim in. When it's all about having a great time doing nothing, Fiji fits the bill.

Take Me Away

We asked five high-profile mums their ideal holiday.

Bridget McCall, designer, LIFEwithBIRD: With my loved ones at the small town of Seventeen Seventy up in Queensland, where we have holidayed before. I miss the long days we spent playing in the sand and swimming in the shallows up on those long, untouched beaches without a worry in the world.

Ita Buttrose, businesswoman and media personality: In New York with my daughter Kate and her family and my son Ben and his family, staying in the biggest suite possible at The Plaza. We would be planning a walk in Central Park and lunch at Asiate, on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental before taking in a Broadway show. Utter bliss.

Lucy Durack, actor and singer: Rottnest Island, just off the coast of Perth, is a beautiful, peaceful place, with cute little marsupials called quokkas that have been found to be the happiest animals on earth (seriously, someone did a very adorable study) and the island bakery makes the best ever jam doughnuts.

Chris Bath, TV and radio presenter: I've been in love with Italy, its history, its food and its people for years. My Italia fixation even forced me back to university as an excruciatingly conscientious mature age student in the late '90's to learn the language. So my boys (hint, hint), Mummy wouldn't be at all disappointed to be arriving "a Roma"!

Janine Allis, founder, Boost Juice: For me, my escape is the beach, and Australia has some of the best. So I'd love to be standing on a beach on a beautiful sunny day, with the sand between my feet and the wind on my face, about to go for a surf, knowing that I have a brunch with my whole family after.

Ute Junker's solo travels have taken her everywhere from India to Iran, but she says there is still one destination she finds daunting. "Men who feel like a drink and a chat can head to the hotel bar," she says. "Try it as a woman, however, and everyone assumes you are looking to pick up."

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