Single is the new black. More than a quarter of all households consist of one person, the fastest growing household type in the country, and the travel industry is catching on. There is now a small but growing number of specialist travel operators who organise tours exclusively for singles, most of them by and for women. The best bring creativity and imagination to their task, with themes that range from classical music tours to shopping, food and yoga to hardcore adventure.
Why would any woman want to travel with other women when she could join a mixed group?
"Women want to try things," says Sue Hile, founder of Adventurous Women, "but travelling with males, sometimes they don't think they can. It's not everybody, but there are women out there who feel that they just can't let their hair down and be themselves with men around and the company of women is different. You talk about different things, you laugh at different things. It's a very different dynamic."
"There are a lot of women who would like to go travelling but don't necessarily want to go in a mixed group," says Andrea Powis, chief diva and founder of Travelling Divas. "They just want time out to go off with a group of girls and have some fun and explore the world."
"Security, friendship," says Hayley Morris, founder of Sisterhood Womens Travel. "For many, a women-only travel group is nonthreatening, it's more comfortable and emotionally supportive. There are a lot of women who are alone who might have travelled quite extensively with their partners in the past and being in a mixed group can be an unhappy experience. We also get plenty of first-time travellers. Women who don't have someone to travel with, but like the idea of being in a physically and emotionally secure and supportive environment."
"Even a lot of women with partners often feel more comfortable if it's a women-only tour," according to Marika Martinez, the driving force behind Women's Own Adventures. "Most women over 45 don't want to travel totally on their own but if there are men in a group of travellers they're usually in couples and if you're the odd one out it's not an inclusive experience. I once joined a tour group with three couples and two single women in their 20s. I was in my 40s at the time and I was definitely the odd one out. The tour itself was fine but the experience wasn't. And that's what got me thinking about women-only travel."
Marika Martinez was a pioneer of women-only tours in Australia. "That was back in 2007 but now there are several other operators and even mainstream tour operators that are now offering women-only tours."
Martinez estimates that 99 per cent of her clients are women aged 50-plus. "About half of those are single for one reason or another, the rest have partners who don't wish to travel or they've got health issues or they simply don't want to do the same kind of tours. Most of those women are empty nesters, about half are retired and they've got time and money on their hands. Travel gives them a chance to recapture some of their youth and vitality, to get out and do things while they're still active and healthy and they surprise themselves. Quite a few of our clients have never even had a passport before they do a trip with us but once they've experienced travel in a group of women they find there's a lot of camaraderie. They make instant friends and a lot come back and travel again with us or with friends they've made in the group."
"We've had women who have travelled 12 times with us," says Hayley Morris. "We also have women who travel just once or twice with Sisterhood Womens Travel then they become confident enough to spread their wings and start travelling on their own, or with a friend they've met on one of our trips"
Sue Hile has noticed a change in the demographic. "In the past most of our clients were aged 40 to 60 but there's been a shift. Now we're seeing women travelling with us in their 70s. It may be because the husbands are no longer with them, and also we're living a lot longer. There are 70-year-olds who can wipe the floor with the 30-year-olds when it comes to walking."
For women who choose to travel alone but not to be alone, the choice is dazzling.
Fun is a major component of Andrea Powis' Travelling Diva tours. "On my Audrey Hepburn tour to Rome we'll have access to one of the sites where Roman Holiday was shot right next to the Spanish Steps. That's a private home now and we'll have drinks and canapés on the terrace. We'll also whirl them around the Colosseum on the back of a Vespa. It's trying to find those things that people can't access themselves." New in 2016, Travelling Divas is offering a 10-day tour of Oman, an 8-day trip to New York as well as the 12-day tour of Italy, a Diva favourite.
As the name suggests, anyone on an Adventurous Women tour is likely to be found with Vibram soles on their shoes.
"We attract people who want a real experience," says Sue Hile. "They want something authentic." Hile started Adventurous Women eight years ago and she now offers a well-fleshed array of small-group adventures in Australasia with novelty and inspiration as well as a workout on the menu. There's something for every outdoor taste here - walks in the Flinders Ranges, an exploration of the Kimberley via the Gibb River Road and the Cape to Cape walk, one of the glories of Western Australia. Adventurous Women also operates a Women's Adventure Club, a forum for like-minded women which also offers members' discounts on AW tours and provides common ground for women looking for a travel buddy.
Maximum group size is 12. "It's a very personal experience," according to Hile. "And they're really not as tough as they sound. I think the word "adventurous" puts women off sometimes, but when they get to know us they realise that we are just a group of women stepping outside the box a little, and we're very supportive."
A pilot, parachutist and accomplished paraglider, Marika Martinez's small-group Women's Own Adventures come with an edge. Yet despite names that carry the tang of wild places and rasping breath they're well within the grasp of any reasonably fit person, according to Martinez. "Our tours are soft adventure. They're little bit challenging. I try and take people out of their comfort zone so that at the end of the tour you feel like you've done something that was amazing, and you've surprised yourself, whether it be a long walk, climbing a peak or white water kayaking Something that most of them will never have experienced. On a list that is refreshed year to year, cruises to Antarctica and Alaska, treks to Everest Base Camp and in the Pyrenees, the mountain gorillas in Uganda feature on the Women's Own Advanture website, alongside cooking course in Tuscany and a yoga retreat in Bali.
One potential snag for women-only tours is anti-discrimination legislation. The Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 forbids discrimination on the basis of sex. Is this a stumbling block for women-only tours?
"It's never been an issue for us," says Sue Hile. "It's clear that we are not discriminatory by the fact that we hire male guides. It's just never come up as a problem."
"I've not had an issue with it either," says Marika Martinez, "although I've always thought that it could potentially be a tricky situation. I once had a client who travelled previously with me ask if she could bring her husband along on a tour. I contacted the other women who had already booked and asked them if that was okay, they all said "yes no problem," so he came along and it all worked out fine. We are not actually discriminating, we're supporting. We try to make it as comfortable as possible for women who choose to travel with other women. But if a man genuinely wants to join and it's okay with the other members of the group, we're not going to stop him."
Women-only Tour Operators
Girls on Tour
Sisterhood Womens Travel
Women's Own Adventure