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TRAVEL INSIDER : 'For Women Only' Trips Are Gaining Converts : Vacations: Sailing or trekking, single-sex tours are unusual for emphasis on group learning and interaction.

April 18, 1993|JUDI DASH | Dash is a New Jersey-based free-lance writer. and

While it might, as the saying goes, be nice to have a man around the house, an increasing number of women are opting not to have any along on an adventure vacation--thus creating a mini-boom in organized trips for women only.

The reasons for wanting to travel guy-less range, say adventure travel outfitters, from the spiritual--the anticipated joy of bonding with other women, for example--to the practical: Some trip leaders maintain that women conceptualize and master certain skills, such as navigating a sailboat or scaling a mountain, differently than men do, and accomplish more in a same-sex learning environment. Age, too, can come into play; several companies state outright their trips are for women over 35 or 40, who may be new to the physical rigors of outdoor adventures and don't want to have to keep up with fitness buffs in their 20s.

"Many of these women have never left home alone before, but always traveled with their husbands and kids," said Marion Stoddart, owner of Outdoor Vacations for Women Over 40, in Groton, Mass. "Now their kids are grown and off on their own, and their husbands are dead or gone, or simply not interested in an adventure experience. As these women see the big zeros in their lives--40, 50, 60--they're realizing their own mortality and that there are some things in life they cannot postpone doing any longer or they'll never do them."

Suzanne Pogell, president of Womanship, a 9-year-old sailing school in Annapolis, Md., said she sometimes gets calls from irate men and women who object to her single-sex programs. "The guys accuse me of being sexist in excluding them from my trips, and the women think I'm suggesting females are somehow dumber than men and need special handling, but none of that's the point," she said. "The truth is many women need an opportunity to develop competence and confidence without the pressures and even well-meant protections that men often provide.

"In sailing, we've found that women's way of learning is different from men's--more global, with a lot more explanation and hands-on demonstration," said Pogell, whose company runs two- to seven-day courses out of its Annapolis base as well as marinas in Florida, the Virgin Islands, New England and Washington state. Womanship's motto, she adds, is "Nobody yells."

Susan Eckert, owner of Rainbow Adventures, an Evanston, Ill., company that runs about 22 trips a year for women over 35, said that in the 12 years she has been in business, the average age of participants has increased--to about 50--while the physical demands of the itineraries have decreased. "We don't do backpacking treks or two-week canoe outings anymore," she said. "Wherever we go, camels, llamas or Sherpas carry the gear."

Stamina-building is, however, an integral part of the women's trips run by the Sierra Club and Outward Bound--particularly the latter, whose name is synonymous with rough and tough wilderness challenges. Fifty years old itself, Outward Bound, based in Greenwich, Conn., has grown mellower and more tolerant with age, no longer espousing a strictly survival-school stance. Outward Bound's Krista Sullivan said that, while the courses are physically demanding, individuals are encouraged to go at their own pace, competing with no one but themselves.

Every program, from alpine mountaineering to dog-sledding, canyon trekking and white-water canoeing, is offered several times a year as an all-women trip to make the experience even more user-friendly for neophytes, Sullivan said.

Carol Hake, a 63-year-old Sierra Club hike leader, has spent eight summers teaching women from 17 to 74 how to tote a 35-pound backpack cross-country without hurting backs or necks.

"We go short distances, just three to four miles a day the first couple of days, and the women learn that by correctly packing and carrying well-designed packs, they don't ever have to be in pain," said Hake, whose weeklong trips are in the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area south of Yosemite National Park.

"The Sierra Club women's trips often are as much about winding down as moving along," said Hake. "So many of these vigorous women are burned out from their jobs or home stresses and spend much of their time stretched out by a creek, splashing nude in a fresh mountain pool or sketching the wildflowers."

While most women's trips involve a high level of female bonding, Women to Women, a program run by Overseas Adventure Travel, of Cambridge, Mass., was created specifically to foster cross-cultural communication and understanding. Accompanied by a local bilingual guide, participants stay in villages in Tanzania or Nepal and Tibet, working and cooking alongside the local women and exchanging ideas about women's issues, ranging from legal rights to child rearing, and emotional concerns.

What follows is a selection of outfitters and their trips for women. Except where noted, air fare to the destination costs extra, as do many incidentals:

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