This post is part of Jessie on a Journey’s Inspiring Travelers series.
By Michele Herrmann, Regular Contributor
As CEO and founder of Wanderful, Beth Santos has created an international community of over 15,000 empowered women travelers who support and learn from one another at the same time. She also established the Women in Travel Summit, an annual conference for female travel influencers and industry members. Jessie on a Journey caught up with Santos to learn more about informational resources for women’s travel and essential advice for females on the road.
1) Before Wanderful, what resources on women’s travel were available? What does Wanderful bring to the table?
When I first started the blog that became Wanderful, I was living in Sao Tome and Principe, a small two-island nation off of Africa’s West Coast. I was a school teacher, living like a regular Sao Tomean would. I learned how to ride a motorcycle to get to school every day and bought jackfruit from my favorite seller after class; I even had a boyfriend. Yet, I also became hyper-aware of my identity as a female and as a foreigner.
I came to understand what it meant to be a Sao Tomean woman, but I also experienced what’s known as the “third gender” concept where foreign women have sort of an alternate identity. They’re neither subjected to the social limitations facing local women nor entirely exposed to the social benefits that local men experience.
If you were a woman traveling on her own, you could find loads of information online about what kind of makeup to wear or what kind of bikini to buy. But there was very little about some of the much deeper questions surrounding a woman’s global identity. How do I stay safe when traveling alone at night? How do I dress appropriately as a foreigner to respect the local culture? What are my options for birth control abroad? Even if these questions are more or less the same — no matter what trip you’re going on — the answers are radically different. They can change over time.
Wanderful helps a woman answer these questions by giving her the best tools available — other women with knowledge of the place she’s going to (whether they have been there or are locals themselves). We create a sisterhood around the world who empower each other to get out there and travel, whether it’s alone, with a partner, or in a group.Are you a #female #traveler? Then this is a must-read Click To Tweet
2) From your perspective, what factors must solo women travelers keep in mind?
In my opinion, there are two schools of thought that people occupy when they talk about women traveling, and especially alone. The first is that women’s experiences abroad should be considered no different than men’s. The second is that women have loads of things they need to think about when they travel that are opposite to men — especially when it comes to travel safety. At Wanderful, we fit into a middle ground. We believe that women’s experiences abroad should be no different from men’s, yet we also recognize that, in many instances, they are different, and we need to be informed about them.
Such topics include:
- How to travel safely alone (including the discussion of sexual assault or harassment abroad, but also not discounting the need to bust myths about the actual frequency of these things happening to women versus the perceived frequency in the media)
- Understanding how women may be treated differently from men in a country you’re visiting
- How to dress appropriately to be respectful within a country with specific social norms
- How to obtain safe birth control or maternity care abroad and managing your period on the road
3) What common misconceptions do you find women have about solo travel? How does Wanderful address these misgivings?
I think solo travel can be a very scary concept for a lot of people. For some, it’s because they worry about being lonely, but many have safety concerns as well. Part of this, in my opinion, can be attributed to the media and society’s negative impressions about women who travel alone. When Sarai Sierra (a mother who was traveling solo abroad) was killed in Turkey, many commenters on this news story said she shouldn’t have left her husband and kids at home or have been traveling by herself in the first place. We regularly hear news stories on women who are brutally murdered in their hotel rooms, or sexually assaulted on buses. At the same time, we get movies like Eat, Pray, Love and Under The Tuscan Sun. Which is the right narrative? Should we be afraid or excited about traveling abroad?
One of the things that Wanderful recently launched in partnership with Hostelling International is a revamped version of their “Women Traveling Solo 101” workshop series. It’s now a three-hour course that dives into myths about traveling alone, shares real-life experiences from some of our Wanderful members, consults with social workers on taking self-care while on the road, and even talks about various gadgets that appeal to women who travel. You can expect to see that workshop coming to a Hostelling International near you this year, though we’ve already been giving it to sold-out audiences in the Boston area.
4) How does Wanderful address the topic of personal safety?
Is there any solo traveler who shouldn’t be thinking about their safety? Whether you’re a man or a woman, making sure you’re safe while traveling should be a priority. You should have steps prepared to deal with safety situations — numbers you can call, contacts you should reach out to — no matter what. Someone should always know where you are. But you also should be careful to use your gut and not make your safety an impediment to your travel experience. There are a lot of things that turn out to be some of the best travel experiences of your life because you put a certain amount of trust in a stranger or tried something new. Being self-aware, using your smarts, and making sure someone has an idea of where to find you (whether a partner, a friend or even your hostel’s concierge) should always be at the top of your list.
Though we can’t guarantee anyone’s safety, our Wanderful chapters are certainly moving into the area of being “welcoming committees” for new members visiting their city/town. These are groups of locals and expats who gather together a couple of times per month for social activities. They’re also becoming a valuable resource for people traveling through their location. We’re also looking at assembling local guides written by our members that can help newbies navigate a new city — and know where to seek help if they need it.Here's a community to #empower #women who love #travel Click To Tweet
5) How do Wanderful members help each other?
Up until now, our community has mainly existed through online content, our chapters, the Women in Travel Summit and a thriving Facebook group. These are the ways in which our members share their experiences. I have been incredibly impressed with the openness that our members have shown each other: helping someone determine if a skirt length is too short for Morocco, meeting up while traveling solo through Australia; starting a Wanderful chapter in their new hometown to bring other women together.
To ensure a trusted and supportive community, all members pay an annual membership rate and must verify their accounts through various social media platforms. In January, we’re launching a fully functional membership platform, where women can create profiles, join chapter discussion boards, message each other, and arrange for meetups on the road and staying in each other’s homes. It’s going to be an amazing new way to use Wanderful and connect with our global community at large.
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