While traveling it can be easy to get swept up in adventure, tours, or checking off bucket list activities. Everything is fresh, exciting, and eye-opening.
But when you step back from your lens, look beyond your trail, or think about how you’re even getting around a country, you might notice that most of the businesses and systems allowing the exploration of this place are owned by men.
Now, I’m not saying to automatically avoid male-run businesses, but I’m challenging everyone to reflect on what this means for women in countries quite reliant on tourism.
By making easy travel adjustments either in the planning stages, while on your trip, or even after returning home, your travel dollars can support women who are sometimes hidden – yet fundamental – within a community.
Economic empowerment is female empowerment. When women succeed, so do their families, their children, and their communities.
Where are the gendered gaps?
Despite gendered gaps in wages, job titles, or entire industries throughout the world, there are, encouragingly, higher rates of female entrepreneurship and tourism jobs for women in developing countries.
This can be attributed to women facing greater barriers to entry in formal labor market jobs, so women will resort to entrepreneurship to avoid unemployment and poverty.
As a westerner, the dilemma of limited options for women could be easy to write off as just a developing problem, but it’s clear that gendered gaps are sewn into societies near and far, as women in the United States earn 78 cents to every white man’s dollar (and women of color earn far less).
Considering the growing rates of women’s entrepreneurship and tourism being a viable industry for women to earn a living, we must note that men-led businesses still total greater, grow larger, and are more profitable than women’s, even in the same industry. Most importantly we must ask ourselves what our role is in changing this.
Use your consumer power wisely
I know how overwhelming it feels to face all the gendered disparities in the world and feel like personal habits won’t make the difference you actually want to see. But there is power in our consumerism, and there is an endless chain of benefits in women supporting women, especially globally.
When we invest in women, research proves that women will reinvest money back into their families at a higher rate than men, providing access to education for their children and creating healthier communities and stronger economies.
As a young traveler, one of my top priorities is stretching my dollar. I get it; we’re all on budgets. I typically prioritized convenience, cost, and security while traveling, until I started seeing mostly men benefit from this industry.
I really had not been thinking about where I was putting my travel dollar until recently when I was traveling in Peru and went on a jungle trek, led entirely by a group of men.
Luckily, I felt safe and had a great time. But when I stepped back from it all, and I thought about how much money gets poured into this industry to contribute greatly to Peru’s economy, I thought, where are the women?
Women entrepreneurs, craftswomen, and women-owned shops are out there, we just need to look.
Despite these gendered differences, the travel industry already employs twice as many women as other sectors, meaning we have an opportunity as consumers and responsible travelers to support and invest in women’s livelihood worldwide.
With a little time and research and an invigorated perspective on what we can give while we gain from our travels, we can do a better job of supporting women by starting to change simple habits.
Specify your Google searches to find women-owned businesses
Now, don’t think that seeking out more women-led businesses or tour groups means hopping in and out of shops frantically searching for women owners. One initial way to begin searching for women-owned businesses is to modify your Google searches when you’re researching your next trip.
Just think of all the common, Google-able travel topics: lodging, activities, places to eat, drink, transportation, and shopping.
Until recently, my searches were basically a combination of place + thing I wanted to do. I found that simply adding in “women-owned” before “travel businesses” led me to so many resources of women-led adventures, woman-founded travel companies, or organizations promoting responsible travel in general.
After this search I found so many valuable resources to help guide me in planning a more conscious trip. I was immediately brought to women-founded travel companies, women-only tours, articles on fostering women-led businesses in tourism, and black-owned travel companies, too.
Book women-led tours
Once I explored some new pages from my Google search, I found resources like Women Travel the World. This website connects women travelers with women-run tourism ventures around the world. They list over 100 different travel companies that are either owned or run by women or offer tours for women. These trips span continents and endorse tours that promote the international connection of women and where portions of trip costs often benefit local women’s organizations.
From my Google search, another great resource I found was Responsible Vacation, which supports women who have founded and run vacation companies around the world. What I liked about this website is that it profiles the women entrepreneurs they support.
If your mom is anything like mine, then you’re all too familiar about keeping your guard up while traveling and taking nothing at face value. To counter any skepticism, Responsible Travel introduces you to women tourism leaders who are working to empower local women by inviting travelers to partake in everything from hiking adventures, festival holiday tours, volunteering opportunities, or even marine conservation tours.
Sustainable, supportive shopping
While in Peru, I knew I wanted to bring home classic Andean sweaters and textiles, but had not been thinking about how my keepsakes could support women behind the scenes in this market.
Only once I was home did I begin thinking more consciously about how my dollar can support and empower women, even in small ways. Curious about my options, I Googled “women-owned businesses Peru textiles” to find the organization Awamaki.
I wish I would have known about this while in Cusco, as Awamaki helps Andean women start and operate their own businesses. They offer community tours, cooking classes, and weaving workshops in villages.
Not only is this sustainable tourism, but also an opportunity to support women, especially rural women, who are often excluded from the traditional labor force due to barriers like education or transportation.
An organization like this also leaves room for continued support after your trip. No room in your luggage? Forgot to buy that gift for your sister? You can shop directly online and buy traditional textiles as gifts for your loved ones.
You can even find housing options that support women
Another option to support women while traveling is to choose your housing wisely. Consider staying with a female Airbnb host. Search for women-owned bed and breakfasts’ or boutique hotels.
This year, Essence shared an article on, “The Only Black Woman To Own And Operate A Hotel In Morocco.”
Just think about this: if more awareness is brought to this woman being the only black woman to own a Moroccan hotel, then it might be in high demand amongst travelers. This demand could inspire other women, especially other minority women to open up their own hotels, too.
Choosing a women-owned hotel or bed and breakfast can bring you all the amenities you are searching for, yet also has the potential for long-term, positive change for women entrepreneurs.
Engage with local women
If you’re staying in a hostel, then likely the baristas or front-desk workers are full of knowledge! Ask them for their favorite woman-owned restaurant or café.
You can also check out local markets for an immediate way to connect with women artisans or fruit sellers. Try to converse with these women and ask for their recommendations that align with your interests.
Even if you don’t speak the native language, warmth in eye contact and smiles goes a long way.
Consider potential cultural barriers and find other ways to help women
If you find yourself in a place complicated by cultural norms or barriers like unequal education access or dangerous transportation that potentially restricts women from starting businesses, then obviously there are limits to what travelers can do to support women entrepreneurs.
If this is the case, consider donating to organizations that work to empower women economically and socially, like Women for Women. Specifically focusing on women’s empowerment in conflict-affected countries, the organization helps women understand their rights and teaches them skills to apply to the labor market.
This is an excellent way to both acknowledge our outsider status as travelers and not enter a place as a Western hero, but rather acknowledge the norms that inhibit growth amongst women in certain countries, and donate to organizations that help women with what they feel they need.
For the love of sisterhood
Traveling is more than just a vacation. Travel makes you grow in so many different ways, and learn what is truly important to yourself and your place in the world. Since we gain so much from visiting new lands and experiencing different cultures, we need to consider how to support our sisters along the way, even in small acts.
Connecting with people across cultures and countries in general is an amazing, rich feeling. As a woman, some of my most cherished travel experiences have been when I am learning from women and bonding, no matter how brief.
Shifting the way we travel and connecting with women along the way help us all recognize our commonalities as women. When we support one another we grow together; watching each other learn and succeed creates unmatched warmth. It’s like we are building tiny homes in each other’s hearts; simply feeling safe, encouraged, and loved by a stranger.