Hear Me Roar: The Female Adventure Travel Trend7 min read
“Lions on the runway!” a voice yelled over the speakers on Susan Eckert’s plane. She was finally about to land in Kenya for her African Safari adventure. But, when the plane approached the airstrip, they saw them – lions lying on the airstrip. As the pilot pulled the plane back up, he told her and the 16 others on the plane that the lions loved to lie on the warm sand of the runway.
For as long as she can remember, Eckert was fascinated with Africa. It was something about the exotic animals and the people there – she wanted to go to Africa.
“I just always had it in my bones, even when I was a little kid I wanted to go to Africa,” she says.
When she was in high school, President John Kennedy formed the Peace Corps.
“I thought ‘that’s my ticket to Africa.’”
But before she could trek to Africa, Eckert spent a summer in Europe with college friends. The trip included an excursion to Greece.
“That just blew me away. I was hooked. I thought ‘that’s it – I have to travel,” she says.
An adventurous life
After she finished college, Eckert married her college sweetheart and they both joined the Peace Corps. Six months later, they
were on their way to Sierra Leone. For three years, Eckert did medical work in tetanus prevention in newborns. She showed locals how to boil tools used to cut babies’ umbilical cords to kill germs so they wouldn’t get tetanus.
During those three years in West Africa, Eckert and her husband lived in a mud house without lights or running water.
“It was the biggest adventure of my life,” she says.
After moving home to the States and going through a divorce, Eckert decided it was time to explore a new path.
“I realized I wasn’t going to travel around the world with my husband now. I thought ‘What can I do that I can still travel and see the world?’” she says. The answer to her question was adventure travel. More specifically, it was to start an adventure travel company just for women.
“(Adventure travel) was just becoming a thing. Every company out there was pretty much focused on men. There weren’t a lot of women doing it,” she says. Eckert had completed all of her PhD coursework except her dissertation when she decided to quit the program and start her business Adventure Women. The first international trip she planned was, of course, to Africa – a safari in Kenya that started with lions on the runway.
Eckhert credits adventure travel for changing her life and, essentially, becoming her life. But she’s not the only one who has been so deeply impacted by this type of travel.
“It has changed me in almost every way possible,” says Sawrah Amini, travel blogger for I Have the Wanders. “(Adventure travel) has blown my comfort zone out of the water, expanded my capacity for curiosity, taught me to adapt in incredibly unusual situations and changed my perception of people in general.”
Adventure travel is often defined as a type of tourism that involves exploration or travel with perceived or actual risk. In some cases, adventure travel may also include the possibility of requiring specialized skill and physical exertion – think mountain climbing or skiing. That may also include traveling to a location for hiking, bungee jumping, white water rafting and more.
“It’s doing things that maybe you haven’t done before,” Eckert says. “It’s taking yourself out of your own comfort zone and even learning a new skill.”
While Amini’s first taste of adventure travel wasn’t conventionally extreme, it was certainly an adventure that was out of her comfort zone. When she was 16, she traveled to Spain for two weeks.
“It was so different than my normal life. Today I wouldn’t consider it adventure travel necessarily, but when I look back, it was extreme given my life up until that point,” she says. That trip was her first experience abroad, without her parents, in a place where English wasn’t the predominant language where she was exposed to structures and culture she never knew existed – and she fell in love with international travel.
“It was during that trip that I had my first death defying bus ride, got lost in a big city and had to use my language skills to find my way back, and realized my ‘American-ness.’ Each trip from there on would get more adventurous and push my limits and comfort zone more and more,” Amini says. Since that first trip, she has traveled to 44 countries and more than 25 states in the U.S.
So what is it about this type of tourism that attracts women? Sure, men are known to be drawn to risk and adventure for the thrill and “manliness” of it, but what do women get out of it?
Curiosity Fuels an Adventure
For many world travelers, seeing a new place or experiencing a new culture isn’t just about leaving the familiar behind for excitement – it’s about satisfying something stronger within.
“Insatiable curiosity” is what Amini says keeps drawing her back.
At its core, adventure travel is about satisfying one’s curiosity about the world and about themselves.
“There is always so much more to learn and experience. Each person you meet while traveling will tell you about a place you haven’t been to or tell you about an activity you haven’t done and I always want to do it,” she says.
Often, a significant life event will spur a woman to explore the world.
“The big one is empowerment,” Eckert says of how adventure travel is different for women. “They feel empowered. They take that leap and they do it. They are so empowered – it makes a huge difference in their lives.”
“Women often come back from adventure travel with a new or renewed self-confidence and the sense of ‘I feel like I can do anything,'” Eckert says. This change is something Eckert has personally watched happen on the trips she hosts.
“It feels awesome to see that. I have women say to me ‘These trips have changed my life.’ But it wasn’t me. I provided the gateway, but they’re the ones responsible and credited with being open to changing their lives,” she says.
Barbara McNally wrote Unbridled about her travels to Ireland and Jamaica after her 20-year marriage ended.
“My divorce taught me to take risks,” she says.
“The purpose of life after all is to live it, to taste each experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for new and rich experiences.”
Not your mother’s girls’ getaway
Up until recently, the idea of a “girls’ trip” or “girls’ getaway” meant spa treatments, wine tasting or shopping sprees. These are still popular trips for women, but more and more women are looking for ways to up the ante when it comes to travel.
Cue adventure travel. Women are increasingly booking high-octane excursions like trekking mountains, horseback riding, and more for the adrenaline rush and female bonding. For instance, Amini has done everything from trekking in the Himalayas to camping out in the Mongolian country side to zip lining and canoeing through a rainforest in Costa Rica. Extreme, right?
For Amini, her adventure travels have evoked a whole gamut of emotions and feelings.
“I have felt everything from exhilaration and joy to complete and utter paralyzing fear. Even if you have done a lot of self-exploration, you never know when a situation during adventure travel is going to bring up a new emotion for you, every situation is new and unique to that exact moment in time and that is often times unpredictable emotionally,” she says.
Traveling to a new destination to ski, bungee jump, experience a new culture, zip line, or some other thrilling activity may sound scary to a woman who has never had the opportunity to do so before. But, according to Eckert, the juice is worth the squeeze.
“Leap, take the jump. A lot of women look into adventure travel because they want to do something different,” she says.
Adventure travel offers the chance to see new places, experience and learn about new cultures, test your physical abilities and walk away feeling more confident and empowered.
“We can all practice the art of adventure and exploration when we break the chains of routine and step out of our comfort zone,” says McNally, the author. “To me, traveling to new places, making new friends, and acquiring new viewpoints is living a creative life.”
“I think adventure travel transforms you no matter the level of adventure. It enhances who you are as a person and brings new skills to your life regardless of age, gender or profession,” Amini says.