Women-Only India Travel Club Breaks With Tradition

Flickr photo by rajkumar1220

Historically, the idea of independent travel was not an option for Indian women. They typically stayed at home, cared for by a husband or a father figure. But with more female opportunities in education and employment, the role of India’s women is changing. Say hello to Indian travel clubs.

Traditional travel groups for Indian women included widows, abandoned wives and the elderly. But even those women traveled with a male chaperone, mostly to religious sites. Today’s Indian travel for women includes trips around the world, from the the Taj Mahal to the Antarctic.

“In a typical Indian family holiday women end up in a role-playing mode of being a mother, wife, daughter and are often unable to experience a destination as an individual,” says Piya Bose, owner of Mumbai-based women’s travel group, GOTG (Girls on the Go) in an Aljazeera article.As the number of urban, educated Indian women grows, so have the number of travel clubs enabling them to see the world on their own.

With offices in both New Delhi in North India and Bangalore in South India, Women On Wanderlust (WOW) is another travel club, this one founded by travel writer Sumitra Senapathy who promotes the advantages of group travel. “They can come in solo but travel with the security that a group provides”, says Senapathy.

India Travel Guide

Unusual Tourist Attraction: Japanese City Unveils World’s Largest Toilet

toilets While most travelers spend time visiting sites like churches, castles, parks and museums, Ichihara City in the Chiba Prefecture of Japan is hoping to bring in tourists with a new kind of attraction: the world’s largest toilet. In fact, they’re so hopeful that the unusual attraction will bring in travelers; they’ve spent 10 million yen (about $125,945) on the project.

The site, which sits in front of Itabu Station on the Kominato Railway Line, is actually your average-sized toilet; however, it’s housed in a giant clear box and sits on an expansive 2,153 square-foot plot of land. While it doesn’t provide much privacy on the property, there is a surrounding fence to hide the toilet from outsiders. The city is hoping the beautiful new toilet will provide an enjoyable reprieve for drivers and passengers of the train, as well as attendees of next year’s Ichihara Art Festival.

Right now, the lavish restroom is only open to women, although the designer of the toilet, Sou Fujimoto, wants it to be open to the public for everyone to enjoy.

“I could enjoy the spectacular view while still feeling protected,” the architect told the Japan Times. “No other toilet would allow you a feeling like that.”

Five things (most) women should pack when traveling to a foreign country

women's pack listI’m not one to whine about the hardships faced by solo female travelers. Sure, some things are frustrating, but in general, I much prefer to travel alone, and the more challenging the destination, the better. I don’t go out of my way to attract trouble or visit sketchy places, but I’ve had my share of close calls and situations that set off alarm bells.

For the most part, however, I’ve been treated with generosity and kindness while traveling alone, and had my most rewarding travel experiences. That said, there’s a few things most women should bring on trips to foreign lands, solo or no. Guys, you got it easy.

1. Appropriate attire
More than just practicality, wearing the right clothes is important from both a cultural/religious respect and personal safety standpoint. Showing too much skin or your hair is definitely not cool in much of the Middle East or Muslim world, and skimpy attire or sunbathing topless is just plain disrespectful, not to mention dangerous, in many countries.

Remember that we’re incredibly liberal here in the U.S. (too much, in my opinion) when it comes to public dress code…or lack thereof. Don’t make yourself a target for crime or unwanted solicitation. You don’t have to go all Victorian, but use good judgement.

2. Tampons
It may come as a shock, but to most of the world–including much of Europe–tampons are a foreign concept or a luxury/exorbitantly expensive. If you’ve ever tried to find tampons in Latin America, you know what I mean. Whether the reasons are cultural, religious, or geographical doesn’t matter. If you’re not down with wearing the equivalent of a diaper, BYOT.

[Photo credit: Flickr user fisserman]

Solo Travel Tips For Womenwomen's pack list3. Prescriptions for UTI’s, yeast infections, morning-after pill, etc.
There’s no better teacher than life. Let’s just say that enduring 14 hours of rutted highway on a janky Mexican bus while suffering a raging bladder infection is not an experience I care to repeat. These days, I travel with a full-on portable pharmacy, but at the very least, bring these basic Rx’s.

As for the morning-after pill, better safe than sorry. Don’t assume you can get an Rx filled overseas, so bring the actual dosage in its original packaging, and scan and email yourself copies of all prescriptions. And speaking of the morning after…

4. Condoms
You never know when you might need them, and purchasing them from a vending machine in a bar in a developing nation (not that this happened to me) because they’re not available elsewhere is just asking for trouble. Don’t trust foreign condoms–they’re not subjected to the same FDA testing and safety standards as American brands manufactured domestically. And please: if you’re having a foreign (or any other) fling, no glove, no love.
women's pack list
5. Hard and email copies of important documents and contact information
Email yourself, family members, and a close friend your itinerary, contact numbers (if applicable), emergency contact numbers (including bank and credit card companies), and copies of your passport and medical (and travel, if applicable) insurance card. If you’re going somewhere prone to natural disasters, civil unrest, or general sketchiness, it’s not a bad idea to register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Oh, and one more thing you should always bring with you:Common sense.
Don’t be lulled into complacency: always walk with a sense of purpose, and keep your wits about you. Same goes for partying: the only one responsible for your personal safety is you, so go easy on the beer or local libation. If you’re going to hook up, better to go back to your accommodation, and make sure an employee sees the two of you together or openly text a friend of your whereabouts and who you’re with. And please, don’t be tempted to use or buy illegal drugs: besides the stiff penalties for getting caught (life in a Thai prison or death isn’t a good way to end a holiday), you may also find yourself the unwitting victim of a set-up. Just say no.

[Photo credits: pills, Flickr user michaelll; luau, Laurel Miller]

“Hyatt for Her” launches at select European hotels: what else would improve a woman’s travel experience?

hyatt for her at hyatt berlin - turn your room into a spaAirlines baggage fees and liquid allowances are a particular inconvenience to female travelers, particularly those (yes, we’re guilty) who load their bags and carry-ons with perfume, hair straighteners and various creams and gels.

We’ve found a few workarounds – sites like 3floz.com to find our favorite products in travel size, gadgets like Travalo, a refillable perfume atomizer, and the Inouis CORE, a handbag organizer that doubles as our in-flight gadget and makeup holder.

Still, we’re excited by the launch of Hyatt’s new “Hyatt for Her” program, a special initiative to increase the comfort of, and show special attention to women when they travel.

“We created this special offer for female travellers because it is essential to us to understand the lifestyle and needs of women who travel a lot and are always in a hurry but have to look smart all the time,” said Fred Hürst, the general manager of Grand Hyatt Berlin.The new program offers a “hair menu” so that guests can choose the shampoo and conditioner perfect for their individual hair type and style. Developed in partnership with Kérastase, the menu includes three types of products: one for coloured hair, one for dry hair and one for weak and fine hair. The program also includes an in-room manicure, pedicure, and blow dry service. The mani/pedi is a reasonable €50 per treatment, comparable to a spa service in the states.

The program is currently available at the brand’s Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne, Mainz and Zurich properties.

It’s a good start, although we probably wouldn’t bother with the blowout or mani/pedi. We’d like to see the program expanded to include supplies of items like hair straighteners (CHI, please) and curling irons upon request, and the addition of miniature hair spray cans to complimentary available amenities lists.

We were particularly excited by a recent stay at Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, where we found our in-room amenities curated by none other than the editors at Allure magazine – our supply included Davines shampoo and conditioner, which we promptly purchased after our stay. The boutique hotel can easily adapt its menu, which might not be feasible at a large chain like Hyatt, but still, the option remains for increased brand / hotel partnerships.

What else would you add to your travel wish list, ladies?

[Flickr via garybembridge]

Ask Gadling: How not to act like a tourist in a foreign country

Merriam-Webster defines a tourist as, “one who makes a tour for pleasure or culture.” I would stretch that definition to include business travelers, assuming they have a bit of leisure time.

Here at Gadling, our goal is to encourage travel and exploration, even if it’s in your hometown. For the purposes of this article, however, I’m referring to non-domestic travel. And no matter how hard you try, even if you live in a foreign country and speak the language fluently, natives always know you’re a tourist or not one of them.

I believe that being a tourist generally entails asking a lot of questions out of curiousity or general inquiry, and making the occasional cultural gaffe. But there are many compelling reasons why you should squelch the urge to behave like the stereotypical tourist: the Ugly American, say, or a culturally clueless wanderer. Without getting into semantics or the murky, pretentious waters of “traveler” versus “tourist.” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not always the ideal traveler. There are times when I’m frustrated, pissed off, or discombobulated. But one of the reasons I travel is that I like to challenge myself, and get out of my comfort zone. Once I remind myself of that, I’m able to relax, and usually, find the humor in a situation.

Advantages to not acting like a tourist

Safety. Just like at home, if you look like you know where you’re going–even if you don’t–you’re less likely to become a target for crime or harassment. We’ve all had to whip out a map or guidebook, no matter how surreptitiously. There’s nothing wrong with that: just don’t flaunt it. Most people are genuinely helpful, but if I need assistance, I prefer to choose my source if the circumstances are remotely sketchy.

A more rewarding cultural experience. This isn’t to say an incredible trip is impossible for aloha-wear-clad package tourists who never leave the confines of their hotel property, or independent travelers who consult Generic Guidebook at every step. But straying from the beaten path, being culturally aware, and allowing things to happen serendipitously are a lot easier when you have low-key dress and demeanor, and an open mind.

You’ll enjoy yourself more. Intense cultural experiences aren’t always pleasant (the time I was the only butt-naked Westerner in a very local’s-only Moroccan hammam was, shall we say, awkward). But as a rule, being open to such experiences allows you to feel less like an outsider, and provides a window into how other people live, eat, socialize, fall in love, celebrate, and mourn. There’s a fine line between being a participant and a cultural voyeur, however, and doing a bit of pre-trip research will go far in helping you avoid crossing it.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Todd Mecklem]

Things you can do to lessen your “touristiness”

Learn a few key phrases. No one expects you to speak the local language, but it’s helpful to learn basics like “hello,” “thank you,” “please,” and “where’s the bathroom?” It also endears you to most natives (save the French, who generally–and stereotypically– aren’t charmed when you butcher their mother tongue). Many of the wonderful invitations and experiences I’ve had came from my willingness to respect the local culture, no matter how idiotic I sounded at the time. Even pointing to sentences in a phrasebook is more polite than Speaking.English.Loudly.and.Slowly. to someone who obviously doesn’t understand you. I never head to a non-English-speaking country without a Lonely Planet Phrasebook.

Learn a bit about your destination. You don’t need to memorize the entire history of, say, Portugal, but it’s helpful to read up on the country, its people, and customs. It will help you to understand certain quirks, the cuisine, religious practices, etc. It also helps prevent you from committing irritating, inadvertently offensive acts like insistently speaking Spanish to a Portuguese bus driver (I’m talking to you, Mr. Clueless Backpacker on the Faro-to-Seville route). That’s a relatively innocuous crime, but things like touching a person on the head or pointing your foot at them (Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia), making the “OK” symbol (Brazil), or exposing bare shoulders if you’re a female visiting a mosque are decidedly not cool, and can have unpleasant repercussions. Don’t be that person. Behave Yourself: The Essential Guide to International Etiquette is a great–and funny–crash course on global customs.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.

Use your indoor voice. As Americans, we’re known for our friendliness, enthusiasm, and eagerness to express our opinions. Not bad traits. But in a foreign country, these things, combined with our notoriously high decibel level, can be misconstrued or just plain obnoxious. Along the same lines, curb the American tendency to boast, and know when to let certain comments or behaviors slide–sometimes, you need to bite your lip, and remember that you’re the visitor. It’s never worth compromising your personal safety (or that of another) to voice an opinion, but by all means, do stand up for yourself if you’re at risk.

Dress appropriately. This generally applies more to women than men, but in general, why would you want to draw unwanted attention to yourself? Leave the frat shirts, booty shorts, and low-cut tank tops at home. While this is a basic personal safety issue, it’s also about cultural respect. It’s tacky and offensive for a Western woman to sunbathe topless in Southern Thailand (which has a sizeable Muslim population), but it can be seriously problematic for her to show too much skin or not wear a headscarf in certain rural areas of the Middle East.

Lend a hand. While some might see this as uber-touristy (if not outright patronizing), I often bring useful items with me to certain countries. Whether it’s colored pencils or clothing for kids, basic medical necessities, or fresh produce, the fact is, isolated and impoverished people are often grateful for assistance. I won’t bring or distribute items without doing a bit of research to see if it’s acceptable/what communities are in need of.

Eat as the locals do, or at least pretend. For me, street food and dining in a private home are the greatest joys of travel. But not everyone feels that way, and sometimes, even I find myself confronted by a glass or plate of something so repulsive/high-risk, I can’t bring myself to partake. To refuse an offering can often cause disgrace or mortal offense to your host, so if at all possible, fake it. That banana chicha, fermented by a heaping dose of my (likely tubercular) host’s saliva? Yeah, I didn’t really drink that.

Wear your poker face. I’ve often been told I have an expressive face (usually not as a compliment). When I’m traveling abroad, I have to work overtime to not show emotions when confronted with a cultural foible or other situation that amuses or offends my American sensibilities. And while losing your temper can occasionally work in your favor, remember that in many parts of the world–most notably, Asia–it’s seen as a major character flaw. Take a deep breath, simmer down, and please don’t unleash the “But I’m an American!” card.

Rules to follow as a tourist

Be humble and gracious. You may find the local diet, standard of living, and treatment of women appalling, but you needn’t need show it.

Be respectful. You’re the foreigner speaking a crazy language.

Don’t be a victim. Use common sense, and don’t go looking for trouble. If it finds you anyway, try resolve the situation in a non-confrontational way, or do what you need to do to protect yourself. In a worst case scenario, call your nearest embassy or consulate.

Be prepared. Always have a Plan B, whether it’s money, copies of your passport and medical insurance, or taking out travel insurance. Email yourself and family or a friend copies of all important documents, including lists of emergency contacts, doctors, and collect numbers for banks and credit card companies.

Be grateful. No matter what kind of amazing adventures I have, and no matter how much my nationality/government/deeply ingrained personal and cultural shortcomings may embarrass me, I’m profoundly appreciative that being an American grants me the quality of life and civil liberties I possess.

[Photo credits: NY, Flickr user Baptiste Pons; Las Vegas, Flickr user geoperdis; Mona Lisa, Flickr user Gregory Bastien]