Hey, girlfriends, there's a place for us. On second thought, make that thousands of places. Thousands of experiences too. From gap-year gals to empty-nesters, women are setting off on travel adventures in greater numbers just with the girls.
Exactly how many? U.S. women took 45 million trips last year, either alone or with their girlfriends and female family members, according to April Merenda, president of Gutsy Women Travel. When Merenda co-founded her company 10 years ago, 20 percent of women older than 40 were single, divorced or widowed; now that figure stands at 40 percent, she said. And half of women who are married have taken trips without the hubby, she added.
Patricia Wilson, a senior project manager in New York and veteran of numerous Gutsy Women Tours, finds that traveling with other women can be as rewarding as the destination itself. "My first trip was to China," Wilson said, "and I couldn't have dreamed how wonderful it would be, from dining with a local female government official to shopping in Shanghai to, of course, climbing the Great Wall.
Since then, I've gone to Peru, Argentina and Egypt … all, I might add, where I met fascinating women." She said her most surprising encounter came on the Argentina tour, where she met Floridian Mary Lou Burgess, and the two discovered that they were related by marriage.
In planning my own girlfriend getaways, I've discovered that the "what" is just as vital as the "where."
Sure, the destination is important, but even more so is the range of experiences we can share while we're there. In other words, we want a trip that has it all, even if we don't get around to everything a spot has to offer.
The easy answers: New York; San Francisco; Las Vegas; Florence, Italy; and Paris; cruises; B&B weekends; hotel packages; and spa stays. Each is a top choice. But great girl trips aren't always so obvious.
Here are three of my favorite girlfriend getaways, chosen for the sheer variety of possibilities.
Oahu, Hawaii: The fusion of Pacific Rim cultures, combined with remote mountain-to-ocean adventures and international shopping make Oahu the prime choice for the total Hawaiian experience. In Honolulu alone, you can begin the day with a hike to the pinnacle of Diamond Head for panoramic views, then dine, shop or surf the length of Waikiki, home to an increasing number of interesting restaurants and boutiques. Spend an afternoon exploring the city's vibrant Chinatown and return to the hotel zone for sunset — the terraces at Westin Moana Surfrider, Sheraton Waikiki and Halekulani have the best views — accompanied by Hawaiian slack-key guitar. On the island's famed North Shore, active adventures include shark dives, horseback rides and four-wheel jaunts into the backcountry. The North Shore, anchored by Turtle Bay Resort, also is where you'll experience Hawaii's most spectacular luau and hula show, at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Information: Hawaii Tourism Authority, Oahu, 800-464-2924, gohawaii.com/oahu
Monterey, Calif.: Rugged natural beauty, abundant wildlife and cultural wealth merge seamlessly here, making Monterey the ideal base for exploring California's postcard-perfect Central Coast. Three Spanish-era missions, the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium and a host of storied restaurants — Marinus Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley and Pacific's Edge at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands lead a very long list — make for ideal breaks between coastal hikes in Point Lobos State Reserve, oceanfront walks in Pacific Grove, golfing in Pebble Beach and casual dining and shopping on Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row, named after the John Steinbeck novel set here. The National Steinbeck Center is a short drive inland in Salinas. Famed routes include 17-Mile Drive and California 1 south, where you'll cross the iconic Bixby Bridge into Big Sur. End the day as the locals do, on the beach in Carmel applauding the sunset.
Information: Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 877-666-8373, seemonterey.com
Savannah, Ga.: Antebellum neighborhoods, placid town squares, rambunctious history and a distinct culinary tradition, along with proximity to the beach, make Savannah the unrivaled capital of Southern refinement. The historic district is crisscrossed by a wealth of walking excursions — ghost tours, cemetery tours, mansion tours, literary jaunts and antiquing expeditions — when you're not seeing the sights from a horse-drawn carriage or old-time trolley. Or just stroll the riverfront. Feast on all the variations of coastal cuisine, from the full-on Southern comfort food at Paula Deen's The Lady & Sons to the quirky Pirates' House, once an actual pirate's lair. Bed down in history with a town-home rental or one of the graceful hotels near Forsyth Park, such as the Dresser Palmer House, the Gastonian or the Mansion on Forsyth. A colonial-era plantation, Wormsloe Historic Site, stands on the outskirts of town. Less than 20 miles away, the beaches and sea-kayak tours of Tybee Island await, and on your way you can stop at Fort Pulaski National Monument to see Civil War demonstrations. As a matter of fact, the resorts at Hilton Head are not much farther up the coast.
Information: Visit Savannah, 877-728-2662, savannahvisit.com
Here is a sampling of travel companies that operate women-only programs. Some make women's travel their only business. Others are large outfits that offer women's tours as a specialty division.
Adventure Women: Active vacations U.S., worldwide; 800-804-8686; adventurewomen.com
Canyon Calling: Adventure tours U.S., worldwide; 928-282-0916; canyoncalling.com
Celtic Heart Tours: Ireland tours; 206-310-2236; celtichearttours.com
Gutsy Women Travel: Group tours U.S., worldwide; 866-464-8879; gutsywomentravel.com/2012
Indus Travels/WOW Tours: International company whose "Women Only Worldwide" division operates trips in Asia, North Africa, Europe; 866-978-2997; industravels.ca/wow-tours.html
Isram World/A Woman's View: International company whose "Woman's View" division conducts trips in Asia, North Africa, Middle East, Europe, South America; 888-789-6626; womansviewtravel.com/default.asp
Red Tent Tours: Israel tours; 416-457-8856; israeltoursforwomen.com
Wild Women Expeditions: Outdoor adventures in Canada; 888-993-1222; wildwomenexp.com
WomanTours: Bicycle tours U.S., worldwide; 800-247-1444; womantours.com
Women Traveling Together: Group tours U.S., worldwide; 800-795-7135; women-traveling.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun