travelers seek cyber help
A recent survey by the Travel Industry of America concluded that almost half of all business travelers are women -- and businesses are taking notice. From women-only travel trips to women-centered safety tips, the Internet offers would-be travelers a chance to learn about their destination of choice and take some advice from those who have walked the path before.
"At first we were a black-and-white, 20-page newsletter back in 1993," said Evelyn Hannon, founder of Journeywoman.com, one of the most popular travel sites geared toward women travelers. "But our sole purpose was to help in the networking ability of women travelers and we knew we had to get on the Internet."
In 1995, she started the Web site and now there are more than 50,000 women from 35 countries receiving the online version.
site gives tips about the cultures of different countries, safe
"I just think that women are more prone to asking advice," she said. "Women are very interested in reaching out to each other, finding out what their experience has been and moving on from there."
Often women turn to the Internet to find not only advice, but a travel partner.
Debra Asberry of Edgewater, Md., had wanted to go whitewater rafting since her teen years. But over the years she couldn't convince her friends, boyfriends or, later on, her husband to go with her. So she put an ad in a now-defunct magazine she published, asking if other women found themselves in the same travel quandary -- looking for adventure but wanting to share the experience with someone.
"I was inundated with phone calls," she said.
So six years ago, Asberry started Women Traveling Together, a women-only travel group with a site online.
Those traveling solo aren't penalized; roommates are found if wanted for any one of the 25 trips from weekenders to New York to weeklong hikes in Yellowstone and walking tours of Ireland.
"About 80 percent of the women come by themselves, not knowing a soul," Asberry said.
Maria Chapman, a high school teacher from Arnold, Md., signed up for her first trip with the group almost six years ago. Because her husband only takes two weeks vacation a year, she decided to continue her travel adventures without him.
"The only rule is that I can't go someplace he's interested in," she said. This week she took a long-weekend trip to Nashville with Women Traveling Together, but she also plans a longer vacation in the Virgin Islands with her family. And as usual, she'll head to the Internet to do a little research first.
"I go and check out the airfares, and I go to the main city sights to look up places to go, things like that," she said. "Right now, I'm looking to find a sailboat to rent down in the islands."
Many women use the Internet to get a heads-up on safety issues before traveling abroad.
Marybeth Bond, author of "Gutsy Women" and the award-winning travel book "A Woman's World," said that too often women let fear keep them from doing what they really want. Her site, www.marybethbond.com, offers common-sense tips on topics such as finding bathrooms and personal safety.
But she said the most important advice is to talk to someone who knows the area and not to be afraid to ask questions.
"Find someone your own age, who's going to be looking for the same experience you are and ask them 'Is it safe to walk alone at night here?' " Bond said. "Ask the stewardess on the plane -- 'Do you stay here in London? Where do you stay? Where is it safe for me to go alone at night?'"
Bond said that women traveling alone are not such an unusual sight anymore, from students hiking with backpacks to older women looking for a new experience.
"There's a huge bulge in the population of women in their 50s to 60s who are saying, 'It's my turn to do something,' " Bond said. "You didn't see that 10 years ago."
Peggy Jerman, 67, a retired secretary from Severna Park, Md., is headed off to Nashville with Women Traveling Together. She said she directs many of her friends to the group's Web site for travel ideas.
"I think sometimes people think it can be dangerous going alone, and really, it's more fun with a bunch of women, anyway," Jerman said.
"We all act crazy and I don't think the men would like that too much," she said. End