My Experience at the First Women’s Travel Fest
My Experience at the First Women’s Travel Fest
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the first Women’s Travel Fest in New York City. The Women’s Travel Fest was founded by Kelly Lewis, who also founded Go! Girl Guides, a series of travel books for women. Kelly found that women everywhere want to travel, but often have concerns about safety, budgeting, or other logistical issues.
She wanted to inspire women to travel by hosting the Travel Fest, a one-day event that brought together speakers with extensive experience in exploring the world. I was glad to go because now that I’ve been living in the U.S. for a few months, I feel like it’s time to let the travel bug bite again.
On Saturday morning, I arrived in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts. I walked in and my jaw dropped: the building was constructed in the 1840s as a synagogue, and the space is absolutely gorgeous. A team of black-shirted event staff checked my coat and handed me a bag of free stuff, which included a book, lots of little product samples, and flyers for travel companies. I took one of the only free seats in the packed room and settled in to listen to the first speaker, Sonia Gil.
Sonia Gil is the founder of a language-learning system called Fluenz as well as an expert traveler. She is a charismatic speaker and suggested lots of apps that make travel smoother. She also compared planning a trip to cooking a meal, which is a great metaphor: the perfect suitcase is an important ingredient for a good trip! However, as a person with a non-smart phone, I had to ask her: what if we can’t access any of these helpful apps? Her advice to me was to buy a smart phone. For those of us who can’t afford to do so, her tips weren’t very relevant.
In fact, I found that many of the panels focused on luxury travel. The panel called “Travel for Every Budget” turned out to include two women whose careers are in high-end travel and who spent most of the time talking about where to find the best and most beautiful hotels.
The next panel was titled “From Solo Traveler to Nomadic Family” and speakers focused on ways to make travel with kids more fun and fulfilling for everyone involved. Something that surprised me was the fact that it is now possible to have diapers and baby supplies shipped to your hotel, and rent toys from local companies,in order to avoid having to carry around 8,000 kid-related objects.
I don’t have any kids at the moment, but if/when I do, I would definitely take advantage of rentals. The only drawback to this panel was the focus on luxury travel like cruises and resorts (Disneyland was a big one).
In fact, I found that many of the panels focused on luxury travel. The panel called “Travel for Every Budget” turned out to include two women whose careers are in high-end travel and who spent most of the time talking about where to find the best and most beautiful hotels. I was a little disappointed that so much time was spent on travel that isn’t accessible for most women travelers.
Although a lot of the information was geared towards women with larger incomes, there were several speakers that could inspire even the most hesitant potential traveler to pack a bag. One was Sarah Shourd, who is internationally known for her 14-month captivity in Iran during 2009. She and two friends were hiking along the Iraq-Iran border and unknowingly crossed into Iran. The three were held in Iran without charges or trials.
Women travelers face worries that male travelers usually don’t: what happens if a man is following you home? What happens when you don’t speak the language and you’re the only woman in a crowd? What happens if your worst nightmare comes true and someone assaults you?
Sarah spoke to the captivated audience at the Travel Fest about her love and appreciation of the Middle East, which includes the many close friends she made while living in Syria and traveling through the region. She also shared survival strategies for solitary confinement: find a way to get some darkness (the lights are on 24 hours a day), do mental math, sing every song you know, and hide notes for fellow prisoners to find and respond to. I have so much respect for her, and I really loved that the organizers of the event included her.
Women travelers face worries that male travelers usually don’t: what happens if a man is following you home? What happens when you don’t speak the language and you’re the only woman in a crowd? What happens if your worst nightmare comes true and someone assaults you? At the panel titled “Safety, Sexuality, and Conquering your Travel Fears,” experienced women travelers spoke about ways to deal with these issues.
As a female-bodied traveler, I have been followed home in many countries, including Costa Rica and Turkey. One tip offered by the panel was to learn the local yell for help. In the U.S., I was taught to scream ‘FIRE!’ because nobody would come if I yelled ‘Help!’ I learned that in Arabic-speaking countries, I should shout ‘Oh people!’ and the whole neighborhood would come out of their homes.
While the big-name travel experts like Samantha Brown definitely added to the appeal of the event, I found that the best travel advice I got was just to go out and talk to people–the locals, other travelers, the janitors, and the owners.
For me, the most important part of the Women’s Travel Fest was the emphasis on forming relationships with the communities we travel to. These relationships will make your travels more meaningful, more fulfilling, and might even save your life. I can testify from my experiences all over the world that this is true. While the big-name travel experts like Samantha Brown definitely added to the appeal of the event, I found that the best travel advice I got was just to go out and talk to people–the locals, other travelers, the janitors, and the owners.
Whether you’re headed out on a high-end luxury cruise or hostel-hopping or volunteering in a rural area, you can learn the most from the stories of the people around you.
I hope the Women’s Travel Fest becomes an annual event! I had a great experience and met amazing fellow travelers. I highly recommend getting yourself to the next Travel Fest: I guarantee you’ll make new connections and get inspired to hop on the next flight to wherever it is you want to go.