Women’s Day 2024: Experience safe travel in India through women-only travel groups

In the quaint village of Turtuk, one of the northernmost villages in India deep in the Himalayas, close to the Line of Control between India and Pakistan , surrounded by strangers- turned-friends, I celebrated my 22nd birthday. Freezing toes, a cake made of halwa and a night filled with Kishore Kumar songs set the scene. I had met the women I was travelling with just a week ago. Yet, in the dark of the night, with only the stars to guide us, our group of 20-somethings paraded our way through narrow bylanes like we had known each other for years.

Women on a trip to Himachal Pradesh through Wander Womaniya
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Exploring new destinations solo can initially seem daunting, especially without the familiar comfort of friends or family by your side. However, over the past decade, many women have courageously embraced this opportunity, empowered by increased disposable income and a desire to broaden their horizons with fresh experiences. It is in this dynamic landscape that women-only travel groups emerge as sanctuaries for those who desire the freedom to explore.

Trips go on anywhere between four and ten days depending on the destination and are priced at an average of ₹15,000 for most domestic trips. A start and end point is decided where travellers are expected to reach by themselves. Since most travel organizations do not set an upper age limit, the responsibility to ensure perfect health for the trips signed up for, falls on the travellers themselves. Especially on trips to the mountains and those with adventure activities like trekking, camping and water sports, travellers are advised to use their own discretion.

These curated expeditions offer more than just destinations; they provide a haven where like-minded women can weave tales of adventure, laughter, and newfound friendships.

Women on a trip to Switzerland through Jugni

Women on a trip to Switzerland through Jugni
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

In 2016, Nitesh Chauhan, founder of travel group Jugni, a year-old organisation, found himself in Gangtok, Sikkim, with only three women who had signed up for the trip. Even though the minimum number of travellers for the group was capped at 15, he led these women on a four-day journey into the mountains of north-eastern India. “I did not want to cancel the trip because we had made a promise,” he says, emphasising his humble beginnings. Jugni now boasts of having successfully organised trips in over 30 countries and is one of the most reviewed women-only travel groups in the country. 

Women on a trip to Munnar through Jugni

Women on a trip to Munnar through Jugni
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Safety on the road

At a time when the country is once again been put under the spotlight as an unsafe destination for women travellers, one of the major concerns about travelling as a woman is safety on the road. “I’ve travelled solo, in a mixed group, and also in a women-only group, and felt safer travelling with other women. I’ve made friends more easily. I’m still friends with the women I met on these trips over two years ago,” says Varsha Mullick, an avid traveller, adding that even if the women she met were strangers, she never felt that way and was comfortable sharing her personal space with them.

Akshankaha Bumb, 40, the co-founder of F5 Escapes, a women-only travel group that was founded in 2013 after the Nirbhaya case in Delhi, says, “India’s view on travel for women changed after that incident, and it started being perceived as unsafe. We knew that it was not the case, and that India can be safe if done right. We wanted to be the ones to provide that space.” F5 Escapes aims to redefine the way women travel in India and has led trips to over 40 destinations all over the country, with a focus on authenticity in terms of food and stays that are rooted in local experiences.

Nitesh adds that the key to responsible and safe travel is to always make friends with locals, since they understand the surroundings and terrain better than tourists. “In Ladakh, having a local driver and doctor on our team in case of medical emergencies has been a huge plus,” he says. 

Women on an international trip through Jugni

Women on an international trip through Jugni
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Anuj Jain, founder of Wander Womaniya, an exclusive women’s travel group, says that when women’s travel groups started popping up a decade ago, they did not focus on niche destinations, but rather on tourist heavy locations. Identifying this gap in the market in 2018, Anuj started Wander Womaniya to help his sister travel better. “We focus on lesser-known hidden gems such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Madagascar and more, and our itineraries are well researched based on personal experiences,” he says. 

Wander Womaniya has now conducted female-only trips in over 35 destinations in India and internationally, and the women who join these trips range from 20 to 65-year-olds, with there being no restriction for age. “Women-only travel spaces have been thriving in western countries for a long time now,” says Anuj, adding that in the future as more women from tier-2 and 3 cities start opening themselves up to travel, they will look for spaces they feel safe in.

Surbhi Sharma, 38, from Jaipur says “Different places in the country have different degrees of safety. I really like travelling to the North-East and South India, because I have felt safer walking alone, even at night in places like Chennai and Arunachal Pradesh.”

Whether it is stargazing in Ladakh, bar hopping in Goa, or teapicking in Assam, women-only travel groups help you bridge the gap between plans and realities with safety. According to a Forbes report, a bold 86% of women declare they are not afraid to travel. Whether journeying alongside partners, families, friends, or venturing solo, the driving force behind 80% of travel choices remains women. This isn’t just a passing fad; it’s a vibrant continuation of a longstanding trend in leisure exploration.

The surge of travel companies exclusively tailored to women, skyrocketing by 230%, underscores the undeniable allure of female wanderlust.

Women on a trip through Wander Womaniya

Women on a trip through Wander Womaniya
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

Women on wheels

Bengaluru based Valkyrie Riders is one of the many groups around the country who are forming a community of women riders. Sheba Cornelious, a community building manager and a mother of two, started Valkyrie Riders two years ago. “I wanted to keep it exclusive to women because I’ve experienced men looking down on women riders. For us, it’s not about the speed, but the experience,” she says, adding that the group goes on weekend rides twice a month. 

Biking is a meditative activity because it is just you and the open road. “It’s easier for men to have their me time, for women, we have to consciously make time to spend with ourselves,” she says. The longest ride Valkyrie Riders has taken is from Bengaluru to Hogenakkal Falls, covering a distance of 125 kilometres each way. A total of 26 riders took part in the ride.

Valkyrie riders

Valkyrie riders
| Photo Credit:
Special Arrangement

“We all come from different backgrounds, and on the rides when we stop for breakfast, we sit together and share our stories. It’s like a close-knit community,” she says, adding that the community goes beyond biking together. They have pot luck, ladies nights and game nights to keep the sisterhood up and running. 

Valkyrie Riders have trainers and long-time riders in the group who are willing to train new women on how to ride a bike and what goes into long-distance trips. “For a fee of ₹2,000-3,000, we train women even if they don’t have a bike. We have a tie-up with Bengaluru based bike rental called Twist Throttle. The only requirement is that you have a licence, and a full face helmet,” says Sheba. 


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