Here is a statistic that may surprise you. More than 60 per cent of people booking with the adventure travel company, Intrepid Travel, are women. What is more, says managing director James Thornton, many of them are solo travellers, and they are not all young.
"We've found that there's no age limit when it comes to having an appetite for adventure," he says. "We have 20-year-old and 70-year-old women travelling with us."
These days, there is no such thing as the standard female traveller. More than just mothers wrangling restless children or corporate frequent flyers, women are increasingly making diverse travel choices. Given that women are responsible for most household purchasing decisions, including travel, the industry is carefully watching what women are spending their money on.
"You get girlfriends going away together, lots of mother-daughter holidays, and multigenerational travel," says Penny Spencer, managing director of Spencer Travel. No matter who they are travelling with, however, she says female travellers tend to have certain patterns, and smart operators will cater to them.
First and foremost, she says, it's all about detail.
"Women are very clear on the type of hotel they want, the airline which they want to fly, the area they want to stay in," Spencer says. "They want to know about nearby gyms and restaurants. If they are travelling with their family, they want to know about the kids' club. Because so many women are running two jobs, looking after home life as well as business life, they need to know everything is going to run smoothly."
Women also approach the idea of a holiday very differently, says Michael Londregan, the managing director of Virtuoso Asia-Pacific. "Men are really focused on the hardware of travel: the room size, the distance, the cost," he says. "Women are interested in the software. They know how they want to feel when they are there."
That finding was reinforced when we asked several tour operators to nominate the trip that is most popular with their female clients. The results include everything from outback treks to musical extravaganzas in Venice and adventures in southern India, but all of them share one thing: the ability to transport you into a different reality.
WOMEN'S CLASSIC LARAPINTA SIX-DAY TREK IN COMFORT, NORTHERN TERRITORY, WORLD EXPEDITIONS
THE TOUR OPERATOR SAYS "Walking between eight and 16 kilometres each day on the iconic Larapinta Trail can be physically challenging so enjoying conversation as you walk, and being in the company of an experienced guide, help overcome any perceived obstacles to undertaking such a challenge. Of course, [the inclusion] of hot showers, time to relax in a comfortable lounge and being served delicious meals 'with a gourmet twist' adds to the appeal."
TELL ME MORE Stretching more than 200 kilometres through the West MacDonnell Ranges, the Larapinta Trail is one of Australia's most spectacular long-distance hikes. Soak up the big-sky beauty of Central Australia on this six-day women-only trip, starting and ending in Alice Springs. You will cover between eight and 16 kilometres each day carrying a day pack; along the way you may see wheeling kites or flocks of cockatoo. However, there is no need to rough it on this outdoor adventure: in the evenings, relax in World Expeditions' architect-designed campsites, complete with hot showers and heated dining shelters.
ONE MORE THING The walk has been designed to take in some of the Larapinta's most memorable scenery, from dramatic gorges and tranquil waterholes to the vast flood plains.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Departing May 17 and September 20, from $2395 a person. See worldexpeditions.com
KUNISAKI RETREAT SIX-NIGHT WALKING+WELLNESS TOUR, WALK JAPAN
THE TOUR OPERATOR SAYS "While the Kunisaki Retreat appeals to both men and women, it is one of our more holistic experiences in terms of both mind and body. Most mornings start with instructed meditation and yoga sessions, and we have received very positive feedback from our female customers who share our passion for health and wellness. The immersion into Japanese culture, history and nature offers a delightful way of enjoying this largely undiscovered corner of Japan in a relaxed fashion."
TELL ME MORE Best known for its walking tours, Walk Japan also offers a six-night Kunisaki retreat designed to rebalance your mind and body. Based on the picturesque Kunisaki Peninsula and sleeping in rural inns, the trip offers a chance to slow down and immerse yourself in Japanese culture. Activities include flower arranging, Japanese taiko drumming, tea ceremonies and soba noodle cooking classes, as well as walks along ancient pilgrim trails and soaking in hot springs. You will also get to explore this scenic part of Japan, including the old castle town of Kitsuki, the charming port town of Imi, and pretty Himeshima Island.
ONE MORE THING Mornings start with guided meditation and yoga sessions.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Departures in April, June and November, from JPY332,000 a person. See walkjapan.com
GARDENS OF THE ATLANTIC 13-NIGHT TOUR, RENAISSANCE TOURS
THE TOUR OPERATOR SAYS "Women have always been adventurous travellers and this tour certainly ventures off the beaten track, with the island of Madeira being relatively unknown to Australian travellers. On this tour you will meet the garden owners, and enjoy a combination of history, architecture and design, and being outdoors in the company of like-minded people."
TELL ME MORE As spring bursts into life over the Iberian peninsula, this 13-night tour explores the ornate gardens and palaces in and around the historic cities of Lisbon and Porto and the island of Madeira. In Lisbon, highlights include the Rococo National Palace of Queluz, known as Portugal's Versailles, and the privately owned Palacio Fronteira, where the garden tiles depict hunts, battles and religious scenes. In Sintra, visit the English-inspired gardens of Monserrate and the privately owned Quinta dos Lagos, rarely opened to visitors, while near Porto, the remarkable Quinta da Aleveda wine estate is memorable for the oak forest sheltering lush rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas.
ONE MORE THING The tour coincides with the annual Madeira Flower Festival, which features floats wreathed in blossoms.
TELL ME MORE Departing April 25; from $8950. See renaissancetours.com.au
BEST OF MOROCCO 14-NIGHT TOUR, INTREPID TRAVEL
THE TOUR OPERATOR SAYS "Morocco is incredibly popular with all of our travellers but the biggest growth has come from solo female travellers. That's because our small-group style of travel offers reassurance in a place that might sometimes be more challenging for women and they have the additional security of being led by a local who understands the culture and the region."
TELL ME MORE Spice markets and camel treks, maze-like medieval cities and traditional Berber hospitality: Morocco is a mosaic of exotic experiences. Intrepid Travel's 14-night trip stretches from the snow-capped Atlas Mountains to the red sands of the Sahara, taking in cedar forests and World Heritage-listed Roman ruins along the way. Highlights include the cities of Fes, with its labyrinthine medina, and Marrakech, along with the perfectly preserved fortified city of Ait Benhaddou, which has become a favourite with TV and film directors: everything from Game of Thrones to Gladiator has been shot here.
ONE MORE THING Spend the night in a desert camp amid the Sahara's red sand dunes, complete with a sunset camel ride.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Departures every month, from $1440. See intrepidtravel.com
HIGHLIGHTS OF MYANMAR, 10-DAY TOUR, INSIDER JOURNEYS
THE OPERATOR SAYS "A perfect choice for female solo travellers. It runs as a small group of 16 or under providing an intimate experience and an opportunity to really get to know the group. The tour includes a nunnery visit where you have the opportunity to meet the local nuns and get an insight into Buddhism from a unique female perspective. Myanmar also offers great local restaurants and shopping which is a crowd pleaser for our women travellers."
TELL ME MORE Myanmar remains one of Asia's most underexplored countries, and this nine-night trip takes in all the highlights of this fascinating destination. The journey starts in bustling Yangon, with its imposing colonial architecture and colourful Indian Quarter, before travelling to the temple-studded plains of Bagan and the former royal capital of Mandalay, with its enticing jade market, the hundreds of white-washed pagodas of Sagaing Hill, and a teak bridge spanning more than a kilometre across the river.
ONE MORE THING Cruising along Inle Lake is an opportunity to embrace a slower way of life, as well as exploring the area's floating gardens.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Departures in March, April, October, November and December, from $3575 a person. insiderjourneys.com.au
CLASSIC TUSCAN GUIDED WALK SEVEN-NIGHT TOUR, UTRACKS
THE TOUR OPERATOR SAYS "This guided walk is an active walking tour through some of Italy's most beautiful and fascinating medieval towns, ancient vineyards and rolling hills. Being a guided tour, this trip provides that additional safety of a group for women travellers – plus we also transfer the luggage from village to village each day which means our travellers only need to carry a day pack on their walks each day."
TELL ME MORE This seven-day trip from UTracks, starting in Florence and finishing in Siena, lets travellers soak up Tuscany's rolling hills, medieval villages and silver-leafed olive groves. Along the way, visit celebrated towns such as the many-towered San Gimignano, and lesser known destinations such as the fortress village of Monteriggioni. The leisurely pace – expect to walk between two and four hours a day – leaves plenty of time to visit museums and galleries, or simply chill out in the local piazza with a glass of wine.
ONE MORE THING They have been making wine in Chianti since the time of the Etruscans, who predated ancient Rome. So naturally vineyard visits and wine tasting are included on the itinerary.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Departures in May, June, July, September and October, from $1890 a person. See utracks.com
SPICY TRAIL, SRI LANKA AND INDIA, PURE INDIA COLLECTION
THE TOUR OPERATOR SAYS "Tantalising food, beautiful places, amazing sounds and colours, incredible architecture and cherished memories. Feast on some of the most delicious food, including paratha and kuruma tingling Chettinad fare. You can also try your hand at mastering the various culinary traditions that you will come across."
TELL ME MORE For those who like to go off the beaten path, Pure India Collection has put together this luxurious 17-night itinerary that takes in southern India's little-known wonders along with the best of Sri Lanka. From pretty Pondicherry, with its colourful French and Tamil quarters, to the ancient city of Madurai, filled with 2500 years of history; from the rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram to Sri Lanka's scenic hill stations and spice plantations, this trip is packed with dazzling sights and exotic towns.
ONE MORE THING You won't just be sampling some of the region's tastiest cuisines; several cooking demonstrations are also included.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Private journey runs on request, from $6916 a person. pureindiacollection.com.au
VIVALDI IN VENICE FIVE-NIGHT TOUR, MARTIN RANDALL TRAVEL
THE TOUR OPERATOR SAYS "Our own private music festivals, such as this one, while appealing to both genders, do draw in women who might not usually travel on their own or without their partner, to fulfil their music passion. The opportunity of hearing world specialists perform Vivaldi's music in Venetian palaces and churches where the composer once walked is deeply compelling. And by drawing together people with such a distinct penchant, the social aspect of the festivals becomes very natural and effortless."
TELL ME MORE This five-night festival tour, organised by Martin Randall Travel, is a celebration of Venice's most celebrated composer, Vivaldi. The music, which ranges from crowd pleasers such as The Four Seasons to Teuzzone, Vivaldi's little-known opera set in China, is performed by celebrated ensembles including Il Giardino Armonico, Modo Antiquo and La Serenissima. Venues include some of Venice's most atmospheric buildings, such as the magnificent Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, private palazzos, and – for performances of sacred music – some of the city's loveliest churches. Concerts also include works by other Venetian composers such as Renaissance master Giovanni.
ONE MORE THING Expert lecturers will deliver background talks on music and 18th-century Venice.
TELL ME MORE Departs November 6, from £2870. See martinrandall.com
MEXICO DISCOVERED 12-NIGHT TOUR, ABERCROMBIE & KENT
THE TOUR OPERATOR SAYS "Mexico has huge appeal for women travellers. It's an exciting destination with plenty of colour and character and one of the best cuisines on earth. A girls' holiday there with A&K covers off on world famous archaeological attractions, endless white sand beaches, spa time, adventure activities plus a rich art and craft tradition which translates to extraordinary shopping opportunities although we will tailor individual itineraries to specifically suit."
TELL ME MORE This tour from Abercrombie & Kent showcases the diversity of Mexico, from colonial townships to the mighty monuments of pre-Colombian civilisations, bustling cities to townships overshadowed by looming volcanoes. Highlights include the World Heritage-listed city of Oaxaca, known for its beautiful handicrafts, the Yucatan Peninsula, home to some of the country's most impressive Mayan ruins, and lively Mexico City, known for its cobblestone districts, its Aztec monuments and its mouth-watering food. Throw in visits to traditional markets and wetlands that are home to flamingo colonies, and you have a journey full of surprises.
ONE MORE THING This tour gives you the chance to try some of Mexico's most enticing regional cuisines, from Puebla's moles to the seafood of the Yucatan coast.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Private journey runs on request, from $13,450 a person. See abercrombiekent.com
CLASSIC ANTARCTICA 10-DAY TOUR, CHIMU ADVENTURES
THE OPERATOR SAYS "We have seen a huge increase in female travellers taking on the white continent on a solo adventure and it's easy to see why. Apart from seeing nature at its most spectacular, an Antarctica cruise is also a social affair offering female solo travellers the opportunity to connect with like-minded people. Solo travellers can relax knowing that all the planning is taken care of for them and we make it as affordable as possible by matching you with another solo traveller to help avoid single supplements costs"
TELL ME MORE This itinerary, departing Ushuaia in Argentina, lets you explore the South Shetland Islands as well as the Antarctic Peninsula. The Shetlands are a haven for wildlife, with large colonies of fur and elephant seals as well as penguins, gulls and southern giant petrels. Explorations in Antarctic waters will depend on conditions, but two landings a day are planned; Neko Harbour, Melchior Island and Paulet Island, home to more than 100,000 breeding pairs of penguins, are all potential destinations. Definitely on the agenda are spectacular scenery, spottings of minke, orca and humpback whales, and plenty of penguin encounters.
ONE MORE THING A series of on-board lectures will provide background information on the natural wonders you are seeing.
MAKE IT HAPPEN Departures between November and March, from $US7810. See chimuadventures.com
I AM WOMAN SEE ME EXPLORE: TALES FROM THE ROAD
MARNIE GODING, FOUNDER, ELK ACCESSORIES
Marnie Goding founded Elk in 2004. Today, its contemporary accessories and fashions are found in more than 1000 stockists around the world.
WOMEN TRAVEL DIFFERENTLY TO MEN BECAUSE we need to be more careful about how we travel and the times we travel. When I go to the Philippines on business alone, I find it better to arrive during the day, but if I'm travelling with a male companion, I don't mind arriving at night.
MY MOST CHERISHED DESTINATION IS Paris, cliched as it is. It's a city that is easy to immerse yourself in. I love getting up in the morning very early and wandering around while the boulangeries and market stalls are opening.
ONE THING I'VE LEARNED AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS always to look over your shoulder. I have learned to be aware of who is walking behind me.
WHEN IT COMES TO TRAVEL MEN DON'T REALISE THAT eating alone as a woman can be daunting. I can hold my own, but even so you sometimes feel conspicuous. I was eating at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo and the guys behind me were making loud remarks. My strategy is always to take a good book with me.
WHAT FRUSTRATES ME MOST AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS when I travel for business, there is an assumption that I'm travelling with someone, that I must have a man to accompany me.
MY BEST TIP FOR FEMALE TRAVELLERS IS you can't rely on technology. We have become so dependent on smartphones, but not all your technology will work in places such as Korea or China. Buying local SIM cards is a great idea.
MY NEXT TRIP IS three weeks to Korea and China for work, with a side trip to Hong Kong.
MELISSA LUCASHENKO, NOVELIST
Melissa Lucashenko, the author of Mullumbimby, is a Murri woman of European and Ygambeh-Bundjalung descent. She has won numerous awards, including the Victorian Premier's Literary Award – Indigenous Writing and the Queensland Literary Award – Deloitte Fiction Book Award.
WOMEN TRAVEL DIFFERENTLY TO MEN BECAUSE very often our family roles limit our opportunities to travel, and that goes double for Aboriginal women, as our kinship networks are much more extensive. When we do travel, for those of us with kids, holidays can easily become a tour of the great playgrounds of Europe. The flipside of that is the access to family life that you otherwise wouldn't get: kids are an icebreaker, a point of connection.
MY MOST CHERISHED DESTINATION IS Indonesia with which I have a love-hate relationship. I keep being drawn back there, and will continue to go back, even though I seem to get sick or caught in a riot every time I go. I just like being places where brown people run the joint.
ONE THING I'VE LEARNED AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS always look carefully at the accommodation where you will be staying. On one trip I ended up being literally the only person staying in a three-storey apartment in a foreign country.
WHEN IT COMES TO TRAVEL MEN DON'T REALISE that women can't take safety for granted. Ever.
WHAT FRUSTRATES ME MOST AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER is being tethered by a giant rubber band to my family responsibilities in Australia. Just last week I had to turn down a work trip to Canada, because I have responsibilities that I can't leave.
MY BEST TIP FOR FEMALE TRAVELLERS IS say yes and find out how later.
MY NEXT TRIP IS TO the Palawa Aboriginal lands in eastern Tasmania, to check out a part of the country that I haven't seen.
JO HORGAN, FOUNDER, MECCA BRANDS
Jo Horgan founded Mecca Cosmetica in December 1997, with the opening of the first store in Melbourne's South Yarra. Today there are 37 Mecca Cosmetica, 23 Mecca Maxima and six MECCA doors (within MYER) in addition to mecca.com.au, which houses more than 7000 products from more than 100 brands. Since opening her first outlet in 1997, Horgan has grown her beauty empire to 76 venues.
WOMEN TRAVEL DIFFERENTLY TO MEN BECAUSE they are less tolerant of time wasting. In the pool of people with whom I travel or observe travelling, women are organised and lay out itineraries in detail, and as a result they maximise every moment of every day. Men are more comfortable going with the flow.
MY MOST CHERISHED DESTINATION IS San Remi in the south of France, where I make an annual pilgrimage with my extended family: children, parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins all congregate together.
ONE THING I'VE LEARNED AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS to ask questions. If you show enthusiasm, people are incredibly willing to share and you can build up a local knowledge base very quickly.
WHAT FRUSTRATES ME MOST AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS while I love exploring every country and every culture, it frustrates me that as a woman, there are some countries where I do not have the same rights and freedoms as my male counterparts. I feel there are experiences that I'm blocked from sharing, and that does not sit well with my egalitarian approach.
MY BEST TIP FOR FEMALE TRAVELLERS IS research beforehand, so that you are equipped to be able to live in the moment. Don't go in ignorant.
MY NEXT TRIP IS TO Japan in April. I just love Japan, but my kids haven't been before, so I am looking forward to seeing Tokyo through their eyes.
JANE CARO, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR
Jane Caro wears many hats, including social commentator, writer, lecturer, speaker and broadcaster.
WOMEN TRAVEL DIFFERENTLY TO MEN BECAUSE we have more elaborate clothing, our hair needs more care, we wear make-up, jewellery and high heels so we often have a heavier load to carry. We are also more aware of being alone in a strange place.
MY MOST CHERISHED DESTINATION IS anywhere with a decent hotel. I love hotel rooms. I love room service, in-room movies, the fact that I don't have to clean, launder or tidy up anything! I also love having a quiet glass or two of rosé in a sophisticated, quiet hotel bar. Basically, I love other people fetching and carrying for me. Bliss!
ONE THING I'VE LEARNED AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS don't travel with a bag you can't lift without hurting yourself. Do Pilates or lift weights regularly so you can manage on your own.
WHEN IT COMES TO TRAVEL MEN DON'T REALISE THAT they take up too much space on planes and often nab both armrests.
WHAT FRUSTRATES ME MOST AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS how hard it can be for women to attract the attention of bar staff and waiters, and how blokes take both armrests on the plane.
MY BEST TIP FOR FEMALE TRAVELLERS IS don't shy away from going to a restaurant on your own or a bar. Your own company is fine.
MY NEXT TRIP IS to Brisbane, in five minutes.
CAROLINE PIDCOCK, PIDCOCK ARCHITECTS
Caroline Pidcock has a strong interest in ecologically sustainable design, and established her practice in 1992.
WOMEN TRAVEL DIFFERENTLY TO MEN BECAUSE I don't think it's gender that determines how you travel; I think it is interests. I have a particular interest in architecture and urban design, and the sites I like to visit are not everyone's cup of tea.
MY MOST CHERISHED DESTINATION IS the next one I am going to.
ONE THING I'VE LEARNED AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS to be brave and do what you want, but follow your intuition. If something does not feel right, change course. I was once cycling through Germany on my own, and somehow bumped into a guy who suggested we go for a meal. After I'd checked into the hotel, I got a really terrible feeling, so I changed my mind about the meal. You have to go with your gut.
WHEN IT COMES TO TRAVEL MEN DON'T REALISE THAT chilling out and taking it easy some of the time is valuable experience. You don't have to fill every single day with a million different activities; sometimes it's better to sit at a cafe a bit longer and just enjoy the ambience. Fortunately, my husband also likes to travel like this, but I know a lot of men who aren't like that.
WHAT FRUSTRATES ME MOST AS A FEMALE TRAVELLER IS I don't know that I have found anything in particular that frustrates me because I am a woman. I find delayed flights very frustrating, but I suspect men do too.
MY NEXT TRIP IS to Italy via Paris in September. It's both business and pleasure. I never waste an opportunity to go see buildings I want to see.
No, it's not all about the spa. For cruise queens who love to follow their passion, these itineraries are hard to beat.
AFLOAT WITH OPRAH
Oprah Winfrey ahoy! A new partnership between Winfrey's O magazine and Holland America Line will see several cruises offering O-inspired activities, from an onboard book club to meditation sessions. Oprah will be onboard for the inaugural July 15 Alaska cruise. From $2999 a person. See hollandamerica.com
Cunard's Queen Mary 2 liner sets a stylish course on August 31 for its second annual Transatlantic Fashion Week. Travelling from Southampton to New York, style icon Iris Apfel will be onboard, along with fashion designer Julien Macdonald and models from Storm Model Management. From $1949 a person twin share. See cunardline.com.au
On Oceania Cruises' 11-night Wineries and Wonders tour, sailing from Barcelona to London, departing May 21, guests can enjoy onboard cooking classes, as well as joining shore excursions to visit wineries and markets. From $5310 a person. See oceaniacruises.com
Historic homes, world-class museums and magnificent autumn foliage are featured on Smithsonian Journeys' Art Along the Hudson cruise. Departing New York on October 13, highlights include visits to the Rockefeller Estate and the home of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt.. From $4825 per person. See smithsonianjourneys.org
Film and theatre buffs will love Crystal Cruises' Panama Canal Adventure, departing Los Angeles on April 30. There will be lectures from producers, red-carpet stylists and costume collectors, classes in digital filming and performances from Broadway headliners. From $US5995. See crystalcruises.com