You Go, Girls!

Itching to get out of Dodge? Want to combine fun and fitness while expanding your horizons, boosting your ego, and finding new friends? Make your next vacation a women’s adventure.

By Maryann Hammers

Elizabeth Chirles wanted waves. And she wasn’t finding them in Washington, DC.

After relocating from San Diego, Elizabeth, an elementary school counselor and avid surfer, itched to get on a board again. So she began traveling on her own to Costa Rica. “In surfing and travel, I found fun and fitness, a springboard for facing challenges, and an opportunity to enjoy nature and explore other cultures,” she says.

Then she discovered that her neighbor, Maria Kelly, a high school teacher and yoga instructor, shared her passions for surfing and travel. The two began traveling together. “Our trips brought us through remote towns in Mexico. We surfed the Caribbean and Pacific in Panama, rode beautiful blue waves in Puerto Rico, and drove through many a river on our way to remote breaks in Costa Rica,” Elizabeth says.

Maria had an idea. What if the duo partnered up to launch a travel company that combined what the two knew best: surfing, yoga, and travel? They named their fledgling business Ocean Lotus Adventures and began offering women-only yoga-surf retreats in Central America and other tropical locations.

“We wanted to facilitate a supportive environment where you can take risks,” says Elizabeth.

Adds Maria, “It’s all about connecting with your own body—stepping out of your comfort zone to nudge your limits.”

That, in a nutshell, explains the appeal of women’s adventure groups: support, connection, and testing your limits. Whether they are surfing in Costa Rica or skiing in Jackson Hole, hiking the Rocky Mountains, or rafting rivers in Oregon, participants on women’s adventure trips do much more than get fit in cool locations: they develop confidence, learn skills, and make lifelong friendships.

“Any woman who is active, loves being outdoors, wants to go places, is open to new experiences, can let go of expectations, and appreciates the camaraderie of other women is suited for a women’s adventure trip. Flexibility, patience, and curiosity are helpful, too,” says Marian Marbury, founder of Adventures in Good Company, a 15-year-old company that offers US and international active trips for women ranging from a four-day hiking trip in Georgia (with comfortable beds, sumptuous meals, and hot showers) to a 14-day Himalayan trek.

Pick Your Passion

“Have you always loved the water? Learn to scuba dive or surf somewhere,” suggests Danielle Thornton, co-founder of WHOA Travel, a high-adventure travel company for women. (WHOA is the acronym for Women High On Adventure.)

“Do you live in a city? Go somewhere where you are forced to turn off your cell phone and sleep under the stars. Love animals? Go on a photo safari and see wildlife in its natural habitat,” Danielle adds.

With so many choices (see sidebar “Ladies, Start Your Adventures” for a sampling of what’s available), there is an adventure for every woman. Some trips involve truly roughing it; others mix sweaty activities with spa treatments, gourmet cuisine, and posh accommodations.

Some travel companies cast a wide net, welcoming all women who are up for an adventure, regardless of age, skills, or fitness level; others are narrower in focus. For example, Chicks Unhitched offers five-day programs in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina specifically for newly divorced women—with life coaching on the agenda. Outdoor Book Club caters to women who love to read—participants are challenged to discover their own “inner heroine” on backpacking trips with itineraries created around famous books. “Think Hemingway in Michigan’s upper peninsula,” says the company’s founder, Jill Hinton. “During the day we hike the trails Hemingway hiked, and at night we sit around the campfire and talk Nick Adams stories.”

No Boys Allowed?

“On a retreat that is focused on women, for women, by women, you have the opportunity to ask the hard questions that only women face and get straight-up answers,” says Shelly DeZevallos, a 45-year-old pilot, airport executive, and Houston mom.

Shelly recalls a women-only trail-running trip with Run Wild Retreats. “All the women supported one another, no matter their stamina or physical ability,” she says. “I fell at least once on almost every trail, and someone was always there to make sure I was okay. In the evenings we had wonderful conversations over a healthy dinner. This was my first women-only trip, and I will go again.”

Compared with trips for both sexes, women-only trips are more likely to focus on holistic wellness, and might include yoga, meditation, journaling, and organic meals. “We promote a healthy and active lifestyle and [foster] spiritual and cultural learning,” explains Susan Eckert, who founded AdventureWomen in 1982—one of the first adventure travel companies for women. “It’s all part of rediscovering our fun-loving, confident selves. On an all-women’s trip, women can be totally and unequivocally themselves.”

After attending a women’s surf trip in Bali, attorney Rebecca Garland remembers thinking, I have found my people. She lists the upsides of her women-only travels: “Pushing my body physically in ways I didn’t think were possible and that I might not otherwise have done without a supportive group of women; simple moments like sitting around and sharing some of the most intimate details of our lives; being silly and having fun while putting everything else aside to concentrate on me.”

The fitness and physical skill-building benefits of an adventure trip are obvious. But you have much more to gain—spiritually, mentally, and emotionally, says Rebecca, who went on several all-women trips before founding her own luxury adventure travel company, Fit & Fly Girl, which focuses on fitness and wellness in exotic locales.

“Many women are going through a life change, whether it be a divorce or a bad breakup, a desire to change careers, or simply a need to figure out what direction they want their life to take,” Rebecca explains. “There is no better environment to accomplish this than a women’s-only retreat, where you can remove yourself from the real world among other women. The bonds that form are incredible.”

 Start Here: Adventure Travel Resources

Choose Your Adventure

Wondering where to go and what to do? Before booking your trip, do some research to find the right adventure destination, activity, and travel company for you.

  • Check Them Out Online. Study the websites of several women’s adventure travel companies, suggests Marian Marbury, founder of Adventures in Good Company. “What is their experience and philosophy? Whom are they trying to attract? Does what they say resonate with you?” Also look at their Facebook page. “What they post and how they respond can be informative,” she adds.
  • Call The Companies That Interest You. “You’ll get a sense of their customer service, their knowledge, and whether they are interested in listening to you and helping you figure out if a trip is appropriate,” Marian says.
  • Consider Group Size. Marian prefers small groups of 10 to 12, “but some women like being in larger groups, where there is an opportunity to socialize with lots of different people,” she says.
  • Inquire About Physical Demands. Ask the company how they accommodate various fitness levels. For example, AdventureWomen rates each trip as easy, moderate, or high energy. If you are a novice at the activity, ask if the trip is suited for beginners.
  • Make Your Choice! Debating about the destination? “Choose somewhere you’ve never been or somewhere you would be hesitant to go alone,” says Rebecca Garland, owner of Fit & Fly Girl, which organizes women’s wellness and fitness retreats around the world.


Ladies, Start Your Adventures

Here are some women-only adventure and travel companies to get you going on your journey.

  • Active At Altitude Women’s Running CAMPS ( for beginners to experienced runners
  • Adventures In Good Company (adventuresingoodcompany. com) domestic and international adventure trips
  • Adventurewomen ( adventure trips with a humanitarian focus and an emphasis on healthy lifestyle and cultural learning
  • Chicks Unhitched ( five-day adventures in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains, geared to newly divorced women, with spa treatments, life coaching, and outdoor activities
  • Fit & Fly Girl ( luxury fitness and wellness retreats in exotic locations
  • Girls At Play ( kayaking and yoga retreats on the Main Salmon River in Idaho
  • Leave The Boys Behind ( climbs, mountaineering, backcountry trips, and day hikes in Aspen
  • Ocean Lotus Adventures ( yoga and surfing in tropical locations
  • Outdoor Book Club ( outdoor back­packing adventures and classes based on famous books
  • RE:Treat ( yoga-inspired mountain retreats with hiking, skiing, and biking
  • RMI’S Women’s Expeditions ( climbing and mountaineering
  • Rogue Wilderness Adventures’ Bettys With Backpacks ( raft-supported lodge-to-lodge hikes along Southern Oregon’s Wild and Scenic Rogue River
  • Row Women-Only Adventures ( yoga, journaling, and meditation while rafting wilderness rivers
  • Run Wild Retreats ( trail running, yoga, form clinics, and cooking classes in Colorado and other locations
  • Thomson Safaris ( interactions with local Tanzanian women, plus visits to tribal settlements, guided wildlife walks, and wildlife viewing
  • Trek Travel’s Ladies Club ( cycling adventure in Solvang, California, and South Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains, with wine tasting, yoga, and skills clinics
  • Whoa Travel ( hiking, bicycling, and trekking on Mount Kilimanjaro, at Machu Picchu, and in the Bavarian Alps
  • Wild Women Expeditions ( outdoor adventure travel
  • Women Exploring Wilderness ( guided canoe trips for women in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
  • Women’s River Retreats ( whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and yoga in Utah and Idaho