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Founder of the wildly popular Go Girl Guides, the annual Women’s Travel Fest, and her latest endeavor, a new women’s tour company called Damesly, Kelly Lewis is a girl on fire. Lewis champions women by making travel—especially solo travel—more accessible through the sharing of tips, guides and support. In this exclusive interview, Culture Trip sits down with Lewis to unpack women’s travel and find out her best tips for female travelers.
Culture Trip (CT): How is women’s travel different from men’s travel?
Kelly Lewis (KL): In may ways, travel is the same for both sexes. We’re all out to see the world and have new experiences in different cultures, but women have a unique set of concerns when it comes to their health and safety while traveling. My aim is to offer services that help women feel confident and excited to take on the world. I do this through the three women’s travel based companies I run.
CT: What are some trends within women’s travel that you have been seeing?
KL: I think right now we’re in the midst of watching the rise of women’s tour companies, which is really great to see. We’re also seeing more of a niche focus on the female travel industry—companies that focus on women who love to hike, for example, or those that offer tours for women interested in surfing. The more the travel industry grows, the more niche offerings appear.
CT: In general, are there specific destinations that you feel are safer for women to travel to?
KL: I think that most places in the world can be generally safe, but there are definitely places that are easier to travel to. Countries in which you speak the language, for example, make things much more seamless. For English speakers, this means most of Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Iceland is renowned for its safety and is very popular for women traveling solo, but every place can be safe if you have a little bit of awareness and take the proper precautions. I’m really lucky in that in all the years I’ve been traveling, I’ve never been robbed, and none of our guidebook writers have either. I firmly believe that the world is mostly safe and people are mostly good.
CT: What are the most popular destinations that women are traveling to right now?
KL: Of course everyone has different tastes, but I will say I’ve seen a lot of solo travelers heading to Croatia and Greece as of late. Iceland definitely had its moment, as did Cuba, and I am routinely asked for recommendations in European countries like Italy and Spain, and also Central American countries like Belize and Costa Rica.
CT: What are the countries and cities that you feel women should avoid traveling to solo?
KL: I generally try to stay away from avoiding particular places because I think most places can be safe with the proper precautions, but personally, I wouldn’t go backpacking solo through Syria, Iraq or Somalia at the moment.
CT: What are some of your best travel tips specific for female travelers?
KL: There are some tried and true tips that I’ve used time and time again such as: always avoiding beaches at night as [they’re] generally not patrolled or well-lit in the evening, wherever in the world you are. Likewise, I avoid staying in a park after dark.
Never put your purse on the back of your chair, or on the chair next to you, or under the table. Keep it on your lap. If you’re arriving to a destination at night, pre-book your accommodation, and if they offer an airport pickup, that’s one less thing you have to worry about.
Don’t let a cab driver convince you that you need to sit in the front of a car. This happened to me in Egypt, when a cab driver literally pulled over on the side of the highway until I got in the front, and I had to ward off his advances for the rest of the ride.
Which leads me to my next tip: Set your boundaries and be firm. When I first started traveling I didn’t want to be seen as a “rude American” so I would let conversations with men go past the point that I was comfortable. Now I’m quick to walk away, ignore, and say “NO” loudly and clearly. If you find yourself in a risky situation with men, look to the nearest woman.
CT: For single women who are traveling, are there tips to dating safely while abroad?
KL: I think it really just comes down to your intuition. If you’re meeting someone from an online dating site (many women use Tinder while traveling), meet in a public place, and limit your alcohol intake so that you can get back to your hotel or hostel safely, just like you would if you were home.
CT: Tell us about Damesly—how did you get the idea to start your own women’s travel company?
KL: Damesly is my newest project, a boutique women’s tour company made specifically for creative and entrepreneurial women. We create trips that combine amazing destinations with leaders who are experts in their industry with the goal of creating a community of women who can help each other in travel and in career.
For example, one of our most popular trips is called Cameras + Canyons, a photography tour through the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, led by a photographer who shoots for National Geographic. So during the day we’re exploring and shooting, and in the evening we’re working on editing in Lightroom.
We wanted to take the amazing connections that happen from conferences like the Women’s Travel Fest on the road in a much more intimate setting. Damesly just turned one year old, and was named number four on Travel + Leisure’s list of 10 Best Women’s Travel Companies, so it’s been a pretty incredible year!
CT: Do you find that in general, women prefer to travel in groups over solo traveling?
KL: I think everyone has their own preferences. Either way, when you travel, you learn. Traveling in a group is hit or miss depending on the people in the group, but for women who have never left their home country, group travel is a safe and easy way to start exploring. Traveling solo is when things really get interesting: you learn so much more about yourself and how truly strong and capable you are.
CT: You are quite the solo traveler yourself! What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to alone?
KL: I started my solo travel experience in New Zealand nine years ago, when I sold everything I had, got a working holiday visa, and went to a country where I knew literally no one. It ended up being the best year of my life, and opened my eyes to how small the world is and how easy it is to go anywhere you want, if you really want. For those reasons, New Zealand will always hold a special place in my heart. Since then I’ve been to roughly 70 countries and counting, and my most recent country-obsessions include Georgia, Bhutan, and Morocco.