When Jillian Cook was first invited to a women’s retreat in Park City, Utah, she jumped at the chance to travel solo.
“It felt good to escape reality, recharge my battery and get back to who I am,” says Cook, a stay-at-home mom in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, who has two daughters, ages 6 and 11. She spent time on yoga, meditation and paddleboarding alongside seven other women, ranging in age from their 20s to late 60s.
Cook’s getaway is part of a larger trend of women traveling with other women: “The women’s travel space is booming, mostly because women themselves are becoming empowered and excited to do things on their own that maybe they thought they couldn’t do previously,” says Kelly Lewis, a women’s travel expert who runs gogirlguides.com and is the founder of Damesly, which operates tours for women.
Colleen Cannon, founder of the Boulder, Colorado-based travel company Women’s Quest, says she gets 10 inquiries a day. Her company runs retreats all over the world. Many requests come from baby boomers, she adds. “Their kids are off to college, so they want to have an adventure. It’s like the year of the woman. Even 10 to 15 years ago, not so much,” she says.
Considering going on a women’s retreat? Here’s what you need to know.
Find the right women's retreat for you
Some women-only retreats are luxurious, all-inclusive experiences, featuring well-known yoga teachers or famous authors. Others focus on physical challenges or adventures, and still others are more low-key with plenty of free time for hiking or journaling on one's own.
Trish Earnest, author of the addiction and recovery memoir "Blood on the Walls," recently participated in a women’s retreat focused on recovery from addiction.
"It’s a great way to connect with people in a very relaxed setting. You gain so much," she says.
Prepare to learn and share
Lewis says the #MeToo movement, which has inspired more women to speak out about sexual harassment and assault, has added momentum to women-only travel.
“We are becoming more aware of areas where we haven’t spoken up and ways we’ve been held back,” she says. “Travel is a great way of getting to know yourself and your strengths and how powerful you really are.”
The benefits of going on a women-only retreat, participants say, include the ability to bond with other participants and really relax.
“You can open up more than if men are there. No one cares what they look like, and you don’t need to wear makeup,” Cook says. Some of the group’s shared conversations became so intimate and emotional that they ended in tears, she added. “I don’t think the tears would have flowed quite so freely if there had been men there,” she says.
Embrace the challenge
“Travel is a way we work through our baggage,” says Catherine Smith, founder of the women’s travel website herbagswerepacked.com. She found that through traveling, she was able to challenge herself to build up more confidence and embrace independence — lessons she carried over to the rest of her life. As a result, she wants to encourage other women to do the same.
Through her website, Smith coaches women to overcome any fear they have of traveling without male companions and to embrace the hard parts, including potential loneliness and ensuring one's personal safety.
Don't exceed your budget
Smith notes that women-only hostels around the world make it relatively easy to seek out women-only experiences, even while traveling on a budget.
“If you have an interest in doing it, ease yourself into it,” she suggests.
Earnest notes that many retreats offer the option of sharing a room or a bathroom, which reduces the cost. Some people, she adds, even prefer rooming with someone else, for the additional bonding time.
Get ready to make close friends
“I’m always surprised by the supportive atmosphere," Cannon says. "[Participants] become best friends for life, supporting each other through cancer or death of loved ones."
Maria Leonard Olsen, author of “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life,” frequently attends women’s retreats, in part because of those friendships.
“I have formed deeper connections with women than I otherwise would in my busy, daily life,” she says. She adds that other women are often similarly interested in talking about their personal stories, hopes and dreams, and looking to expand their horizons in some way. “A sisterhood feeling develops,” she says.
That’s exactly what travel writer and adventure coach Catherine Smith loves to see.
“It changes their lives in some way," she says. "It’s this idea of becoming something greater than we thought we could and knowing we can overcome things.”