In planning the ultimate family vacation of a lifetime as a Mother’s Day gift for your mother, grandmother or aunt, you could go online and book a stay and a few spa treatments in Mom’s favorite destination or figure out how to build an itinerary for that bucket-list place she’s long dreamed of. On the other hand, for the trip to thoroughly come off without a hitch, it may be wise to invest a little extra money and coordinate the trip with a female-focused travel agency.
This is the philosophy behind Willow & Blair, which specializes in planning in-depth, women-only cultural experiences customized to specific travelers’ interests, fitness levels and travel ambitions. Destinations run the gamut from favorite European destinations Italy and France to more far-flung places like Peru and Morocco. Co-founder Natascia Leonardis believes the extra assistance and in-depth planning process will mean money better spent.
“Women-only travel, a growing phenomenon, is a safe way for women to feel connected, safe and supported, especially as they are becoming more interested in targeted, curated experiences,” observes Leonardis. “For example, food and wine travel, particularly to their places of origin, is becoming more and more popular. Some of our tours are based on vegan holidays, making food and wine travel easy for all diets. Places like France and Italy were somewhat difficult for those with special dietary needs, so we’re moving away from the stereotype of typical sightseeing-based travel to more in-depth, educational experiences that cater to all types of women.”
Leonardis says there are many new itineraries trending in travel at present, especially when it comes to specialized, multigenerational, shared travel: voluntourism, fitness, cooking courses, eco-tourism and other hands-on programs with educational components. It represents a major shift away from the more passive “traditional” tour itinerary of floating from historic site to museum to museum. She describes the phenomenon as “transformational travel,” about experiencing a culture with quality activities rather than quantity of destinations to not only get a sense of the place but connect to it in a more personal way.
“We’re starting to move away from the typical weekend getaways with mom and friends to longer, more in-depth experiences, in my opinion,” she explains. “Yoga retreats, unique cultural healing experiences, and time to reflect and connect while experiencing something new all contribute to those special moments that transform us both internally and externally. We want travelers to push themselves outside their comfort zones, gaining a new perspective on themselves and the world around them.”
Although companies like Willow & Blair will do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of recommendations and research to put together the perfect trip, Leonardis suggests clients ask certain questions of prospective tour companies before picking the right one to coordinate an all-women adventure that fits all women in the family traveling together.
Such questions include asking prospective agents about what they can provide to deliver an experience fitting the personality and interests of the group’s travelers, and asking them about how they would approach curating a specific itinerary based on the ages and interests of the group, especially the mother being honored.
“We are becoming more aware of the importance of time and truly savoring life’s magical moments,” said Leonardis. “What better way to do that than slowing down the pace and taking time to appreciate all the beauty the world has to offer?”