They were temple tourists in an earlier generation. Now they hike, climb, dive, kayak, snowboard and window shop in different parts of the world. Under the Women Travel for Peace banner, five women went to Senegal to work with local farming women. Ontdek Kenya organises women-only safaris.

Women are travelling, alone or in groups, on guilt-free leisure jaunts — with friends, tolerable relatives or perfect strangers. Even as you read this, many are on the road. With cash and words of encouragement, many more would love to step out of their door, trailing a travel bag. Egging them on into a whole new world of freedom and exploration are other women — travel agents, accommodation hosts (at homestays) and tour operators.

Duchess Club members go on all-woman tours and brag about it till they start shopping for the next overseas trip. “Some 24 of us are just back from a cruise to Singapore,” says Neena Reddy, Savera Hotels. “Feeling absolutely refreshed, we switched off the phone. On women’s tours you mature as a traveller. You adjust with others, learn to be punctual, to look after yourself — husband isn’t around to find plug points. You make independent decisions. Also, you want people to miss you, right?”

“It’s catching on,” says Lalitha Rai, professional conference organiser. “Work or leisure, women seem to enjoy girl travel. Of these, about 10 per cent prefer travelling alone.” Alone? Make that “solo”.

Time for themselves

Break from drudgery is part of the joy. “It’s time for ourselves,” says Lalitha, “without having to meet deadlines — household or workplace.” She oohed and aahed about a 12-day travel through Rajasthan with three like-minded wanderers. They would stop at every fort and monument, she says, driving a tired cabbie to say: “Yahan rukna hai, kya?” when he spotted some ruins.

“We dawdled, thinking about the women who lived in the havelis, listened gleefully to the masala-mixed stories of the guides, walked through shop-laden gullies. Most men don’t have patience for all this!” Men would have spent time adjusting camera angles.

Think it isn’t safe? Don’t. You are empowered in a group, and who says men don’t get mugged? Of course, prepare well, keep a few things in mind and the handbag.

Handy tips

Yeah, bad things do happen — purses get stolen while you’re smiling back at Mona Lisa; you’ll fall for a foreign con job, miss the bus, misplace documents, eat something that starts a revolution in the stomach, find your warm clothes inadequate for the “Arctic” climate in Europe. (A woman co-traveller screamed when introduced to toilet paper!). But trust your instincts; use your common sense. Travel isn’t more difficult than sending two late-rising, homework-hating kids off to school!

Talk to people who’ve been there, done it. Wear sensible, comfortable clothes and shoes. Walk with head held high, act confident. Timid-looking tourists are good catch for muggers. If you feel something isn’t right, get out, run, scream — do it quickly. Don’t accept food /drink from strangers. Feel you’re being followed? Duck into a shop. Ask the shopkeeper for help. Be alert to surroundings, and carry a flashlight at all times. Carry cash in different places.

Stay with your group. If alone, stand close to a group. You’re less likely to be harassed. Be careful how you dress. Try to blend with the local women. Get back to your lodging before dark. Make provision for changes in weather. What if you’re caught in a sudden shower?

Pack a first-aid kit. Avoid eating raw food. Prefer bottled water. Carry snacks with you if you are on the road. Be prepared for a breakdown. Do you need vaccinations to enter your destination? How about travel insurance? International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers (716-754-4883) provides a free directory of English-speaking physicians worldwide.

And, importantly, travel light. Look for lightweight, quick-drying, wrinkle-free fabrics. It’s no fun yanking a heavy suitcase off the carousal or pulling it across airports. Make sure your suitcase will take in all that handling — only wines improve with age. A lot of people tell me to take a self-defence course. Mmm... I leave that to you. Enjoy the travel — leave behind world crisis, personal pain, and the daily grind. Pass your experiences on to your mom, sis, daughter or friend.

DOS AND DON’TS

* Watch out when you’re on the cellphone, searching for something in the bag.

* Check a public restroom before entering. Ditto elevator.

* Wear fake jewellery.

* Carry cash/card for unexpected expenditure.

* Don’t miss out on an opportunity to watch wine-making, visit a hippo house pet or a puppet show at the Lido.

* Keep your stuff locked.

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