Solo ladies and intrepid travellers who fantasise about more exotic locations than their cautious partners often miss out on getting to those real bucket list travel destinations. Or they find themselves compromising, signing on to take one of those giant and impersonal coach tours, rattling through Europe at a rate of knots so rapid that any potential souvenir photos are a sea of blurry missed opportunities.
Enter Travelling Divas, a women’s only tour company that offers women the security and companionship of travelling in a group, with the freedom to take time out as you need it. We chat to founder and Chief Diva, Andrea Powis, on the appeal of small group travel, and why so many women over 50 keep coming back for more.
Andrea tell us a bit about Travelling Divas? Why specialise in women’s only travel?
Travelling Divas really came out of my divorce to my first husband. I was in my mid-30s at the time, and had always been a passionate traveller but was finding I had less people to travel with. All my girlfriends had babies, mortgages, and were at different life stage to me. I found things like sitting alone at a bar in Italy wasn’t as enjoyable as it had been in my 20s.
So that’s where the kernel of the idea started, and I saw that there weren’t any tour companies that catered for people like me. There were the big coach tours of course, but it’s not how I, or any other women I was speaking to at the time, like to travel. Travelling Divas speaks to those travellers who are looking for like-minded women to travel with, and have dinner with, but not in a massive, impersonal group.
We started the business 10 years ago, and at the time the ability to look and plan online wasn’t really as big or accessible as it is now. I wanted to specialise in travel for women as I really feel that travel is a great connector, and I was keen to provide a service that makes women feel special. I get a lot of ladies that come to us thatneed a bit of TLC, a bit of a break.
And why do you think Diva tours are such a popular travel choice for women aged fifty plus?
Our demographic is 40-65 primarily, but we do get people who sit outside of that range. We get a lot of ladies in their 50s and 60s, and about 80% of our travellers are solo travellers. I think we appeal to them because we are small group focused, never more than 12. We offer a great mix of culture, we’re a bit foodie, and most clients do get to meet me, and get to know me before we even leave Australia.
When we’re on tour, I am very hands-on, and I think women feel safe and looked after, which is why we get a lot of repeat visitors. We are a premium company and our focus is to provide a very high quality, and unique tour offering. Often women come to us that used to travel with their husbands, who might not be around anymore for whatever reason, and they have lost that confidence to travel and really explore. But what we notice, particularly with repeat customers, is how fast that confidence grows.
Some ladies come along on the tour, but head out at certain times on their own, do their own thing, and then join us back on the tour. Or they will do solo travel prior to joining, or even after a tour with us. A lot of ladies get to know each other, and then come on tours together again, and it is like travelling with old friends. I love it!
A lot of women, particularly those aged fifty plus think that if they are single, or become separated, that travel is off the table. What would you say to them?
That is our big point of difference at Travelling Divas, that although we travel in a group, and that offers women an element of safety and companionship, if you want your own time on tour, you can do that with the security of knowing you can pop back and have dinner with the group at night, if that is what you want to do.
You can spend as much or as little time with the group as you want, but if you want to go off and do a little exploration on your own –
you can still have your independence within the group environment.
Do you get many married women on your tours that prefer to travel separately from their partners?
We do, we get a lot of ladies whose husbands might not like travelling overseas anymore, they might have done enough travel and are happy to stay at home, or they might want to go somewhere different, so the ladies come travelling with us instead. There are some women who want to escape that need to look after their husbands or partners when they’re travelling, they just want to have their own time. You know, I do the same thing, my husband and I travel a lot, but if I want to do a little shopping in Rome, the pressure gets too much, I tell him to go and do something else!
What are some of your more frequent, or popular tour destinations? Do you have a criterion for choosing them?
Europe is a big destination for us, it’s very popular with Australian travellers. We probably do more international tours to Europe than anywhere else, it’s always been a passion of mine, and there is a certain familiarity there, particularly with Italy, that has become a visible part of our culture here in Australia.
We are also developing more local, tours – we have our annual trip to Daylesford and Hepburn Springs coming up. Daylesford is a great winter destination because it is just so lovely and nurturing. We are also starting to take more groups to the Barossa Valley Wine Region.
In terms of choosing the destinations I do tend to look at what is hot at the time, and what is developing in the world, but it’s also a lot about places you wouldn’t necessarily go on your own. Recently we had a sold-out tour to Croatia which has become more popular in recent years, as has Russia. We have also started to create more tours to places in Africa, like Kenya.
Being able to have those quality people on the ground is important, especially in those developing destinations, because you never know what is going to happen. Like in Russia there is a huge language barrier. But it really is a beautiful destination, and so different to when I went there in 90s, there is so much more colour there now.
I actually landed right in the middle of the coup, when Boris Yeltsin was attempting to overthrow Gorbachev. There were military tanks rolling down the street, and I just remember coming into Moscow and thinking ‘this is possibly one of the brownest cities I have ever seen!’ I had just come from St. Petersburg, which was full of colour, yet this was just so brown and grimy. But recently I went back and didn’t recognise the city. It was full of colour and happiness.
Do you cater for people with mild mobility issues? Are there tours for women with varying degrees of physical fitness?
We can definitely accommodate things to a point, and there are some destinations that can get quite difficult for more serious issues, but our motto is – we can cater for it, as long as we know about it. Certain tours in Europe for example can involve a lot of walking or stairs, and sometimes you can be on your feet for up to four hours. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start out with the group, and then sit down in a café for a bit, and we come back and get you when you feel up to it.
So when people are enquiring, we ask they be as honest and detailed as possible regarding their physical abilities, and any dietary issues. We can advise what tours are suitable for different levels of fitness, and any mobility issues. As long as we know about it, we can manage it.
What are some of your most popular tours?
Our Daylesford and Hepburn Springs Girl’s Getaway tour is really popular, as is anything to Italy, and Spain. But this year the fastest tours
to sell out were Croatia, Russia and Kenya. We are also starting our Journeys of a Lifetime series, to places such as Peru, the Galapagos, and a Winter Wonderland tour to see the Northern Lights. I think they will do well as they are such extraordinary, unique locations.
Which of your tours would you recommend for a first timer?
Our Domestic Girls Getaways are a great place to start, the tours aren’t as long or as far away, so if you’re a bit unsure about the group travel, or simply don’t want to face the jet lag. It’s a good way for ladies to see how they find us, and the expense isn’t as high as they are shorter trips.
Our trip to Vietnam is also a really good one, and we are really excited about this trip as we are doing a lot of insider experiences, not just with the cooking schools, but with art, and music, getting to know performers and artists.
Andrea, travel has been such a huge part of your life and career, tell us about living life with the travel bug?
It’s always been fantastic, but it’s interesting now though that I have five grandchildren and a sixth on the way. I have been very lucky in my second marriage to now have these beautiful stepdaughters, and their husbands and all our wonderful grandchildren, it is becoming that much harder to leave. I get torn between that desire to head to places I still haven’t been, like Venice Carnivale, Milan Fashion Week, and then there’s Israel to consider, and then there is this little person asking me ‘Nan, you’re not going away again are you?’
Fortunately my husband does travel with me on research trips, but then there are times where I might only see him for two weeks within a two month period. But I do think I will be travelling until I am about 90, and beyond. It is just too much a part of my DNA now. We also now have friends from across the world we want to see, in the UK, and in Europe. Even if I am not the one flying, when that aviation fuel fills my senses, I get that overwhelming urge to fly somewhere.
So it’s about finding the balance now. But the bottom line is, I love having itchy feet, and I have seen some incredible things in my life. I got to fly on the Concorde while I worked for British Airways. Keith Richards and Maggie Thatcher were on the same flight – when I saw them I totally had to play it cool of course, but I was so excited inside. It was extraordinary.
And where haven’t you been? What’s next on your bucket list?
Israel definitely, and I would like to see more of South America. And northern Europe too, I am off to Stockholm in September for a week. But Israel just fascinates me, I want to get in there!
Travelling Divas is a boutique, Brisbane based travel company dedicated to creating exclusive, small group travel experiences for women. Their tours are not cookie cutter, off-the-shelf products, but are carefully crafted experiences designed to ensure maximum enjoyment.