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Why I Created the First Major Outdoor Travel Festival by and for Women

In March 2022, Wanderfest will celebrate all the beauty, joy, and nuances of the women’s travel experience.

It was 2013, and I could be found sitting in a Starbucks in Chicago, a caramel latte in hand. As I sat there sipping my drink, a news briefing flashed across my computer screen: another solo female traveler was reported lost and likely killed overseas.

I wish I could tell you that this was the first and last time I saw a news clip of this sort, but unfortunately, they’re everywhere. To this day, there are countless horror stories of things that happen to women when we dare to venture out into the world. Constant advisories and articles about how women can travel safely. Products that raise millions of dollars on the premise that female travelers are in danger every time we pull out a passport.

It’s not that those things don’t happen or that some of those fears aren’t real. Instead, it’s the fact that this is one of the only narratives that are told about women traveling (the other one being the exact opposite and what I like to call the “Eat, Pray, Love” narrative, which involves gorging on pasta, finding bliss overseas, and being swept off your feet). In short, when it comes to women’s travel, there are not many nuances between the horror stories and the Eat Pray Love tales.

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In reality, there’s so much more that makes up the women’s travel experience: navigating gender and cultural norms, dress codes, birth control, hormones, maternity, or the plain and simple fact that when the travel industry speaks, they’re usually speaking to a 20-something (or 50-something) white male, and not much of anyone else. Yet, did you know that women make the majority of purchasing decisions in the travel industry?

When I started Wanderful—an international collective of travelers and travel content creators on a mission to help women travel the world—it was with the intent to create a space where women can get access to real, helpful information and a live support network. But more than just arming women with pepper spray and sending them on their way, Wanderful does a lot to challenge the travel industry’s behaviors and tactics, amplifying the work of diverse thought leaders and encouraging the travel industry to do better for both the travelers going out into the world as well as the local communities affected by tourism.

Attendees at the Women in Travel Summit, an annual event hosted by Wanderful. WITS

I’ll be honest; it’s a lot of work. We spend a lot of time and energy advocating for the industry to be better and speak up about crucial things. But you know what’s also important? Celebrating and nourishing ourselves. This is why I decided to put on one of the gutsiest events of all: Wanderfest, an outdoor festival and true celebration of travel and the women who do it.

Wanderfest is the first major outdoor travel festival by and for women taking place in March 2022. The event will bring together over 1,000 travel lovers for a weekend of music, speakers, and more in downtown New Orleans. Picture this: hundreds of people (women and allies alike) getting inspired, energized, and connected.

Oneika Raymond speaking at the Women in Travel Summit Jason Seagle

There will be speakers like Patricia Schultz, the author of the international bestseller book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, Travel Channel host and influencer Oneika Raymond, and celebrity chef and Chopped indigenous cuisine artist Crystal Wahpepah. Imagine musicians like Feminist icon and former M.I.A. drummer Madame Gandhi, a Bhangra-inspired dance class with cultural energizer Sarina Jain, and a parade into the French Quarter with the New Orleans Baby Dolls. In addition to these speakers and musicians, attendees will also find a marketplace of travel goods by woman-owned and woman-supporting businesses. And that’s just the beginning.

You might think that Wanderfest is just about having fun (which, of course, it is), but it’s also about something bigger. There’s one thing I didn’t tell you about that day in Chicago back in 2013. It wasn’t just the article about the woman who was missing overseas that stayed with me, it was what came after that. Under the article were dozens of comments—pages of judgment—lambasting the traveler for leaving her husband and children behind to travel solo. As if her choice to travel alone was justification for what happened to her, the comments seemed to suggest that getting lost, assaulted, or killed overseas isn’t enough; women have to be shamed for it, too.

Women in our culture are constantly pulled in different directions. We are pressured to take care of our families and loved ones and balance that with our careers (when we can). We are asked to focus on everything else except ourselves and our own needs. When we choose to travel, we’re actively choosing to honor ourselves and give ourselves time to do what we love. Choosing to give ourselves that time to focus on something that we love is the most powerful manifestation of self-care that we can make.

Jason Seagle

Wanderfest isn’t just about talking and celebrating travel. It’s about celebrating what travel does to us and how it gives us time to reflect. It’s a celebration of how travel encourages us to lean in, learn about, and engage with the world; and how it teaches us about others, and in the same way, teaches us about ourselves. Taking time to honor that—and to make deep connections with others who feel the same way—is what the spirit of Wanderfest is all about.

Next year’s Wanderfest will be ballsy and brave, and it’s our way of telling stories that prove that the fear-mongering around solo female travel isn’t what defines us. We get to choose our narrative, and now, for the first time, we’ll shout it from the rooftops of New Orleans.