As you step off the plane in Havana, you’ll be taken to the Hotel Nacional, your new home for the week. Someone hands you a welcome mojito, and in a few hours you’ll be learning the rumba.
Open to women across the country, TravelCircles makes journeys to adventurous locales a thing of sisterhood. Capitalizing on a trend of women taking more solo trips than ever before, Shasta Nelson created TravelCircles, a group travel service aimed at women who go to places such as Afghanistan or Greece to do the tourist thing, connect with local women and engage with the culture. Someday, they might even come to Las Vegas.
Although the U.S. Travel Association doesn’t have specific statistics on this, spokeswoman Cathy Keefe said anecdotally, she knows that solo travel by women has definitely been an increasing trend — whether it’s just the woman on a trip by herself or a group of solo women together.
Travel expert Mary Beth Bond noted on her website, www.gutsytraveler.com, that Travel Guard Worldwide Inc. polled travel agents to learn more about women’s travel habits. In 2013 agents reported that it’s much more common for women to travel alone than men, with 73 percent of respondents noting that more female travelers go on solo trips than their male counterparts.
In October, Michelle Scott became one of those travelers.
After moving to New York City, Scott joined GirlFriend Circles, a website that can be likened to Match.com for women’s friendships. She soon met the site’s founder, Shasta Nelson, who then created TravelCircles.
“The type of women who are drawn to something like this are at least a little courageous,” Scott said. “They want to travel but may not have people in their lives who want to travel like they do.”
She went to Cuba last year, where among other things, she got to hang out with the group in a local musician’s home where he and his friends jammed all night. This year she’s helping host two trips, one to Nicaragua and one to Argentina and Chile. Think hiking volcanoes, kayaking and dancing the tango.
The group doesn’t just travel internationally. Trips to California’s wine country and Santa Fe, N.M., are on deck for this year, and Scott said trips to Las Vegas are a real possibility in the future. All the trips are booked based on the group’s interest.
“I think that’s a really unique thing you don’t get with other tour groups,” Scott said.
Also a member of GirlfriendCircles, San Francisco resident Carol McHuron went to Cuba this past June.
The group of 15 women met with women restaurant owners and learned to salsa dance while there. McHuron said she was out of her comfort zone going to the nightclubs, but she ended up enjoying the experience.
“Cuba’s changing very quickly, and I saw it at a time just before it starts making big changes,” McHuron added.
San Francisco-based TravelCircles partners with Altruvistas to offer the trips, a travel agency owned by Malia Everette. On every trip, adventurers can expect to take a cooking class and meet with local women who can share their life experiences.
“We’re fostering friendship with women in the country we’re visiting,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to make sure we recognize our sisters in that country.”