by Erin Kirkland – Who Dominates Adventure Travel? These women.
International Women’s Day is Friday March 8. Meet four professionals working to make outdoor travel a balanced place for women around the world.
With a theme of #BalanceforBetter, the 2019 International Women’s Day platform is firmly set. Focusing on creating a more gender-balanced world to foster a better working environment for everyone, IWD organizers hope to raise awareness and inspire female traveler industry members of every age, race, and affiliation.
It couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. Women have historically been underrepresented — particularly in positions of leadership — for years in the travel space. According to a report by The Adventure Travel Trade Association titled “Out in Front: Tracking Women’s Leadership in Adventure Travel,” women may make up 60-70% of the travel industry, but only 38% of board positions are held by females in the adventure sector, and there are significantly fewer female guides, especially in developing destinations.
Women are, however, beginning to break down barriers of this male-dominated sector. Along with a rise in female-led adventure travel and women’s-only travel providers comes a marked increase in women taking on leadership roles, thus challenging the status quo.
Here are just a handful of driven, fearless women from around the world who are working every day to make their mark in adventure travel:
Expedition Leader – India, Nepal & Bhutan
Natural Habitat Adventures
Payal Mehta may have spent her childhood in urban Mumbai, but her lifelong love for the outdoors led her to become a Nat Hab Expedition Leader, guiding travelers throughout the remote, wild areas of India, Nepal and Bhutan. Once a member of an elite training program for India safari guides, Payal started leading tours in India’s Kanha National Park, and is now a multi-disciplined wilderness specialist and trained mountaineer. As a Nat Hab guide, Payal interprets the nature and local culture she and her groups explore together, as well as being a translator, teacher and storyteller – all while ensuring the trip runs smoothly.
Badass Claim to Fame: “I was part of an all-women mountaineering expedition up the 6,420-metre-high Mt. White Sail in the Himalayas. We ended up in a serious rescue situation on our way back when our guide suffered high altitude pulmonary edema. But we all made it back alive!”
Future Goals: “I’d love to have my own wildlife tourism project near a forest. One that is much more than a commercial outfit, that truly involves everyone in the local community, is a center for learning and is run with high standards of environmental consciousness.”
What IWD Means to Payal: “It’s saluting and celebrating all the women of the past who fought for women’s place in society, and because of whom I get to enjoy my life as it is today. It also brings a hope that the message will continue to spread and there will be further change in attitudes in the future.”
Deputy Operations Manager – Treks, Inca Trail
Maritza Chacanta is a proud single mother and former Inca Trail Guide who has worked her way to become the Deputy Operations Manager for Exodus Travels. When Maritza was first told how challenging it was to become an Exodus guide (applicants have to take special training courses and be among the best guides in order to be hired), she became determined to secure the coveted role. After years of hard work and dedication, Maritza made good on her promise to herself – and is now not only leading Exodus Travels’ signature Inca treks, but managing the operations from start to finish while collaborating with porters, horse wranglers, and guides.
Badass Claim to Fame: “Being a single mom is one of the things I’m proudest of. Nowadays (sic), women do not need a man to push ahead. To the single mothers out there: It’s important to know that you are not alone. You can have a successful career while being a successful mom.”
Future Goals: “To develop some projects related to the environment (reforestation, clean campaigns, etc.), and train our staff on how important it is to take care the environment – not only to benefit our treks, but to share the results with our communities.”
What IWD Means to Maritza: “It means rights and gender equality. [It’s the ability to] make your decisions – and be free from violence and discrimination.”
Adventure Coordinator – Scotland
Alice Goodridge keeps a sledgehammer in her car during the winter, so she can go swimming anytime, anywhere – no matter how frozen the lochs may be. That’s because as an extreme cold water swimmer, she isn’t afraid of a little physical discomfort – which is part of what made her want to become an Adventure Coordinator for Wilderness Scotland.
The company runs the type of trips Alice always wanted to experience herself, which means she now combines her love of the great outdoors with her expertise in organizing sustainability and adventure holidays.
Badass Claim to Fame: “My long distance and cold-water swims. I swam the 21-mile English Channel in 2012 and the length of the 22-mile Loch Lomond in 2018, which took place overnight from 6 p.m. – 8 a.m. the next morning. I also completed an Ice Mile last year, which was a mile in water less than 5 C° without a wetsuit.”
Future Goals: “I want to challenge myself in a discipline I am not so familiar with. I am currently working through my sea kayaking qualifications, with the hope of becoming a sea kayak guide in the future. Paddling or swimming… any excuse to spend more time on/in the water!“
What IWD Means to Alice: “There is still a lot of inequality in the outdoor activity sector and International Women’s Day mean taking a closer look and seeing what can be done about it. UK society is 51% female. Yet we know that there are less women and girls participating in the types of outdoor activities likely to lead to the interest, skill and motivation to pursue a career in this area. I would like to see greater equality in the outdoor activity sector and a higher percentage of female guides leading walking, biking and paddling trips in the UK.”
Explorer, Consultant & Artist – British Columbia, Canada
Laura Adams, an Adventure Canada expedition guide, is also a professional member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and the Canadian Avalanche Association, and was the fifth woman in Canada to become a fully-certified winter ski guide. She also has a Masters degree in Leadership, with research focused on decision-making and risk management in mountain environments. In her spare time, Laura mentors people who aspire to a career in the professional mountain guiding industry, and coaches women in building leadership and backcountry skills.
Badass Claim to Fame: “In January 2019 I lead a small group expedition to Northern China close to the borders of Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia to experience the ancient Tuvan mountain culture, and to ski-tour amongst the ‘Golden’ mountains of the region. We went during a time when China/Canada relations were tense, which added a great deal to the risk of traveling to this little-known part of the world. We all embraced the challenges with faith and endurance, and were rewarded with remarkable experiences of awe, cooperation, trust, and unity.”
Future Goals: I am now focusing my career to increasing awareness, stewardship and leadership of these special places and cultures; through expeditions, my art and speaking/presentations.
What IWD Means to Laura: “International Women’s Day calls on us to give thanks and appreciation for the women in our lives and communities who live life with courage, integrity, and grace, who don’t just accept the way things are, and who make a genuine difference in the lives of themselves and others. It’s a day to inspire and cultivate qualities in emerging women around us who have big dreams and can make their ideas real.”
Erin Kirkland is an Alaska-based author and freelance writer focusing on family travel and outdoor recreation. You can read her stories at AKontheGO.com.