When Lauren Bates got laid off, she decided to turn a bad situation into an opportunity to follow her dream.
“There are so many women who lost jobs and they feel like it is this rare thing that has happened to them,” Bates, the founder and CEO of the all-women travel company Wild Terrains, told Travel + Leisure. “It doesn’t have to be this traumatic [thing].”
So when Bates took the leap to start her own travel company in 2018, she decided to focus on what she saw as something missing from the market. Rather than plan around hitting specific tourist attractions or centering the trip around a niche activity like yoga, Bates’ planning revolved around the women she wanted her travelers to meet — entrepreneurs and business owners.
“At Wild Terrains, our mission is to create travel experiences that propel women forward by giving them a safe space to make meaningful connections and have those deep conversations that transcend borders and generations” Bates told T+L. “Cultivating these meaningful connections among women is transformative. Seeing the world through other women’s eyes makes us wiser. It opens us up.”
The company has now grown to plan trips in two countries — Mexico and Portugal — and is looking to add a third in Argentina this spring.
“Most travel companies start with the things they want you to do and not the people who are interesting in that culture. Our business model is totally flipped,” she said.
Bates starts by finding someone like a female perfume maker or jewelry designer and curates her itineraries around these women — they often have the best stories to tell, after all. Trips include food crawls, classes and meeting with local boss babes.
She invites people to learn about the company’s partners on the website, highlighting their businesses and the powerful women behind them.
“To me, that’s the cultural exchange we need, especially for women, to be having conversations like ‘what is it like to be a woman in Mexico?’” she added. “We’re in such an important time in the world now. If women aren’t having those conversations, how do we create a more equal world? I don’t think we do.”
Bates has spent many years traveling both as a solo woman and in a group, and these are her best tips for women to maximize their own travel experiences.
Bates said travelers shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to the people or businesses they want to explore when they get to their destination. If there’s a specific shop you want to visit, for example, she said to try sending them a message on social media and see if you can meet the owner in person.
“I think people underestimate how much locals want to share,” she said. “Most humans want to connect with other people. Send that email, send that DM on Instagram.”
Think Outside the Box in Terms of Travel Companions
Bates suggests broadening who you’re willing to travel with by thinking outside only your age group (hello moms and grandmothers) or considering someone you may not know as well.
“Travel makes people really close,” she said. “Try a short, long weekend with someone you maybe don’t know that well.”
Be Intentional with How You Spend Money
Bates told T+L that it’s important to know where your money is going by doing your research ahead of time. Bates suggested things like finding out if the person who owns the airbnb you’re staying at is a local and figuring out who you’re supporting with your tourism dollars.
Create a Balance Between Planning and Leaving Room for Spontaneity
While Bates says it’s a good idea to plan things like accommodation in advance, it’s also important to leave room to explore.
“My usual rule of thumb is I will plan one thing I have to do per day and then I leave the rest open,” she said. “I’ll create a Google map [for] all the places I’m interested in seeing like shops and cafes and then after I do my one thing of the day… I’ll open up that Google map and then I just walk.”
Eat like a Local
One of the best parts about traveling is food and that can be even better if you know the best spots to go to.
“See if you can meet a local and ask them to take you to their favorite spots,” she said. “When I get in a cab or an Uber from an airport, I ask the cab driver to give me their favorite spots. I ask the bartender, they always know the non-touristy places to go for great food and great drinks.”
Besides, when eating like a local, the experience turns into so much more than trying new food.
“When we explore, eat, learn, laugh and authentically share ourselves with each other — we amplify each other,” Bates added. “This human exchange through travel lays the foundation for a more understanding and equal world.”
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