A middle-aged Tamil woman once found herself attending a wine-tasting session at a vineyard in Australia. She had never sipped anything remotely alcoholic before. But this time, she decided to go with the flow. A few sips later, she thought to herself, “I really like this.” Refusing to spit it out, as is usually done in wine tasting, because she “did not like to waste”, she proceeded to do justice to her glass. Slightly tipsy and certainly giggly, she later told her fellow travellers, “My family back home does not know what I am doing, so it’s okay.”

She had travelled to Australia with a group of women tourists, all of them strangers to one another. In her sojourn away from India—a place where most women still face patriarchal expectations, she could finally let her hair down and not be judged for it. Such liberating women-only trips are at the core of Sumitra Senapaty’s travel club, Women on Wanderlust (WOW).

Sumitra Senapaty
WOW in South America
WOW in South America

It all started in 2005 when Sumitra was on a self-drive holiday in New Zealand and came across a women’s travel group from London. Captivated by their stories of adventure, she was inspired to start a travel community for women here.

In the beginning, the WOW Club did face its share of apprehensions. “Women did not want to ‘be bold’ and were content staying within the confines of their family and friends circles,” Sumitra says. “I had to first break the stereotype that women cannot travel alone and need to be escorted by a man.” Even those who were interested had to convince their families to let them sign up.

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The club focussed on group travel, since there is safety in numbers. It also opted to focus on women between the ages of 25 and 65 who had a cosmopolitan outlook on life and, as Sumitra puts it, “a sense of adventure and humour”. Slowly, like-minded women began to sign up for trips. WOW Club made sure that the travellers were looked after well—trips meant centrally located hotels, reliable guides, well researched and adequately paced itineraries, authentic experiences and assistance wherever necessary. A WOW Buddy accompanied every group.

And so, women kept coming back for trips and continued to spread the word. From just five trips a year, the club has now come to organising nearly 125 trips annually and has had around 4,000 women travel with them. “It’s abundantly clear that women want to travel,” says Sumitra.

The founder also noticed that her patrons were very social on group trips but loneliness returned to their individual lives afterwards. So WOW Club chose to take on an additional avatar of a social platform that organises local events in Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai. It has taken groups for heritages walks, nature walks, wine and cheese sessions, meals and movies. Sumitra is also planning to open an exclusive women’s den in Bengaluru in December 2018. Here, women will be free to dine and converse at ease, with no men around.

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More than just a tour operator, WOW Club is playing an important role in empowering women through travel. Take, for instance, the story of a girl from Mumbai who went for a trek despite being faced with a physical disability. She found it difficult to keep up, but with ample support from everyone in the group, managed to summit. “Later, she told me it was a moment that changed her life,” Sumitra says. “This is the kind of thing you get in a community, which is what my whole vision was all about.”

Upcoming Trips

2N/3D ‘Iguazu Falls: Brazil & Argentina’ trip from January 7, 2018. Price 30,500

7N/8D ‘Sikkim Rhododendron Trek’ from March 31, 2018. Price 52,500

7N/8D ‘Netherlands Tulip Cruise’ from April 13, 2018. Price approx. 1.5lakhs to 3lakhs

17N/18D ‘Highlights of South America’ trip from April 29, 2018. Price approx. 3.5lakhs

All the above rates are per person on twin-sharing basis, exclusive of airfare and inclusive of GST. Visit facebook.com/wowclub or wowclub.in for more details.