Women’s Expeditions: How Intrepid is breaking the barriers of traditional tourism

written by Intrepid Travel March 7, 2018
Female travellers pose for the camera

At Intrepid, we work pretty hard to ensure our trips are designed so that all our travellers have the opportunity to really get to the heart of a destination through immersive, meaningful, real life experiences.

However, there are some destinations and experiences that our regular groups don’t – and can’t – have access to.

With our female travellers in mind, and to coincide with International Women’s Day, we’re launching a new range of women’s expeditions in Morocco, Iran and Jordan – and we couldn’t be prouder. This is an exciting opportunity for our female travellers to learn about the customs, challenges and lives of women around the world; to immerse themselves in local experiences that have been otherwise off-limits to our regular group departures.


Guided by some of our incredible female tour leaders, these expeditions will help break down barriers of traditional tourism in these countries, offering a deeper understanding of female culture in each destination. The trips will allow travellers to interact and engage with a range of amazing local women – young, old, religious, conservative, traditional and modern, from the country and the city – while respecting local values.

Why we’re running women-only trips

Female travellers in Iran

Photo by Damien Raggatt

Each country within the Middle East region comes with its own unique cultural and societal norms, which can make local interaction challenging for mixed gender groups; it’s something that comes up regularly in trip feedback. For example, in Wadi Rum, the desert camps (where we spend a couple of nights on all of our Jordan tours) are operated by men. In these close confines, it’s not socially accepted for men to be alone with our female travellers, so the opportunities for interaction are limited.


By the same token, many of the opportunities our groups have to spend time with local women are in the presence of men, and in a controlled environment. You don’t find women in a lot of the roles you typically would around the globe (for example, in Jordan housekeeping is almost entirely done by men).  This means that there are limited options for travellers to really understand women in their real, everyday lives. The consequence of this can be a genuine misunderstanding of women in the region; misconceptions, stereotypes and generalisations that only contribute to a pretty wide cultural rift.

Breaking apart the misconceptions

A group of female travellers in Iran

Photo by Damien Raggatt

Iran is a great example of this. Travellers often arrive with a perception of Iranian women that’s way off track. Many travellers assume that women aren’t allowed to drive or work, or get an education without a man’s permission, and that they’re highly conservative and religious. And while there’s no doubt that you will see super conservative, religious women dressed head-to-toe in the chador (meaning ‘tent’ in Farsi) during your time in Iran, you’ll also encounter the country’s other side. Half of Iran’s population is under 35 years old, so you’ll find far more young Iranian women with head scarfs pushed back low on the head, wearing bright coloured clothing (some of it figure-hugging) and high heels, and immaculately made-up with red lipstick and nails.


In Iran, we’re proud to boast a team of local leaders that are made up mostly of women, who are representative of a large percentage of Iranian women. They are fully integrated into the workforce; young, modern, independent, and highly educated (most young Iranians have one, if not two, university degrees).  Although gender segregation is not typically Iranian, strict dress codes imposed by Islamic Law have meant many places and ways of life have become segregated by default; beauty salons, parks, women-only subway carriages and overnight trains, gyms and yoga studios.

Female travellers at a market

Photo by Damien Raggatt

In post-revolution Iran, opening a beauty salon was among one of the most conventional ways for Iranian women to attain financial independence. So, what if you could head to the local salon with your Iranian female leader to get your nails done? During this expedition, our travellers will step inside this hidden world which has become an oases for many of Iran’s women. Off-limits to men, headscarves and coats can be removed, music is turned up, and the conversation is lively. Not what you expect when you think of Iran, right? When you visit, you discover that in many ways these women are no different to you, or me, or your sister, or your mother.

Ultimately, these expeditions are about breaking down barriers, fostering discussions, and debunking misconceptions.

Where can you travel on a Women’s Expedition?

A cooking class

Photo by Damien Raggatt

In Iran, travellers will experience the hidden world of an Iranian beauty salon, wander through a female-only park, take a yoga class with local women, travel by public transport in the female-only carriage of the metro, local bus and overnight train, immerse themselves in rural nomadic life with a female host in a remote homestay with the Qashqai people, meet young female entrepreneurs, and shop, cook and learn secret recipes.


In Morocco, we’ll visit the bustling city of Marrakech before breaking bread with Berber families in their homes, see how an artist-run co-op is empowering female rug-weavers in small villages, witness the lush beauty of the far-flung Bougmez Valley, and experience a traditional hammam (Moroccan bath) with local women.


And in Jordan, we spend a night in Wadi Rum to learn the ancient art of Henna with Bedouin women, discovering how Kohl has been used for years – not just as a beauty product – but to protect the eyes from the harsh desert sands. We also enjoy an afternoon at a local ladies-only beach at the Dead Sea, learn the art of Arabic cooking, share afternoon tea with local women, and spend time with a female shepherd.


But why can’t men be included?

We would love to open up these real life experiences to all of our travellers, however in order to operate in a socially responsible and culturally sensitive manner this is simply not possible – at least not yet. We see this is a positive step towards developing a deeper understanding of Middle Eastern and Moroccan women.  As we say; travel creates connections, builds empathy and breeds tolerance, which we need more than ever in the world right now.


Intrepid’s stance on gender equality

Our commitment to women’s equality and female empowerment extends beyond this new line of women-only expedition trips; we are committed to diversity and inclusion at all levels of the business, with the ultimate goal of doubling the number of our female tour leaders globally by 2020. You can read more about our gender and inclusion policies here.

Want to book a place? Learn more? Have a question? Find out more about Intrepid’s range of Women’s Expeditions here

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