“What kind of advice would you give to women travelling together?”
“Don’t share a room with someone you don’t like!” says Jane McNab with a chuckle.
At the same time, her travelling and walking partner Edith Harris responds, “Be prepared to walk a lot….”
Jane and Edith are two Australian women who have been friends and travel buddies for over two decades. They met some twenty years ago in the way that many women meet: their kids were in the same class. While waiting for their kids to finish their shared music lessons, Jane and Edith got to talking, quickly realising how much they had in common. Later on, they realised that, completely by coincidence, they lived on the same street in Melbourne and that they both liked to walk. Cue the start of a lifelong friendship, a sisterhood of travel and walking.
“It’s nice to have a walking buddy who lives just up the street,” Edith says. “We started walking and exercising more, we even started doing to do yoga together. And it’s not just the outdoors stuff – last night went to the opera together!”
Both Jane and Edith have husbands and children – and sometimes they travel with their spouses and families. But as time wore one, the two women began organising trips together, just the two of them, or occasionally with other women.
“Our husbands are both still working – it’s easier to take off alone with a friend rather than trying to find a time that works for the whole family,” Jane says. Edith adds, “Travelling together, it’s easy going. It’s just easier to plan a spontaneous trip – and it costs less money too!”
“Women are more understanding. Girls understand each other – we understand that we need time to do our hair, have a shower, relax and have a drink of wine. We pack big bags, and that’s okay. There aren’t any ‘I told You sos’ like might happen with your husband.”
The travel bug started on the steppes of Mongolia, a place that Jane had always wanted to go. She managed to convince her spouse to travel with her, but only just. She realised that there were some adventures that would be easier to do if she went on her own. But travelling solo wasn’t quite what Jane wanted either – and then she got to talking with her friend and walking buddy Edith, who wanted to travel together.
Japan was at the top of their list. And they very well could have had a lovely trip following the traditional tourist path, a version of Japan deliberately put on display for foreign visitors. But instead, Jane and Edith managed to collect a group of 10 women together to hike the Kumano Kodo, a 1,000 year old pilgrimage route in Japan. The Japanese version of the Santiago del Compostela in Spain, this UNESCO site isn’t where most people visit.
“We just… decided to go,” says Jane. It was amazing but it wasn’t easy. “We had a fab time – but had plenty of difficulties to overcome.” The lodges they stayed at were traditional Japanese lodges, not the big hotels for foreign tourists, and they had to respect Japanese traditions. “We had to get out of dirty gear in order to wash, and then you have to wear kinonos in public single sex baths. It was a little awkward!”
“Most trips we’ve done have been all women or predominantly women,” Edith adds.
The pair have had their fair share of adventures! They take turns choosing trips and destinations. Besides Japan, the two women have been to the island of Tasmania to hike through the wild landscapes of Tasmania, sensational landscapes that are magnificent and untouched – a place where it’s normal not to see a single other person during their trip other than their guide.
They have also hiked through the central Australian desert – it was so hot that they had to wake up before dawn to hike in the early hours of the morning, sleeping throughout the day, and then hiking again in the evening. Edith chose a company that did 5 star dining in the Australian desert!
Last year, Jane was headed to Ireland for a conference, and decided to add on a little adventure of her own – joining a trip hiking the Dingle Way. All it took was mentioning the trip to Edith, and she was on board.
“It was such an easy group of mostly women. The food, the accommodations, the guide, weather, company – such a real variety of people – were all amazing!” Jane says about their trip in Ireland.
“Because my husband wasn’t here, I could just be myself. I didn’t have to play the role of wife. I could do what I want,” Jane explains. “Having a guide was great – there were no demands on me besides walking, eating and relaxing. You’re away from your requirements, like cooking, cleaning, be supportive – you just step out of your life.”
Their walking trips exude an easy-going, laid-back atmosphere where Jane, Edith, and women like them can simply be themselves away from their other roles of mother, wife, colleague. Instead, their trips celebrate a sisterhood of travel and the outdoors; they celebrate two women who share a similar passion for exploring new cultures by walking. Though both women take family holidays too, as their children have grown up and eventually start to head off to university and their own lives, the women have more time to do what they love best: walking holidays.
“Women are more understanding,” Edith explains when asked what the best thing about travelling with other women are. “Girls understand each other – we understand that we need time to do our hair, have a shower, relax and have a drink of wine. We pack big bags, and that’s okay. There aren’t any ‘I told You sos’ like might happen with your husband.”
“Edith is easy to travel with,” Jane says, although she admits that this isn’t always the case when travelling with other women. “Sometimes they panic or stress out, sometimes trips are strung along by strong, dominating characters. You have to pick your travel companions well – male or female! We were so lucky on our trip in Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula to have a group that was just so easy going.”
Of course there are some challenges. “No one round to carry the luggage,” Jane jokes. “I got really strong in Ireland!” Jane and Edith also admit that neither of them have a great sense of direction, and they can’t follow their husbands or rely on their directional skills when it’s just the two of them. This is one of the reasons that the two women prefer to travel with a guide – as well as gaining insight into the local culture, landscapes, traditions, and nature.
“As with any travel, there are language barriers. There’s always the possibility of injury, or accident,” the women point out. But most of the time, the challenges are minimal, and the benefits far outweigh any difficulties.
“We’ve never felt threatened as two women travelling together but we both like being with a group. There’s a sense of security in a group with a guide when travelling in a foreign country. Besides, it’s more meaningful, and fun to meet other people!”
At the end of the day, Jane lays it out in simple terms why she prefers to travel with a female travel partner more often than with her husband: “The real benefit of travelling with a friend is that there’s no couple’s arguments. When I’m stressed, I do certain things that annoy my husband. And we have different tastes.” Jane’s husband is an avid cyclist while Jane prefers hiking and walking. “But when I travel with Edith and do the same things, it doesn’t bother her, she just waves it away. We haven’t lived together for 30 years or long enough to annoy each other yet!”