Dubai-based group gives women a chance to explore places they would like to visit in women-only groups
“Today’s woman would love to travel really much more (but) it’s more often than not that she doesn’t have a suitable companion to travel with.”
The Dubai branch caters to people all around the world, while the Indian branch looks just after India.
And the group is getting people joining up from all corners of the world, Bhatt says.
“In today’s day and age, it’s Google-able and it’s searchable.”
Usually everyone meets up at the destination airport, in locations as diverse as China, Georgia, Austria and Bali.
“We get a few from the West, from South East Asia, from Thailand, Bali, Britain, but the majority of women are from the Middle East.”
The trips arranged are either solely by The World At Her Feet, or in conjunction with partners around the world.
“We need a minimum number — anything from five and we’re ready to go.”
The group at Xian Airport on the way to Hangzhou with the guide
But The World At Her Feet also has a maximum number of women they accept, in order to keep the trips intimate and manageable.
“We’ve always prided ourselves by not going the (mainstream) way, it’s very niche…we close at 15 women…forging bonds and relationships is so much easier when it’s a small group.”
There are trips coming up to Iceland and Russia generating a lot of buzz, Bhatt says.
“What we try and do is get different destinations that are not really the ‘been-there-done-that’ kind of places, it’s not really the London, Paris kind of thing…women who have been to most capitals of the world…are raring to do something a bit more unusual.”
Far from the domain of single women, this group caters to ladies across the spectrum, Bhatt says.
“They can be single, married, widowed, divorced, as long as they’re women. At that particular time in their lives they don’t have someone to travel with… a lot of the women who come on our trips are married, it’s just being married to a person who has a demanding job means holidays are rationed out.”
Often women may feel they have the means to travel more frequently but don’t want to go it alone or on a generic package “where she may or may not be by herself or sitting next to a teenage boy”.
One for the album … At the Great Wall.
“We have had letters like ‘Thank God I have found you guys because it doesn’t seem like I need to wait for anybody to travel, having lost my husband’.”
She says women create lasting — and often unlikely — bonds, across ages, cultures and backgrounds.
“That’s one of the most beautiful things…the bond that is formed in the short days we do a trip, they come back to their various home towns and they keep in touch.”
One such relationship blossomed on a recent trip to Bali, when a 22-year-old and a woman in her 70s formed a close friendship — one that has endured since the end of the trip.
“They’re all joined by one common theme, which is ‘We want to travel and we’re passionate about travel’ and there’s no…sense of superiority or ‘Back home my family belongs to X or Y’…because they have all come together with a common need.”
In the rare cases where people do no get along, if they are sharing a room, the onus is on the person with the problem to pay for a single room, as well as the extra cost of the woman she has left behind. But problems are rare, Bhatt says.
“If you’re assigned to someone who is a total stranger, you’re mentally prepared you’re going to stay with a stranger.”
While Bhatt says she has seen some women transform over the course of a trip, becoming more confident and daring, it is too “presumptuous” to say The World At Her Feet allowed women to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
“I really feel that travel has a way of finding you. If you have to travel, something in your life will make it happen."
“(The World At Her Feet) is just a vehicle to help women who feel they would not like to travel by themselves.”
But she does not think the group prevents women from doing the travel they may otherwise do solo.
“It’s not mollycoddling, no. I think a lot of women all say ‘Hey, I can travel where the next bloke travels, and I want all this extra tradition’, but you know when you come to us you’re in safe hands.”
All destinations and service providers are checked out ahead of time, while accommodation and travel plans are not publicised till after the trip has taken place, for extra security. Accommodation is primarily of the four star variety.
“If you’re the type of person (who likes to travel solo) more power to you, but that’s not the group we’re addressing.”
To safety assurances, add the extra activities that few on the independent traveller route would be capable of setting up, such as Balinese cooking classes, and meeting a former astronaut and an ex-KGB agent — due to happen place during the Russian trip.
Mehvish Razvi, a copywriter from Sharjah, says her trip to China in 2012 was so well organised that she has signed up for the April trip to Iceland, in the hopes of seeing the Northern Lights in action.
“A lot of women from the China trip are going to Iceland. When I decided to go, I convinced the others to join me, figuring it would be a great way to see them again.”
Razvi, who is single, said she did the original trip with her mother after reading about the group. “I love to travel but I don’t like to do it alone, so this is the ideal situation, a women’s group.”
At the Xi’an City Wall.
Razvi, originally from Pakistan, says before the trip to China, she had never travelled with women only, but she said it brought a new dynamics. “It’s a different kind of comfort level travelling with just women.”
Matters like bathroom cleanliness — a common problem in China — were easily overcome with the eagle-eyed women banding together for inspections.
“There was a real sense of security; there were all types of people there — there were women who were over 60 and then there were younger women like myself.”
While prices can be expensive — the seven-day trip to Iceland will cost about Dh15,000 all told, once flights and visa costs are included — the trip to China had been one of her favourite holidays, as everything was taken care of.
“Everything was so well-organised. All we had to do was arrange for our visa and ticket. From the time we landed in Beijing to the time we had to return home, everything was taken care of. I eat only halal food, and Paulomi even made that possible — not an easy feat in China.”
Even a bus breakdown in Beijing just before their flight to Xian left the women unflappable, with Bhatt doing the running to get things back on the road while the others sat calmly on the bus.
Razvi has been to varied destinations like Sydney, Alaska and Jordan but hopes Iceland will be her most enjoyable trip yet — as long as the Northern Lights come to the party.