What does a woman get out of travel that a man seldom can? What does a woman want? When you have a query, ask the universe. I did the next best thing. I asked social media. “Do men and women get different things out of travel?” All of 74 per cent said yes, while 26 per cent said no.
At the very outset, I should add a disclaimer. I wasn’t interested in the tangible differences that separate travel for men and women. Reams of research, with pie charts and fancy graphs, already shine a light on those dissimilarities. Statistics prove that women research and plan their travel more than men. The International Currency Exchange Survey, for instance, tells us that women spend more on clothing and duty-free purchases than men and that men spend more on food and drink. Women take more vacations than men. Women tend to spend more time packing their suitcase than men. They carry more clothes. “Women,” we’re told, “prefer to curl up and read a book while on holiday, whereas men like to score or have sex and indulge in adventure activities”. This is all Palaeolithic commentary. Compared to a dozen male friends who prefer to “catch up on reading” during their travels, I, for one, prefer to gallivant in a new place in search of newer adventures. Numbers prove that nowadays more women revel in adventure travel than men. And these are not nubile girls, but women who are older than 35.
Ideally, gender shouldn’t play a role in travel and its varied experiences, but we do not live in an ideal world. “Women travel differently than men. Whether they choose a hot pink nail buff, a fake wedding ring or the proverbial baggy dress while trekking in Nepal, life on the road for women is simply a very different trip than a man’s,” writes Debra Cummings, a travel writer on journeywoman.com. This is true, yes, but what about the intangible dividends of travel? Are they different for men and women?
“I travel into myself each time I take off on a trip,” says AparnaVinod, a creative professional who travels solo as often as she travels with her husband and child. “Strangely enough, I love what I see of myself during these escapades. Parts of me that life and routine kill are back in full force during this time. It is liberating! Many men I know want to do the loud ‘let’s drink, let’s party, let’s pretend like we are victims of marriage’ trips. They want to connect with boyhood in a masculine form. I think women travel differently even if it is in a group. Somewhere there is soul in women’s travel, and solo travel for me has been redeeming.” Kabir Khan, on the other hand, says, “Solitary travels help in making certain decisions, which you didn’t have time to think about.”
Another online respondent, Devyani Jadhav, told me, “When I travel, I like the feeling of being one with nature, of connecting with myself. But my husband says travel helps him think of new ideas and get fresh perspectives.” Charmaine Kenita, an entrepreneur, says, “For women, it is getting a taste of freedom that lies beyond what is dictated for us. We travel inwards. Men travel outwards—they like the physicality of it, the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment.”
Most men (and more than a few women) who responded to my query felt that gender had nothing to do with the payoffs of travel. However, I did notice a pattern in the answers. Men seldom used words like “freedom”, “happiness” or “sense of self” while talking about the benefits of travel. Instead, words like “new perspective”, “ideas”, “clear thinking”, and “adventure” were used liberally. Whereas, women used the words “freedom” and “travel” in the same sentence more often. Even when they talked about “adventure”, “outlook”, “growth” and “perspective”, the thin red line connecting the dots had “freedom” written across, in bold.
Travel offers women independence and a break from restrictive responsibilities. These are aspects that men often take for granted, and there lies the rub. But like all things in life, nothing can be generalised. Our relationship with life is, to put it mildly, complicated. No doubt men and women seek different narratives while on the road and receive diverse rewards, but the recompense need not always be gender exclusive. It is interchangeable.