GirlFriendCircles TravelCircles

TravelCircles: Traveling with a Group of Women

I love travel. And I love women. So several years ago I decide to combine those two things into TravelCircles!  And it's been magical!  :) Each year, I pick 1-2 countries to visit (this year we have Peru in June 2018 and New Zealand in January 2019! And I'm already starting to think about where to go in the fall of 2019! Yahoo!) and I open it up for anywhere between 6-12 women to join me. 

For someone who LOVES bringing people together and helping facilitate connection, conversation, and laughter-- these trips-- whether to Cuba, Greece, Nicaragua, or Rwanda--have been such a delight. Every time. It's truly amazing that a group of strangers can come together and have such a memorable time!  But instead of taking my word for it... 

We're celebrating in RWANDA that we all met each other on a trip to GREECE several years ago and have made amazing memories together in various countries since then!  From left to right: Miriam, Courtney, Shasta, and Angie.

We're celebrating in RWANDA that we all met each other on a trip to GREECE several years ago and have made amazing memories together in various countries since then!  From left to right: Miriam, Courtney, Shasta, and Angie.

As a group of us were traveling through Rwanda together this last summer, we realized three of the women had each been on three TravelCircles-- Miriam (age 60) from California, Courtney (age 33) from Maryland, and Angie (age 47) from Iowa! So, of course we had to take a photo!  And I had lots of questions for them!

THREE trips already!?!?!  And you're all signed up for a 4th trip this year! What inspires you to keep signing up for TravelCircles?

Miriam: I keep signing up for them because the trips are so well planned, involve much more than sightseeing and I feel safe traveling with a group that takes my wants and needs seriously. 
I have a passion for learning about people from around the world. Learning about religions, cultures, history, food and beautiful places. And this is all covered in these trips. The itinerary is active, busy, well balanced, fun and beautiful exposures to the places I have never seen before.
Finally, connecting with the women from my own country, getting to know them and share in such wonderful adventures is priceless. 

Courtney: I keep signing up because I've wanted to travel internationally but have lacked travel buddies and the know-how to plan all the details and get the most out of these locations. Also it's been an excellent way for me to expand my comfort zone and safely travel to places I never expected to go. These groups are special because of the unique experiences I never could've done on my own, like Making halva in the middle of the street in Ithaca with two Greek women that didn't speak English, or learning an African dance outside an art gallery with Rwandan kids laughing at us! These are fun experiences I'll never forget and likely very few people will get to have.

Angie: I'm thrilled that I found TravelCircles, I do believe that what really makes these trips so special and unique is the travel partner that TravelCircles uses to plan these adventures.  AltruVistas focuses on locally owned hotels, restaurants, and sightseeing partners.  They also make sure we meet local people and agencies. Depending on the country we are visiting we've met with people to discuss local farming practices, cooking lessons, immigration policies and women's rights.  Ive learned a lot and met people that I never would have met had I traveled on my own.

When you first signed up-- you didn't know anyone else who was coming. What advice do you have for our first-timers?

Miriam: That’s part of the adventure! We are all a little nervous at first but we end up friends. An experience like travel forms a very special bond. If you take responsibility for expressing your needs and keep an open mind and a spirit of tolerance and compassion, you have nothing to fear. And having a person in charge, moderating our interactions is also a strength about these trips. Shasta is on top of things all the time, so I don’t have to ...(lol)

Courtney:  I'm introverted and before I did my first TravelCircle to Greece, I was extremely nervous about not fitting in and not getting enough alone time. Much to my surprise, for the most part I really enjoyed hanging out with the other women, and if I needed a break, it was usually easy to opt-out for an evening or whatever I needed. I'm also not adventurous when it comes to food, but I was always able to make it work. Try a few bites of something, then order what makes you feel more comfortable. 

Angie: Even though you may bond easier with one person than another, we don't let that prevent us from getting to know the others. We all make an effort to spend time with each traveler, sitting with different people in the van or at restaurants etc. and really feel like one group rather than separate little cliques traveling together.  We all have always tried to help each other out, whether it's borrowing something or all of us trying to find a particular item someone needs.

Courtney: To that point, ask for what you need. Always. I freaked out a couple weeks before going to Rwanda and sent a panicked email to Shasta and Malia and they both responded with care and love and compassion. If you don't feel well, if you're uncomfortable with something, if you need a break from the group, if you really need to see something specific in-country, just tell someone. No one can help you if you keep your needs to yourself. And everyone will want to help and support you any way they can. 

So what country will I see each of you in next? :)

Courtney: Peru!  I'm most excited about Machu Picchu and the paragliding option. Oh, and the weekend in the Amazon.

Angie: Peru for me, too! In fact, it's funny because Courtney and I have become good friends through these trips but we've never even see each other in our own country. And I'm probably old enough to be her mom (ha!) but I absolutely love her and am so glad we met in Greece!

Miriam: New Zealand for me.  I've always wanted go there!  I am so grateful for the opportunity to be part of these trips. I would never be able to have these experiences on my own. My world has become much bigger and yet I feel much closer to women across the ocean and in other countries because I have seen how much we have in common and how interesting our differences can be. I’ve learned so much and I hope to continue to be able to participate in many more adventures. 

Well I can say it has been such a joy to travel with all of you.  And we've together made some amazing memories and met such inspiring women along the way! See you abroad! xoxo

And if you want to join us: you can always see our upcoming trips here or leave your name to be notified when new trips are added!

Hands & Hearts: Women in Nicaragua

I'm actually in Greece with 10 women this week on a TravelCircle trip.  But before I left, I scheduled this post from the group of women that just returned a few weeks ago from Nicaragua.  Pulled together by Michelle Scott, one of our TravelCircles ambassadors for GirlFriendCircles trips around the world (she's also leading the one to Chile & Argentina this November!) she asked her fellow travelers to also contribute to the story. This group of 4 women was significantly smaller than most of our trips (which typically average between 8-12 women), but they proved that all it takes to have a good time are amazing women, an amazing country, and an amazing itinerary!  :)  Welcome home, GirlFriends!

Hands and Heart – Manos y Corazón

Four ladies chose to travel through Nicaragua on a GirlfriendCircles’ eco-adventure. None could have predicted how they would bond, how much they'd enjoy traveling together, or how inspired they would by the beauty of the country and people.

Chance, Wren, Erin, and Michelle travel Nicaragua together, coming home as friends.
Chance, Wren, Erin, and Michelle travel Nicaragua together, coming home as friends.

Chance: I met Wren through Girlfriend Circles a couple of years ago, and she encouraged me to travel with her to Nicaragua. Though I have traveled extensively, no trip has changed and inspired me like this trip. As we flew into Nicaragua, the clouds parted to reveal a vast lake (Managua Lake) and its many volcanoes; it was breathtaking and a perfect welcome to this enchanting country.

2014-Nicaragua-403
2014-Nicaragua-403

Soon, we were lunching with a famous Nicaraguan feminist leader and learning about the women’s rights’ movement and its interplay with the revolution - over fresh tortillas and gallopinto (red beans and rice).

Some of my favorite experiences were visiting an active volcano, a powerful waterfall, and touring two farms. We cooked nacatamales and tortillas over a wood stove in Doña Elsa’s open kitchen, toured the coffee, bean and rice farm, and received a hands-on botanical medicine tour.

The people of Nicaragua were the highlight. Our local guide, Nohelia, told us that Nicaragua is built (and rebuilt) with “manos y corazón” – hands and heart – and I witnessed this.

The four women who bonded through travel-- hearts and hands!
The four women who bonded through travel-- hearts and hands!

People work toward betterment for their communities and country, with pride, humility, and a focus of purpose that is tender and passionate. Nohelia is one of the best examples of this. As a young woman driven to improve her community, she saw the illiteracy in her neighborhood, designed and launched a radio show to teach literacy – a program that continues to graduate a class every three months and has made her a sort of local celebrity.

So, how was I changed through this trip? I took an open heart to Nicaragua, and throughout our journey, it was filled with love, inspiration and care. I hope I left love and respect there, and a deep caring for the people and places I saw, along with some deep friendships – with both my fellow travelers and citizens of this amazing country.

2014-Nicaragua-459
2014-Nicaragua-459

Wren: I wear a black rubber bracelet, which states “No a la trata de personas” – No to trading people. I received the bracelet from Casa Alianza, an organization that provides food, shelter and essential services to homeless, trafficked and exploited youth. As a former teacher, children hold a special place in my heart. I wear this bracelet to remind me of where I’ve been and the people I’ve met. Nicaragua’s people and landscape hold such beauty, simplicity and friendliness that one cannot help but fall in love and promise to return.

Michelle: There are few places and people that sneak into your heart and forever change you. I went to Nicaragua to be re-charged and inspired and received that and so much more. Chance, Wren, Nohelia and Erin will be my lifetime friends. We are bonded through our experiences, our love for each other and the people of Nicaragua, and a fundraising project with Grupo MOES, an organization committed to respectful empowerment of women, affected by poverty, violence and exploitation.

Erin: Prior to this trip, I was asked, "Why go to Nicaragua?" My photos partially answer this question - trotting horses through a Nicaraguan jungle, while monkeys swung overhead, standing next to a smoking volcanic crater, and hiking behind a waterfall.

2014-Nicaragua-326
2014-Nicaragua-326

A few of the amazing moments included careening through a mountain town with my new girlfriends and a Bolivian man, who owns a waterfall and cemetery (neither of which I knew were things one could own), leaning over the edge of a boat and dipping my fingers into the world’s only freshwater lake with bull sharks, and hiking steep uphill climbs to meet an 85-year old artist, known as the hermit stone carver, who guided us through the jungle to his carvings, reciting poetry and picking mangos for us along the way.

2014-Nicaragua-481
2014-Nicaragua-481

But the true answer to “Why [I needed] Nicaragua?” has more to do the spirit of the people we encountered than the adventures and excursions. I went to Nicaragua to learn that inspiring and world-changing people see a problem and work towards a solution. They teach literacy over the radio. They build a home and school for young survivors of abuse. They begin a sewing cooperative with women constructing the building from the ground up, where each worker is a co-owner. They realize that handpicking coffee beans allows them to organically remove bugs and guarantee high quality.

I went to Nicaragua because I needed to be reminded that you don't have to live in a tropical paradise to live a beautiful, fulfilling life. All you have to do is work with your hands and heart towards resolving a problem that matters to you.

All women over the age of 21 are invited to join any of our TravelCircle groups where women travel together to connect with one another and to go experience together the life and voice of women in their destination country.  Every trip has so many special elements in it including a local female guide, visits to NGO's to learn about the issues facing women in that country, cooking/dance/art classes, and a GFC ambassador to help foster connection among your group. 

Trips by women, for women, about women.  :) 

More info: www.WomensTravelCircles.com