Anywhere you go, you are sure to find some amazing women doing incredible things. It’s just a fact. I am always blown away at how much there is to learn from women around the world and how much power there is in their wisdom.
Sometimes it can be daunting to think about how to travel as respectfully as possible, without causing harm and without unintentionally contributing to a larger system of oppression. However, just like the concept of Leave No Trace and the tips we can learn about protecting the environment, there are plenty of tangible things we can do to travel responsibly and support local women in the process.
Because it’s Women’s History Month, I wanted to share some ways to support women specifically while you’re travelling:
15. Buy directly from female artisans
This one is probably the easiest way to support local women directly and effectively. Depending on where you’re traveling, it might be easier or more difficult to know whether or not you’re buying directly from the source.
One tip that I have is to keep an eye out for women selling their products directly outside big artisan markets. In Latin America, Africa, and Asia, these big artisan markets are quite common and are usually located in fairly touristic areas. You might be able to find women artisans easily within the bigger markets themselves, but I’ve had more luck finding them just outside, usually selling on the street.
Especially when buying textiles, one way to tell if something was handmade is by looking for the human error in the piece. I know, you might be surprised to hear someone recommend looking for something that isn’t perfect, but hear me out. It’s easy to flip over a textile that has been embroidered (a shirt, for example) and see that the inside looks a little messier than if it were to be made with a machine. That’s a sure sign that a female artisan made it by hand.
14. Look specifically for woman-owned businesses
You might be wondering, How do I know if a business is woman-owned? it’s possible! The simplest way is to choose a food stall where a woman is cooking. You can find mostly women cooking at large markets all over Asia and many other parts of the world. In Mexico, for example, eating at a market stall means that 99% of the time a woman is running the show.
In bars, look out for posters around the bathrooms with female-empowering messages. I know, it might sound strange. I’ve found that places that have allowed women to put up anti-harassment posters tend to feel safer and more female-friendly. Maybe you won’t know if a woman is in charge, but at least there is some kind of support and effort made to be inclusive.
Another way to specifically seek out woman-owned businesses is to just peer into a shop and see who’s behind the counter. Generally, it’s more likely that a woman is the owner if the store is local and there is a woman working there. Stay away from large chain stores if you can, as local businesses are much more able to have a direct positive impact on the local economy and therefore, local women.
For some inspiration, check out this article in the Guardian which gives some awesome examples of female-owned businesses around the world.
13. Stay in locally-owned accommodation
Generally speaking, it is better for the local economy to stay in smaller boutique hotels as opposed to huge chain hotels. A small hotel or hostel is more likely to have a local owner, and therefore more likely that the local owner is female.
Another way to support women with your accommodation choice is to book through Airbnb, looking specifically for female hosts. Because of the site’s format, you can see if your host is a woman just by looking at their picture and checking out their profile. This makes it so much easier to choose female-owned accommodation.
Consider checking out Worldpackers (and get $10 off your membership with discount code “BMTM”!) to find volunteer opportunities. You can contribute to a variety of local projects in exchange for a place to stay, which is a level up from simply staying in locally-owned hotels and hostels. If you’re curious about what Worldpackers is all about, check out my post about my experience volunteering in the Mayan jungle.
12. Book a tour with a female guide
Booking a tour is always a great way to learn more about the place you are visiting. To support female tour guides, I recommend diligently making sure the company has women-led tours and that you are able to book one of them.
Beyond booking a women-led tour, I also suggest making sure the tour has some sort of female empowerment initiative. By that, I mean some intention to visit women-owned businesses, cooperatives, or organizations. If you’re not sure, just ask.
Even if the tour you book is free, having a female guide is still hugely important. Oftentimes guides on free tours accept tips, giving you the opportunity to support your guide directly. It’s also a great opportunity to ask questions and engage meaningfully with a local woman to gain her perspective.
11. Visit a women’s cooperative
All around the world, women are organizing cooperatives designed to empower one another socially and economically. These cooperatives allow women to have control of the ins and outs of their businesses and can be incredibly uplifting. Being able to purchase your souvenirs from a cooperative is a another great way to engage with the artisans themselves.
Socially conscious tours will often include a visit to a female-led cooperative, so make sure to check out your tour itinerary to see if you’ll be visiting one. These can range from microfinance projects to agricultural projects, to handicrafts, and everything in between.
If not, do some research before your trip to see what cooperatives exist. A simple search will likely yield some results.
10. Go see a women band or musician performance
If you are into live music, take a look around for band posters around town before choosing somewhere to go. You might be able to find female-led bands or musicians playing shows around town. Even if the style of music isn’t your cup of tea, there’s something really fun about seeing a band of badass women on a stage doing their thing.
You may also be able to find orchestras or other local music performances that are mostly comprised of women. Even if that isn’t the case, some of these groups might actually have ties to organizations that specifically work with women and girls, so take a peep at their website to see.
9. Seek out empowerment organizations
You might be surprised at how many organizations there are around the world that seek to empower women. Whether it’s teaching women how to master technical skills, grow their own food, or become financially independent, there are so many opportunities to learn about how the amazing work these organizations are doing.
Before you travel, do a couple searches and see what women’s empowerment organizations are working in the area. If they have social media, that is a great way to reach out and see if you can stop in for a visit or tour. Some organizations might even need volunteers for a day or two, which would be a great way to support!
8. Learn a bit of the local language
I know that learning a new language might seem like a daunting task, but even just learning basic greetings is such a great way to connect with people anywhere. Learning languages has been a life changing process for me, and I encourage anyone to give it a try.
Being able to even just say “thank you” in the local language is a start. That small act of gratitude might just make someone’s day. If you can greet your waitress, barista, store clerk, or random woman on the bus in her local language, it shows that you value her and her culture.
If you are excited about starting your language learning journey, check out Jo Franco on YouTube. She’s a polyglot (like me!) and has a ton of awesome inspirational content about learning languages and travelling as a woman.
7. Engage in meaningful conversation with local women
This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s actually not as simple as it seems. I’ve found that if I want to engage meaningfully with local women where I’m traveling, it takes a genuine effort. Depending on the local culture, your language skills, and the community’s relationship with tourism, this might be ridiculously easy or pretty hard.
You never know what you might learn from these conversations, and it can truly make your travel experience that much more impactful. Maybe the conversation starts with asking for directions from a local woman and then develops beyond that.
However it happens doesn’t necessarily matter as much as the intention you put behind trying to understand someone whose life has been different from yours. Ask questions respectfully, listen compassionately, and never make assumptions.
6. Haggle respectfully
Depending on where you’re shopping and how much it costs to travel where you’re going, haggling may or may not be acceptable anyway. If it is, please do so respectfully and responsibly. If you’ve ever sold your art or anything made by you, you can imagine how difficult it would be to have buyers constantly demanding a lower price.
Especially when buying from women, take into account the quality of the item you want to buy. Also consider whether or not it is handmade and how likely it is that the woman selling it to you is the artisan herself. From there, if it’s appropriate to haggle, do so without going too low. If you are asking for the lowest-possible price, you’re essentially telling her that you believe her item is worth that much. Always keep that in mind.
5. Ask permission before snapping pictures
When visiting cooperatives, women’s organizations, or really anywhere, remember that not everyone wants their picture taken. Especially if you are in a sacred space, a place of worship, or someone’s home, always ask before taking out your camera or smartphone and snapping away.
It might be tempting to immediately want to capture a moment. Imagine you’re at a cooperative and a woman is weaving a magical tapestry right before your eyes. It’s amazing! You should still ask her if you can take her photo.
I see a lot of travellers who take pictures with large flocks of children while they’re in communities. I think it’s important to consider not only the children’s dignity when taking (and posting) these pictures, but also their mother’s wishes. Would their guardian be comfortable knowing their child has become your latest Instagram post? You won’t know if you don’t ask.
4. Get familiar with women’s history
Women’s history is world history. As you embark on your travels, you will become a student whether or not you are aware of that. The world has so much to teach us! If you want to support local women, it is imperative that you spend some time learning about the history of the place you are travelling to, paying close attention to how it has impacted women.
Anywhere you go, different kinds of women are impacted differently in their home country. As you’re reading up on women’s history, consider who the author is and what identities they hold. For example, a Spanish man writing about Mexican history is going to have a completely different version of how things went than an indigenous woman.
I’ve found some really amazing local female-owned bookstores in unexpected places. In those bookstores, I’ve been able to find texts that would be difficult to find elsewhere and in them, a wealth of knowledge on the female experience. If you can find bookstores like that, see what you can discover there!
3. Show solidarity with local women’s movements
I want to preface this with the fact that it is often illegal for foreigners to participate in local demonstrations and political protests. Take from that what you will, but also keep in mind that it is still possible to show solidarity safely if there is something going on where you’re traveling.
Especially during Women’s Month in March, you will likely hear about marches happening. In Latin America, for example, there are feminist marches just about anywhere during March and other times of year. Marching alongside women is a choice that is entirely your own, but definitely comes with risks.
If you want to show solidarity, I recommend looking into where the march will be starting, ending, and passing through along the way. If a march were to turn violent for any reason, it would most likely happen at the end. Keeping that in mind, if you want to show your support from the sidelines, find a spot along the route to stand. If you make a sign showing your support, great. If you want to simply watch and observe, that’s fine too.
2. Tell others about your experience when you get home
One of the most impactful things you can do for yourself and those around you is tell your stories. If you learned something incredible about the women you met during your travels, don’t hesitate to share that with your friends and family.
The stories you tell to your communities at home might fall on deaf ears and that’s okay. If not, that story you told about Doña Maria from the bakery and her amazing family might just make someone you know want to travel and explore. I truly believe that sharing the stories of the women we meet adds value to their experience and shows we care.
1. Don’t limit your support to just cis-het women
Trans women, queer women, and anybody else who identifies as a woman are women. Understanding the unique challenges that these women face are just as important as being aware of the struggles of women around the world as a whole.
In many places in the world, a woman’s gender or sexual identity can put her at risk. Femicide, domestic violence, and other forms of abuse are far more likely to happen to LGBTQ+ women, especially trans women. With that in mind, it’s not enough to simply “tolerate” non cisgendered, non heteronormative women. We must celebrate, appreciate, validate, and protect them.
So what does this mean as travelers? It simply means that all the points mentioned above apply to our LGBTQ+ family just as much as it does to any women we meet while traveling.
These are just a few ways to support women, wherever you travel. As you can see, supporting local women can be done in so many different ways, no matter what your budget is. Beyond any one of these suggestions, I think a bit of kindness really goes a long way, especially when we’re travelling.
This post was written by Emily Becker, our resident writer based in Mexico with a background in nonprofit work all over the world. She is a part-time freelance writer for BMTM and part-time doula.