Debra Asberry has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Back in 1997, she was running a communications company and even producing a monthly magazine. At the same time, she also was struggling to find someone to join her in whitewater rafting on the Colorado River. The trip would be a big commitment of time and resources, and she, along with all her girlfriends, had packed schedules that made it difficult to travel together. After a serendipitous conversation with a colleague, Asberry realized she wasn’t alone in her struggle to find a travel companion, and thus, the idea for Women Traveling Together (WTT) was born.
Today, WTT is a membership-based organization with the goal of connecting female travelers before, during, and long after their group tour experience. Tours are led by knowledgeable female guides who not only take care of the logistics of planning but also encourage bonding among travelers as they explore the world together domestically and internationally. Over the past 26 years, Asberry has grown WTT from a one-woman operation to a thriving group tour company that connects women through their shared love of travel.
Q. Tell us more about why you decided to start Women Traveling Together.
A. I was focused on what I really wanted to do next in my business career, and I had put together a list of five things. First of all, I wanted to include travel. No. 2 was that I wanted to be able to live anywhere in the world, so it needed to be an internet-based company. I wanted it to be women-focused, I wanted to be able to make a living, and probably most importantly, I wanted whatever I did to have a real positive impact on the life of my clients.
Q. What makes WTT most unique in the travel industry?
A. It is absolutely the solo factor. I mean, you can certainly find other women’s travel companies, but what you want to find is a laser focus on the solo traveler, on you as an individual, and us as an organization giving you your travel freedom.
Q. Why do you think this women-focused and solo traveler-focused model is working so well?
A. Adult women in our demographic—let’s say from mid-to-late 40s and mid-to-late 70s—are women who have raised their children, and they’re at a point in their life where they are trying to determine the answer to the question, “What is my value?” So many women placed their value on having and raising children, [and] once that disappears from their life, the question surfaces again. A lot of women will answer that question by examining who they are without the labels of mother or wife.
The other aspect that you look at is the marital statuses; you have married, single, widowed, or divorced [women] in our population. People who travel with us are almost exactly 25% each. So, you have the married women who want to have different travel experiences than their husband—or their husband doesn’t travel at all—and then you have the other three categories, which do not have a built-in travel partner and [are for women who] still want to travel but they don’t want to go alone.
Q. How are the needs of a solo female traveler in 1997 different than they are in 2023?
A. In 1997, many women had not risen in the workforce as far as middle and upper management.… The original members of Women Traveling Together were women who were in traditional working roles, like librarians, schoolteachers, secretaries—that type of thing. There was also a higher percentage of marriage than what we see now, so your money to spend on yourself wasn’t as much as it is today. Every year that has gone by, women have become more financially independent, regardless of their marital status. In the beginning, we had women who were working, but they were contributing to the household income. Or even if they weren’t married, they just didn’t have as much disposable income or didn’t feel comfortable spending that kind of money on travel.
Today, I think the perception about travel is that it’s something we don’t put off until we’re 70. We want to do it while we’re still young and healthy, and we see travel almost as something we’ve earned. It’s something we’re going to take advantage of with the
money we’ve made.
Q. What do you think motivates WTT’s returning travelers?
A. It’s the combination of being able to have their travel freedom—because they can just pick where they want to go, and they don’t have to figure out anything else—and giving women the opportunity to create meaningful friendships at this point in their lives. I can tell you story after story about women who have met on these tours and continue to travel together outside of Women Traveling Together, and then we see them signing up as roommates on their next tour. I think that’s what brings them back. It’s not just the travel experience—it’s also who they’re traveling with.
Q. Is there anything else you want to share with the Group Tour audience?
A. It has been my observation that the number of women who are choosing to travel solo on group tours is rising exponentially year after year, and not just on women-only tours but also on group tours in general. I would ask that my fellow group tour operators remember that that is such a huge leap of faith for that woman. I would ask them to consider looking at their procedures and their policies, and see how they can be more welcoming to those women who are traveling with them.
Main Image: Bryce Canyon; Credit: Women Traveling Together