Six female-founded travel businesses that specialize in local, culturally-rich experiences and adventures.
According to Leisure Travel Group, an estimated 33 percent of all travel companies are owned by women and about 70% of employees in the travel business are women as well. Combine that with studies showing that female entrepreneurs are better at seeing gaps in the market, creating innovative products, and using technology in their businesses—who wouldn’t want to support women-owned travel outfits? It’s simply good travel decision making.
No matter where you’re headed on your next adventure, consider booking a tour or room with one of these female-founded travel businesses that will help you see the world from a local perspective from Mexico to Morocco and beyond.
Mexico City, Mexico
“The food tour for food tour haters” is how Rocio Vazquez Landeta describes the four-woman boutique culinary travel agency she started in 2016 when her life took a 180-degree turn and she had to flee her home due to domestic violence. With the goal of “creating a world where women would feel safe,” she fused her passion for travel and street food to provide fair pay and benefits for her female-only team, sustainable income for the public market, street-food vendors, and local businesses she supports on her daily six-person “food safaris,” and programs like English lessons for stall owners and their children at Mexico City’s largest traditional public market, La Merced.
Try the nightly street food and mezcal tour in the Roma Norte neighborhood, where Landeta and her guides—who all have master’s degrees and are walking dictionaries of Mexican food and drink lore—bring your tacos, tortas, pozole, and pulque to life. Fun fact: did you know taco al pastor has roots in Mexico’s Lebanese population? You’ll learn about that, and so much more, on your tour.
After careers in tech and marketing, Lyon, France natives and best friends Nathalie Grynbaum and Stéphanie Marquez couldn’t take one more night in a cookie-cutter hotel. But, like many travelers, they still needed the convenience of a central location—so they entered start-up mode and founded MiHotel in 2013. The tagline, in French, is “l’hôtel autrement” or “the hotel with a twist,” because every MiHotel suite combines the best of a hotel room and an apartment. Here’s how it works: Check into your suite whenever you arrive, using a private code. The fridge is stocked with your pre-ordered food, and fresh-baked treats await on the kitchen counter. The rooms look like they were styled by the city’s top interior designer (because they were). You decide when you want your breakfast and it will be delivered. Housekeeping service? Mais oui, each day.
Although they plan to expand to other French cities this year, we love MiHotel in Lyon, especially the suites in renaissance-era mansion La Tour Rose. Not surprisingly, in this food-loving city, there’s a French food court (curated by Tabata and Ludovic, chefs at one of our favorite Lyon restaurants) and cocktail bar downstairs en lieu of a traditional lobby.
Trading the “bucket list” and souvenir tchotchkes for a pot of tea with a Berber family in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains sums up the kind of experiences Naya Traveler’s trio of female co-founders build into each of their journeys. All of Naya’s customized cultural adventures—from Kashmir to Buenos Aires to Ethiopia—are based on the owners’ personal experiences. And obviously, when the globetrotting daughter of a pilot and a sailing Olympian (Marta Tucci) meets a comparative religion major from Morocco who speaks fluent Arabic (Sarah Casewit) and a tourism pro with a humanitarian bent who was born and bred on the Argentinian pampas (Sofia Mascotena) to found a travel company, you shouldn’t expect your run-of-the-mill excursion.
We like Naya Traveler’s special journey for female travelers to Morocco, which focuses on the cultural role of women in Moroccan society and is led by local female guides and academics (upon request). It’s no surprise that Naya means “purpose/meaning” in Sanskrit.
With the goal of helping their customers traveling “off the eaten path,” Traveling Spoon matches travelers with a private meal or cooking class hosted by hundreds of vetted home cooks around the world. Co-founded by Steph Lawrence and Aashi Vel right out of business school, Lawrence says the real goal of the company is “to connect travelers with culinary traditions passed down through generations while at the same time supporting locals and providing meaningful income around the world.”
In northern Thailand, for example, head to the market with local Lin before returning to her village just outside of Chiang Mai to harvest vegetables and herbs from her home’s organic garden. Then, learn to grind the fresh curry for the meal you will cook together in traditional clay pots on Lin’s outdoor charcoal-burning stove.
In 2007, Melissa Biggs Bradley left her editor-in-chief career with a top American luxury travel magazine and launched one of the first membership-only travel services. Despite traveling for a living, she couldn’t find the kind of personalized, experiential trips that she and her friends yearned to take on their precious vacation days, but didn’t have the time to plan. Recognizing the potential of journeys to transform lives, Biggs Bradley decided her new company, Indagare (which means “to discover” in Latin) would only sell lodging and experiences she, her co-founders, or staff had personally vetted.
From the best hotel in Paris to the ideal Greek island for a family vacation, Indagare members pay an annual fee to access an experienced team of dedicated travel planners who draw upon a wealth of personal knowledge to plan and book their clients’ perfect travel experience. This kind of service launched Indagare from a pioneer in the luxury travel space to one of Inc’s Fastest Growing Companies in the US in just a decade.
Imagine spending the morning on an organic, self-sustaining farm outside of Havana, wandering in the hillside gardens, learning about Cuba’s botched experiment in collective agriculture, and seeing what the future could hold through people like your host: a former agricultural engineer who returned to his family farm to grow the Eden-worthy produce that serves most of Havana’s (not-so-secret) private restaurants—the same small restaurants where you and your group of eight hungry, curious culinary travelers have eaten or will eat at during your five days in Cuba. But first, you’ll sit down with the farmer and his family for a feast, liberally irrigated by Cuban rum punch.
CEO Tamar Lowell joined Access Culinary Trips in 2001 and focuses on “exploring culture through cuisine” with her small-group trips where local guides support small businesses and create meaningful contact between their clients and local communities.