The hot desert sun was almost unbearable as our sandals crunched along the rust-colored sand. At one time, this barren expanse had been a freshwater river bed. It was hard to imagine rushing water swirling around in such a hot and dry landscape; but now, standing there below sea level, breathing in the clean, dry air, I marveled at the notion.
I was brought back to reality by Tyseer, our desert safari guide, calling out to our intimate group—a melodic, throaty sound that could only be described as a Bedouin yodel, his blinding white abaya reflecting the late afternoon sun. Six women, all of us diverse in age and background, slowly gathered and joined him at the foot of an enormous rose-hued stone arch. It seemed improbable that nature could create something so uniquely engineered, but I should never have doubted Mother Earth. The wind as her only tool, she sculpted Wadi Rum’s red and yellow sandstone mountains over time, creating incredible rock formations like the one in front of us, the Burdah Rock Bridge.
After an exhilarating hike up to its peak—“exhilarating” meaning filled with anxiety-induced pleading with Tyseer to let us turn back—three of us managed to reach the bridge, inching our way across the flat expanse, nary a guard rail in sight—a risk we would never be allowed to take in timid, cautious North America. We held hands for dear life at the top and felt the hot desert breeze sweep our hair this way and that. I wanted to yell out into the deep, empty canyon, proudly fill the space with my voice; instead, I made a mental note to request a Bedouin yodeling lesson later that evening.
Just as the golden sun began to dip below the horizon, we hopped into Tyseer’s 4×4 and drove off into the wide expanse of the desert; apparently, it was now time to chase the sunset. As we rhythmically bumped along the sand, I felt the adrenaline slowly drain from my body and sank into a deep relaxation.
This was only day three of a weeklong itinerary traveling through Jordan. We had all been brought together by our collective sense of adventure, curiosity, and a mutual acquaintance: Chelsea Brown.
Brown recently founded Millie, a travel company with lofty aspirations to innovate the female-oriented travelscape. The organization does more than plan stereotypical “girls’ trips”—it represents a paradigm shift from rowdy Miami getaways to meaningful adventures. Millie works with local tour guides and families to create authentic, intimate experiences, inviting small groups of only 10-12 women to immerse themselves fully in a destination’s culture. Their journeys encourage bonding and self-contemplation while simultaneously cultivating global awareness, blurring the lines between novelty and insider access. Spending the week with Brown, we had ample opportunity to discuss the business of travel, and I was touched by her ambitions. “My goal is to create life-changing journeys that inspire women to live their adventure, expand their global perspective, and make an impact—in their lives and in the places they travel.”
Routed is another female-focused travel company new to the market. Launched in early 2018 by former Nylon editor Sara Tardiff and her partner Tamara Brown, the concept travel company designs trips “for women en-route.” The two friends, who have traveled all over interviewing and connecting with people as writers and editors, want to make it possible for non-journalists to connect with local people, specifically creative women. Their customized travel itineraries, curated guides, and trip-booking services give their all-female clientele a better chance to connect deeply with the people and places they visit. “It’s the local women that give each city its magic,” Tardiff said. “I really wanted to create a travel project that could make exploring a city and linking up with cool [local] women a much more accessible experience.”
Also in the realm of creating more meaningful female-forward travel is Damesly, an online platform connecting professional, creative women through adventures both at home and abroad. Founder Kelly Lewis, who also works as CEO of Go! Girl Guides and Women’s Travel Fest, advocates for the acknowledgment and unification of women in the travelsphere; to her, it is vital that women’s travel is celebrated without being tokenized.
“Someone said to me recently at Women’s Travel Fest that ‘women’s travel is so trendy right now,’ and that made me shake my head,” said Lewis. “I’m happy that there is an increase in interest around women’s travel and more dialogue in this space, as it encourages more women to live out their dreams of seeing the world. But women have always been traveling, so I think calling it a ‘trend’ is really diminishing.”
Aiming to spotlight female interest in both work and travel, Damesly’s tours focus on personal and professional development in the form of hands-on workshops around the world. Running the gamut from deep introspection in Hawaii and the Sahara to exploring the souks of Morocco or writing and riding in Colorado, each tour is designed to be both inspirational and informative; the goal is to foster a sense of community with each journey.
And community is really what we’re all seeking in a modern girls’ trip, isn’t it? After traveling with an all-female cast, I can attest to the comfort and solace found in exploring the world with a group of women who share a common desire for adventure and growth. The moments we spent with one another, traversing the desert beneath a limitless sky, felt fun and purposeful—it’s a trip I’ll remember for a long time.
Back in Jordan in the Jeep, Tyseer eventually found a site that pleased him, and we all piled out. The location was perfectly poised between earth and heavens, a huge Jordanian moon slowly rising above us as the sun sank into the sand. We marveled at the infinite desert sky and molded our bodies into the gentle slope of the sandstone, warmed by the sun and containing special, magical healing properties. Tyseer and his friend collected some dry sticks, hastily built a fire, and lit the shisha pipe. The darkness slowly crept in, and we talked and laughed and drank Arabic tea.
“The heart of Jordan is wide open and the people are warm, welcoming, and full of pride for their home, eager to share its beauty,” says Brown of why she chose the country for her company’s first trip. “I was moved by the intuitive hospitality. You feel it immediately: people really care in Jordan.”
And I did feel it. It was there, in Tyseer’s gentle but firm hand, pushing us up the steep sandstone face of the Burdah Rock Bridge even when all we really wanted to do was chicken out. Bonded together, our group of curious, forward-thinking women made the effort to conquer the challenge as a team. With desert air and sand and sky all around us, we saw that the view from the top was surreal—and more than worth the effort.