40-plus and free: These bindaas Indian women love holidaying without their families in tow
“A woman is never not working. Sometimes, I need a break from looking after everything and everyone”
Married at 24, Kalpana Tandon had two children within a span of four years. Now 57, she’s spent more than half her life being a homemaker. According to her, “It’s all I know how to do.” Tandon’s day starts precisely at 5:45 AM and it’s as chaotic as it would be if she were running a multi-national corporation. Every day there is a new fire to put out. She says, “For a long time, I thought that if I went on vacation alone or with my friends, my family wouldn’t be able to look after themselves. Or they’ll be living on bowls of Maggi and maybe eggs, because that’s all my husband and sons know how to cook.”
This perception changed on her 53rd birthday. Her “girl squad”, as she fondly refers to them, celebrated her birthday with brunch. After digging into the cake, they surprised her with an already planned trip to Sula Vineyards in Nashik. This wasn’t the gift she was expecting. They usually pitch in to buy home decor items as birthday gifts. A trip with only women travellers was a definite detour from the crockery set she was expecting, but it brought a smile to her face. She says, “I was anxious and took a few days to accept. I didn’t know how to even ask my husband if I could go on vacation with my girlfriends. As much as I wanted to go, how would my family manage if I left for four days? It felt like a selfish thing to do.”
After two days of contemplating, she finally mustered up enough courage to ask her husband. But it wasn’t the disaster she had built up in her head. Her husband already knew and was more than supportive. She says, “My friends had already called and informed him of our vacation. They asked him what dates would be most convenient for me and told him that it was a surprise. I was just shocked that unke peth mein yeh baat tikki (he was able to keep it a secret) for so many days.”
Neither she nor her friends realised it, but it was the beginning of a new tradition. Since they spent those four days together sipping wine and stomping grapes, these women travellers been all over the country. From relaxing in a houseboat on Dal Lake in Srinagar to meditating in Auroville, Tandon and her friends are embarking on all the adventures they had missed out on when they were younger.
Let me ask you something. When I say the words “all-girl vacation” what is the first image that pops into your brain? A bunch of 20-somethings lathered in sunscreen, relaxing on a beach, swapping gossip and nodding along to some EDM music? We associate “girl gangs” with women who are in their teens and 20s. Completely dismissing the fact that many women in their 50s and 60s enjoy tight-knit friend circles that have lasted through marriage, children, divorce, illnesses and long distance. (Click here to have all your pre-conceived notions of kitty parties destroyed).
Like Waheeda Rehman, Asha Parekh and Helen, who’ve travelled to Turkey together and gone on a cruise to Scandinavia. In her episode of The Icons with Twinkle Khanna, Rehman reminded us there’s strength in having a close group of friends to support you and enjoy some TLC time with.
Megha Singh (57) only joined the gang of women travellers once her daughter was old enough to look after herself. “When she was younger, I was so focused on her studies, my teaching career and my husband’s wants, that I never thought that going on vacation with my friends was an option. I’d never seen my mother or my aunts doing anything like this while we were growing up.”
Then one day, her friends planned a trip to Goa because they “all needed a break” (If you need to recharge, here’s how you do it). It quickly snowballed into a regular affair. “These vacations are our escape. Most people take this for granted but a woman is never not working. Even though I love my family, sometimes I need a break from looking after everything and everyone. For a few days, we can look after ourselves. That isn’t something to feel guilty about, is it?”
Women are expert jugglers. We have the ability to simultaneously handle three ticking time bombs with a monster sitting on our head (and I don’t mean frizzy hair). Guilt is the demon we are constantly grappling with. Like a protagonist on an Ekta Kapoor serial, we’d sacrifice ourselves if we thought it would make the universe go easy on our family. But unlike Tulsi from Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, it’s not humanly possible for us to take care of everybody else without looking after ourselves.
It’s something that didn’t even occur to Neetu Bhandari (49) until her daughters — both in their early twenties— asked her why it had taken so long for her to prioritise herself. Now the single mom even enjoys holidaying by herself. (Tempted to try a solo vacation? We’re here to help)
According to an American study conducted in 2019, 71% of solo women travellers were aged 55 and plus because this age group “for the first time in their lives, are free of young children, a spouse, a demanding career or other responsibilities that previously prevented them from travel and adventure”.
The numbers are slowly climbing in India too. A 2020 survey by SOTC concluded that women travellers were holidaying in groups or solo, prioritising wellness, shopping and adventure. The findings noted an increase in demand for “spa visits, guided local shopping tours and vocational workshops”. These all-girl adventures have sprung from the newfound independence and self-confidence that women feel, according to Bhandari and Tandon.
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As the demand increases, so does the number of companies creating boutique experiences for mature women travellers. Women on Wanderlust was founded in 2005 by Sumitra Senapaty (58) to help the sisterhood “escape a dull and busy life.” In an interview with Life Beyond Numbers, she points out the need for gender-specific travel groups. “Women need a lot of hand-holding and we help them complete travel-related procedures when they connect us. Many have never been to an airport or are not aware of immigration policies. I talk to them a lot, so they know that nobody will bang down the phone or feel irritated.”
Senapaty believes her women travellers are emboldened by these experiences, and “it gives them a chance to be a part of a social circle apart from family members and colleagues.”
That couldn’t ring truer for Lovelina Zatakia (60) who admits that adventuring with her friends opened up a whole new portal of the universe for her. “It’s made me bolder, more bindaas. I always thought that I couldn’t do anything without my husband. But now I don’t have to think about what he will eat or where he’ll want to go sightseeing. I tell my friends, ‘these are the things I would like to do’. That is really a boon.” Last year, she and her girl gang took six short trips around the country.
The pandemic rained on travel plans, but as the pace of life crawls back to pre-COVID normalcy, there is no stopping women travellers from criss-crossing the globe without their families in tow. In fact, many agree that the frequency with which they travel with their tribe has increased. Bhandari says, “During this pandemic, we were totally confined to our home. So going on vacation together was a good break and really required.”
As life grows busier than the live chaat counter at a wedding, we often forget that there is an off-switch. There is no shame in using it and taking off with your friends. No need to feel guilty about leaving your family behind and going out to enjoy yourself. After all, there is nothing more therapeutic than travelling with your girls. Except maybe actual therapy, but that’s a whole different story.