Mehvish Razvi did not starve in China.
The avid traveller recalls her trip with World at her Feet, an agency that organises holidays for women-only groups. “I stick to halal meal options. So when we were going to China, everyone told us, ‘You guys are going to starve’, because I’d heard food would be a huge problem there. So we packed a lot of snacks and [it] turns out we had to dispose of all those snacks at the end of the trip because she [Paulomi Bhatt from The World At Her Feet] made sure we had enough to eat and she even took us to halal restaurants. If the restaurants weren’t halal, she went to the kitchen herself to make sure there was no pork or anything added in the food my mum and I ate. So she really went out of her way for that.”
The Sharjah-based copywriter is constantly on the lookout for new groups to travel with, but feels they can have rigid itineraries. Bhatt’s plans, on the other hand, mould themselves to the people.
They cater, she feels, very well to older women and those scared to go it alone.
“My mum feels more comfortable travelling with women, so I felt The World at Her Feet was the perfect travel group for her,” she says.
It’s what Bhatt was going for when she set out to establish the organisation in 2008. She believes the curated trips offer empowerment.
“Our trips encourage women to come out of their comfort zone by allowing them to venture out without their spouses. Many a times, these women have never travelled alone and while the group gives them the comfort of being independent, it also allows them the comfort of being with other like-minded ladies who love adventures. Our trips [draw] out even the most shy,” she writes in an email.
My own solo trip to Japan this year was a revelation. While exploring new ground and meeting new people on your own can be a fun, liberating experience, it requires you to be on your guard constantly. With a like-minded group the practicalities — think taking big bags into cramped public toilets, for instance — become a bit easier to manage.
Razvi explains the camaraderie. “There’s a very different vibe when you travel in a women-only group, a different comfort level. For example, in China, the bathrooms were an issue, but all of us clubbing together and you know looking out for each other, it’s a different type of travel.”
Reem Abushama, a banker at Standard Chartered, who came across the firm while googling for women-only groups, echoes the sentiment. She says it’s a world-class organisation that always does something extra to make the trip special. Plus, it’s a good way to make friends.
Razvi, who’s travelled with her mum on two holidays — China in 2012 and Iceland in 2014 — says some trips are like mini-reunions. “When we were planning to go to Iceland, I went out of my way to contact people from the China trip, to make sure they came too, like my friend Stacy. I had met her on the China trip when she was working in Abu Dhabi. She’s back in the [United] States now but I contacted her and told her, ‘Listen, I’m going to Iceland, you need to come too.’ So she came, and it was like a mini reunion. And a lot of the women in this group travel repeatedly, so you make lasting friendships.”
The firm may be women-centric, but it’s started a new project — culinary and food tours.
“These are mixed tours as historically men enjoy these types of experiences, too. Travellers eat their way through a destination, savouring local street food as well as fine dining while enjoying sight seeing. These tours are valid throughout the year and are ready to take off with two travellers,” says Bhatt.
Fans Razvi and Abushama say World at Her Feet is a very detail-oriented firm, and Bhatt assures that safety is of paramount importance.
“As a group of women we partner with experienced tour operators who are well equipped for all sorts of emergencies.So it’s not simply us women packing off and trekking the world on our own… safety is the focus throughout.”
The travel agency takes onus of its travellers once they are in a country, but tickets and visas are usually handled by the journey-maker herself.
“We do not provide flights as many travellers tend to take advantage of air miles and special fares. However, we are able to do so should our clients require assistance. This goes for visa arrangements too,” Bhatt says.
Razvi suggests solo travellers play it by ear when on a trip. “Before we went to China I didn’t know who Paulomi was, but she sent a message saying, ‘We are at the end of the day going to a foreign country, so play it by ear,’ so, you know, then whatever happened was pleasing.”
So pack for contingency, enjoy the surprise.
Current tours on offer are:
Bangkok — a foodie paradise
On this five-day, four-night trip to Bangkok you not only see famous landmarks such as the Grand Palace and the temple of Wat Pho, you also get a crash course on Thai cuisine, complete with a cooking class. Cost: $1,100 per person on a twin sharing basis. Offer on until the end of October.
Chiang Mai Food Adventure
Some say the best way to get the flavour of a city is to eat like a local. Well, with this three-day trip you’ll get to eat at a local resident’s home and tackle a cooking class. But food is not all that’s on the menu. The Old City of Chiang Mai and artisan workshops of Hang Dong will give you a taste of the place’s culture, too. Cost: $500 per person on twin sharing basis. Offer is on until the end of October.
Barcelona — A gastronomic getaway
Spend New Year’s Eve in Barcelona, indulging in Catalan fare, or simply walking the brightly lit streets and enjoying an evening on-foot tour. That stroll will have you sampling tapas, a range of grape-based drinks and cured meats, and give you some recipes to take home (after a cooking class). Cost: $795 per person on a twin sharing basis.
Visit theworldatherfeet.com for more.