Travel Abroad With These Women-Owned Tour Companies

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to especially recognize women in travel.

Travel is a powerful tool that helps women become independent, gain self-confidence, empower, be economically and socially impactful. Over the years, I have met countless women who worked in the tourism ministry, as travel agents, tour guides, and more. Here are some inspiring women that I met who are successful travel entrepreneurs.

Kelly Campbell relaxing on her dow in Lamu, Kenya

Kelly Campbell, Kenya

Kelly Campbell is a native of Indiana and founder of The Village Experience, a responsible tourism company. Kelly travels year-round taking groups of people to fund projects in Kenya, India, Egypt, Morocco and Guatemala, improving the lives of women and children, and providing water to remote villages.

I stayed with Kelly at her charming house in Lamu, Kenya, where she has been living since 2016. After spending a few days with Kelly, I really feel she spends every single waking minute thinking about other people. Her tour guides, personal chef, dow boat operator, hotel owners – everyone seems to have been impacted by Kelly at some point.

Read How This American Woman is Changing Lives

Veselka and I having dinner in Split

Veselka Huljic, Croatia

Veselka and I bonded instantly when we first met at a travel show in New York. But it was over a glass (or few glasses) of Dalmatian wine and delicious pasta in Split, Croatia, that we shared more personal details about our lives.

Like me, Veselka quit her corporate job so she could be her own boss and spend time doing what she was passionate about. Veselka founded an adventure tour company – AndAdventure Croatia, which focuses on biking, water sports, wine and culinary travel across Croatia.

Read Charming Small Towns in Croatia

Ramona at a view point in Transylvania

Ramona Cazacu, Romania

In her 30’s, Ramona was tired of her desk job. She enjoyed being outdoors, hiking through Romani’s countryside, chatting with locals, and introducing travelers to her native country. Her ability to speak many languages since she was a kid helped her create MyRomania, a tour company that specializes in creating authentic family-friendly experiences.

Soon, Ramona’s husband quit his job too and joined the business. They moved into their parent’s home in one of the villages, where they bring up their 2 kids. Ramona is one of the friendliest people I met during my travels and it seemed that everyone knew her wherever we went in Romania.

Read Why Romania Should be on Your Travel List

Justa at a spice farm in Zanzibar

Justa Lujwangana, Tanzania

Justa Lujwangana is from Tanzania and lives in New York. She worked in the healthcare business before pursuing her passion for dance and travel. Starting with just a Meetup group she called Curious on Tanzania (COT), she went on to form an experiential travel company offering tours to Tanzania.

During the trip, you will stay at Justa’s family home in Dar es Salaam, eating home cooked meals, attending Sunday mass in her neighborhood, meeting her friends, and learning the Tanzanian way of life.

Read more about my experience in Tanzania with COT.V

Khishigjargal walking on the sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

Khishigjargal Dorjderem, Mongolia

Khishigjargal has lived and studied abroad, speaks multiple languages, and runs Voyage Unique Mongolie, a customized travel company operating in Mongolia. As her personal guest, Khishigjargal and her husband drove me around the country for a week, making me feel as if I was on a trip with friends, rather than tour guides. We would drive through the barren Mongolian countryside for 8 hours a day and still have so much to talk about!

If you are looking to experience a nomadic life, walk in the Gobi Desert, or witness the historic Naadam Festival, Khishigjargal is your gal!

Read more about my travels to Mongolia

Divya riding a shikara at Dal Lake, Srinagar

Divya Pahwa, India

I met Divya Pahwa through friends of friends, as I was looking for a partner agency to organize Go Eat Give trip to India. Divya grew up traveling all over India and was always interested in travel. She worked in a Delhi based tour agency before starting her own travel agency – Explorer’s Travel Boutique. She has a team that oversees everything from Indian weddings and corporate travel to individual and group travels all over the world. Her entire business is based on word of mouth referrals.

While traveling with Divya (we were recently in Kashmir), I could see that Divya works non-stop, answering her phone at every hour of the day, and addressing to the smallest client request herself.

Veronika, founder of Aroha Tours

Veronika Vermeulen, New Zealand

Born and raised in Germany, Veronika fell in love with everything about New Zealand, so much that she moved there and opened a luxury tour company – Aroha Tours. She loves the Māori culture, landscapes, nature, culture, wine and all that the country offers. She is married to a dairy farmer and lives on a 600 hector farm with 1200 milking cows.

Veronika and I have not met in person as yet, but I’m looking forward to traveling with her around New Zealand this November.

Go Eat Give will often refer to or partner with these women to book your customized tours to the countries they specialize in. By supporting other women in travel, we commit to have a long lasting impact in the communities we visit, and show you the very best of the local hospitality.

Must Buys Shopping List From Kashmir

The northernmost state of India is often in the news for political turmoil and instability. But it is also one of the most resourceful and artistic parts of the world.

Growing up in the city of Chandigarh, my family would often buy products from Kashmiri vendors going door to door, carrying wool carpets, pashmina shawls and embroidered tunics in the back of cycle rickshaws. We thought their stuff was so exotic! It was a prized possession to own a handwoven a Kashmiri carpet even 30 years ago.

During my recent visit to Kashmir, I was able to put a face to the goods. I visited weavers living and working in their one room shacks; watched how they sat on the floor for hours at a time, working on the same carpet for up to 3 years. It was laborious and caused eye and back problems, yet that was a skill passed on from generations that employed them. I had a new found appreciate for the craft.

Here are few things you must buy from Kashmir:

Saffron (kesar) – Kashmir is one of the few places in the world that grows saffron and you will have to travel to a saffron farm near Pampore Fields, a few miles out of Srinagar. Watch fields filled with purple flowers blooming in October. Saffron is used in many Kashmiri dishes and desserts. Every household and shop in Kashmir will serve guests kahwa, green tea made with saffron and almonds.

Dried Fruits and Nuts (mewa) – Most families in rural Kashmir own fruit and nut farms, which they sell to wholesalers to sustain themselves. Walnut trees are abundant in the Kashmir valley, producing some of the finest quality organic nuts in the world. Kashmiri almonds are much smaller than California ones, but are richer with nutrients as they have more Omega 3s. Also, you can buy golden raisins, dried apricots, blueberries, and more.

Cashmere (pashmina) – Pashmina has become a household name but the fine wool textile was first woven in Kashmir and is known as “soft gold” because of it’s high value. The wool from Changthangi goats found in this region is hand spun and woven to make fine cashmere stoles (shawls), scarves and carpets. It requires a lot of patience and skill to make these products, and many Kashmiris rely on their livelihood from sales abroad.

Copper (tamba) – Mined locally from the mountains of Aismuqum in the Lidder valley of Kashmir, copper is used to make kitchen utensils and home decorations. In Old Town Srinagar, you will find shops stacked with bowls, ladles, pots and plates along with decorative water jugs. Also, most traditional Kashmiri dishes are still cooked in huge copper pots.

Wood Work – Intricately carved walnut wood furniture is an important craft in this part of the world. You will see wood balconies walking through Lal Chowk or Badshah chowk, as well as wooden beds and chairs at homes. Traditional Indian cricket bats are also manufactured in Kashmir from the wood of the willow tree, and are considered to be of the highest standard preferred by international sportsmen.

Papier-Mâché – This handicraft was brought to Kashmir by the Persians and makes for affordable gifts and decorations. Made at home and at small workshops, artisans use paper pulp to make vases, bowls, boxes and trays.

Jewelry – Kashmiri women wear lots of heavy pieces of silver chokers, long dangling earrings and headdresses, which you can find at most jewelry shops. Also found locally are Kashmiri Lac (resinous substance) necklaces, bracelets and hairpins. If you can lay your hands on it, buy the rarest sapphire in the world – Doda Sapphire, which is only found in Kashmir.

Kashmiri handicraft stores and Government run emporiums are found throughout India. But if you want to meet the artists and buy good directly from the source, plan a visit to Kashmir by contacting Go Eat Give.

My host in Kashmir during my visit in August 2018 was Ahad Hotels and Resorts.

You Have to Eat These 15 Dishes in Kashmir

If you love grilled meats, fresh breads, fragrant rice dishes and curries rich with spices – you will love Kashmiri food. Kashmir is the northernmost state in India, bordering with Pakistan to its west and China to the east. The food is influenced by Persia, Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. However, it is unique in itself.

Here are some dishes you must try during your next visit to Kashmir.

Kahwah – Traditional green tea brewed with saffron, and topped with chopped almonds. You can add sugar or honey as needed. Every hotel, shop and home will welcome guests with a cup of hot kahwah. While the best tea I tasted was at someone’s home in Srinagar, I liked the variety of breads served alongside at Hotel Heevan in Pahalgam. You can also order high tea outside in the lawn overlooking the Lidder River.

Girda – A typical Kashmiri breakfast consists of nun chai (salty pink tea) along with a piece of fresh baked bread such as girda (round yeast bread), lavas (unleavened bread), baquerkhani (puff pastry pictured above), and tsot. In downtown Srinagar, you can find old bakeries elaborately stacked with breads early in the morning.

Nadru – Because of the many lakes around Kashmir valley, lotus is grown in abundance. The locals cook lotus root in a verity of dishes and these thinly battered and fried lotus root cutlets sprinkled with garam masala are delicious. Serve them as an appetizer with a creamy walnut chutney. Try it at Welcomehotel Pine-N-Peak in Pahalgam. I also had lotus root cooked in yogurt sauce (nadru yakhni), which was a simple, light and tasty vegetarian dish.

Kashmiri Pulao – Kashmiri rice is very different from traditional Basmati. It is thicker and shorter locally grown variety, which is rich in starch and nutrients. Rice is a staple in Kashmir and cooked in different kinds of pulaos and biryanis. This is the most common one, cooked with a bit of saffron, spices, nuts and dried fruits. You can eat it on its own or pair it with a curry. The best one I tasted was at Dilkusha restaurant in Pahalgam.

Rajma – The red kidney bean stew is common in most of India, though the Kashmiri rajma is different. The beans are darker in color, smaller and of heirloom variety. It is less spicy, and cooked with tomatoes and red chilies to add a deeper red color. The riverfront Hotel Heevan in Pahalgam cooked this especially for us.

Saag/ Haak – Unlike what most Indian restaurants serve as saag, in Kashmir saag refers to a variety of greens including cabbage, broccoli, kale and kohlrabi. These are cooked with lots of mustard oil and dried red chilies. At Ahdoos restaurant in Srinagar.

Gucci – These local morel mushrooms are found only in the damp forests, sort of like truffles. They cannot be grown and cost up to $500/ kg when discovered in season. The flavor is very earthy and dry, but this gucchi and peas curry is a must try with flaky parathas. Order it at Lolaab in Pahalgam.

Dum Aloo – This dish originated from the traditional Kashmiri Pandit cuisine. The small potatoes are deep friend, and then simmered on a low fame with about a dozen spices. Try it at Fortune Resort Heevan in Srinagar.

Seekh KebabNo meal in Kashmir is complete without meat, mostly lamb. You will often find a variety of kebabs, meat curries or rice biryanis. These spiced ground lamb skewers are a popular appetizer at Cafe Chinar restaurant in Srinagar. Make it a meal with thin roomali (handkerchief roti).

Waza Chicken – A Wazwan is a multi-course meal in the Kashmiri Muslim tradition prepared in copper utensils by a traditional vasta waza, or head chef, with the assistance of a court of wazas, or chefs. These dishes are typically cooked at weddings and parties, but available at restaurants as well. I tried the waza chicken – fried chicken, cooked in in red curry at Dilkhusa restaurant in Gulmarg, as well as a few other places.

Kokur Yakhni – The bone-in chicken pieces are simmered in yogurt and garnished with fennel and lots of dry mint. The sauce is a bit runny with lemony flavor, and pairs well with steamed rice. Heevan Retreat‘s Dilkhusa restaurant in Gulmarg.

Kofta – Though kofta (meatball) is a popular dish in Kashmiri cuisine generally made with lamb or goat, I tried a version with fresh fish at Fortune Resort Heevan’s Earthen Oven in Srinagar. The local snapper was minced, shaped into balls and steamed, floating in a creamy sweet and spicy sauce.

Kashmiri naan – This flatbread is very different than the garlic or butter naans you may have had before. Though baked in a traditional tandoor (clay oven), it is more like a pizza that you can eat it by itself. This one at Ahdoos restaurant in Srinagar was topped with cashews, raisins, coconut and cocktail fruits.

Kashmiri Halva – Most of the time in Kashmir I was too full with my meal to think about dessert, but my waiter at Heevan Hotel in Gulmarg insisted that I try their Kashmiri halva, and I am so glad that I did! Cooked with ghee (clarified butter), sooji (semolina) and water, topped with almonds, raisins and coconut flakes, this was one of the best halvas I had. I recommend ordering this for breakfast as it is quite rich.

Phirni – Now I had phirni many times before and my favorite was a thick white color rice pudding served chilled in a clay pot at some muslim owned restaurants in Old Delhi. But the Kashmiri version I had at Fortune Resort Heevan in Srinagar was made with semolina instead of rice, runny and served warm. It was also yellow from the saffron.

Of course there are far more dishes in Kashmiri cuisine that I didn’t get to try, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s just a good starting point for your next visit to Kashmir.

Have you tried a Kashmiri dish not listed above? 

Meaningful Ways to See Elephants

If you are traveling to Asia, you are probably very excited at the prospect of seeing, even riding elephants. But do you know that around 75% of the world’s captive elephants have been illegally captured, with over 3,000 used for entertainment in Asia alone?

PETA, whose driving force is that animals are not ours to use for entertainment  is highlighting that elephants used for rides are often forcibly separated from their mothers as babies. They are then immobilised with tightly bound ropes, and gouged with bullhooks or nail-studded sticks during “training.”

Please do not accept elephant rides!

Many tour companies are pledging not to promote cruel elephant rides, and if you see someone offering an elephant ride, I urge you NOT TO ACCEPT.

There are some other ways in which you can still enjoy seeing elephants sustainably by visiting small sanctuaries and spotting them in the wild.

Crossing the river at Periyar National Park

Periyar National Park, South India

Periyar National Park in Kerala is one of the most well-preserved natural habitats I have visited. Here you can see the Indian Elephant, a subspecies of the native Asian elephant, in the wild. Take a walking safari at sunrise or sunset and you will most likely spot the elephants hanging out near the river.

The Elephant Transit Home and Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to a population of up to 4,000 endangered Sri Lankan elephants. While many travelers opt to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, there are some concerns about the treatment of the elephants and ethos of the orphanage.

This is a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured elephants, with a strict no-contact policy. Visitors here can observe the elephants in a natural atmosphere and see how they interact with one another during feeding time

Pranburi, Thailand

There’s chance to get off the beaten track in Thailand and discover the Wildlife Friends Foundation – an organization rescuing and rehabilitating sick or injured elephants.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Elephant Nature Park is located in Northern Thailand outside of Chiang Mai. This park is dedicated to caring for elephants who have endured mistreatment in camps and circuses with more than 35 elephants currently cared for.

Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

Visits to the Minneryiya or Kaudulla National Park gives travelers the opportunity to climb the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, before taking an elephant safari. A jeep Safari in Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park with Rickshaw Travel comes as part of the Elephant‘s in Buddha’s Garden trip.

Adopt an elephant at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage

Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage, Kenya

Watch baby elephants rescued from all over Kenya at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage as they are fed every morning from 10-11am. There is no physical contact with the elephants though they may come close to you on their own during playtime.

For a $50 annual donation, you can even also foster a baby elephant and receive newsletters with rescue stories.

World Elephant Day

The annual World Elephant Day (12 August) is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants, as many fight to change this fate.

There are two species of elephants: African comprised of two different species (forest and savannah), with less than 400,000 remaining worldwide, and Asian, with less than 40,000 remaining worldwide.

While they are similar in physiology, they are too biologically different to interbreed. Recent scientific findings suggest that the forest-dwelling African elephant is a genetically distinct species, making it a third elephant species. (Courtesy Rickshaw Travel in Travel Alliance Bulletin)

There is a Haunted Island in India

As the sun was setting over the Andaman Sea, an old ferry packed with people made the ten minute journey across from Port Blair to Ross Island. Given that no one lived on Ross Island, I was confused why so many people were going there, that too as it was getting dark.
As I approached Ross Island, I saw the Indian tricolor flag waiving through a thick canopy of tall coconut trees. My guide told me about the Japanese bunker off the dock. The island was occupied by the Japanese during World War 2, as they fought against the British.
Soon enough, we were surrounded by wild animals – deer, rabbits, and peacocks, who are the only residents on the island. A lady wearing white salwar kameez (Indian attire) with a bright orange scarf started feeding the deers, addressing them as “Baba Baba…” The deers came running to her as if they heard a familiar voice, and ate sliced bread right from her hands. My guide informed me that this lady goes to Ross Island everyday only to feed the deers, so they are familiar with her. She hands me a piece of bread and asks me to feed the deer. I do as instructed. The deer’s wet lips touch my fingers and soon a group of them surround me.
There is nothing but ruins on Ross Island now, but up until India received it’s independent, it was the Administrative Headquarters of the British East India Company, and a good spot to keep a watchful eye on the Central Jail in Port Blair. Remains of a church, bakery, clubhouse, printing press, water reservoir, etc. can still be seen on the island, mostly covered by overgrown tropical plants and algae. At it’s peak, the British general enjoyed the opulence and pristine environment offered by the island and called it “The Paris of the East.” Now, it looks like a scene from a scary movie.
The island has seen its share of bad fortune as well. In the 1700’s the settlement was nearly wiped out due to high mortality rate, then turned into a hospital, a sanatorium and a penal settlements. And a terrible earthquake shattered all structures in 1941. There was a deadly fire at some point too.
So why were all those people on the ferry going to Ross Island? Though there is not much to see (unless you like a stroll through scary ruins), there is a nicely done sound and light show in the evening that shows the history of the island. Just make sure to bring a flashlight, plenty of mosquito spray, and enjoy the show!
What is scariest place you have ever been to?