At last count, the tally of New Orleans’ annual festivals was well over the century mark and growing. March 3-5, the city plays host to a festival for travelers, the fourth annual Women’s Travel Fest, which has sold out venues every year since its inaugural run in New York City. Kelly Lewis, writer of Go! Girl travel guides and a world travel enthusiast, brings her festival to New Orleans the weekend after the glitter and booze of Carnival subsides and people start thinking about their next escape.
Women’s Travel Fest assembles women from different realms of the travel industry - writers, journalists, bloggers, motivational speakers, business owners and filmmakers - for three days of get-togethers and seminars designed to encourage wanderlust in women who want to travel but feel deterred by finances, career, family obligations or time. Lewis’ Go! Girl series is the first published set of guide books that focuses specifically on women’s health and safety abroad. Writing the manuals inspired Lewis to create this travel symposium.
“Women have a unique set of concerns while traveling abroad,” she says. “Getting together and discussing these issues make us more powerful.”
The festival gathers a community of women (and supportive men) and reveals ways they can integrate travel into their lives. Lewis aims to reach all types of women, with a focus on those in transitional phases - recently graduated, going through a divorce or changing careers, for example - to show them possibilities of what they can do with their lives.
Women's Travel Fest presents speakers such as Pauline Frommer of Frommer’s guide books and Cassie de Pecol, the first woman to visit every country in the world. Seminar topics range from traveling with kids and how to be a one-woman film crew to the ways a woman’s love life can limit or enhance her travel experiences (anyone out there with a travel-phobic significant other?). With almost 20 presenters, most plugged into social and travel media, Lewis expects to reach a vast audience beyond the attendees.
“This year’s lineup has a combined outreach of 3.5 million (people),” she says.
New Orleans-based creative agency Hop & Jaunt and locally grown bag maker Tchoup Industries are sponsors of Travel Fest. Patti Dunn, owner of Tchoup Industries, supports the fest’s vision of empowering women.
“We sell our bags to instill the spirit of exploration,” she says. “‘City and Swamp’ is our tagline - we enjoy bringing the local connection to (national) and international travel.”
This year, in response to President Trump’s executive order restricting travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries (including those holding legal American visas), the Travel Fest’s organizers plan to donate 100 percent of proceeds to the ACLU, as well as feature donation centers where attendees can contribute to organizations such as Planned Parenthood and NAACP.
Dunn says she hopes the donations will initiate positive change by allowing people to “vote with their dollars.”
“No one should be held back from traveling or any empowerment because of gender, religious preference or orientation,” she says. “Everybody’s trying to get their voice out there. This festival is full of women who care about intelligence and creativity, and this is a creative solution.”
Lewis, who has dedicated her life to galvanizing women to pursue their travel dreams, says although parts of the executive order have been struck down in court, the fight is far from over.
“The Women’s Travel Fest has always been founded on the belief that anyone can travel, if they make travel a priority,” she says. “But in the wake of the travel ban, hundreds of thousands of Americans lost that right overnight. Continuing programming (for the festival) as usual felt inauthentic to me, so I decided the best thing we could do is to donate our proceeds to help fight against these kinds of injustices.”
Lewis says she wants every woman (and man) who attends to absorb her zeal for getting out of town and seeing the beauty the world has to offer.
“When we travel, we serve as mini-ambassadors from our country,” she says. “It’s an incredible opportunity to represent where you’re from and your culture. Through my travels, I’ve realized that people are mostly good and the world is mostly safe. My faith in humanity has been restored.”
The fest takes place at the Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market March 4-5, with a welcome party at the Foundation Room at the House of Blues on March 3. Tickets are available here, and attendees can get 25 percent off with the code “localsonly.”