She started travelling as part of her job but soon discovered the untapped potential it had to significantly improve the lives of people, especially women. Starting her journey as a travel writer, today she is the founder and head of Women on Wanderlust (WOW)—a platform that pioneered the culture of solo travel for women in India. They have organized trips for women all over the world from Uzbekistan to Seychelles, to Greece, and even closer home to Bhutan. They have also managed to have several adventures within the country with trips to Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Pondicherry, and so many more.

Meet Sumitra Senapaty. Back in 2004, her job required her to travel so she was essentially making a living out of her passion. The ultimate dream! However, the more she travelled, the more she realised that so many women in India had missed out on certain key experiences. Enter WOW Club or Women on Wanderlust. Several conversations with friends and family over 52 weeks gave birth to this idea. Sumitra wanted to create a community of women who could come together and be each other’s support system while creating shared memories through shared experiences. 

In a conversation with Ragini Puri, Sumitra shares her experiences as a pioneer in the field of solo travel for women in India. She tells us about the challenges that came with creating a niche for the WOW club, both within the travel industry, as well as within Indian culture. She also reveals the ways in which absolute strangers have come together and bonded on her trips and shares fun anecdotes from various holidays.

I believe it was during your time as a travel writer that you got the idea for WOW. Can you tell me more about why you decided to use travel to bring together a community of women?
I was writing for many newspapers and magazines in 2004 and thoroughly enjoying myself. I was getting to travel to many different destinations, and not in the tourist sense of checking off sites on a list. I was truly getting to experience these different places and that was extremely rewarding for me, both in the short run and the long run. The Taj Mahal or the pyramids of Giza are sites we have seen in books and movies since we were young children. Nonetheless, when I saw the pyramids in Cairo, it was like I was seeing them for the first time.

Travelling is such an enriching experience because when you are away from the comfort of your daily surroundings, you learn many things about yourself.

Since my job required me to travel so frequently, I started to gain an understanding of what women would enjoy while travelling. Moreover, my friends and family, especially the women, would always tell me they thought I was “very lucky.” They heard stories about my trips and found it fascinating that I could jet off to a new destination at the drop of a hat. This is what made me realize that women do want to travel. Women are multitaskers hence from time to time, they need an outlet. Even today, there are often instances where women have come on trips, not because they were particularly interested in the destination, rather just to get some me-time.

By 2004-2005, the culture of kitty parties and socializing had pretty much reached a saturation point. Since travel allows you to get both me-time and socialize, I thought it would be a great way to not just give women an outlet, but to also allow them to come together and feel like they belong to a community.

You have spoken about how it was initially difficult to convince women to travel alone. Can you take me through the journey from that to where you are now? How did you convince women to start travelling alone?
Women Travelers Women on WanderlustI think it basically comes down to empowerment. Initially, we were doing basic tourist type trips to Leh, Ladakh, Rajasthan, etc. After some time, we started backpacking and camping trips. The women who signed up for these trips were slightly older, in the 30 plus category. I sensed a sense of adventure in these women and on talking to them, I realised that most of them believed they had missed out on a particular aspect of their life. They felt like they had missed out on certain experiences and consequently the ability to be adventurous and assertive. Beyond everything else, they felt a lack of control over their own actions once they stepped outside their homes. I was offering these women a safe space where they could let their hair down and be themselves, in the absence of men.

The trips being organized by travel agencies at the time had mixed groups and many women did not feel comfortable going on such a trip alone. Moreover, I was doing all the handholding with WOW. With big companies, the work is obviously divided between different departments. Hence, even though your travel agency provides you with an itinerary, the work of getting your visa organized, getting travel insurance organized etc., still falls on you. With WOW, we help our travellers with each step. When my team plans an itinerary, I tell them to think of it as an itinerary for their own friends or family. What I mean by this is, I want them to be able to answer any and all types of questions our customers may have. This could be about the weather, the excursions, the pricing, and pretty much anything else they can come up with. I wanted women to recognize WOW as a platform that would take care of them so that they can go on a trip without any inhibitions.

Any time a woman comes to me and says, “At some point in life, I will make my WOW happen,” I feel a sense of pride like no other.

You have mentioned the fact that you made a conscious effort to distance WOW from the travel industry on account of the fact that they cater to a very different market. What are the challenges that came with entering this space and essentially creating a niche for yourself within it?
The main challenge was the pricing. I’ll give you an example. We recently did a trip to the Maldives which was priced at around 1 lakh rupees. A similar trip organized by a travel agency would be priced at Rs 60,000. There is a significant difference there, but people tend not to read between the lines. The price of this WOW trip included the food, the drinks (including alcohol), the excursions, the hotel booking, and anything else you might spend on during a holiday. Travel agencies, however, partner with smaller resorts that just about provide you with a room. Everything else needs to be paid for separately.

This is a problem that has continued to exist. We still get customers comparing our prices to those of travel agencies. In those instances, I am quite stringent. WOW stands for quality, clean hotels, which are centrally located, and this is something I am not willing to compromise on. At WOW, we are committed to providing an experience for our travellers. Women who travel with us know that they are not going to be checking items off of a list. Long gone are the days when a holiday to London started and ended with seeing Big Ben. The idea now is to make memories that you can take back with you and share with your loved ones.

Apart from your website, and social media presence, which platforms and means have you used to further your vision and message. What has been the outcome?

Social Media Instagram WOW Club

Adventures and Wanderlust with WOW

Well, in 2005 social media was not as prevalent as it is today. A large part of the credit for getting the word out there about WOW goes to the print media. Several articles featured the WOW club and they were often written by women. I think something about our work really struck a chord with them because it was written about with such a personal touch, as opposed to a boring old feature. This also helped me create a community from all over the country, not just the usual Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore circles. 

When The Hindu featured WOW club, they printed it in all their editions across multiple languages. Hence, we got people from all over the country be it north, south, east, or west. We had several instances where women who had never left their state had signed up for a trip after reading about WOW club. Back then, the novelty of the idea also helped it spread like wildfire. The outcome has been that we have managed to create a community of women who are personally connected to WOW. We get so many women, who are now older, telling us about how their WOW trip was an intrinsic part of their youth. What more can I ask for!

Can you share any instances of friendships that were formed on a trip or significant experiences people had that impacted you or just made you happy to see?

Ladakh Women on Wanderlust

Making happy memories

Oh! There are many such instances. One of the cutest ones I can remember happened on our trip to Turkey. We try to put people from similar regions together in order to create a certain level of comfort. On this trip, we had 2 girls from different parts of South India sharing a room. The catch was that one of them was vegetarian, and the other non-vegetarian. The vegetarian girl was especially hesitant to share a room. She even asked me if I could perhaps tell the non-vegetarian girl to keep the windows open on her side of the room. I sat down with her and just had a chat where I tried easing her discomfort. Anyway, after the momentary shock passed, she agreed to share the room and all these years later, those two girls continue to be friends.

Another instance comes to mind, although it did not exactly happen on a trip. I was in Mumbai last March and a bunch of us went for dinner. While we were all chatting, one woman narrated an incident that had us all in splits. She told us that she had recently gone on a trip to Europe with her husband. After they entered the airport, she saw her husband standing idly by and said to him, “Hello hubby, we must go left to check-in.” The way she described how she took over that trip and led her husband all over the airport was hilarious. However, it was also a moment of empowerment. She was the one calling the shots at the airport and that was because she fell back on her travel experiences with WOW.

These are the kind of transformations people have on our trips. They gain the confidence to go back to their regular life and assert themselves, and that makes me extremely happy.

Since you get women from all age groups on your trips, how do you ensure synergy in a group with people of different ages? What are some of the interesting conversations or interactions you have witnessed between people from different age groups?

WOW Maldives

A week in paradise – Maldives

There are always activities that older people are slightly more hesitant to partake. On a recent trip to Palampur, we organized paragliding as an activity, and it was mostly the younger lot that signed up. The elder women did their own thing during the day, but everybody met up in the evening and exchanged notes. The same thing happened in the Maldives. A few older women were not comfortable going snorkelling or partaking in the swimming activities. However, we met up at mealtimes and shared stories. They told us that they went to the spa and got pedicures. That is basically how our WOW trips are. There are always different age groups, and they get along quite well actually. The older women get in touch with their fun side and have a laugh with the younger lot. On the other hand, if the older women ever require assistance because they’re slowing the group down, the younger girls are always willing to help.

One of the cutest instances I remember was when we were travelling with a woman who was very stressed about getting her daughter married. There happened to be a few young girls in our group who were around her daughter’s age. She went out for a drink with the young girls and they chatted. She asked them what goes on in their head and why they are so against marriage. They explained to her that they had no problem with marriage, they just wanted to work first and build their careers. It was a lovely exchange between different age groups. Moreover, I think it was so meaningful because both the older woman and the younger women walked away having learnt something.

Travel is obviously an industry that has been deeply impacted by COVID. How has it affected WOW? Do you think the way you and your group of travellers have dealt with the pandemic has anything to do with your gender?

Bhutan Spiritual Women on Wonderlust

Throwback to the wonders of Bhutan

Well, when the lockdown started last March, we were getting ready to go on a trip to the Maldives. There were also upcoming trips to Ladakh, Bhutan, and more, all of which fizzled out. WOW club took the challenge posed by the pandemic with stride and stayed busy reminiscing. They kept uploading pictures from old trips, trying to organize zoom calls with one another, and mostly just being a support system to each other. Once the lockdown eased, a couple of us met at a café and believe it or not, the ladies were pestering me to get a trip organized at the earliest. Mind you, lockdown had eased, but we were still in the middle of a pandemic. They asked me to at least announce a trip so that they can look forward to something. Moreover, they were ready to deal with all the new protocols (be it getting tested, getting vaccinated, etc.) put in place due to the pandemic, as long as they got to go on a trip.

A welcome change brought about by the pandemic has been the sharing of household work between men and women. I think this has made men more accommodating and understanding. Funnily enough, the families of women who have travelled with me have been very supportive with regard to going on a WOW trip. In fact, they encourage these women to take a break since the pandemic has obviously taken its toll on everybody. Even as far as travel is concerned, people are finally learning to appreciate the smaller things like sitting at a café and watching the world go by. Pre-pandemic, people may have thought that was a waste of time and opted to go sightseeing instead. COVID was something that certainly changed everybody’s life in one way or the other.

What do you see for the future of WOW in particular, and the culture of solo travel among Indian women?

Chettinad Women on Wanderlust

Enjoying the royal treatment – Chettinad

At WOW we have always believed in gaining experiences out of travel. The way forward for us is to do more of the same whilst also trying to ensure all our trips continue to provide an intimate experience to our travellers. I also want to keep switching things up so that we can avoid monotony. For instance, we recently stayed at a 150-year-old Chettiar mansion in Chettinad instead of a hotel. We are also looking to provide better prices for our customers because of what the whole world has been through last year. More than anything, I want to stay away from frenzied sightseeing because a holiday should not be stressing you out.

The culture of solo travel is not new. Ever since I was in college, I have heard this term in a Western context. It was less prevalent in India back then, especially among women. It is certainly catching on now, especially among a younger crowd. However, when it comes to women, the term ‘solo travel’ takes on a different meaning. There are many instances where women simply need a break but cannot find a friend or a family member to go on a holiday with. We have to keep in mind that our culture is very different from the West and it still may not be easy for a woman to go on a purely solo trip. This is where WOW comes in. When you go on a solo trip with WOW, the connotation is that you are solo in your mind. In fact, we offer single occupancy rooms at an extra cost for those who are extra possessive with their me-time. The idea is to be solo, but not alone.

Our Interview Takeaways

Women on Wanderlust

Hey girl! Are you looking for an adventure? Then WOW club is where you need to be. Awaken your wanderlust with @the.wowclub or drop in for a visit on

Published On: May 12th, 2021 / Categories: Community Drivers, Interviews /