Travel for Women: She's got the whole world in her hands

A global organisation that encourages female friendship is joining in the celebrations for International Women's Day. By Rachel Henry

"I'LL MEET you at the arrivals gate," said Sandy Darrall. Scary words from a US Customs Inspector, but Sandy wasn't about to haul me off to a small, windowless room; she is a member of Women Welcome Women World Wide (5W), the international friendship organisation, and had offered to put me up for a night at her home near Freeport, Grand Bahama.

"You'll see me - I'll be the big woman with short red hair," she'd said on the telephone. When my plane landed, more than an hour late, she was there with a welcoming smile, waiting at the gate.

Sandy has only recently joined 5W, which has 2,600 members in 67 countries. It's a simple and clever idea. You send a donation - minimum pounds 20 - to the 5W office in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and they send you a list of their members. You can then contact any member on that list, in any country, and ask to stay with them, or suggest meeting for dinner or coffee, whatever is acceptable to both parties. Your own details will go on the list - with assurances of strict confidentiality - and other members can contact you. But there's no obligation; if you don't want a fellow member, her husband and six children to stay, you just say so. All arrangements are made privately.

"5W tends to attract people who like travelling, and who are open to other cultures," said Jayne Spinks-Dear, 36, who joined 5W last year. Jayne, who is deputy head of Woodlands School in Basildon, Essex, and her surveyor husband, Richard, have two children, Andrew, three, and one- year-old Kathryn, who were "born clutching passports". 5W has members who welcome children (and husbands and partners), and last summer Jayne took Andrew and Kathryn to stay with 5W members in Germany. At half-term they went to Brussels. "You can do all sorts of things when you're staying with people who have local knowledge," she said, "and the children love it."

On the other side of the world, in Hobart, Australia, 33-year-old Helen Starosta is about to set off on a six-month trip to Europe. Fifteen members responded to her request for contacts in the 5W newsletter. One woman in Austria has offered to spend a week showing her the country, and Helen will be staying with others in France and near York. "It's easier to meet local people with 5W," she said. "That feeling of being made welcome, that makes a big difference, especially when you're travelling on your own." Heather Cockrell, 61, of Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, agreed. When she visited Hungary recently her hostess took her to places that "were not secret, just hidden"; they went swimming in hot cave springs up in the hills.

5W was set up in 1984 by Frances Alexander, 63, a former teacher and currently mayor of High Wycombe. "When women join us," she said, "they and their families become international. And that, in a global village, is no bad thing."

Frances emphasised that 5W is not about cheap holidays, but about cross- cultural friendship.

Members, who range in age from 17 to 90, often write to 5W to say how much they enjoyed a visit, as guest or hostess, but there is the occasional glitch, where cultures clash or when someone forgets to write a thank- you note. One member warns of bathroom customs, when visitors come from countries where lavatory paper goes into the bin rather than down the loo. 5W stresses that "clear communication is the key".

Women Welcome Women works on the basis that "friendship is the best passport", and with the majority of members it works well, and local doors open wide.

Sandy took me to meet her friends for a beach picnic; we toured the island, propped up the local expat bar at Club Carib, and ended up on a yacht in the harbour. I gained a friend and had a marvellous 24 hours. As a hotel-bound tourist, I would have missed it all.

Women Welcome Women World Wide is based at 88 Easton Street, High Wycombe, Bucks, HP11 1LT (01494 465441); or www.women

Finding Friends Around The World

"IF YOU reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home. You are like a pebble thrown into water; you become wet on the surface but you are never a part of the water." James A Michener's stern warning to travellers is quoted by Friendship Force, one of several organisations that give the visitor the chance to become immersed in a foreign country.

It was founded by former US president Jimmy Carter and current Friendship Force president Wayne Smith. "You are invited to stay in the home of some friends you haven't yet met. Our exchanges include a one or two-week homestay with optional post-exchange touring in the region."

The best contact for Friendship Force is its website, www. friendship-

Other organisations which link up hosts and travellers include the following:

Servas This international organisation was founded 50 years ago by an American Quaker. It has around 10,000 members and runs a worldwide network of hosts and travellers, established in 80 countries. It aims to promote international understanding and the exchange of ideas. To become a Servas member, you need to be interviewed by a co-ordinator and pay a joining fee. You get a list of members in your chosen country, and you then make contact with the host on the understanding that you will stay for two nights. Call 0181-444 7778, or e-mail

The Experiment in International Living - billing itself as "an international non-profit organisation promoting intercultural learning through homestays, educational group travel, study abroad, language training, au pair, and other cultural immersion programs".

The British office of EIL is at 287 Worcester Road, Malvern, Worcestershire WR14 1AB (01684 562577); its website is

Simon Calder

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine