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 welcomewomen.org.uk

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- force.org

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 servasbritain@unat.com

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 www.eiluk.org

Simon Calder

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice