'I'm so honored': Vancouverite leads worldwide network of travelling women

When travel buff Elinor Warkentin turned 40, she wasn't about to let that number define her.

"I wanted to do something big," she told host Sheryl MacKay on CBC's North by Northwest. "People in the office were getting these cards [that said] 'Over the Hill.' And I thought, 'I'm not buying into that!'"

Warkentin decided to embark on a year-long trip across the globe. She began plotting out her travels, and came across unique collective called Women Welcome Women Worldwide — an international friendship organization where members offer homestays to their travelling counterparts.

She decided to join. In the year that followed, Warkentin connected with women all over the world, making lifelong friends. Now, over a decade later, she's been elected chair of the organization.

The 5 Ws

​Women Welcome Women Worldwide, or 5W, was founded in 1984 with the goal of empowering women to travel. There's over 2,000 members across 66 countries, and they're encouraged to reach out to one another when they're abroad. Membership is by donation.

"We have very few rules," said Warkentin. "The etiquette is no more than three days — it's not about free travel, but it is about staying with each other in our homes if we can offer a bed."

The experiences can be unpredictable, and enriching, said the soon-to-be chair. She recalls a trip she made to the U.K., where she connected with a woman who grew up near the iconic Stonehenge.

She said her new friend gave her an unforgettable experience.

"She drove about a mile up the hill, pulled over, and we had a picnic ... overlooking the valley and the Stonehenge. And I thought, imagine hundreds of years ago, coming over this very hill, and seeing that. I couldn't have had a better Stonehenge experience."

A cultural experience

Warkentin says the goal of the network is to provide a platform for women to get to know each other across the world, experience each other's culture, and grow lasting bonds.

She said she continues to stay connected with the people she has met, who are always there for support.

"It's such a beautiful thing — [it's about] helping to create peace and friendship between different cultures, and different people," she said.

Warkentin says she's honoured to become the new chair for the organization, and encourages women with a thirst for travelling to join the club.

The experiences are always worthwhile, she says.

"Sometimes its just a friendly 'let's go for dinner' or 'I'll show you this museum.' And sometimes it's a lot more — we become friends for life."

With files from CBC's North by Northwest

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: 'I'm so honored': Vancouverite leads worldwide network of travelling women