Sheena Bhattessa completed a law degree before a brief stint as an actress. But it was on a trip to Turkey with a group of girlfriends where she found her calling, creating Citizen Femme, a travel and style guide for globetrotting women.
How did you get the idea for Citizen Femme? It was on a trip to Turkey with a group of friends about seven years ago. Instagram was booming and people were tagging their travel more than anything. There was a huge curiosity around where people were going, staying, eating. But it wouldn’t really lead to booking a hotel or restaurant, or buying something fashion or beauty, via the platform, as there was a lack of truth. It made me think, where would I really go to get that honest and authoritative recommendation. And who is really speaking to my demographic as a female traveller? This was the genesis of Citzen Femme.
What does Citizen Femme offer that wasn’t already available? Many of the mainstream magazines hadn’t really thrived yet in the online space. It felt like there was a real gap in the market for a female-led travel and lifestyle publication that spoke to me like a best friend would.
We were one of the first publications to speak directly to the female traveller and recognise the impact they were having on the market. If you consider facts like women make close to 85% of all travel decisions, and they have an estimated $15 Trillion in spending power.
What is the story behind the name “Citizen Femme” and how did you arrive at it? I wish there was a superb story behind this, but there really isn’t. It was initially “It’s a travel guide for girls,” but it made me think of the scouts. Then Citizen Femme was born. It’s one of those names that pops into your head out of the blue, and when I floated the idea past several people, it had a buzz about it, and it stuck.
How do women travel differently to men, and how has that evolved since you started the site? There are so many ways we find that it differs. While this does not apply to all women or all men.
Firstly, packing habits differ. Women typically care more about what they pack, pack ahead of time, and plan their outfits. That’s why we attached packing edits to over 80% of our pieces. What do I need to wear for that particular culture? Or for that event? Or at that time of year? Or to dine in that restaurant?
Then we find women find it important to gain something out of travel. With that comes more time planning and with an added empathy for different cultures and what is around them, this has an impact on the way women travel.
Travel is also often seen as self-development, or self-care, and we speak to this. In today’s times, we are all programmed to be productive and rest is the nemesis of the “hustle culture.” Getting away is real time-off and we ensure it isn’t wasted.
“We want to make sure they don’t waste a minute in the wrong place.”—what does this look like tangibly and in terms of what you do on the site? Given that time is of the essence and holiday days are limited—and increasingly costly—it really comes down to the guidance. Everything on site is vetted and approved personally by our team. If we don’t like it we don’t write about it.
If we are offering an insider guide, we want to ensure someone knows what they are talking about and the advice is authentic—we are doing the hard work for you. When a reader clicks on a destination guide, or wants to book a spa, or needs some inspiration for a multi-generational trip, they can have complete confidence that we can give them the information they want and need.
What are your top travel tips going into 2023? Look at “twin destination” trips , an excellent way of making the most of being in whatever part of the world you’ve travelled to.
And don’t rush it, if you can. Enjoy slow travel—see more of a place, and a good way to do this is to travel by car or train, which also ties in well with the increase in flight delays and cancellations that we’ve seen recently seen, as well as being more sustainable.
What is always in your suitcase? Airpods, Isabel Marant trainers, Burt’s Bees tinted lip balm, a very cosy blue Theory jumper, Agolde jeans, plain black and white T-shirts, one pair of heels, and probiotics. The basics!
Tell me about the catalyst trip to Istanbul and how you got from that frustration to having the idea and the courage to start your own business?We stayed at a big chain hotel (to be unnamed), and there were so many things that didn’t make us feel comfortable. There were major design flaws including very dark lighting, particularly in the bedrooms and bathrooms, no plugs near beds or hairdryers, among other issues. It was difficult to get any mode of transport to go out and come back, and it didn’t feel particularly safe. This led me to ask the question, who would advise me on what I really want to know as a female traveller and what hotel would really suit me? It really grew from there.