I am constantly inspired by brave women in history – whether it’s recent history or hundreds of years ago – who face the odds, defy obstacles, and make waves (in a good way.) I was lucky enough to be raised by two parents who encouraged me to be anyone I wanted to be – and especially with a father who never made me think there was anything I couldn’t do as a woman. My single grandmother is a constant source of inspiration, as well, as she is the first real solo woman traveler I knew!
In honor of International Women’s Day, I wanted to share my six favorite inspirational, game-changing woman travelers – from the famous Amelia Earhart to the lesser-known Robyn Davidson (who crossed the Australian outback with a herd of camels.) And do you know who really was the first woman to travel the world?
Read on, and be inspired. #girlpower
“She was unstoppable, not because she didn’t have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them.” (Anonymous)
Jeanne Baré was the first woman to circumnavigate the world – though she didn’t set out to do so; she was a botanist looking to discover flowers and rare plants around the world. She also completed the circumnavigation disguised as a man. Her experience was not a pleasant one – between dirty, horrid living conditions, a brutal hazing ritual at the equator, and her lover’s intense seasickness, she had a lot on her plate. And her crewmates were not totally fooled by the disguise, either: they often suspected something awry, and eventually Jeanne was outed – though details are fuzzy and contradictory about exactly how and when. In the end, though, the French government granted her a pension to continue botany research, heralding her as a brave woman.
“It’s not so very much for a woman to do who has the pluck, energy and independence which characterize many women in this day of push and get-there.”
Nellie Bly may be the most recognized name on this list, but most don’t know about her around-the-world trip (instead associating her, not wrongly, with her exposé of a women’s insane asylum that led to a major hospital reform in the U.S.) But her following assignment was what places her firmly in the category of “game-changing travelers:” Nellie challenged herself to travel the world in under the 80 days of Jules Vernes’ protagonist, Philea Fogg. In 1889, Nellie set out with a special passport signed by the Secretary of State, and ONE piece of hand luggage (see, ladies, it is possible!) In France, she actually met Jules Verne, who thought she might manage the trip in 79 days (not the 80 she hoped for.) In the end, Nellie made it around the world and back to New York after 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes.
“I am a journalist and ‘a new woman’…if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do.”
Born in modern-day Latvia in 1870, Annie Londonderry moved to the U.S., got married, and raised three children. In 1894, she stood in front of a crowd of 500 people in Massachusetts and declared she would circle the world – then hopped onto a bicycle and took off. Fifteen months later, she was the first woman to tour the world by bicycle, and one New York newspaper called it “the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman.” Annie is known as a game-changer not only for her incredible feat, but for the controversial move she took in abandoning her husband and family – AND for traveling alone as a Jewish woman in the 1800s. (In fact, her real name was Annie Cohen Kopchovsky.)
“Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.”
In a time when women were expected to stay home to cook, clean, and raise children, Amelia Earhart decided to become a pilot. Despite many obstacles, ridicule, and blatant discrimination from men (and fellow women), she became the first woman (and the second person) in the world tofly across the Atlantic solo. Encouraged by her success, she set off on a full circumnavigation of the globe in 1937. She and her navigator departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey; by June 29th, they had gone 22,000 miles when they landed in New Guinea. Inaccurate mapping, poor weather conditions, and low fuel made the last stretch of the trip difficult, despite support and tracking from the U.S. Government. On the morning of July 2nd, dispatchers lost contact with Amelia’s plane and she was never seen nor heard from again.
“I can’t understand why men make all this fuss about Everest.”
Junko Tabei was a passionate Japanese mountain climber who became the first woman to summit Mt. Everest in 1975 — AND the first woman to climb the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each continent.) Today, Junko is director of the Himalayan Adventure Trust of Japan, an organization working to provide mountain environments – though the 76-year-old still does a little bit of climbing now and then.
“The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision.”
In 1977, Robyn Davidson set off from Alice Springs for the west coast of Australia with a dog and four camels in tow. The trek was a whopping 1,700 miles through almost entirely desert, a feat that was both dangerous and never-before-completed. She completed the adventure in nine months, and begrudgingly agreed to let National Geographic publish the story. She has since written a book about the journey, called Tracks – I highly recommend it. A movie by the same name also came out in 2013.