It’s not just men who love adventure and trailblazing into the unknown. Yet for some reason it’s men who’ve gained the notoriety of being explorers and adventurers, with the history books filled with pages of their exploits. But women aren’t the wallflowers they’ve been represented as through the years. Women, in both past and the present, have traveled from one end of the globe to the other using horses, cars, ships, planes, and trains. Today women are celebrating women…and all their accomplishments. And why wouldn’t being pioneers of travel be on the list of these achievements?
Most of these female explorers are forgotten when we look at those who have travelled into new territories and gone on amazing adventures around the world. Yet women have been travelling for thousands of years, with evidence going back as far as the 4th century. The earliest mention of a woman traveling is from 381 A.D. when the Abbess of Egeria travelled on foot up Mount Sinai. Her pilgrimage diary outlines her thoughts and experiences from those many years ago.
In the 19th century, wealthy Victorian women began to travel for many reasons, both personal and political. Still others travelled to locations around the world where they felt they could make a difference, engaging in the missionary work that men didn’t have time for. Many women travelled so they could research other cultures, writing books about their adventures. And not only did women travel to see the world, many are known for their efforts to advance feminism, leading the way for other women to follow in their footsteps.
From 1871 to 1885 Marianne North, a British naturalist and painter, travelled to six different continents where she painted flowers and plants. She voyaged by ship to South America, Asia, and Africa…travelling on her own when she couldn’t find a “satisfactory companion” to pursue her passion of painting the different flora around the world. Her paintings and letters to friends about her travel experiences are a great narrative of what travel was like for a solo female traveller.
Another well known explorer in the early 1900s was Gertrude Bell, who travelled all around Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. As a writer and an archaeologist, her books give women today a clear picture of what it was like to travel to foreign countries.
“All the earth is seamed with roads, and all the sea is furrowed with the tracks of ships, and over all the roads and all the waters a continuous stream of people passes up and down – travelling, as they say, for their pleasure. What is it, I wonder, that they go out to see?” – Gertrude Bell.
It’s easy to see that women throughout history have travelled for the same reason we do today – for adventure and to satisfy our curiosity to see the world. Spread across the years, we’re highlighting seven of the most influential and trailblazing women in travel. With their unique backgrounds, and their drive and determination, they’re a true inspiration for women around the globe.