10 Inspiring Female Travellers for International Women's Day

When it comes to famous names in travel, men tend to dominate the history books. But in celebration of International Women's Day, we thought it was time to shine the spotlight on 10 of the world's most inspirational female explorers from the past and present day.

  1. Jeanne Baret

Did you know that in the 1700s, women weren't allowed on French Navy ships? Still, that didn't stop botanist and explorer Jeanne Baret from being the first woman (and French person) to sail around the world.

Disguised as a boy aboard the Étoile, Jeanne, who went by 'Jean', ventured on a global mission of collecting plant samples and observing the environment between 1766 and 1769.

During this voyage, Baret discovered a pink and purple flowering vine. She named the new plant 'Bougainvillaea' after the expedition leader, Louis Antoine de Bougainville.

  1. Harriet Chalmers Adams

Harriet Chamers Adams was an American explorer, writer and photographer. During her lifetime (1875 - 1937), she travelled over 100,000 miles, making her one of the most prominent female travellers of her time. At the age of 29, she set off on her first major expedition with her husband, visiting every country in South America. Over three years, the pair travelled across the Andes several times on horseback and explored the Caribbean islands.

Always with a camera in hand, Harriet Chalmers Adams could be described as the travel influencer of her time. She regularly contributed to the National Geographic Society with accounts of her adventures. She was also a travel lecturer and movie maker, earning money from her ventures.

  1. Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird was a 19th Century English explorer who made her name travelling the world and writing travel books, including 'Six Months in the Sandwich Islands' and 'A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.' In 1892, Bird became one of the first women inducted into the Royal Geographical Society.

Despite suffering from poor health, her travels took her all the way to the United States, Australia, Hawaii, and large parts of Asia, including China, Japan and Malaya.

After her sister's death, Bird wanted to give her travels more meaning and purpose. So, she studied medicine and subsequently travelled to India to work in hospitals there. Bird continued her global travels well into old age and up until she died in 1904.

  1. Nellie Bly

Forget the fictional tale of Phileas Fogg and his trip around the world in 80 days. More importantly, have you heard of real-life travel extraordinaire Nellie Bly and her record-breaking trip around the world 72 days?

American journalist, Nellie Bly, is one of the best-known female journalists. Inspired by the Phileas Fogg tale, Bly pitched her plan to travel around the world in less than 80 days. Unsurprisingly, at the time, the newspaper suggested a man should go in her place. But Nellie refused to be beaten and insisted she went on the trip.

In November 1889, she began a trip of a lifetime, visiting England, France, Egypt, The Pacific and The United States. She returned 72 days later, setting a new record for the fastest time to travel the globe. Bly documented the 24,899-mile journey in the New York World, where she worked as a reporter and wrote a book about her travel experience, aptly named, 'Around the World in 72 Days.'

  1. Annie Londonderry

Annie Londonderry, a Jewish immigrant (originally from Latvia) living in Boston, is famous for being the first woman to cycle around the globe. Some believe the book Around the World in 80 Days inspired her (like Isabella Bird). Others thought she set out to prove a point. The story goes that two Boston businessmen told her a woman wouldn't be able to cycle around the world in 15 months and earn her own money. Annie wanted to prove them wrong.

The reason doesn't matter. What's important is that Annie set off on her adventure from Boston, Massachusetts in 1894, and returned just under 15 months later, having visited France, the Middle East, China and other destinations further afield.

And Annie Londonderry didn't just smash a world record. She made her own money, too, from sponsors worldwide and media fees for interviews she gave about her travels. Go, Annie!

  1. Amelia Earhart

Chances are you've heard of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, but did you know she was the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean in 1928? And this was just one of her many accolades in aviation. Earheart was also the first woman (and second person) to fly solo across the Atlantic and the first person to fly solo across the Pacific, from Mexico City to Newark.

Unfortunately, in 1937, Earhart's travels came to an end. On the way to Howland Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan battled overcast skies, radio transmission issues and low fuel. The plane disappeared, and despite the most expensive air and sea search in American history (to that date), they couldn't find them anywhere. Earheart and Noonan were declared 'lost at sea.'

  1. Bertha Benz

Recognise that surname? You'd be right to assume that Bertha Benz has something to do with Mercedes-Benz. But let us tell you, she was so much more than just Karl Benz's wife.

Born in 1849, at a time when women were denied access to higher education, Bertha Benz set out to show the world that the female sex was capable of great things.

In a bid to publicise her husband's Benz Patent Motor Car, Bertha Benz went on the first-ever long-distance road trip by automobile. It wasn’t the easiest of journeys, with a lack of fuel and clogged valves causing problems, but Bertha found a solution to every difficulty she faced along the way. What’s more, she wasn’t too proud to get down and fix things herself. And the stunt worked, with sales for Benz's invention skyrocketing upon her return.

  1. Sheila Macdonald

Sheila Macdonald was the first woman to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. In 1927, Macdonald, from London, completed the highest free-standing mountain climb globally and carried on to the summit, even as her male companion had to give up due to exhaustion. 

  1. Sarah Marquis

Bringing you into the modern-day, we have Swiss adventurer Sarah Marquis. Born in 1972, Marquis has become famous for her two-footed adventures, which have seen her walk alone from Russia to Australia. During this time, she covered 10,000 miles on foot through the Gobi Desert, into China, Laos, Thailand and across Australia and came face-to-face with everything from dangerous animals to drug smugglers.

In 2014, Marquis published a book, 'Sauvage par Nature' (Wild by Nature). The same year, National Geographic awarded her an Adventurer of the Year prize.

  1. Jessica Nabongo

Last but certainly not least on our list of 10 inspiring female travellers for International Women's Day, we have Jessica Nabongo. Born in 1984, Ugandan-American travel blogger and brand influencer, Nabongo, is the first black woman to travel to every country in the world.

Nabongo started her travels from a very young age, and by 2016, she had already visited a whopping 60 countries! So, in 2017, she decided to tick off the rest, visiting every single country in the world. According to a post on her social media, Nabongo arrived at the last destination on her epic adventure, Seychelles, in October 2019.

Well, if that list of amazing female travellers and all of their outstanding accomplishments doesn't inspire you, we don't know what will!

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