Think ‘explorer’ and you may consider the likes of James Cook, Christopher Columbus or Marco Polo. But men are not the only ones to have chartered new territory in a time before planes, trains and automobiles. As a nod to International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to recognise some of the most intrepid women to have explored the Earth.
Nellie Bly (1864-1922)
In 1889, American journalist Nellie Bly set off to beat the fictional record of Phileas Fogg, who travelled ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. When she proposed the trip to her editor he initially wanted to send a man instead but eventually relented. Not only did she manage it in 72 days, but completely alone with just one small bag and the clothes upon her back.
Jeanne Baret (1740-1807)
Back in the 1700s, a certain woman named Jeanne Baret stealthily managed to circumnavigate the globe while dressed as a man. She was the French housekeeper of naturalist Philibert Commerson, who helped her sneak aboard the Bougainville expedition as his ‘assistant’. It wasn’t until they reached the island of Tahiti that her gender was instantly recognised by the locals. The captain however, allowed her to remain on the voyage as she had already gained a reputation for courage and strength, and was considered an excellent botanist.
Annie Smith Peck (1850-1935)
Annie Smith Peck was known for her ambitious mountaineering expeditions and set many records during her lifetime. Sadly, these records were often overshadowed by the outrage caused by her chosen attire of trousers and tunics instead of skirts. Needless to say she was a huge advocate of the Suffragist movement and planted a flag in favour of women’s right to vote atop Mount Coropuna in Peru. Another Peruvian peak was later named after her, as she was its first ever climber. She climbed her last mountain at the grand age of 82.
Lady Hester Stanhope (1776-1839)
Born into an eminent political family, Lady Hester-Stanhope found her destiny in the Middle East where she did whatever it took to get to where she wanted to go. She dressed as a man and often carried a sword, and became the first European woman to cross the Syrian Desert and the first to conduct modern archeological research in the Holy Land.
Isabella Bird (1831-1904)
As the first woman to be elected a fellow member of the Royal Geographical Society, Isabella Bird was a true trailblazer. She began her travels aged 41 and didn’t return until she was 72. During that time she ventured to America, India, Kurdistan, Iran, Tibet, China, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, the Persian Gulf and finished up in Morocco. She climbed mountains, rode mile after mile on horseback and defied anything that stood in her way.
If reading this has inspired you to have your own adventure, try out our solo travel destination finder or take a look at Postcards from a Solo Traveller – our collection of stories from independent travellers.