We’ve selected four women who inspire us to travel. There are many, many more women travellers out there who deserve a mention on this list – Kate Adie, Karen Blixen, Freya Stark, Laura Dekker and Junko Taibei to name just a few – but let’s start with these four brilliant women. After all, they made contributions to the world well beyond their inspiring travel experiences.
“The most effective way to do it is to do it.”
In 1932, a time when the skies were dominated by men, American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. This is the feat Earhart is most celebrated for, but she went on to own the skies many more times: the first person (note ‘person’, not ‘woman’) to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California; she soloed from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and from Mexico City to New York; and she set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records between 1930 and 1935. But what we love her most for is her work promoting female pilots. That and her fabulous 1930s devil-may-care style. Earhart disappeared somewhere over the Pacific in 1937, en route to Howland Island at the tender age of 39.
Thelma & Louise
“You've always been crazy, this is just the first chance you've had to express yourself.” (Louise)
The eponymous stars of Ridley Scott’s hit 1991 movie have inspired many a woman to travel, not least yours truly! Yes, they’re fictional but their spirit resonates so strongly, they feel real. Who can watch this movie and not want to jump in a convertible on an American road trip with their best friend (minus the ending, of course)? And the behind-the-scenes stories are just as inspiring. It was Susan Sarandon who had the guts to insist that the original ending not be changed, with Thelma and Louise driving off a cliff. Ridley Scott won the confidence of author Callie Khouri after pointing out that he put a woman in a role that would usually have been played by a man when he cast Sigourney Weaver in Alien. And we can thank Geena Davis for Brad Pitt’s appearance in the movie, with these immortal words to Scott and the casting director: "The blond one. Duh!”
“It's hard to recognize that your child is independent, but it's also incredibly liberating."
One half of the couple behind the Lonely Planet guidebooks, Maureen Wheeler is a publishing sensation. The first Lonely Planet guidebook came about after an overland journey from London, through Europe and Asia and on to Australia, with her husband Tony in the 1970s. It was followed by Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, penned in a backstreet hotel in Singapore in 1975. Maureen also wrote Travel with Children, encouraging families to travel and helping kids have as much fun on their trips as their parents. And so a whole generation was introduced to travel. Travellers aren’t the only beneficiaries of the Wheelers. In 2008, they established the Planet Wheeler Foundation that supports practical and effective projects to make a difference in the alleviation of poverty, mostly in East Africa, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Now that’s travel with a heart.
“Energy rightly applied and directed will accomplish anything.”
Nellie Bly is the pen name of American pioneer journalist Elizabeth Jane Cochran. She’s most widely known for travelling around the world in a bid to beat the 80-day fictional record set by Jules Verne’s character Phileas Fog, in 1889. Travelling by steamships and railroad, Bly was back in New York 72 days after she set off – a real world record. But before that remarkable feat, Bly was a journalist investigating the plight of working women, although she constantly battled against being assigned the typical allocation of women journalists of the time: gardening, arts, theatre, fashion and, yawn, society. To escape, such unbearable pigeonholing, at the age of 21 in 1885 Bly went to Mexico as a foreign correspondent. The position ended when the Mexican authorities threatened her with arrest after she protested the imprisonment of a local journalist for criticising the Mexican government. But perhaps her greatest achievement was an undercover assignment into life in a mental asylum. Not only did she establish a new kind of investigative journalism – she faked insanity to gain access to the institution – but her report prompted an investigation into conditions at the asylum, resulting in a recommendation for the changes Bly proposed.
Which women travellers inspire you?
Image by Lukasz Porwol on flickr