6 Inspiring Historic Female Travellers

 A Victorian Lord and Lady tour India, 1899. From the Wiki Commons.

In this modern day travel can be an easy undertaking. Although there are multiple things to consider before adventuring, the many ways to travel, from airplanes to high-speed trains; to buses; cars; and ferries, means almost nowhere in the world is off limits to the modern intrepid female traveller.

But what about when planes and cars were just figments of the imagination? Or when any woman who claimed to be ‘ladylike’ would never have left her home? Here are six inspiring female travellers who bucked the traditions and set out to explore the world when ‘nice girls’ were only just venturing abroad, and travelling wasn’t as convenient as it is today.

Freya Stark (1883-1993)

Born in Italy, Stark was a World War I nurse, travel writer, propagandist, and adventurer. She was the first white person to visit western Iraq and the ‘discoverer’ of the location of the Valleys of the Assassins. During World War II she wrote propaganda pieces to encourage the Middle East to support the Allies, and after the war she travelled extensively throughout the region. Her last major adventure was to Afghanistan in her seventies. Stark lived to be 110 years old and wrote over 20 books and memoirs on her travels.

Isabella Bird (1831 – 1904)

Isabella Bird in Manchurian dress, late 1870s. Image from WikiCommons.
Isabella Bird in Manchurian dress, late 1870s. Image from WikiCommons.

First introduced to travel thanks to ill health that made living in her homeland of England insupportable, Bird travelled to Hawaii for health reasons. Bitten by the travel bug, she then toured America, falling in love with an outlaw while exploring Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Later in her life she travelled across Eastern Asia and Africa on her own and went to India as a missionary in her sixties. She financed much of her travel through publishing the travel letters she wrote to her sister in magazines and as books, and many of her writings are still available online today.

Gertrude Bell (1868 – 1926)

Gertrude Bell in the Middle East in 1909. Image from WikiCommons.
Gertrude Bell in the Middle East in 1909. Image from WikiCommons.

Bell began her travels by visiting what would become Iran and climbing the peaks of the Alps. She then travelled to  Syria, Palestine, and the Ottoman Empire to take part in archaeological digs as a photographer and writer. She published an account of her explorations before travelling on to Iran and Iraq, where, during World War I, she worked with British Intelligence as a guide. After the war she became an advisor to the first king of Iraq and founded the Baghdad Archaeological Museum with many of the findings of her archaeological digs.

Harriet Chalmers Adams  (1875 – 1937)

Chalmers Adams was an avid traveller and photographer who travelled throughout central and South America with her husband during the opening years of the twentieth century. During her life she contributed over 20 articles to National Geographic and was the only female trench correspondent in France during World War I.

Harriet Chalmers Adams, date unknown. Image from the National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress).
Harriet Chalmers Adams, date unknown. Image from the National Photo Company Collection (Library of Congress).

She spoke frequently on why women should travel and founded the Society of Woman Geographers when her entrance into the national society was denied. Her explorations were collected in a biography which is still available today.

Annie “Londonderry” Cohen Kopchovsky (1870–1947)

Two of the first people to set goals for circumnavigating the globe were female, and each deserve mention for their accomplishment.  Annie Kopchovsky became the first woman to cycle around the world, financing her trip by pasting advertisements to her cycling clothes and bicycle. In 1894, on a wager, she set out to circumnavigate the world within 15 months.  Although she predominantly travelled by steamer boat versus bicycle, she did make cycling tours through France, Egypt, Jerusalem, Singapore, and across America, her home country.

Nellie Bly (1864 – 1922)

Similarly, a famous ‘sensational’ journalist, Nellie Bly (real name Elizabeth Jane Cochrane) had already made a name for herself as a foreign correspondent in Mexico and a social reformer writing about the plight of the insane when she set out to travel the world in less time than the fictional Phileas Fogg from  Around the World in 80 Days.

Nellie Bly in the outfit in which she travelled the world in 1889. Image from WikiCommons.
Nellie Bly in the outfit in which she travelled the world in 1889. Image from WikiCommons.

Travelling by steamer boat and train,  Bly completed her 1889 trip in 76 days, sending frequent progress articles home to New York by mail and telegram.

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