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Pamela MacNaughtan

The world is full of incredible female travellers. They’ve circled the globe, climbed mountains, explored space, and inspired movies — and in many cases, they were the first of their gender to do so.

How many have you heard of?

As a female traveller, I’ve done a little research into my fellow women of gumption, and am happy to introduce you to ten incredible (and inspiring) female travellers.

Jeanne “Jean” Baré

Incredible Female Traveller: Jeanne Baré

An artist’s rendition of Jeanne Baré dressed as a sailor. (Photo: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Jeanne Baré was the first woman to circumnavigate the world; however, when she embarked on her journey in 1766, she did so dressed as a man. Jeanne went undercover on Louis Antoine de Bourgainville’s ship Étoille with her employer, botanist Philibert de Commerson, and she managed to stay undiscovered until the expedition arrived in Tahiti, where it’s said that the locals were quick to realize that she was a woman. What happened onboard after that is a mystery, but she was put in seclusion and had a baby nine months later. Jeanne and Philibert were left on Mauritius, but after giving the baby up for adoption, she eventually returned to France, completing her round-the-world journey. This is a great book about Jeanne Baré.

 

 

Alice Huyler Ramsey

 

Alice Huyler was the first woman to drive across the United States. On June 9, 1909, 22-year-old Alice, along with three of her girlfriends (two sisters-in-law, and another friend, none of whom could drive), drove 3,800 miles from Hell’s Gate in Manhattan to San Fransisco. It took them 59 days. You can read more about her here.

 

Baroness Elise Raymonde de Laroche

Incredible Female Travellers: Baroness Elise Raymonde de Laroche

Portrait of famous French aviatrix Baroness de la Roche on July 1, 1919, taken after she broke the world’s record for altitude reached by a woman. (Photo: Bettmann/Corbis)

Baroness de Laroche, born Elise Raymonde Deroche to a plumber, was the first woman in the world to receive a pilot’s license. Dubbed the Baroness by aviation press of the time, she received license number 36 of the International Aeronautics Federation, issued by the Aero-Club of France. In 1913 she won the Femina Cup for the longest non-stop flight. It was more than four hours in length and awarded by Aero-Club of France.

 

 

Freya Stark

Incredible Female Travellers: Freya Stark

In the early 1930s Freya Stark travelled into Persia (now Iran), exploring remote villages and interacting with locals, her book The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels was published in 1934 and captured the hearts of readers. Dame Stark was one of the best travel writers of her time, and when she passed away at 100 years of age, she merited a three-column obituary in The New York Times.

 

 

 

Gertrude Bell

Incredible Female Travellers: Gertrude Bell

A world traveller, Gertrude Bell had a knack for languages and during her adventures, she becomes fluent in Arabic, Persian, French, and German. Gertrude was also a mountaineer, and she conquered a number of peaks in Switzerland. During World War I, she played a role in guiding troops through the desert, creating maps of the safest route for them to take, and enabling the British to capture Baghdad. Gertrude is an absolutely fascinating and inspiring woman. I read a book on her life a few years ago, and I have loved her ever since. This book is good too!

 

 

Isak Dinesen, a.k.a. Karen Blixen

Incredible Female Travellers: Isak Dinesen, a.k.a. Karen Blixen

Out of Africa was made famous by Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, but the film wouldn’t have been made had it not been for Karen Blixen, the woman who wrote about her life in Kenya after arriving in 1914 to look after a coffee plantation. Blixen (who used the pen name Isak Dinesen) had married her cousin, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, but shortly after arriving in Africa they separated and she ran the coffee farm for ten years before returning to Denmark around 1931.  This is another fascinating book on Isak’s life. Loves.

 

 

Junko Tabei

 

Incredible Female Travellers: Junko Tabei

A Japanese mountaineer, Junko Tabei was the first woman to climb Mount Everest; she reached the summit on May 16, 1975. The climb was not without its perils: While camping at 6,300 metres there was an avalanche, and Junko and her team were buried alive. Thankfully, Junko was dug out by her Sherpa guide, and a week and a half later she became the first woman to summit Everest. Read more about her life in this book. So good!

 

 

Barbara Hillary

Incredible Female Travellers: Barbara Hillary

If you’re looking for a travel pick-me-up look no further than Barbara Hillary, the first African-American woman to travel to both poles. When she skied to the North Pole in 2011, Barbara was 75. Seventy-five! Four years later when she journeyed to the south pole, she was 79. This is one inspiring lady. Did I mention she is also a cancer survivor? Yep, she is.

 

 

 

Robyn Davidson

Robyn Davidson photographed in the outback for the original 1978 National Geographic assignment. (Photo by Rick Smolan/Against All Odds Productions)

In 1977 Robyn left Alice Springs, Australia, with a dog and four camels. Why? She had decided to walk 1,700 miles across Western Australia. The journey, as you may imagine, was not an easy one, but she did it. I’ve watched the movie about Robyn’s trek, as well as read her book, Tracks, and I love her defiant strong nature. She is an inspirational female traveller.

Valentina Tereshkova

Incredible Female Travellers: Valentina Tereshkova

Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, in front of the Vostok capsule, June 1963. (Photo: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)

Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman — and civilian — to go to space. Selected out of hundreds of applicants, she piloted Russia’s Vostok 6, solo, into the stars in June 1963. She was 26 years old. Valentina orbited the earth 48 times before returning to earth three days later. After her foray, Valentina earned a doctorate in engineering, and later went into politics. Valentina carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

 

 

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