Throughout history, women have bravely embarked on journeys to the far reaches of the globe, and have inspired many women after them to pursue their dreams, conquer their fears, and not be held back by gender bias or societal restrictions. It's time for us to celebrate some of these trailblazing female travelers.
Even today, solo female travel is not embraced everywhere or by everyone. So, it’s even more remarkable that many of the women we’re recognizing traveled solo at a time when societal norms made solo travel unthinkable for women.
We love solo travel, in part, because it helps develop and promote many positive traits and habits that are demonstrated by the intrepid women on our list, such as:
- Self-awareness. When one travels alone, it is an opportunity to connect with one’s true self without the influence of others.
- Independence and Self-Reliance. Those who travel alone celebrate independence and develop increased resilience as they have to rely on themselves to solve problems.
- Self-care. Modern, fast-paced lifestyles make us forget about the importance of self-care, and solo travel provides a chance for one to focus on our own needs.
- Expanded World Perspective. Another rewarding aspect of solo travel is the opportunity to immerse yourself in new cultures and expand your worldview. You’re more likely to converse with locals when you’re alone and this can lead to more meaningful and deeper interactions.
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Our Trailblazing Female Travelers List
Today, on International Women’s Day, we’d like to celebrate the accomplishments of some of history's most notable trailblazing female travelers. It was very difficult to keep our list to only ten, but here are ten female travelers who have left their mark in history in alphabetical order.
A gifted aviator born in New Zealand in 1909, Jean Batten is best known for her record-breaking solo flight from England to New Zealand in 1936 that made her a national hero. Batten made the 14,224-kilometer (8,871-mile) journey in just over 11 days, setting a new record for the fastest time between England and New Zealand, and becoming the first person to complete the journey solo.
Born in 1864, Nellie was an American journalist, writer, and adventurer. Bly is best known for her record-breaking trip in 1889 circumnavigating the globe and traveling alone for almost the entire time. Bly's journey included stops in England, France, Egypt, and Japan. She traveled by ship, train, and even rickshaw, and faced numerous challenges along the way, including rough seas, delays, and illness. Despite these obstacles, Bly completed her journey in just 72 days, setting a new world record for the fastest trip around the world by a woman.
A Polish sailor born in 1936, Krystyna is best known for being the first woman to complete a solo circumnavigation of the globe. She sailed alone for over 400 days aboard her 31-foot yacht named “Mazurka”. Krystyna covered more than 31,000 nautical miles before returning to the Canary Islands in April 1978, becoming the first woman to sail solo around the world.
The American aviator, born in 1897, was known for her aviation prowess. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932. She continued to break records and challenge expectations until her disappearance during an attempted flight around the world in 1937. Her legacy continues to inspire women around the world to pursue their dreams and challenge the status quo.
An American nurse, born in 1931, Barbara Hillary decided to pursue her passion for adventure travel after retirement. In 2007, at the age of 75, Hillary embarked on a journey to the Arctic, with a team of explorers. She had to ski over 10 miles per day to reach the North Pole. Four years later, Hillary also reached the South Pole. As one of our trailblazing female travelers, Hillary's achievements were groundbreaking not only because she was the first African American woman to reach the North and South Poles, but also because she did it at an age when most people have retired from adventure travel.
An Irish travel writer born in 1931, she is known for her intrepid spirit, independent mindset, and for her extensive travels, particularly by bicycle. Murphy began her career as a writer in the 1960s, with her first book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. Murphy's travels were characterized by her love for exploring remote and off-the-beaten-track areas, often in challenging and even dangerous conditions. She traveled through regions affected by war and conflict. You can read more about her in Being Alone Is Essential to an Important Journey.
Jessica Nabongo is an American writer, traveler, and entrepreneur. Born in 1984, in 2019 she became the first Black woman to travel to every country in the world. Over three years, she visited all 195 countries recognized by the United Nations, documenting her journey on social media and through her website. Jessica is also a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in the travel industry, using her platform to promote underrepresented voices in the travel community.
An Austrian explorer and travel writer, born in 1797, Ida Pfeiffer is often referred to as the first female solo traveler. She is best known for her solo travels around the world, which began at the age of 45. In 1846, Pfeiffer embarked on a solo trip around the world that she completed in 1848 when she arrived back in Vienna. Pfeiffer's journey around the world was a remarkable achievement, particularly for a woman traveling alone in the 19th century. Her writings about her travels were widely read and inspired many other women to travel and explore the world.
A Japanese mountaineer, born in 1939, Junko Tabei became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Standing at just five feet and weighing 92 pounds, she led a 15-woman expedition, guided by six Sherpas, to climb Mount Everest. During her expedition, Tabei faced numerous challenges, including an avalanche that buried their camp and that knocked her briefly unconscious. However, she remained determined, and on May 16, 1975, she became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
A Canadian-born adventurer, explorer, and filmmaker, born in 1906, Aloha is on our trailblazing female travelers list as the first woman to drive around the world. In 1922, at the age of 16, Wanderwell joined a team that was looking for someone to document their round-the-world tour by car. She quickly became an integral part of the team by not only documenting their journey, but also helping with mechanical repairs and driving the Model T Ford herself as they traveled 380,000 miles to complete this difficult and dangerous journey.