Blazing a trail: five inspiring women in travel

Defying convention, challenging ideals, adventuring further: here are some of the women in travel that inspire us the most.

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
From historical adventurers to modern-day heroes, our team picks five favourite women in travel.

From historical adventurers to modern-day heroes, our team picks five favourite women in travel.

Photograph by Getty Images

Picking a selection of women who inspire us is no mean feat. From historical adventurers who have motivated us to go further to Africa's first ever all-female safari guide team — we've whittled it down to a handful of people we find inspiring in the world of travel.

1. Jeanne Baret

Earning your place in history is quite likely to be an obstacle course. Circumnavigating the globe doesn't seem like something one does surreptitiously, but back in the 18th century, men ruled the waves (and much else) and the only way Jeanne Baret was able to get what she wanted was to pretend to be one. Disguised as a man, she joined the round-the-world expedition of Admiral Louis-Antoine de Bougainville from 1766 to 1769 to see the world and further her knowledge of botanics, and thus became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. With her breasts bound and in the company of 300 men, she defied the French Royal ordinance that forbade women on board French Naval vessels. When Jeanne returned, there was no one at the dock to welcome her and her feat wasn't recognised until years later. An adventurer without a fan club. A far cry from the Instagram travellers of today.
Josephine Price, online editor

2. Bessie Coleman

1892 wasn't a great time to be born Black in Texas. Bessie Coleman made it work. The 10th of 13 children, raised by her single-parent mother, she excelled at school, leapfrogged the cotton field, and went to France to train to be a pilot. She travelled across the Netherlands and Germany, building her distinctions and credibility, eventually becoming the first person of African-American descent to earn an aviation license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. She became a celebrity when she got back to the States, going on to become a renowned stunt pilot who pulled off figure eights and loop the loops with fearless determination. She died aged just 34, thrown from her plane at 2,000ft while planning another stunt. Rest In Power, Bessie Coleman, you unremitting badass. 
Zane Henry, project editor

3. Dervla Murphy

While she's always baulked at being labelled an 'adventurer' or a 'pioneer', and poo-poos any suggestion that she's even particularly brave, Dervla Murphy epitomises an inspirational woman in travel. Her career has spanned more than 50 years and covered almost every continent — her trips were undertaken at a time when women rarely travelled alone. Shunning hotels, avoiding roads and never carrying a phone, Dervla has journeyed through some of the most inhospitable and remote regions of the world, and permeating her writing is a deep love of the unpredictable. Her first and most famous book, Full Tilt, documents her journey from Ireland to India by bike in 1963, yet her second is perhaps even more moving. Tibetan Foothold follows her time working in an orphanage in the Tibetan refugee camps of Northern India. Soon after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, and with people still fleeing across the border all the time, Dervla was there at a critical point in history, and her writing is both hard-hitting and heart-rending. 
Charlotte Wigram-Evans, content editor

4. Iaia Pedemonte

How can we travel better? It's the perennial question that crops up when discussing responsible tourism. One Italian freelance journalist has helped to bring gender to the forefront of the discussion too. She's the founder of the Gender Responsible Tourism Association, which promotes women's empowerment in the tourism industry. Think tourism with women as the protagonists. The idea is to link up global initiatives and to cover female-run projects from India to Sicily. What we love the most, though, is the map of places you can travel to where your presence taps into local, female-run tourism business. It's crucial for sustainable tourism in the developing world, if not beyond. Responsible tourism for the sisterhood.
Josephine Price, online editor

5. Lois Pryce

Freya Stark, Isabella Bird, Amelia Earhart… the turn of the 20th century bred a remarkable crop of courageous women who always top these lists. They represent the quintessential image of a female explorer: brave, pioneering, often very posh, aviator goggles facing defiantly into the wind. All now long dead. So, I'm going for someone very much alive, and exchanging those ubiquitous goggles and plane for a motorbike and visor, in the shape of author and filmmaker, Lois Pryce.

Wearing a helmet and hijab, Pryce recently travelled 3,000 miles across Iran on a second-hand Yamaha TTR250, alone. The fact that she entertained the idea, planned it, and executed it singlehandedly with little more than a 'why not?' shrug is inspirational enough but — like the equally adventurous globe-trotting bike courier-cum-author Emily Chappell — the fact that Pryce managed to translate her experience so beautifully into print, busting most received racial stereotypes along the way, makes us say: yes we can. 
Sarah Barrell, associate editor

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