The term ‘female traveler’ annoys a lot of girls. We don’t want to be set apart – we’re all travelers, it’s just that some of us happen to lack a Y chromosome. That said, girls do face certain challenges that guys don’t have to deal with when they’re traveling: the unwanted advances of amorous traders, being ignored when they try to order in restaurants and I won’t even talk about how tough it is to find, erm, feminine items in off the beaten track spots.
So here’s a small homage to a few feisty females who set the bar high for girls on the road. These women don’t need hairdryers, ten pairs of shoes and mini versions of their cosmetics in order to enjoy a trip. They need what every girl on the road needs – a sharp tongue and an adventurous spirit. I like to think of them as Vaga-Bond Girls…
Christiane Amanpour: The Fearless Reporter (1958 – )
She might not have to barter for a cheap dorm bed or travel on the roof of a local bus, but don’t for a second think that traveling in the regions Christiane Amanpour frequents is not ‘real travel’, just because she probably stays in corporate hotels and flies business class. I know I’d rather be bartering for my breakfast or sharing a train carriage with a herd of goats than making back-to-back trips to Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Somalia.
And her choice of destination is not the only thing that helps her to head this list. When your job involves interviewing heads of state and religious leaders there’s no room for weakness and CNN’s wonderful chief international correspondent never falters for a second. Her hard-hitting, no-nonsense reports naturally take her all across the globe, and although she is to start a nightly half-hour show on CNN International later this year she says she’s has no intention of cutting back on the traveling. It’s just a shame that she doesn’t get more leisure time on her trips as I would love to witness her reaction to some rickshaw driver, tour guide or trader trying to rip her off!
>>read more about The Girl’s Guide to Traveling Solo in Muslim Countries
Megan McCormick: The Lovable Presenter (1972 – )
You’ll know Megan from the only travel show on TV that really captures the essence of backpacking: Globe Trekker. Of all the Globe Trekker girls, Megan is the one you most want to hit the road with. She totally represents real travel and isn’t afraid to let us know that there are some parts of her trips that she’s not thrilled about. Don’t get me wrong – Megan is willing to give anything a go once, but she’s never scared to admit to her audience that travel has its ups and downs.
For me, Megan’s defining moment was the “World Food: Vietnam” show, when we saw her forcing down bird fetuses and heaving at the thought of soup made from cow’s organs boiled in blood – but when tasting time came she did what she had to. So often travel writers and presenters make the rest of us feel inferior – they meet so many people, have so many cool experiences and nothing ever seems to go wrong. Megan makes us realize that the lows are as much a part of the travel experience as the highs and she manages to have a blast through both.
>>read more about 7 Things A Woman Backpacker Should Always Remember to Pack and also about 10 Bizarre Desserts that Shouldn’t Taste So Good
Dervla Murphy: The Intrepid Writer (1931 – )
You’ll no doubt be familiar with the antics of Bill Bryson or the musings of Tony Horwitz, but Dervla Murphy was donning a backpack while they were still struggling with middle school math. Born in Ireland, she grew up with two passions – traveling and cycling – and from the tender age of 10 came up with the idea that some day she would cycle from her hometown to India. Obviously she was ridiculed, but in 1963 she defied her critics by packing a change of clothes, her journal and a loaded revolver into the saddlebags of her beloved bicycle, Roz and hitting the road.
Her incredible journey took her across a dozen European nations, Iran, Pakistan and the country that would become the love of her life – Afghanistan. Her trip ended in northern India, where she volunteered with exiled Tibetans in the hill town of Dharamsala – pretty standard backpacking practice these days, but this was before the advent of voluntourism and even before the hippie trail, a route very similar to Dervla’s, had taken hold.
Her first book, “Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle,” charts the journey, highlighting Dervla’s plucky spirit: she fights off a pack of wolves and the unwelcome advances of an Armenian policeman and eventually learns to ignore the increasing number of locals who considered her a genderless being! At the admirable age of 76 she’s a gutsy granny who still dons a backpack and shuns organized travel. Her latest book (written in 2008) follows her recent journey through Cuba.
>>read more about 8 Iconic Journeys to Inspire Your RTW Trip
Mary Kingsley: The Victorian Adventurer (1862 – 1900)
Victorian Britain produced some undeniably feisty females and Mary Kingsley was one of those who bucked social norms and left England in search of adventure. She didn’t ease into her life as a wanderer – her first trip took her straight to West Africa where she spend time in countries that are now pretty much off limits to all but the most intrepid. Her reasons for heading to this part of the world are unclear – publically she expressed a desire to complete a book that her travel writer father had started before his premature death; private letters showed that West Africa was the place she wanted to die.
One thing is for sure though; once she arrived she embraced the life of an adventurer, living with local people, studying cannibal tribes and conquering Mount Cameroon. Her most important legacy though, was her research into African tribal life at a time when western nations feared the continent and its people. She openly criticized missionaries who flocked to Africa to ‘civilize’ the locals and she upset the British government with her lobbying for a change in colonial policy. Her adventures are immortalized in her first book, “Travels in West Africa.”
Alexandra David-Néel: The Original Hippie (1868 – 1969)
The beatnik and hippie movements started at the end of her long life, but Alexandra David-Néel had been practicing their peaceful principles for almost a century by the time these terms were thought up. After a few solo European journeys she wandered further afield, spending time in India – not a standard trip for a single woman at the turn of the century! Like the hippies that would follow her six decades later she became fascinated by Buddhism and studied it until she ran out of money, traveling home via North Africa, where she stopped to brush up on Islam. She married a man she met on her travels, but couldn’t contain her independent spirit and continued traveling without her new beau, returning 14 years later.
Her two-year stint living in a Sikkim cave and her spiritual philosophies made Alexandra an inspiration for Jack Kerouac and his fellow beat generation writers, but it was her trip to Tibet that brought her widespread fame. Back in the 1920s foreigners were not welcome in Tibet, but for very different reasons than they are kept out today. Fiercely proud of its traditions, the pre-Chinese Tibet opted out of international trade and kept its borders closed to outsiders. But with a deep passion for the religion and culture, Alexandra disguised herself as a pilgrim and managed to hang out in Lhasa for a couple of months before being found out. Sneaking around forbidden corners of Tibet is probably not recommendable today, but her pioneering spirit should serve as inspiration to any traveler, regardless of gender.
>>read more about Lhasa, Tibet
Martha Gellhorn: The Outspoken Journalist (1908 – 1998)
Of all the ladies mentioned here, Martha Gellhorn is probably the most headstrong and was not a woman you’d want to get in an argument with. Born in Missouri in 1908, Martha was a writer who reported on almost every major war in her lifetime and is often cited as being one of the 20th century’s greatest war correspondents. Unapologetically outspoken on religion and politics, she never held back with her criticisms of fascism, anti-communism and a number of US presidents.
She is often referred to as “Ernest Hemingway’s third wife” – an accolade which never failed to irk her. And with good reason since a woman with as many accomplishments as she had should not be “a footnote in someone else’s life,” as she put it. Also a widely respected travel writer, Martha’s quirky spirit and wonderful sense of humor are perhaps best represented in her book “Travels with Myself and Another,” an account of her ‘honeymoon’ with Hemingway: a less than romantic trip to the frontline of the Sino-Japanese War.
>>read more about 10 of the Most Dangerous Destinations
Read more about:
- Seven Solo Female Travel Myths Debunked
- Top Tips for Solo Travel from Those Who Have Done It
- How I Travel: The BootsnAll Writers
- 7 Top Secret Health and Beauty Tips for Female Backpackers
Read about author Lucy Corne and check out her other BootsnAll articles