Women Who Have Re-Defined Travel: My Top 5

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There are women who travel and then there are women who re-define what it means to travel.

A rare breed of traveler, they are are the ones who discover new lands, break records and rules, and risk their lives to see how far they can go. They inspire, awaken, and remind us how to live for the moment.

In no particular order, these are the five women who have inspired my travels and challenge the way I look at what is possible when one travels.

Note: You may notice that most of these women have passed. I’m not ignoring the incredible ladies traveling today, I just suspect they have a lot more traveling left to do.

Amelia Earhart

Sure, she’s known for her ability to fly a plane.

But besides her record-breaking career in aviation, Amelia was the first woman to gain world-wide celebrity status for her travels. Not only was she one of the most famous people of her time, she leveraged her fame into lucrative endorsement deals, hawking everything from Lucky Strike to her own clothing line.

Her disappearance during her flight across the Pacific remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries.

Alexandra David-Neel

In the late 1800’s, she traveled to India by herself, boldly seeking out the truths of spirituality. That trip was remarkable enough for a woman of that time but she didn’t stop there.

She continued traveling for enlightenment and found it in a cave in Sikkim, where she lived for two years. Later she trespassed into Tibet by dressing as a pilgrim and visited the holy land Lhasa. Her writing would later influence Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

She is often referred to as the “original hippie”.

Carmen Sandiego

From Botswana to Thailand to Milan via Amsterdam and back, Carmen Sandiego and her sticky fingers traveled to funny sounding places while consistently outsmarting the young gumshoes that followed her every move.

Even though she stole famous landmarks, cities, and national parks, Carmen Sandiego inspired many kids to think about traveling the world, including yours truly.

If you didn’t grow up playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? don’t worry, you still have a chance to put your detective skills to the test with the current version of the game, now on Facebook.

I spy...

Creative Commons License photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

Harriet Tubman

The honorable Ms. Tubman risked her life for hundreds of slaves by traveling with them through a secret network of safe houses and checkpoints known as the Underground Railroad.

She took slaves as far north as Canada in order to guarantee their freedom. Despite the huge reward for her capture, she never wavered in her belief of freedom as a right for all people.

The fearlessness in her travels shifted the political and social consciousness of America for the better.

Gertrude Bell

This is a lady who got things done.

She knew four languages, including Arabic, had a history degree from Oxford, was an experienced mountaineer and traveled frequently through the Middle East. Because of her experience in the region,Winston Churchill invited her to help construct a new country out of the poor and declining Mesopotamia.

Considered the “Mother of Iraq”, she defined the current borders of the country and advised the new king on government matters. Her letters of her time in the Middle East are still studied today by the Pentagon to better understand the conflict of the region.

And as one person’s Earhart is another’s Quimby, I’d love to hear which sassy ladies have inspired your travels!

Who made your top 5?

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About Author

Sarah Walker is a writer, actress, and international superstar. She is also the President/CEO of the www.sarahwalkerfanclub.com. Some of her favorite travel adventures have taken place in Edinburgh, Barcelona and the Peruvian jungle. She likes cupcakes and kittens.

19 Comments

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    • Thanks! I was OBSESSED with the game Carmen Sandiego as a kid and I really feel it played a significant part in my desire to travel the world. Plus the theme song was really catchy. I’m sorry you didn’t get to experience her in your formative years!

  2. Great list! I love that you threw in Carmen Sandiego, too. Awesome. I am now singing the song in my head though,and I have a bad feeling I’m going to check out that game today on FB and end up not getting anything done. 🙂

  3. I’d also add Beryl Smeeton – an adventurous soul – and the book High Endeavours is definitely worth reading. Also Isabel Grameson, in The Mapmaker’s Wife is one tough cookie.

    I haven’t read anything about Carmen Sandiego – though know the kid’s game – will have to look for a biography.

    I love Gertrude Bell’s book.
    Always inspiring to read about these adventurous ladies.

  4. Wonderful list! It’s amazing what women have accomplished even in times when it wasn’t “appropriate” for them to be traveling. Mine is Jane Goodall, she’s not a traveler, per se, but a primatologist whose famous for her work with chimpanzees. Setting up a chimp research camp as a young woman in Gombe, Tanzania years ago, couldn’t have been easy. She also recognized the importance of working with the locals not against them to save chimps. Such a smart woman, ahead of her times.

  5. Great list! One more to throw on: Mary Henrietta Kingsley. In 1893, she traveled from Sierra Leone to Angola. This during a time when brutality was occurring all throughout the continent from colonial regimes, and West Africa was known as “White Man’s Grave” because of the climate and disease. She returned to travel Africa several other times and she helped contribute to what was effectively the first human right’s movement, the campaign to end King Leopold’s rule in the Congo. Check her out.
    B well, Phil

    • You’re welcome Cathy! I love that I can write this list about my top 5 and then have fellow readers share the names of Nellie Bly and Mary Henrietta Kingsley, women I’m not yet familiar with (but will be reading up on immediately!!), and realize a follow up post is definitely in order!

  6. cool idea for a list!
    i was thinking along the same lines as laurel, jane goodall is inspirational for the reason she travelled.
    i might add ines suarez to the list, a spanish conquistadora. her life is chronicled in the isabel allende novel: ines of my soul.

  7. Awesome list! I’m really glad you put Alexandra David-Néel up there 🙂 I love her writings and I’ve always been fascinated by her life, especially when you consider the time she was living in. And I love that she is French and that she influenced so many great authors! She should be more known though, I feel like so few people know about her

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