Most people have heard of Columbus, Shackleton and Livingstone but the world has also seen its fair share of female explorers and here we celebrate seven epic and truly inspirational travellers.
Amelia Earhart – First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic
During her short lifetime pioneer Amelia Earhart set many records relating to flying, the most famous of course being the first woman to fly solo across the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Born in 1897 in Kansas USA, Amelia was something of a tomboy and was inspired by successful women, particularly those that had broken into male dominated arenas. She served as a volunteer nurse in Toronto during World War I before contacting Spanish flu in the 1918 pandemic which left her with lifelong sinusitis problems. Visiting an airfield with her father aged 23 and taking her first short flight inspired Amelia to save the 1,000 USD needed for flying lessons. A career in aviation followed, with the highlight being the solo transatlantic flight on 17 June 1928, just a few months after Charles Lindbergh achieved the same title for the men. She became something of a celebrity and used this to promote aviation, particularly to females. She disappeared in July 1937 aged just 39 on a flight over the Pacific Ocean.
Helen Sharman – First Brit in space
British kids watching the news in the early 1990s were inspired to watch Helen Sharman become the first Brit in space – me included! Helen grew up in Sheffield in northern England and after 18 months of intense training, went into space on 26 May 1991, aged just 27, making her one of the youngest ever to go into space. Her pioneering efforts were rewarded with an OBE and she’s written an inspirational autobiography.
Ida Pfeiffer – First female solo traveller
Paving the way for solo female travellers everywhere was Austrian Ida Pfeiffer who journeyed far and wide and wrote several books on the subject. Born in Vienna in 1797, Ida was introduced to travel from the age of five with a journey to Palestine and Egypt by her beloved merchant father. Following the death of her husband she finally got to realise her dream of world travel and set out to explore the Danube, Istanbul, Palestine, Egypt and Italy. The epic journey around the world however came a few years later when Ida was aged 50 in 1847. She visited Brazil, Chile, Tahiti and China, before heading into India, Persia and Greece, arriving home 2 years later. Her second trip in 1951 encompassed England, South Africa, Borneo, Australia and the Americas. Ida collected plants and insects and recorded her numerous travels in several inspiration books
Junko Tabei – First female to reach the summit of Mount Everest
On 16 May 1975, Japanese Junko Tabei became the first female to ascend mighty Mount Everest, aged 36. Junko has also reached the summit of Mount Fuji and the Matterhorn. And in June 1992, aged 53, Junko also achieved the hour of the first female to complete the Seven Summits.
Nellie Bly – Travelled around the world in 72 days
American Elizabeth Jane Cochrane wrote under the pen name of Nellie Bly of her record-breaking trip around the globe. Born in Pennsylvania in 1864 Nellie sought to emulate Phileas Fogg’s achievement of travelling ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’ as detailed in Jules Verne’s’ novel. In 1889 aged just 25 Nellie set sail on 14 November 1889 on a journey that would see her cover 24,899 miles. Nellie’s journey by steamboat and rail included England, France (where she actually met with author Jules Verne), Brindisi (Italy) Sri Lanka, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. She quit her job in journalism five years later and passed away aged just 57 in 1922.
Jeanne Baré – First female to circumnavigate the world
French Jeanne Baré was born in Burgundy in 1740 and achieved fame as the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. To realise her dream however she posed as a male ‘Jean’ aged 26 and thanks to a small crew she evaded discovery. The journey also lead to the naming of the Bougainvillea genus of flowers. Jeanne returned to France after her voyage, married and lived to the age of 67.
Laura Dekker – Youngest person to sail around the world solo
Dutch Laura Dekker became the youngest ever person to sail around the globe single-handedly after setting sail in 2010. The official start of the journey commenced in Gibraltar on 21 august 2010 and included several stops to allow for bad weather. She arrived on Sint Maarten Island on 21 January 2012 which signalled the complete circumnavigation. Laura was just 16 years and 123 days old. She continues to sail, compete and educate.