By Manita Dosanjh
Travelling alone makes you awesome. Why? Well, if you think about all the added obstacles of solo travel versus the buddy-up alternative, there's a lot of opportunity for upping your awesome factor. Things like the paralyzing fear of loneliness, the impending doom of getting lost, and braving social interactions with strangers put solo travellers firmly at the top of the awesome scale.
Travelling alone is amazing, and if you’ve done it, so are you.
There is however, one group within the solo travel clique that shine a little brighter than the rest: women.
If there’s one thing we've learnt from backpacking history it’s this: travelling alone as a woman can change the world.
Last year alone, there were enough scary incidents reported from across the globe to put off even the most adventurous of women. The public responded with travel advice like “Don't have a vagina” and insisted that solo female travellers were “foolish”.
And this is why travel heroines like Robyn Davidson are more important now than they’ve ever been. Davidson is part of a fearless group of women who paved the way for the next generation of female jetsetters (aka you and me). If it weren't for these intrepid explorers, female solo travel might still be unheard of, or (as it was once) illegal. So don't be put off by the scary news stories, some amazing women have already paved the way. All you have to do is get inspired...
1. Robyn Davidson, because she survived the Outback
Image via Torquay Palms
Pretty much everything in Australia has the potential to kill you, so anyone brave enough to defy the Aussie wilderness completely alone deserves to be commended. Robyn Davidson not only managed this, but she has also inspired the next generation of keen female travellers with a bestselling novel, and a new film.
Davidson’s book Tracks tell the story of her incredible trip through one of the most hostile environments in the world. Aged just 26, the fiery nomad spent a year learning how to train camels before setting off on a 1700 mile trek across the desert. She spent nine months travelling from central Australia out towards the Indian Ocean with four camels and her dog Diggity to keep her company.
Tracks inspired director John Curran to capture the story in a feature film starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver. The film was released last week and is now out in cinemas around the world.
“The trip was easy. It was no more dangerous than crossing the street, or driving to the beach, or eating peanuts. The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the first decision. And I knew even then that I would forget them time and time again and would have to go back and repeat those words that had become meaningless and try to remember…Camel trips, as I suspected all along, and as I was about to have confirmed, do not begin or end, they merely change form.”
― Robyn Davidson, Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback
Since her remarkable story was publicized by National Geographic magazine in 1978, Davidson has been plagued by the question "Why?" Why would a young woman want to spend nine months alone in the desert with camels?
Her response to the question is not only brilliant, but something that all female travellers should remember : "Why not?"
Girls, if you’re struggling to come up with a reason not to, you should probably just do it.
2. Ann Bancroft, because she braved sub-zero temperatures (and helped other women do it too)
Image via Jonathunder
In 1986, self-proclaimed risk-taker Ann Bancroft became the first woman to cross over the Arctic ice cap to the North Pole. After the trip, Ann got the travel bug, and developed a taste for exploring in sub-zero temperatures. In 1993 she set up a team of women to cross Antarctica on skis and leave their mark on the South Pole. Led by Ann, the American Women’s Expedition became the first group of women in history to complete the journey.
3. Jeanne Barret, because she broke the law so we don't have to
Image via PD-Art
If you want to feel safer as a solo female traveller, you could try Jeanne Barret’s nifty trick – pretend to be a man. Back in 1766, Jeanne stirred up a scandal on the Etoile as it set off on an expedition around the world. With the help of her alleged lover and crew member Phillip Commerson, Jeanne changed her name to Jean and disguised herself as a male botanist. At the time, it was illegal for a woman to travel as a crew member on board a global expedition, and Jeanne’s love of plants drove her to defy societal expectations. In spite of the law, she proved to be a knowledgeable and useful addition to the crew.
Sadly, once Jeanne’s secret identity was discovered she was brutally assaulted by her crewmates, but her legacy of being the first woman to circumnavigate the globe lives on.
4. Annie Edson Taylor, because she cheated death with a barrel
Image via Francis J. Petrie Collection
As her 63rd birthday began to rear its head, Annie Edson Taylor decided she was done with being poor, and realized this probably wasn’t going to change anytime soon. The solution? A barrel, Niagara Falls, and a very unlucky cat.
Annie decided her only option was to find somebody to put her in a barrel and throw her over Niagara Falls, so that she could spend the rest of her life as a celebrity. After testing the stunt with a cat (it survived) she took the plunge in 1901, escaping with a tiny cut on her head.
5. Valentina Tereshkova, because she went to space
Image via Novosti archive
Aside from having an awesome name, Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in history to be sent to space. Despite coming from humble beginnings (her parents were farmers) and leaving school at just eight years old, Valentina trained herself to be an expert skydiver in her twenties. Her unique skills got her picked out of 400 applicants to pilot Vostik 6 in 1963.
6. Gertrude Bell, because she changed the world a little bit
Image via Ulflarsen
Gertrude Bell’s résumé reads like the checklist of a superhero. After becoming the first woman in history to receive a First Class Degree in History from Oxford University, she went on to be the first woman to write a white paper for the British Government. Not content with surviving a blizzard in Switzerland or teaching herself archaeology in Tehran, she became famous as a key British ambassador involved in restabilising torn countries in the Middle East after the First World War. Phew! At the time it was unheard of for a woman to play such an important role in the work of the British government, and Gertrude paved the way for several women to follow her.
Who did we miss? If you can think of any other awesome female travellers let us know...