In the days of old, men explored the world and founded the new territories. They conquered the uncharted waters, crossed deserts and got friendly with the locals. They took the customs of home and instilled them in lands far and wide, causing the spread of Christianity and other religions and the English, French and Spanish languages. It was rare that women would accompany these men, and if we did we were considered incredibly odd, and definitely not marriage-worthy. The women that did conquer and explore, tended to do it solo. These women are my heroes, and while I might have romanticised their adventures in my mind, they remain fearless and completely badass.
RITA GOLDEN GELMAN
A modern day nomad with no fixed address, Rita began her global wanderings on the cusp of a pending divorce. During a break in her marriage, she took to Mexico, learned Spanish and returned to the USA full of life and vigor. She divorced her husband and sold her possessions and began living life out of her backpack. Her memoirs, Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World was one of the first travelogues I ever read, and as such has shaped the way I travel to this day. To fund her lifestyle, Rita writes children’s books – she is probably most well known for her classic More Spaghetti I Say which is an essential part of most classrooms to this day.
Rita has lived in Mexico, Bali and Canada; and she now focuses her energy on inspiring young people to explore the world. The gap year is a concept she brings to teens in the USA through her organisation Let’s Get Global, whose aim it is to make it common practice for education to extend beyong US borders. There is a large focus on empowering young people to get out and experience the world before settling into the world of mortgages and the daily grind.
DAME FREYA STARK (1893-1993)
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world. You are surrounded by adventure”
Wait. Stop. Read the quote again. Inspiring stuff huh? Dame Freya spent her sickly early childhood following her parents all over Europe and reading. She was fascinated by the Orient region from a very young age (some suggest as young as nine), and during the 1st World War she worked as a nurse. At the age of 34, she followed her heart to Beirut to study Arabic, and then went on to spend time in both Damascus and Baghdad. As her confidence in her abilities and the Arabic language grew, she went further and further afield into rural Iran, and saw more than any other Westerner at that time. After the 2nd World War, she traveled extensively through Turkey and Afghanistan, and was one of the first non-Arabs to travel through the southern Arabian deserts.
Although she has no major discoveries to speak of, she correctly many cartography mistakes – literally putting men and mountains in their place. Her eye for detail and her curiosity for the people she met on her travels made her books unique. She penned more than two dozen books during her life, and to read them is to embark on your own adventure into the wilds of Arabia.
Her story of solo walking the Pacific Crest Trail inspired me in more ways than I can count. There are so many levels I related to this story. The grief and loss of the unexpected death of a parent; the feeling like she never fit anywhere; constantly feeling lost; feeling adrift in a world that just wouldn’t wait for her to catch up… endless. I cried buckets while reading this for #travelbookclub, and then further buckets when I went to see the movie version at the cinema. By the time I finished all that crying, I worked out something in my life had to change – I’m still working out what though.
Probably the most well known on my list, Amelia Earhart was the infamous aviation pioneer who mysteriously disappeared somewhere over the Pacific during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. She was the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic, and was instrumental in the formation of the female piloting organisation The 99’s. Amelia’s life was about chasing her dreams and living her passion, and if that doesn’t inspire you then I don’t know what would.
Definitely a woman with moxie. Bare was the first woman to circumnavigate the world when women were considered taboo on French naval ships. She disguised as a man and signed up as a valet to Philibert Commercon, the naturalist on a 1766 expedition. Bare quickly became noticed for her courage and strength, she did most of the work due to Commercon’s ongoing health problems. When the expedition reached Mauritius, she decided to stay on the island with Commercon. She botanized the island until Commercon’s death in 1773, after which she ran the pub in Port Louis. Eventually she married a French army officer, and returned to Europe with him, finally claiming her inheritance from Commercon’s estate.
What other women with moxie do you know? Who inspires your travels? Leave your comments below!