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Top 10 Badass Women Travellers in History

Top 10 Badass Women Travellers in History
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nicholas Roffey
History is full of badass women travellers. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we're looking at intrepid women whose epic voyages blazed trails across the globe! Our countdown includes Sarah Marquis, Jeanne Baret, Nellie Bly, and more!

#10: Isabelle Eberhardt

This Swiss writer and explorer lived a life of daring adventure - defying the norms of her day. Fascinated with stories of North Africa, Isabelle Eberhardt moved with her mother from Switzerland to Algeria in 1897, when she was around 20. There, she dressed as a man, converted to Islam, and did … well, basically whatever she wanted. A friend described her as “[drinking] more than a Legionnaire, [smoking] more kief than a hashish addict and [making] love for the love of making love”. French authorities were outraged, deciding she must be an English spy. Eventually, Eberhardt married an Algerian soldier and wrote for a local newspaper. Sadly, she died at the age of 27 in a flash flood. Through her writing, she’s been posthumously viewed as a voice for decolonisation.

#9: Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz

Falling in love with sailing as a girl, Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz went on to study ship construction and become a naval engineer and sailor. When the UN declared 1975 International Women's Year, the Polish Sailing Association and government selected her for a record-breaking voyage to mark the occasion. Setting out from the Canary Islands on 28 March 1976, Chojnowska-Liskiewicz sailed solo around the world over the course of 401 days, becoming the first woman to have done so. She only just beat Kiwi Naomi James, who completed her circumnavigation in just 272 days a couple of weeks later.

#8: Fanny Bullock Workman

In the 1890s, a bicycle craze swept through American society - providing, for many women, newfound personal mobility. Massachusetts-born Fanny Workman embraced the trend, cycling with her husband William thousands of miles across Europe, Algeria, and India. In the Himalayas, she turned to mountaineering and set altitude records for women. As if that weren’t enough, Workman was also a travel writer, geographer, and cartographer. Coming from a wealthy American background, the couple’s demands often ran afoul of local porters; sounds like they may have needed to check their privilege .... However, Workman is remembered for her passionate support of women’s rights.

#7: Nellie Bly

Around the world in 80 days? In 1890, Nellie Bly did it in 72! Real name Elizabeth Jane Cochran, she began her career in journalism when a patronizing newspaper column titled "What Girls Are Good For" prompted her to write a passionate rebuttal. Under the pen name Nellie Bly, she went on to expose the poor conditions of women factory workers - and was relegated to covering so-called ‘women’s topics’. So she left Pittsburgh for New York, landing a new job and going undercover in an insane asylum. This new exposé made her famous, and in late 1889, her editor agreed to send her around the world a la Jules Verne’s famous novel. Her voyage, which took her across Europe and Asia, set a world record. Bly remains revered as a pioneer of investigative journalism.

#6: Harriet Chalmers Adams

This American explorer traversed over a hundred thousand miles in her lifetime! Deciding to spend their money seeing the world, rather than buying a house, Harriet Chalmer Adams and her husband set out on a three-year expedition to South America in 1900. Dressed in trousers and a man’s shirt, Adams visited every country, getting to know local people and their customs. She became a war correspondent in World War I, and a writer for National Geographic during continued travels through South America. She also achieved a reputation as a captivating speaker, with her hold over listeners described as “magnetic”. At a time when most exploration clubs were male-only, she served as the first president of the Society of Woman Geographers - which endures to this day.

#5: Jeanne Baret

Disguised as a man, French valet and botanist Jeanne Baret became the first woman to ever circumnavigate the globe. Baret was born into poverty, and orphaned as a teen, but in her 20s found employment as a housekeeper for naturalist Philibert Commerçon. Historians believe the relationship soon became a romantic one. Women were prohibited aboard French naval ships; so when Commerçon was invited on a French expedition in 1766, he brought her in disguise. Assisting Commerçon, Baret became an expert naturalist. During the voyage, she was outed as a woman, and Baret and Commerçon disembarked in Mauritius. After Commerson died, Baret ran a tavern and remarried, eventually returning to France - completing her circumnavigation.

#4: Isabella Bird

From childhood, Isabella Bird suffered from health issues, leading doctors to recommend a sea voyage. In 1854, when in her early 20s, she sailed from England to America. It was the first adventure of many. Becoming a famous author and explorer, she embarked on journeys around the world, entangling herself with a one-eyed outlaw in the Rocky Mountains, and traveling extensively through Asia. She was fond of capacious Chinese dresses, so she could conceal a revolver in case of trouble. At 60, she studied medicine and founded a hospital named after her late husband in India. Bird became the first woman to become a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and continued to travel right up until her death at 72.

#3: Sarah Marquis

When Sarah Marquis goes for a walk, don’t wait up. The Swiss adventurer experienced wanderlust from a young age, riding a horse across Central Anatolia in Turkey at 17. For most of her other adventures, she’s trusted her own two feet - walking across the US in the year 2000, and Australia in 2002 and 2003. She also trekked along the Andes for eight months. You think that’s a lot? Well, not Sarah Marquis. From 2010-13, she walked alone from Siberia through the Gobi Desert, China, Laos, and Thailand. Then she took a boat to Australia and crossed it again. Sometimes, for safety, she would dress as a man and avoid leaving tracks. If she just became your hero, check out her book “Wild by Nature”.

#2: Gertrude Bell

The travel bug bit Gertrude Bell in Persia - which she described as “Paradise”. Her love affair with the Middle East would continue throughout her life. Bell had studied history at Oxford in the 1880s, and achieved first class honours, but wasn’t awarded a degree, as the university didn’t grant full degrees to women. She went on to become fluent in Arabic, Persian, French, German, Italian, and Turkish, and became a well-known travel writer … and archaeologist … and diplomat! Whew. An influential voice in British policy-making, she advocated for Arab nationalism and independence - becoming fast friends with T. E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia. She also had a key role in building the modern nation of Iraq. Sadly, she passed away from an overdose of sleeping pills at the age of 57.

#1: Lady Hester Stanhope

Leaving everything she knew behind, Lady Hester Stanhope made her life into an adventure fit for a novel. In her late 20s, Stanhope served as private secretary to her uncle, British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. However, in 1810, she left Great Britain to see the world - and never came back. The poet Lord Byron, whom she met in Greece, described her as unconventional, with strong opinions on women’s rights. After surviving a shipwreck, Stanhope adopted a new style of dress that included trousers, a turban, and a saber. Her travels spanned much of the Middle East, and included her famous excavation of Ascalon in Palestine. Settling in deserted monasteries in Lebanon, she became revered in the region, and remained there until her death in 1839.

Do these stories inspire you to hit the road? Anything on your bucket list? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!