Inspiring female adventurers who broke records and changed the world of travel

Nowadays, travelling to exciting destinations around the world is easier than ever. After all, you're rarely more than a flight or train ride away.

However, some incredible adventurers had to pave the way for us to get to this point – and heaps of amazing female explorers played a huge role.

There are some famous names such as Amelia Earhart or Dian Fossey, as well as inspirational women who may not have been on your radar before such as Nellie Bly or Lady Grace Drummond Hay.

These women did everything from breaking records, to paving the way for future female explorers to have their own adventures.

As the world celebrates International Women's Day on Sunday 8th March, we take a look at 10 incredible female adventurers that need to be on your radar…

1. Bessie Coleman

It's not difficult to see why Bessie Coleman remains a huge inspiration to so many women around the world.

The first African American woman to take to the skies, throughout her life she fought against discrimination and continued to stand up for her beliefs.

Living in the USA in the 1910s, she applied to flight schools to become a pilot but was constantly rejected for being both African American and a woman.

When she learned that she could fly in France, she began to take French classes so she could apply – and it worked, as she was accepted into a French flight school and earned her licence in 1921.

After that, her career soared. Renowned for performing daring tricks, she earned nicknames such as Brave Bessie and Queen Bess, while she used her tours and shows to encourage other women to fly.

She refused to perform or speak anywhere which had segregation or discriminated against African Americans – for example, she notoriously refused to perform at a Texan stadium which had two entrances, until eventually the managers gave in and agreed to have one gate for the crowd.

2. Amelia Earhart

You may know Amelia Earhart as the famous pilot who disappeared during a flight over the Pacific Ocean – but there's so much more to this pioneer.

For a start, she was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Then there are the various speed records and altitude records she kept breaking throughout her career – including beating her own records.

When she wasn't flying, she was picking up plenty more accolades including a stint as the aviation editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, and formed the Ninety Nines, a women's aviation club where she was elected president.

Oh, and if you're a fan of inspirational quotes, she delivered – including declaring that "the most effective way to do it is to do it".

  • Woman 'who couldn't get on a bus' says 1920s explorers helped her travel the world

3. Valentina Tereshkova

This Russian adventurer is the first woman to have travelled to space.

She completed a solo mission, on board the Vostok 6 on the 16th June 1963. At 26 years old, this also made her the youngest woman to complete the incredible achievement.

During the mission, she spent almost three days in space and orbited Earth 48 times.

What's even more impressive is that Valentina wasn't a pilot – but it was her extensive parachuting experience which made her ideal for the job (in fact, she actually had to parachute to Earth after ejecting from the capsule as part of the landing sequence).

4. Nellie Bly

Elizabeth Jane Cochran, who used the pen name Nellie Bly, was an American journalist in the 1880s who worked for one of the leading newspapers at the time.

She was renowned for her investigative journalism which spanned everything from exposes on New York's asylums to covering the women's suffrage movement.

However, one of her most notorious achievements came when she read Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days – and decided to travel around the world to recreate the trip.

She completed the adventure in 72 days, making for a world record which she held for a few months.

5. Jeanne Baret

Jeanne Baret was the first woman ever to circumnavigate the Earth – but she had to do it disguised as a man. Oh, and she didn't even set off with the intention to accomplish the tricky feat.

In fact, as a botanist in the 1700s she wanted to travel to explore the world's plants. At the time, her lover was offered a place on board a ship that would around the world – and he could bring an assistant.

Unfortunately, women weren't allowed on Royal Navy ships, so the pair concocted a plan to disguise Jeanne as a man and pretend to be his assistant.

It worked, and she inadvertently became the first woman to circumnavigate the Earth at the same time!

6.Junko Tabei

Junko Tabei was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, although she later admitted that she "did not intend to be the first woman on Everest".

Still, she led a team of 15 climbers and 6 sherpas on the gruelling expedition which included their camp being buried by an avalanche. After three days of recovery, she continued with the climb and reached the summit on May 16, 1975, accompanied only by the sherpa Ang Tshering.

That's not the Japanese mountaineer's only impressive achievement; she is also the first woman to have ascended all the Seven Summits by climbing the highest peak on every continent.

Her passion for climbing also saw her found a Ladies Climbing Club in the 1960s with the mantra: 'Let's go on an overseas expedition by ourselves'.

7. Ann Barcroft

Ann Barcroft boasts some seriously impressive accolades when it comes to Arctic exploration.

For a start, not only was she the first woman to reach the North Pole on foot and by sled (as part of a team of six), but in 1992 she became the first woman to cross the polar ice caps to reach both the North and South Poles.

But that's not all.

The Polar explorer also went on to lead a four-woman expedition to the South Pole, the first all-female expedition of this nature, and in 2001 she teamed up with Liv Arnesen and became the first woman to ski across Antarctica.

8. Lady Grace Drummond Hay


Although she was not an aviator, Lady Drummond Hay became the first woman to travel around the world in a zeppelin.

The British journalist is often hailed as having for having contributed to the glamour of aviation, especially for her in-depth knowledge of the industry and planes.

She boarded the first transatlantic flight of a civilian passenger zeppelin in 1928, which was the first to circumnavigate the world. She was the only female passenger out of 20 travellers.

9. Freya Stark

Freya Stark was a British travel writer who wrote dozens of books about her adventures – and continues to inspire explorers today.

She headed to heaps of remote areas across the likes of Turkey and the Middle East where few Europeans had been at the time.

In the 1930s she completed a series of dangerous treks into the wilderness of western Iran, and located the mysterious Valleys of the Assassins, which inspired her first book. The expedition also saw her receive the Royal Geographical Society's Back Award.

10. Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird was a British explorer in the 19th century who visited an impressive array of destinations around the world, purely out of passion.

Her love for travel was sparked after an operation to remove a tumour was only partially successful, causing her to suffer from depression. The doctor advised she travel, so her father gave her money to do just that.

She initially headed to North America and travelled across Canada and the USA, before returning to write her first book The Englishwoman in America, based on the letters she had sent her sister.

After that, she caught the travel bug, with an exploration career that took her across to the likes of Australia, back to the USA to explore Hawaii and Colorado (including the Rocky Mountains), Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaya, India, Turkey, Baghdad, Persia and Armenia.

Her extensive travels and writings saw her become the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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