My next-to-last National Geographic Traveler had a trailblazing article called “21 Visionary Women Travelers” by Katie Knorovsky that contained profiles of several indomitable woman I had never heard of.
Egeria was one of them. In the 4th century she decided to go to the Holy Land using the bible as her guide book. After she returned home, she wrote an account of her journey for other women and part of it survived in fragments. A Christian pilgrimage was about the only way a 4th century woman might travel, and I hope that her observations were to encourage other women to hit the road to learn about other cultures. In the 18th century Jeanne Baret became the first woman to circumnavigate the world. She thought she had to disguise herself as a man to do this. In the next century Bessie Coleman became the 1st African-American female pilot. After being rejected by flight schools, she made a living performing aviation stunts until she suffered a fatal plane crash. Knorovsky did such excellent research that I had heard of only 6 of the women she profiled–Nellie Bly, Gertrude Bell, Freya Stark, Martha Gellhorn, Jan Morris, and Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir.
Nellie Bly is probably the most famous of these women travelers. As a 25-year-old journalist, she traveled around the world in 72 days. Six years later she married a 73-year-old steel-making industrialist. Gelhorn was Ernest Hemingway’s 3rd wife. She wrote a bestselling book called Travels with Myself and Another. On page 5 of my copy she listed the 53 countries she had been to. In the paragraph before she listed the islands she had visited. This book remains in my permanent library next to the works of Jan Morris. Among the world’s first transgender celebrities, Morris specialized in writing books about cities and countries during her long career. My two favorites are about a city I’ve yet to visit, Trieste, and a city I have been to several times partially because of her book about it, Sydney. Thorbjarnardottir inspired my travels too. She was a Viking wife and mother. Knorovsky called her, “The most traveled woman of the Middle Ages”. If you want to learn more about her, get a copy of The Far Traveler by Nancy Brown.
Knorovsky missed a few women I would have included on my visionary list. Another Viking woman born in Iceland who became a noted warrior, fearless Freydis Eiriksdottir went to Vinland and Greenland. Beryl Markham became the first human to fly from Europe to North America in 1936. She soloed. Amelia Earhart was extremely well-traveled as was Annie Oakley. My list would also include Ruth Harbaugh, who has been to more countries than Martha Gellhorn and has been my fearless traveling companion for a very long time.