10 Inspirational women who shaped how we travel today

We're celebrating the pioneering women that have changed the way we travel, from world-record breaking challenges to travel writing and photography. Take a look at these 10 influential women who have changed the way we travel today.
Junko Tabei

Famous For: First Woman to Climb Mount Everest

In 1975 Junko became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest and later became the first female to complete the Seven Summits – the highest peaks on each of the 7 continents.

She overcame the typical prejudices that existed, stating that we was frequently told that ‘women should be raising children instead’ but ignoring the naysayers Tabei reached the summit on the 16th May 1975 with her sherpa guide.

She became an overnight celebrity on her return to Kathmandu and latterly her home nation of Japan, but she was uncomfortable with the level of fame she had acquired. She much preferred to be known as the 36th person to climb Mt Everest, rather than the first woman to do so.

Later in life, Tabei took a deep interest in conservation, focusing on the environmental damage to Mount Everest and became the director of the Himalayan Adventure Trust of Japan  to preserve mountain environments and she undertook projects including building incinerators to burn climbers’ rubbish and participated in clean up climbs with her family to improve the environment of mountains both in the Himalayas and Japan. She was a real pioneer not just of adventure trips but also responsible tourism. 

Amelia Earhart

Famous For: First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean

Probably the most famous woman on this list but also someone who transcends air travel. In fact she is perhaps as well known for her mysterious death than her achievements in her short life.

Amelia Earhart hold a number of records. In 1932, she was the first woman - and second person ever - to fly non-stop over the Atlantic Ocean. In the same year, she then flew solo non-stop across the United States becoming the first person ever to undertake this journey. Then, in 1935 she became the first person to fly from Hawaii to mainland United States

Controversy still surrounds her death in 1937, having been declared missing at sea after attempting to circumnavigate the globe in her aircraft. Many theories exist and searches conducted all failing to find Amelia’s plane or body, but it is widely accepted that she ran out of fuel whilst attempting to reach the tiny Pacific island of Howland Island.

Jeanne Baret

Famous For: Becoming the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in 1775

Jeanne Baret’s story is a bittersweet story of the role of women in the 18th century. Simply being a woman meant that Jeanne was forbidden from joining a French naval voyage to find new plants  onboard a ship called Etoile – even though she would have been the obvious choice to assist her lover Philibert Commerson a botanist who was heading on the excursion.

Not to be deterred, together they planned that Baret would disguise herself as a man and offer to support Commerson during the voyage – which he would then accept.

Whilst Baret managed to keep the secret for some time, the lie was eventually exposed. The way in which her true identity was revealed differs according to different accounts, with some accounts saying that Baret was sexually assaulted by her crewmates once she was known to be a woman.

In spite of this horrific treatment, she continued her work which resulted in identifying a number of different botanical species including bourgainvillea.

She is more widely known now as the first woman to circumnavigate the globe even though it may have happened inadvertently as she boarded the Etoile in search of new plants.

Freya Stark

Famous For: Writing 24 Travel Books About Her Extensive Middle Eastern Adventures During World War 2

Freya Stark is considered by many as one of the most influential travel writers. Born in 1893 in Paris, she was a British Italian citizen and in her 100 year life she penned 24 travel books and autobiographies.

She travelled extensively in the Middle East, and wrote about her experiences journeying through Beirut, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Yemen, Kuwait, Italy, Egypt, Palestine and China – and perhaps many more.

Despite following in the footsteps of other female travellers like Gertrude Bella who had also travelled extensively in the Middle East, what made Freya Stark particularly unique is that she travelled unaccompanied and made a point to interact more with the inhabitants in their own language, having learnt to speak Arabic in Italy.

She gave a unique insight into this previously less well explored part of the world, and given the tensions in the Middle East region at present her work is still relevant today.

Planning to explore the less well trodden Middle East? Make sure you are covered for your trip with our single trip or annual multi-trip travel insurance

Nellie Bly

Famous For: Making ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ a Reality

Nellie Bly became famous for bringing to life the fictional ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. She was an American journalist at the New York World and suggested that she should embark to see if it would be possible.

Setting out in 1889 from New York, she began a 72 day trip of 24,899 miles across the world travelling through England, France, Italy, Egypt, Sri Lanka (called Ceylon at the time of travel), Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Japan.

Whilst Bly’s record was beaten just a few months later and thanks to modern travel now can be done in a mere 46 hours and 23 minutes it cemented her name in the history books and became an inspiration for future explorers and travellers.

If you’re planning to undertake your own worldwide adventure, be sure to make sure you are covered with travel insurance so you can concentrate on the trip of a lifetime. Our backpacker policies are made for longer durations away. 

Christina Mittermeier

Famous For: Award-Winning Travel Photography and Founder of SeaLegacy

Many people on this list are those that really accelerated the growth of travel through the Victorian era and in to the 20th century, but we shouldn’t forget those individuals who are inspiring the next generation of travellers.

Cristina Mittermeier is exactly that, her 1.6 million Instagram followers are treated to her expert photography and can learn more about her passion for ocean conservation. She is an award winning wildlife photographer with a degree in marine biology and the co-founder of SeaLegacy.

Her photography has been featured in National Geographic as well as being featured in advertising for the Amazonian Art Exhibition at the National History Museum.

She has ticked off over 100 countries with her husband (photographer Paul Nicklen) and children and when they are not found on Vancouver Island, they’ll be travelling the world and showcasing their photography of everything from the state of the oceans to indigenous tribespeople of Brazil, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea and more.

Clarenore Stinnes

Famous For: Circumnavigating the Globe by Car

A pioneer of the modern day roadtrip, Clarenore Stinnes became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by car.

By the time of the journey Stinnes had already build quite a reputation as a successful European motor racer winning 17 races by the age of 26.

2 years later, in 1927 her global travel adventure begun. Setting off from – and returning to – Berlin their 29,000 mile route took them through the Balkans, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Russia and across Siberia. After crossing Lake Baikal and the Gobi Desert they arrived in Peking. From there stops include Japan, Hawaii, Peru, Argentina, Canada and the USA before sailing back to Le Harve in France and driving the final leg back to Berlin.

After arriving back home, Clarenore and her co-driver, Carl-Axel Soderstrom – whom she’d met just 2 day before departing on the journey – got married and went on to raise a family together.

Planning a roadtrip of your own this year? Make sure you’re covered whilst your on the road with travel insurance.  

Isabella Bird

Famous For: Writing Travel Books and Becoming the First Woman in the Royal Geographic Society

Isabella Bird was a 19th century explorer and important travel writer in Victorian England. She wasn’t your typical explorer but in fact it was her doctors who were responsible for recommending an outdoor lifestyle and a naval voyage as a remedy for significant health issues including spinal injuries and insomnia.

This first voyage came in the form of a trip the United States and from this journey also bloomed her first travel writing which culminated in her first book called An Englishwoman in America.

This one trip was the catalyst was a life of exploration, throughout her life Bird went on to visit to Australia, Hawaii, the Rocky Mountains  – the subject of her most famous book ‘A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains’ – Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaya, India, Persia, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia and Morocco.

In fact, her work in India was as a missionary after inheriting a large sum of money she chose to study medicine and travel across India at the age of 60.

To commemorate such an action packed life of travel she was the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Geographic Society in 1892.

Her legacy still lasts today and was the subject of a 2022 BBC documentary series called Trailblazers: A Rocky Mountain Roadtrip that retraced Isabella’s footsteps. 

Laura Dekker

Famous For: Becoming the Youngest Person to Sail Solo Around the World

On 21st of August 2010, Dekker departed from Gibraltar to begin her journey of circumnavigating the globe, at the age of 14. The 17 month voyage ended on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin to the attention of the world’s press.

The trip itself was fraught with difficulty, with difficult weather conditions between Australia and Papua New Guinea, but interestingly the trip nearly didn’t happen at all with the Dutch government vehemently objecting to the attempt.

Now Laura runs the Laura Dekker World Sailing Foundation which gives teenagers the opportunity to hone their sailing skills, with adventures taking place across the Atlantic and through Europe.

Happily, those of us looking to circumnavigate the globe by sea can do so from the comfort of cruise liners. If you are planning a cruise this year, don’t forget to take out travel insurance which can cover you whilst you are onboard.

Maureen Wheeler

Famous For: Founding Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet is to many travellers as close to a travellers bible as its possible to get. With over 150 million copies of their guides having been printed it could be difficult to believe that it all started on a kitchen table in Australia in 1975 by Maureen Wheeler and her husband Tony.

After escaping their Belfast based housing estate the couple embarked on a journey Down Under heading through Thailand, Indonesia and other Asian countries along the way, and despite arriving in Australia with a mere 27 cents to their name, they had an incredible amount of knowledge and experience gained on their journey and so the first Lonely Planet guidebook – called Asia on the Cheap – was born.  

Since then, Lonely Planet has grown to the world’s largest guidebook, was sold to BBC Worldwide for many millions of pounds. Today it is no longer owned by the BBC but by an American publishing company and is run out of offices in Dublin, Nashville, New Delhi and Beijing.

Despite Maureen and Tony having no involvement in the Lonely Planet we see today, Lonely Planet continues to carry the message and mission that independent travel is easy and doesn’t cost a fortune – which has proved a real inspiration for millions of backpackers across the globe.

Planning a backpacking adventure of a lifetime? As well as your Lonely Planet guide, don’t forget our backpacker travel insurance policy

We hope these pioneers have inspired you to take your next journey, whether big or small, adventure of relaxation, remember the importance of getting travel insurance cover. See how we can help with single trip, annual multi-trip or backpacker travel cover.
Get protected with travel insurance online in as little as 3 minutes.
Join us today
Get a quote online
Get protected with travel insurance online in as little as 3 minutes.
Speak with our team
Our team are available to help Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
Feefo logo