We are already 20 years into the 21st century but being a solo woman traveler is still not easy. Granted there are a lot safer destinations in this era but the task itself is as mammoth as it gets. Even a single journey requires zillions of preparations, challenges, and security precautions. Now imagine what women faced a century or two ago when the times where more ominous and discouraging for the fairer sex.
This International Women’s day, let us look at a few solo female traveler who made daring adventurous quests across the globe, breaking through the norms of society and shattering the chains of cultural perceptions of that time.
Jeanne Baret: The Fair Maiden of the seas.
Mid-1700’s: The infamous French revolution of the peasants was around the corner. Only half a century had passed since France started expanding its colonies and gained extraordinary power across the European region but somehow the gap in between the riches of the nobles and the ordinary citizens grew in leaps and bounds. In these disturbing times, an ordinary woman made extraordinary history.
Jeanne Baret was born in a low peasant family who made their living of the herbs they collected from the lush mountains near her village. She married Philibert Commerson, a naturist and a nobleman who was a famous botanist of that time. Her adventure started when Commerson was invited as a botanist in residence on a French expedition to discover new provinces for France. It might seem as a plot from a movie but what transpired next was in reality a feat of daring events. Jeanne Baret boarded the ship but not as Jeanne but Jean, her husband’s male assistant. Wrapping her chest in linen every day, she made sure not to reveal her true identity in front of the other crew members. Eventually the crew found out about her but by that time, she had already made an extra ordinary history by becoming the first woman to circumnavigate the world.
Raymonde de Laroche: Legend of the Winds.
The day Raymonde de Laroche made her solo flight, creating history as the first woman to do so is also befittingly celebrated as International Women’s day. From been known as an aspiring actress, Baroness (cheekily bestowed by the Flight Magazine), daughter of a plumber etc. to been hailed as the champion of the air, de Laroche beat all the odds against her.
It was a casual suggestion by aviation pioneer Charles Voisin that made de Laroche set her sights on this perilous life-staking endeavor. Planes were a rather new phenomenon and its technology was in nascent stages. The dangers and challenges of operating something relatively new, that even the ablest men would not attempt did not hamper her aspirations and she started her lessons at the French airfield at Camp de Chalon’s, about 90 miles east of Paris. Her wings first took flight on October 22, 1909, and less than a year from that day, on March 8, 1910, which is also celebrated as International Women’s day – de Laroche was awarded a pilot’s license from Federation Aeronautique International and became the first woman pilot.
Her achievements did not end there. She went on to win the infamous Coupe Femina (a women’s-only aviation competition) in 1913 for a successful flight of more than four hours and also set the women’s altitude record in 1919 by ascending to 15,700 feet cementing her legacy in the world of aviation and inspiring women across the world.
Amelia Earhart: Falcon of the blue sky.
Following on the footsteps of de Laroche and inarguably one of the most inspirational women of all time, Amelia Earhart made history time and again. Tough to the bone, she became the first woman to fly nonstop solo across the Atlantic Ocean, a rather deadly feat that was achieved by only one person before her. She went on to conquer more and… more she did. A few months after her first feat, she made another solo nonstop flight across the United States, from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, setting a new a new record of time and distance by a solo female pilot. Then again went on to be the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the continental United States.
However, flying was not the only passion she nurtured in her lifetime. Her talents varied across many domains. From designing her own lines of clothing’s, to lobbying congress for aviation legislations, to writing about women’s issues for famous magazines, Earhart had always made an impact on the aspirations of the women across the globe.
Her never go down with a fight attitude summarizes in one of her quotes.
The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward – Amelia Earhart
Freya Stark: The Adventurous Bond with a pen.
A woman who had lived through two world wars and travelled half the war torn world with only her wits and extraordinary tenancy to explore the unexplored. The tales of her extraordinary life echo far and wide throughout time and distance. Born in Paris in 1983 to an artist couple, by the time she had finished college, Freya was already a Polyglot who was fluent in French, German and Italian.
After serving as a nurse during the First World War, she returned to London and took courses at the School of Oriental Studies. During her time in the school, some kind of mystical inspiration or just unquenchable curiosity prompted her to travel to the east. East towards Lebanon, the Biblical land of “Milk and Honey” and here started her life-long love affair with the mysterious Middle East where thrilling adventurous lay forth in abundance.
Armed with her prowess over languages, Freya mastered Persian (Farsi) and set out for Persia (Iran) with just a local guide and a mule. Her destination was the enigmatic and mysterious remote valley of the Assassins and after she had reached her haven, she became the first Westerner to identify it on a map.
During World War II, she was employed by the British Ministry of Information in other Middle East regions such as Aden, Baghdad, Cairo etc. where she used her knowledge of the domain and its people to counteract Nazi propaganda. Her adventures did not end then and even after suffering through bouts of measles and heart troubles, she continued her travels, making a mark for herself in the unknown ambiguous world.