When it comes to world travelers who have left a mark on our social landscape, guys usually get all the credit. But why let them have all the fun? It’s hard to not bump into another woman on the road these days, and we’re indebted to the ones who came before us in less-forgiving times who showed the world that adventure isn’t an exclusive sport. Here are 5 women who broke new ground and inspire us to travel.
#1 Laura Dekker
This New Zealand teenager’s story will seem so unbelievable, you’d think I was making it up. But my imagination’s got nothing on Laura Dekker’s, who became the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe by sailboat-alone. And she was just 14 years old!
Dekker announced her plans to journey around the world by herself in 2009, but New Zealand courts decided she was too young to do such a thing and thwarted her plans-just not for long.
They ruled in her favor the following year and she left two weeks later, saying, “Of course there are people who say you’re crazy, but it’s a dream. A great, great dream. I want to sail, I want to go around the world. I want to see all the places and not always the stupid same thing.”
#2 Junko Tabei
Junko Tabei is a legend. Born the fifth of seven children in 1930’s Japan, when a life of adventure was deemed an unsuitable dream for young girls to have, Tabei was stamped as a weak child. But despite these expectations, the war years and her 4-foot, 9-inch stature, she became the first woman to ever set foot on the top of the world-Mt. Everest.
On reaching the summit, she famously said, “I can’t understand why men make all this fuss about Everest.” But the climb did not come without its challenges. Tabei and her all-women team were pinned under an avalanche that knocked her unconscious until six Sherpas dragged her by the ankles to rescue. “As soon as I knew everyone was alive, I was determined to continue.” She literally crawled to the summit 12 days later.
#3 Diana Nyad
When it comes to fierce women who inspire us, Diana Nyad is the first to come to mind. An unstoppable athlete who has met challenge after challenge head-on since childhood, Nyad made headlines in 2011 when she swam for 103 miles from Florida to Cuba without a shark cage.
Battling jellyfish stings, the Gulf Stream current and plain logic, she survived 51 hours and 5 minutes of straight swimming. The now-famous mantra that kept her going and has inspired legions of fans? “Find a way.”
#4 Rosemary Saal
In the summer of 2013, 21 year-old mountain climber Rosemary Saal joined the first African-American team to attempt North America’s highest peak, Mt. McKinley (more commonly known as Denali,) in Alaska. Last month, Saal, along with teammate Scott Briscoe, accepted an Outdoor Inspiration Award on behalf of the entire expedition.
“I feel that many people of color have the mentality that we do not “belong” in the outdoors,” says Saal. “When the sport was first being developed and explored, the traditional participant was a white male. It is stereotypes such as these that perpetuate the notion the POC do not have a place in the outdoors. We seek to shift that view, or at least begin to.”
#5 Nellie Bly
Born Elizabeth Jane Cochran in 1864, Nellie Bly’s story is as outrageous as it is inspiring. An investigative journalist, author and world traveler, she took the greatest lengths to achieve her dreams-even posing undercover as a mentally-ill patient at a woman’s insane asylum on New York’s Blackwell Island. Her article and subsequent book, Ten Days in a Mad House, led to reforms that bettered conditions at the institution.
While the ordeal garnered her respect and fame, her following stunt rendered her infamous. In 1889, she took Jules Verne’s protagonist in Around the World in 80 Days to task and circled the globe via train, ship and burro in a record-setting 72 days.
Tons of globetrotting women have paved the way for people like you and me to shatter stereotypes and see the world. And though we don’t have to swim from one continent to another or ascend the Seven Summits to prove we’re just as brave, their journeys continue to inspire us to take that first step. So, what are you waiting for?
Cover photo: www.pinterest.com