They traveled alone


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They traveled alone. That does not mean that they did it without servants (there were trunks, many trunks), but without a husband, or husband, or lover; that is, without a man acting as an interlocutor in the face of a foreign environment, making decisions about stays, itineraries, means of transportation and, of course, paying the bills.

Even today it is not easy for a woman to travel alone to certain destinations . Looks, gestures and attitudes generate a vulnerability that can lead to flight, rejection or blockage. But restlessness and search expire. It was also like that then.

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell talking to an Arab leader during his trip to Mesopotamia © Getty Images

In the second half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, the means of transport had advanced sufficiently to guarantee a fluid communication with the colonies and, consequently, facilitate the journey to the restless spirits.

Explorers, cartographers, merchants and scientists traveled territories whose paths, languages ​​and customs were unknown. Upon returning to the metropolis, they published their findings in societies that, on occasion, had financed their mission.

The women were waiting for them at home. If they traveled, they did so under the heading of a wife or missionary. The exploration alone, justified or not from the scientific, was for them an act of affirmation of the freedom that was denied to them in their immediate surroundings.

Those who did it undertook the trip as a personal imperative, without the support that geographic institutions offered to their male colleagues. All of them shared a transgressive spirit, the claim of their autonomy and an overwhelming ability to break the rules.

Mujeres en bici

Explorers, adventurers, writers, archaeologists … they all shared the traveling gene! © Alamy


It was fabulously rich, and that has always been a great help to launch into the world. Daughter of an English metal tycoon, in his travels in the Middle East he never abandoned his porcelain dishes, his wardrobe or his portable bathtub.

He was an archaeologist, arabist and writer. His relationship with the sheikhs of the local tribes placed her in a privileged position for the English Arab Office in Cairo, for which he collaborated as a spy in the First World War.

His most controversial mission was to set the borders of Iraq; work that was then revealed bitter.

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell, archaeologist, arabist, writer and spy in World War I © Getty Images


Poor health led Isabella Bird to travel. An undefined nervous picture propelled her into sports and the outdoors. As a remedy for her ills, in 1872 her family encouraged her to travel to Australia, Hawaii and the United States.

In Colorado he wrote Life of a Lady in the Rocky Mountains, where he describes his relationship with the outlaw Rocky Mountain Jim: a man that any woman would fall in love with, but with whom none would marry.

On his return to England he joined without excessive enthusiasm a surgeon who died shortly after, which allowed him to start a missionary journey through India, Persia, Kurdistan and Turkey.

Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird and two native elephants in a swamp, in Perak, Malaya, circa 1883 © Alamy


Nelly Bly began her career by pretending to be crazy to write a chronic gonzo about the Blackwell's Island asylum in New York, but her consecration would come with the challenge to the novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

Nelly felt that she could improve Julio Verne's brand. He left alone from Manhattan with a small suitcase and a coat.

He sailed to England and crossed to France, where he visited Verne; from Brindisi he crossed the Suez Canal with stops in Ceylon, Singapore and Japan, and arrived in New Jersey on January 25, 1890, 72 days after his departure.

Nelly Bly

Nelly Bly challenged Julio Verne around the world in 72 days © Getty Images


Alexandra David-Néel's youth was dotted with mystical experiences. Militant anarchist, lyrical singer and consecrated pianist, undertook a personal pilgrimage to the Himalayas after the friendly dissolution of their marriage.

From India he traveled to Sikkim in 1912, where he began his apprenticeship as a disciple of a lama with paranormal powers.

Along with the young Yongden, three servants and seven mules crossed Tibet with the face blackened and pigtails of yak hair. She was the first western woman to reach the city Lhasa, forbidden to foreigners.

His knowledge of Tibetan allowed him to access manuscripts and teachers who introduced him to esoteric practices such as tummo, or internal heat generation, levitation and telepathy.

Alexandra David-Néel

Alexandra David-Néel, militant anarchist, lyrical singer and consecrated pianist © Getty Images


May French Sheldon, daughter of southern planters, wondered why a woman could not organize an expedition to Africa.

The social opposition reaffirmed it in its purpose and, in 1891, with the support of her husband, embarked to Mombasa. There he managed to get the 150 porters needed to transport a bulky baggage that included a zinc bathtub.

As she affirms in her work From Sultan to Sultan, the explorer believed in the dignity and intellectual capacity of the natives, so she favored dialogue and exchange in the form of gifts.

He presented himself to the Maasai chiefs with a white wig, a rhinestones dress and a saber. It worked. Bibi Bwana, the white queen, circumvented Lake Chala, at the foot of Kilimanjaro, in a wicker palanquin.

May French Sheldon

May French Sheldon, the woman who put Africa at her feet © Wikimedia Commons (with CC license) Wikimedia Commons


The natives called Mary Kingsley only me because she always traveled alone, without servants, with a tea bag, a toothbrush, a comb and a pillow.

His concern was ethnographic. The reading fueled an interest that flourished when his parents, a London doctor and a middle-class cook, died in 1892. After a stopover in the Canary Islands he entered Sierra Leone, Luanda and Angola.

Her training as a nurse allowed her to help local populations and learn about their customs. He hunted antelopes with the fang cannibals, which used dogs with jingle bells, and dipped his Victorian outfit in swamps saturated with leeches in search of specimens of fish that he would take, in formalin, to the British Museum.

Mary Kingsley

Mary Kingsley always traveled alone, without servants, with a tea bag, a toothbrush, a comb and a pillow © Getty Images


Annie Londonderry could be considered the first traveler with sponsor: Londonderry Lithia, a mineral soda that offered to change her name to that of her brand. A poster of his sponsor hung on the back of the bicycle with which he would go around the world.

A man had already done it in 1887, but a group of Bostonian notables bet that a woman would not be able to achieve it. The term was fifteen months and offered $ 10, 000.

Annie departed in June 1894. The contract did not indicate the kilometers she had to ride, so she traveled a large part of the embarked journey.

He visited Alexandria, Colombo, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki, Kobe. He crossed much of the United States on two wheels. In Iowa, near his destination, he crashed into a herd and broke his wrist, so he arrived in plaster to collect his prize.

Annie Londonderry

Annie Londonderry, the first woman who pedaled around the world © Alamy


Emilia Serrano de Granada's Granada family had moved to Paris following Queen Maria Cristina in exile. His circle, which included Lamartine, Francisco Martínez de la Rosa and Alejandro Dumas, encouraged his fondness for literature.

When he envied Baron Wilson without offspring, he focused his attention on America. He read Columbus, Bartolome de las Casas, Humboldt and, in 1865, embarked on a trip through Cuba and Puerto Rico.

That would be the germ of America and its women, a work that grew as it traveled the continent. In his pages he recounts his meetings with politicians and peasants, but especially with militant writers like Juana Manuela Gorriti in Argentina, the Peruvian Clorinda Matto de Turner or Soledad Acosta de Samper in Colombia. Women activists and conservatives; Feminism would come later.

Emilia Serrano de Wilson

Emilia Serrano de Wilson, author of America and her women, a work that grew as it traveled the continent © Wikimedia Commons (with CC license)