There is nothing new about women leaving home to travel either alone or with other women, but the practice has evolved from an anomaly that was the privilege of a few, to a travel trend that is showing exponential growth.
According to recent research by Industry Global News 24 an astounding 85% of solo travelers are women and Google searches for ‘solo women travel’ increased by 32% in 2017 to reach an amazing 230% increase in 2019.
On the whole women no longer need permission, nor financial backing, to pack up and hit the road. When the female members of the Solo Travel Society were asked why they travel alone: 46% said freedom, independence and the chance to do what they want when they want; 22% said they weren't willing to wait around for others; 15% said to challenge themselves and gain confidence.
These three trailblazing women defied the conventions of their time to travel, sometimes in disguise.
Icelandic sagas immortalise the Viking wife and mother Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir, as “a woman of striking appearance and wise as well, who knew how to behave among strangers.” By many accounts she was the most travelled woman of the Middle Ages, from the 5th to the late 15th centuries. Known as the “far traveller”, she is said to have crisscrossed the North Atlantic several times between Greenland and Iceland. She also sailed to North America, five centuries before Christopher Columbus.
Jeanne Baret (1740 - 1807) was a member of Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expedition on the ships La Boudeuse and Étoile from 1766–1769. She is thought to be the first woman to have completed a round the world voyage. She joined the expedition disguised as a man, calling herself Jean Baret. With her chest wrapped in bandages, she conspired with her lover, the expedition's naturalist, Philibert Commerçon and was enlisted as his assistant. According to Bougainville's account, Baret was herself an expert botanist.
And Mary Seacole, a British-Jamaican nurse, who earned fame as a “black Florence Nightingale,” considered travel the ultimate antidote for the limiting Victorian era (1837 - 1901). Her witty autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands, recounts her exploits tending to cholera victims in Panama and at the front lines of the Crimean War.
“As I grew into womanhood,” she writes, “I began to indulge that longing to travel which will never leave me while I have health and vigour.”
Jan Morris lived the first half of her life as journalist James Morris, he/she was posted to Palestine in 1946 as an intelligence officer and on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, he/she scrambled down Mount Everest to break the news that Sir Edmond Hillary and the Nepalese Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay had become the first climbers to reach the summit of the mountain. She underwent surgery at a clinic in Casablanca to transition to female in 1972. She then began writing about places in earnest, revealing an unparalleled knack for evocative city portraits. Her 40-plus books span Venice to Hong Kong, the U.S. to the Arab world.
"Travel seems not just a way of having a good time, but something that every self-respecting citizen ought to undertake, like a high-fiber diet, say, or a deodorant."
In 1985, she was a Booker Prize finalist for an imagined travelogue and political thriller, “Last Letters from Hav,” about a Mediterranean city-state that was a stopping point for the author’s globe-spanning knowledge and adventures, where visitors ranged from Saint Paul and Marco Polo to Ernest Hemingway and Sigmund Freud.
Although there are attacks on and even murders of women travelers, statistically these are no more frequent than attacks on male travelers, and the media tend to over emphasize information about these tragedies. The media hype may also be an attempt to constrain women’s movements solely on the basis of gender. Of course, all travellers should take reasonable safety precautions, regardless of age or sex.
There are now many organizations that cater for women’s travel, either for solo travel or in groups and a quick search on the internet will reveal dozens of companies and communities worldwide. The possibilities available for women only travel are varied and different, ranging from traditional tours to historic cities and sites, to all-female adventures that provide special insights into the life of the women in different cultures, to challenging expeditions in close contact with nature, to well being retreats or apprenticing with an artisan.
When asked why women-only travel is so popular now Bench Africa’s, Groups & Operations Director, Julie De Palo, says that:
« Some women feel less anxiety when travelling with other women, which allows them to relax into the adventure and they tend to seek out more meaningful travel. They want to know that their travels are making a difference in the countries they are visiting. »
Main stream media would have us believe that women travelers are white, Western, thin, and straight, a typically skewed point of view. In September 2011, Evita Turquoise Robinson created the NOMADNESS Travel Tribe, an online social community primarily for travelers of color, which they define as black and brown. Nomadness was the first community of its kind targeting black and brown millennials, in the newly coined 'black travel movement'. The group currently surpasses 25,000 international members, with over thirty regional Ambassadors. From the success of the online group, Evita has garnered partnerships with top brands and destinations around the world.
For the LGBTQ+ community as safety and acceptance of the lifestyle is important when researching destinations to eliminate the stress of dangerous and uncomfortable situations, there are also companies that have already done the research and vetted their recommended destinations. On the website GoGirlfriend there is a useful list of LGBT+ travel organizations for people traveling with a partner or solo.
A familiar expression about discovering the world is thought to come from Shakespeare 's The Merry Wives of Windsor: ‘Why, then the world's mine oyster, Which I with sword will open’. Spoken by the character Pistol, a soldier and braggart, the phrase these days can be amended to:
“The world is a woman’s oyster”.