A History of Solo Women’s Travel

More and more women are choosing to go it alone and explore the world. Twice as many more than men. So it is interesting to note that the first woman to travel solo was a pilgrim named Egeria in 381AD. She woke up in her Galicia home and made a decision to make the journey of a lifetime to the Holy Land. However, she ended up walking half the world alone. It was the start of an inspiring line of women who made the choice to go it alone.

There are so many women throughout history whom have ventured out on their own. Especially in times when it was unheard of for a woman to have a voice. There are three women who stand out to me as heroines, those whom were not afraid to be independent and go against societal norms. They are: Freya Stark (1893-1993), Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), and Lady Hestor Stanhope (1776-1839).

These women had ventured into the then unknown destinations of the Middle East, North Africa and Syrian mountains. All these destinations hold an exotic appeal that I am drawn to exploring. Countries which were once peaceful and beautiful places, before civil wars, world wars and the new age of terrorism.

These women also travelled without the aid of technology. It may have taken them longer, but they made the most of their lie changing journeys.

Freya Stark

Freya StarkA British travel writer, born in Paris, she wrote more than two dozen personal stories describing the people, culture local history and everyday life in the countries she visited. Her travels focussed on Turkey, Middle East, Persia, Afghanistan and Nepal. Her first book published was The Valley of the Assassins in 1934 based on her journey through Persia. She was not afraid to get involved in politics and during World War II worked for the British Ministry of Information from Baghdad, Cairo and Aden and founded the Anti Nazi Brotherhood of Freedom

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude BellAn English travel writer and administrator in Arabia for which she later became known as the female Lawrence of Arabia. She was instrumental in her role during the Hashimite dynasty placing Faysal I on the Iraq throne in 1921. Her travels included Tehran, Syria, Middle East and Asia. But she was best known for her advocacy role in Middle East politics. Her books include: The Desert and the Sown (1907) and Safar Nameh (1894). She spent the remaining years of her life in Baghdad where she created the National Museum of Iraq. She was a big believer that antiquities uncovered in a country should remain there.

Lady Hestor Stanhope

Lady Hestor StanhopeBritish socialite, adventurer and traveller who was crowned the unofficial Queen of the Desert by the children of Palmya, Syria in 1813. Most of her travels were through Syria and Lebanon and her biggest achievement was to brave the warring tribes to reach ancient ruins deep in the Syrian desert. She also played an active role in the turbulent history of Middle East politics, paving the way forward for other women (like Gertrude Bell). She was part of the group of women who left behind the constrictions of European society to immerse themselves in the cultural conflicts of the Arab world. She was perhaps one of the original feminists and took an unconventional approach to societal expectations of unmarried women. One of her best quotes includes: “I have been thought made – ridiculed and abused, but it is out of the power of a man to change my way of thinking upon any subject”. Her approach was a highlight when she met Lord Byron in Athens and they took an instant dislike to each other. She implied that he was a plagiarist and he condemned her as “that dangerous thing – a female wit”.


Photos courtesy of Google Clip Art Gallery




2 Replies to “A History of Solo Women’s Travel”

  1. Enjoy this post and in particular this empowering quote “I have been thought made – ridiculed and abused, but it is out of the power of a man to change my way of thinking upon any subject”

    Liked by 2 people

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