Amelia Earhart (1897 - 1937)
Amelia Mary Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and author. Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences, and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. In July 1937, she vanished over the Pacific. She wasn’t yet 40, and was never seen again.
Harriet Chalmers Adams (1875 - 1937)
I’ve wondered why men have so absolutely monopolized the field of exploration," she told The New York Times in 1912. "I’ve never found my sex a hinderment, never faced a difficulty which a woman, as well as a man, could not surmount, never felt a fear of danger, never lacked courage to protect myself."
Adams helped found the Society of Women Geographers after being refused entry to the men-only Explorers Club—despite a lifetime spent on the road.
Born in California, this fearless, multilingual photo-journalist’s first forays took her to Mexico when she was 24, followed by a two-year trip from the Andes to the Amazon, and later crossing Haiti by horseback—documenting her travels in National Geographic magazine.
Fascinated by tales of migration, she followed Christopher Columbus’s route through the West Indies, the Spanish conquistadors crusades into South America, and Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage from Spain to the Philippines, as well as covering World War I from the trenches of France.
All that squeezed into 61 years; she settled and died in Nice, France, perhaps at its Mediterranean loveliest, in 1937.
Martha Ellis Gellhorn (1908 - 1998)
Martha Ellis Gellhorn was an American novelist, travel writer, and journalist who is considered one of the great war correspondents of the 20th century.
She reported on virtually every major world conflict that took place during her 60-year career.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor so admired the chain-smoking war correspondent’s work that she invited her to live in the White House, which Gellhorn actually did for a while. Imagine that happening in 2019.
She swung between affairs, most famously with writer Ernest Hemingway. She was his third wife.
Born James in 1926, Morris started his career as a young intelligence officer in Palestine and Italy during WWII and later, as a news journalist, meeting Che Guevara, visiting Hiroshima after the nuclear bomb and reporting on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem.
Of his many scoops, his greatest was Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s Everest climb in May 1953. He received the news of their summiting when James himself was at 23,000ft, dressed in short sleeves, and he scrambled down the mountain to despatch his copy—in code to avoid competitors stealing the story.
"Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement" actually meant success. James married, had children, and in 1972, he became Jan, a transition from man to woman documented in Conundrum, a powerful account that sees Jan and her lifelong partner Elizabeth emerging as heroines to lead their close-knit family.
Morris’s essays, biographies, and novels, including intimate portraits of Trieste, Oxford, New York, Hong Kong, and Venice, have shaped our idea of what it is to go abroad, and what it is to belong.
The impressive collection A Writer's World: Travels 1950–2000 reflects the life of a compulsive traveler, although now at 92, she’s mostly ensconced in her converted stable home in north-west Wales, 'tired of taking my shoes off at airports.'
Dervla Murphy (born 1931)
It was soon after her birthday and the gift of a second-hand bicycle from her parents that Murphy resolved to cycle to India. That journey, 20 years later, was documented in Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, passing through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Her writing has become unapologetically political: the struggles post-apartheid in South from the Limpopo: Travels Through South Africa; The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe, exploring the impact of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa; and Visiting Rwanda, reflecting on the 1994 genocide.
A prolific writer, at 87 she’s written 24 travel books covering 54 countries, with adventures such as meeting a tiger when cycling through the Nepalese Terai, watching the emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie single-handedly quell a student riot in Addis Ababa, and losing her packhorse—panicked by a leopard—camping in the mountains of Cameroon.
Kris Tompkins (1950)
The extreme conservationist behind one of the greatest land legacies ever, California-born Tompkins chose to carve out her adult life thousands of miles from home, in Patagonia. Now she’s pushing on with their land-restoration work, recently donating more than a million acres to the Chilean government chiefly in the Patagonia and Pumalín National Parks. "Getting people traveling was absolutely one of our goals; we didn’t make everything private and put a lock on it; we wanted people to get out into the wild and fall in love again. If they think a place is fabulous, then they can’t sit back and do nothing to try to protect it; we need deeply rooted responsibility."
Jane Goodall (1934, age 85)
"How could you possibly love traveling 300 days a year," asks English primatologist Dame Jane Goodall, 84, "when it’s just hotels and meetings, all the lines at security, the terrible pat-you-downs and how they treat you like a criminal?"
Goodall details her flights for the next few months: Bangkok, Taiwan (which she loves), Beijing, Chengdu, Hong Kong, then Greece, Spain, and France.
She drags around a suitcase she named the Coffin, full of books, a single-cup electrical-heating element and a jar of Marmite, and always carries a stuffed toy monkey called Mr. H. Yet the pioneering researcher-turned-activist doesn’t plan to change her schedule any time soon.
Her lectures are near-evangelistic, often provoking tears and ovations. "They’ve been selling out, sometimes 5,000 seats in one day," she says. Goodall was 10, reading Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan, when she decided "to live with wild animals in Africa."
After school, a friend invited her to Kenya and she worked as a waitress to save up for her boat passage to Mombasa in 1957. There she met the paleontologist Louis Leakey who gave her the opportunity to work as a chimpanzee researcher, even fast-tracking her place at Cambridge so she would be qualified.
She then spent half a century observing the chimpanzees at Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania, tearing up the book on what we thought we knew of animal behavior and inspiring a cultish obsession with our closest relative in the animal kingdom.
"Perhaps all Australians have some sense of the desert buried in their psyches," says intrepid adventurer Davidson.
Her own fascination stemmed from being raised on a cattle station—"those early sensual signals of dry air and the smell of arid grass." She remembers feeling restless, wanting "to do something big and challenging."
She moved from Sydney to Alice Springs in 1975, got a job as a waitress and two years later, aged 26, embarked on a nine-month, 1,700-mile trek from the Northern Territory to the coast, across a "transcendent landscape," with her dog and four camels.
It was documented in National Geographic, then in her book Tracks (which she wrote at the London home of novelist Doris Lessing) and on the big screen, in the Golden Lion-nominated film starring Mia Wasikowska.
Davidson tells of the extreme heat, poisonous snakes and lecherous men – but the journey ends in triumph, swimming with her camels in the Indian Ocean. She was occasionally joined by journalist Rick Smolan, who photographed her progress, and by Eddie, an indigenous man who walked her through the Jameson Ranges.
Since Tracks, she has studied and written about nomadic people, and spends several months a year in the Himalayas. She writes hoping her readers too will consider choosing "an adventure of the spirit."
In 1963, this Russian cosmonaut blasted off in the Vostok 6 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, becoming the first woman in space at only 26. Tereshkova orbited the planet 48 times and flew 1.2 million miles (barely eating, she says, because the tube-fed food was so disgusting).
During the three-day mission she racked up more hours solo in space than all American spacemen combined at the time. Her call sign was Chaika (Russian for seagull), given to her by Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
On her way up, she said: "Hey sky, take off your hat, I’m on my way!" and was reprimanded by Gagarin, who was listening in. He hardly had cause, given that Tereshkova was game enough to continue the odd tradition he had started of peeing on the tire of the transfer bus to the launch pad.
After her landmark mission, she traveled the world before going into politics, and at 81 Tereshkova is still shaping policy as a member of the State Duma. An advocate of women’s rights, she complained that systems and spacesuits were designed by men for men.
"A bird cannot fly with only one wing," she said. "Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women." She still dreams about going into space and would agree to a one-way Mars mission in a heartbeat.
"I am ready," she affirms.
Eve Arnold (1912 - 2012)
Her hair may have greyed in her early thirties, but Arnold reached the grand age of 99, having spent her long life behind the lens after she was given a $40 Rolleicord camera by a boyfriend.
In New York she shot "drunken bums sleeping in the Bowery and sun glinting off rope" and loved it so much she abandoned a medical degree to become the first woman member of the award-winning Magnum agency, where photographers retain full copyright.
Raised in Philadelphia by Ukrainian immigrants, Arnold was mostly self-taught, with a dash of guidance from Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch. Her photojournalism had a critical social eye, seeking an intimacy with subjects from minority to celebrity, Malcolm X to Marilyn Monroe.
When she photographed men, they became "flirtatious and fun" and female subjects felt "less as if they’re expected to be in a relationship." Hers was a life on the road, as seen in the portraits of Mongolian horse trainers, Chinese factory workers, Cuban prostitutes, and political prisoners in Russia.
When away on assignment she would queue for hours to phone her son. "If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given," she said.
Cheryl Strayed (1968)
Obsessed with travel since she was a "kid in elementary school, looking at maps on classroom walls imagining all the ways her life would be expanded if she got to Australia or New York City or South Africa," Strayed grew up without money for plane tickets and hotel rooms. She battled with heroin and a messy divorce.
But she managed to notch up the miles on the cheap exploring the U.S. in her 1979 Chevy LUV pickup called Myrtle, which she fitted out with a twin-sized futon. "I was very bold sleeping in the back… it wasn’t locked… anyone could have come in… but that helped give me the courage to be out in the wilderness."
And Strayed (her made-up, adopted name for herself) is best known for finding her escape in the wilderness—hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail—which she wrote about in her New York Times bestseller Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, later turned into the film starring Reese Witherspoon. Oprah Winfrey even relaunched her Book Club in part to share Strayed’s intelligently, elegantly written memoir.
Yes, it is a travelogue, but it’s also an extraordinary message on how traveling, exploring, sheer physical movement can be a balm, can bring about meaningful resolution. "Barely a day’s passed (since publishing Wild) that I haven’t met or received an email from someone who’s said to me, 'I went and did this because of you, I hiked the PCT or another trail,'" Strayed says. "I’m deeply honored that people read Wild and do that.
" Now married with two children living in a Prairie Craftsman home in Portland, Oregon, she’s trying to give her family the experiences she wished she’d had growing up. "I pull the kids out of school and we go traveling for a couple of months.
They’ve been to 27 countries. It’s an important part of their education." Upcoming, she vows "to return to New Zealand, that’s top of my list," and "I turned 50 last month, so I’ve promised myself I’m going to get myself to Italy within the year."
Dian Fossey (1932)
The National Geographic image of a passionate intrepid scientist ensconced among the Virunga volcanoes with a family of affectionate mountain gorillas is not the whole truth.
Nor is her 1983 book, Gorillas in the Mist, later made into the film in which she was played by Sigourney Weaver. The American primatologist was also known as a bully, intimidating her staff, behaving erratically, traits further exacerbated by her hard drinking habits.
Yet she had her admirers—in wonder at her total commitment, call it obsessive, to these majestic animals that were being heavily poached at the time. After traveling extensively throughout Africa, she founded the Karisoke Research Centre and based herself here in Rwanda’s cloud forest.
Of her first ever encounter with the species, she was struck by "their individuality combined with the shyness of their behavior." But her extreme single-mindedness to protect the animals and her unpredictable ways isolated her.
Relationships soured with the local community, with fellow researchers and conservationists. Those who cared about her begged her to leave and take up a university position back in the U.S. But her calling was too strong.
She remained—and was murdered two days after Christmas in 1985 at the age of 48. The exact circumstances of her death still remain unclear, but she had many enemies.
Appropriately she lies in the burial ground of her research gorillas, including her favorite, Digit. On her tomb the plaque reads: "No one loved gorillas more." It might be difficult to love Fossey, but she made the world love gorillas.
Marie Colvin (1956)
With her signature pirate’s patch (she’d lost her eye in a grenade blast in Sri Lanka), this frontline correspondent defied death numerous times—until she didn’t.
In 2012, Colvin was killed in an airstrike while covering the siege of Homs in Syria. Tragically, Colvin herself used to say, "No story is worth dying for, because there’s no story then."
The American journalist, who reported mostly for The Sunday Times, was known for her swearing, her smoking, her drinking, her PTSD, the La Perla bra she wore under her flak jacket, and her strong belief in the need to bear witness to the atrocities of war from Iraq to Afghanistan, East Timor to Kosovo, and Chechnya to Libya.
Her writing was spare, incisive, even painful to read. "In Basra, they say the day belongs to Iraq; the night to Iran. Iraq’s second city is under siege, and Iranian shells slammed into houses for the 70th successive day yesterday," she typed in 1987.
Colvin didn’t deny the indecision she sometimes felt; sentiments such as "What am I doing?" in emails to friends were quickly followed by "Story incredibly important, though."
"Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid," she once said. In the forward to On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin, her sister wrote that she hoped "Marie will continue to inspire young women everywhere, as they dream of the difference just one girl can make in the world."
Freya Stark (1893 - 1993)
Stark was 100 when she died and it was a life that could not have been richer or fuller.
Born in 1893, she chronicled her journeys to remote regions of the Middle East in some of the world’s most poetic travel literature, first visiting French Lebanon in 1927, slipping through a military cordon surrounding the Druze, while carrying "a copy of Dante’s Inferno, very little money, a revolver, and a fur coat."
She went on to investigate the mysterious Assassins of Persia, became the first Western woman to explore Luristan in Iran, followed the ancient frankincense route, ventured to northern Yemen in 1940, and finally settled to live in Baghdad.
She was drawn to remote and risky places, choosing to go alone, and remarking that she found confronting danger a way of “passing through fear, to the absence of fear.”
Her seven languages, mostly self-taught, helped her research an impressive body of work that includes The Valley of the Assassins, The Hadhramaut, Letters from Syria, Beyond Euphrates, Riding to the Tigris and The Minaret of Djam—books that have inspired a generation of travel writers with their evocative descriptions of harems and caravans.
After her death in Asolo in northeast Italy, the newspapers referred to her as la regina nomade.
When record-breaking South African freediver Prinsloo gives talks, she demonstrates the slowing down of her breathing, quite fascinating in itself.
She also reminds everyone that every second inhalation we take comes from the ocean. "It’s not only the trees that supply our oxygen," she says. Unsurprisingly, she prefers to travel by boat than plane, but can’t avoid getting on flights given she teaches the sport all over the world—in the company of whale sharks in Madagascar, humpback whales in the South Pacific, and orcas in Norway.
But her favorite marine creatures are dolphins: "They make eye contact, twirl around you until they’re dizzy with the absolute joy of the connection," she says. To stay healthy—critical in this line of work—she "pops loads of vitamins, drinks gallons of water" and to avoid coughs and colds uses Uber rather than public transport (regrettably, she adds).
It’s been a long journey from her rural beginnings growing up on a land-locked farm, but from an early age Prinsloo had a dream to become a mermaid (she and her sister even had their own mermaid language). She couldn’t afford to attend university in South Africa, but heard you could study for free in Sweden if you spoke Swedish; she moved there, learned the language in six months, and signed up to study acting in Gothenburg.
A college buddy introduced her to freediving and Prinsloo showed promise. On graduation, she moved to the Red Sea to dedicate herself to the sport. After smashing 11 world-bests and notching up a staggering breath-hold of five minutes 39 seconds, she gave up competing.
Now her time is split between teaching and running her charity I Am Water, that shows underprivileged children living in coastal communities the wonder of their marine backyard, aiming to educate and rouse the next generation of conservationists.
"I am terrified of our reckless overfishing," she says. "We run the risk of literally eating our oceans empty." Yet she’s always upbeat and positive: "It is a complex situation with many challenges, but also many solutions."
The South Sudanese musician is a traveler in the rawest sense, having been a refugee her entire life. Born on an unknown date around 1983, at the height of the Second Sudanese Civil War, she saw her family torn apart. At age 10, she lost her mother; her father raped and threatened to kill her.
She fled to Khartoum but was repeatedly sexually abused by her employers. When she eventually made it to a refugee camp in Kenya and managed to find her brother, Emmanuel Jal, who had become an acclaimed hip-hop artist, the pair recorded a song called "Gua" (meaning peace in their native Nuer tongue); it reached no. 1 in Kenya.
Nyaruach also went public with her life story in War Child, the award-winning documentary focusing on her brother’s time as a child soldier. In 2013, she was invited to Aswan, Egypt, to take part in the Nile Project, which represented the region’s best musicians, culminating in a concert in Cairo.
Now a single mother of two living in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, Nyaruach is facing travel restrictions, but she and her brother have put out an Afrobeat album, Naath, and are aiming to tour the U.K. and the U.S. this year.
The music, inspired by traditional folklore, reflects on the resilient culture of their homeland. Nyaruach says that she wants to help women and children of war not to give up hope. A hero for our times, surely.
Karen Blixen (1885 - 1962)
"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…" is probably one of the most evocative film openings, conjuring up a dreamily romantic view of life in Africa, played out by Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.
It was based, of course, on Karen Blixen’s memoir Out of Africa, published under her pen name Isak Dinesen. After an aristocratic upbringing in Denmark, schooled there and in Switzerland, Blixen and her Swedish second cousin, Baron Bror von Blixen-Finecke, moved to Kenya, marrying in Mombasa before heading to the Rift Valley to learn Swahili and set up a coffee plantation: "Here at long last one was in a position not to give a damn for all conventions, here was a new kind of freedom which until then one had only found in dreams!"
The dream faded, though—Blixen grew weary of her husband’s long hunting trips and affairs, perhaps contracting syphilis from him, which she suffered from throughout her life. They divorced, but she continued to run the farm, now single-handedly, fighting drought, fire and creditors.
She fell in love with the English big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton, with whom she traveled all over the country, at her happiest up in the clouds in his de Havilland Gipsy Moth. When his plane crashed, his death, coupled with the failure of the farm, forced Blixen to leave Kenya for good.
She was a beguiling conversationalist, husky in voice (she smoked constantly) and with a piercing gaze, and above all was a luminous and prolific writer of books that set travel hearts racing, nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature twice, when Ernest Hemingway won, he suggested it should have gone to her.
This 42-year-old Nigerian writer grew up in Surrey, which she describes as "a bountiful paradise of Twix bars and TV cartoons and leylandii trees, far removed from the heat and chaos of Nigeria" where you see "machine guns, tuxedos, army fatigues, and evening frocks together at an airport.
" Her book Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria, is a brave first foray into travel literature; Noo’s father Ken Saro-Wiwa, who campaigned against government corruption, was executed by the military dictatorship of his country in 1995.
Noo had spent childhood summers in Port Harcourt on the Niger Delta but after this, she didn’t return for 10 years (except for his funeral and burial), wanting nothing more to do with the country.
But in time she began tackling the subject of homeland, the same way she’d approached writing guidebooks (on Ivory Coast, Guinea, Madagascar, Benin, Ghana, and Togo for Lonely Planet and Rough Guides) and writes that she came "to love many things about Nigeria: our indigenous heritage, the dances, the masks, the music, the baobab trees and the drill monkeys."
"I’ve been amazed by how many people have written to me and told me they knew nothing about Nigeria and how I opened their eyes," she says. "I feel I have a responsibility there."
She’s now penning a book about Africans who live in China, a country she’s fallen in love with ("after China, everything feels very boring," she says), then plans one on the Niger Delta, followed by Switzerland, which she calls "the heart of darkness of Europe."
Anisa Kamadoli Costa
A rooted New Yorker in every way with a second-generation story (Costa’s mother is from Maharashtra, her father from Karnataka in India), the Tiffany & Co chief sustainability officer isn’t just sitting comfortably with her feet up on a Fifth Avenue mahogany desk.
She spends at least half of the year on the road, personally overseeing her projects for the Tiffany & Co Foundation: opposing a proposed mine on Alaska’s Bristol Bay that would sit at the headwaters of one of the world’s greatest salmon fisheries and leading journalists to the Great Barrier Reef to raise awareness of ocean conservation.
"Most people just don’t consider how important the oceans are to the world," Costa says. Her background includes stints at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and working for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund with the goal of "making sure Americans travel more."
She has spearheaded Tiffany’s support of the virtual-reality film Valen’s Reef about Indonesia’s Raja Ampat marine life (where 75 percent of the planet’s coral species can be found) and champions the company’s ecological commitment, with all the profits from dedicated jewelery lines funding conservation projects.
"When I travel I always try to think about the place as a whole, rather than just its airport code," she says.
Annie Smith Peck (1850 - 1935)
Amelia Earhart once toasted her saying. "I felt an upstart compared to Miss Peck. Her mountain climbing résumé gives me the impression I am just a softie. However, I am somehow comforted by the fact that she would make almost anyone appear soft.
" Black-and-white photographs of Peck show her heading off on expeditions wearing veiled hats with a brooch at her collar, before she changes her clothes and is snapped clutching an ice axe on mountain summits and zip-lining the Iguazu River.
When the American famously climbed the Matterhorn in 1895 aged 45, the headlines focused on her wearing trousers. Fifteen years later she became the first climber to summit Mount Huascarán in Peru (at the age of 58)—pledging "to attain some height where no man had previously stood."
The epitaph of the scholar, suffragist, and political activist reads: "You have brought uncommon glory to women of all time."
The 46-year-old Swiss explorer first ran away from home at age six, heading into the woods with her backpack and her father’s dog Sultan."I was always a wild kid, the weirdo of the family," Marquis says.
"My mum once called the police. They found me about an hour’s walk away. I’d spent the night in a cave full of bats." Marquis has turned that weirdness into a career—as a speaker and writer, recently nominated as National Geographic Adventurer of the Year.
She’s not a scientist but likes to have a fact-finding mission to her expeditions, because "we need nature today more than ever." Her last trip was three months solo walking the west coast of Tasmania, collecting data on plant life for the Australian government; while there, she fell down a gorge, broke a shoulder, and continued to carry her 77lb backpack on it for the next three days.
Next she’s off to northern Canada to train for an upcoming expedition—by contrast, this time in the desert. The common theme is that she prefers to be alone. "I’m not good with teams," she admits. "People ask me: Are you scared? and I say, Of what?"
When she occasionally returns home, she retreats to a small cabin in the Swiss Alps—before she hears again the call of the wild. "I’ve explored our darkest corners through pain and fear," she says, "and I deal with the things that we don’t want to deal with because that’s what makes you powerful."
Bessie Coleman (1892 - 1926)
Born a decade before the Wright Brothers even attempted flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Coleman became the first African-American woman to hold a pilot’s licence. The daughter of a black mother and a mixed-race father, Coleman laboured in the cotton fields of Texas with her 12 sisters and brothers as a child.
But unlike most Americans of that era, she finished high school, then went on to study at Langston University, dropping out only because she could not afford the fees. Later, while working as a manicurist at the White Sox Barber Shop in Chicago, she saw pictures in the newspapers of airforce pilots and started to dream.
One of her brothers teased her: "You ain’t never goin’ to fly. Not like those women I saw in France" (he had served in Europe during World War I). That galvanized her completely. After all the American flying schools turned her down, Coleman signed up for French lessons and applied to France’s most elite flight school—where she learned to fly, as well as to master stunts such as tailspins.
On returning to the U.S. in 1921, she was unable to become a commercial pilot because of her race and gender and worked as a stunt pilot, declining to appear at any air show that refused entry to blacks. Her motto was "No Uncle Tom stuff for me."
She overturned social conventions—smoking cigarettes, heading out without a chaperone—and had "plans to establish a flying school and teach the Negro to fly so they will able to serve their country better," but she died before her dream could be realized.
She was killed, just 34 years old, during a test flight (her mechanic was piloting), when the plane went into a spin and she fell out of the open cockpit.
Gertrude Bell (1868 - 1926)
Often called a female Lawrence of Arabia, this Englishwoman was arguably much more. Born into wealth and privilege in 1868, Bell read Modern History at Oxford, one of the few subjects women were allowed to study at the time.
She headed off on her travels: spending years moving around the Middle East—from Tehran to Jerusalem to Beirut to Damascus—and became fluent in Persian, Arabic, French, and German, as well as speaking Italian and Turkish, and holding titles such as Liaison Officer, Correspondent to Cairo and Oriental Secretary for the British government.
At the end of the war, Bell was pivotal in drawing up the borders of modern-day Iraq and shaping the country's politics. She has been described as "one of the few representatives of His Majesty’s Government remembered by the Arabs with anything resembling affection."
A mean mountaineer as well, she also spent time in the Alps, summiting both La Meije and Mont Blanc, and had one peak in the Bernese Oberland, Gertrudspitze, named after her.
Praise back in the day was hardly that, such as: she has "masculine vigor, hard common sense, and practical efficiency—all tempered by feminine charm and a most romantic spirit." Bell lived out her last days in Baghdad, where she took up again archaeology, founding what became the National Museum of Iraq.
Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah (1970)
"I am an Arab through and through," says the queen consort of Jordan, "but I am also one who speaks the international language." Palestinian by nationality, Rania was born in Kuwait, spent her summers visiting relatives in the West Bank, spoke Arabic at home and English at school.
She says she carried hummus sandwiches in her packed lunch, while a classmate brought peanut butter and jam; she imagined theirs would be "disgusting," but when she tried it, she thought it was "heavenly" (a story she wrote down and turned into a children’s’ book, The Sandwich Swap).
It was a small step towards fueling a desire for East-West exchange and cross-border adventures. She went off to study at the American University in Cairo and was there when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Her family fled to Jordan, she joined them, there hobnobbed with royalty and ended up marrying the future king. In 1999, at the age of 28, she became the youngest queen in the world when her husband took the throne and became King Abdullah II.
She has redefined the modern monarch during her world tours of duty—while connecting with nearly 5 million Instagram and 10.6 million Twitter followers (where her profile reads: "a mum and a wife with a really cool day job").
Her charity, the Jordan River Foundation helps rural women find a way to sell their traditional crafts: Queen Rania likes to quote the African proverb: "As you educate a woman, you educate the family," she says.
"If you educate the girls, you educate the future."
Junko Tabei (1939 - 2016)
In spring 1975, just after the Vietnam War finally drew to a close and as Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dresses were selling in their millions and Tammy Wynette’s "Stand By Your Man" was blaring from radios across the U.K., a 35-year-old, five-foot-tall Japanese climber became the first woman to scale Mount Everest as part of an all-female team she had put together.
Think about the more localized context and her achievements are even more brilliant. "Back in 1970s Japan, men were the ones to work outside and women were asked just to serve tea," she said.
Yet against this backdrop, Tabei started the Ladies Climbing Club and worked more than one job to fund expeditions—as an editor of a scientific journal, a piano tutor, and teaching English. Funding requests were blanked with responses such as "you should be raising children instead." Which, by the way, she was.
As she climbed Everest, back home her daughter turned three (Tabei drew a birthday cake on a postcard and sent it from High Camp). At the summit, she remembered thinking: "Oh, I don’t have to climb any more," an idea that didn’t last long.
She was first woman to notch up the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent. Even after being diagnosed with cancer, she continued to climb.
At 76, she had scaled the highest peaks of 76 countries, while promoting sustainable mountaineering and lesser-known climbing areas. She died a year later.
Laura Dekker (1995)
The uniquely determined Dutch-born Dekker is the youngest person to sail solo around the world—she was just 14 when she set off. The challenge to get her out on the water was astonishing in itself: Social services tried to stop her because of her age.
They went to court and Dekker won; she says those memories keep her up at night more than fears of pirates. The voyage went ahead in 2010, commencing in Gibraltar. What followed were 518 days alone on the 38-foot, two-masted Guppy, fitting in her homework and learning to play the flute to pass the time.
Every teenage schoolgirl worth her salt read Dekker’s blog, and she celebrated her feat by eating doughnuts on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten before deciding against going home, sailing on to Whangarei, New Zealand, the port where she had been born (her parents had moored here two years into a seven-year sailing trip, and she spent her first five years at sea).
Dekker turned her experience into a no-gloss documentary, Maidentrip, and a book, One Girl One Dream.
And she’s still living on a boat.
Jeanne Baret (1740 - 1807)
Born in France in 1740, Baret was the first woman to circumnavigate the globe—disguised as a man, of course; at the time women were forbidden on French navy ships.
She’d been working as housekeeper to, before becoming the lover of, naturalist Philibert de Commerçon, who’d been invited to join the round-the-world expedition of Commander Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Feigning to be his male valet, and dressed up in loose-fitting clothes, her chest strapped flat with strips of linen, she and De Commerçon set sail on the Étoile in December 1766.
For two years they managed to maintain the fiction, no mean feat given there were 116 men on board living in close quarters. Ship journals are contradictory, but there is some suggestion she pronounced herself a eunuch when suspicions were raised about her gender; other accounts hint at violence and rape.
Meantime Baret pressed on with her work, particularly because De Commerçon was sickly on board; in Rio de Janeiro, it was she who ventured ashore—plucking a flower to be named after the captain, bougainvillea.
Over the course of the voyage, the pair collected more than 6,000 botanical samples from around the world, disembarking the ship in Mauritius—the circumstances unclear—to continue their botanical studies.