Women Who Go the Distance

Awesome Women in Travel: Breaking Stereotypes and World Records

by Delfina Forstmann
Mae Mae Jamison in space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honoring inspirational women in travel — adventurous spirits who break stereotypes and make history. We love a lady who can go the distance.

Mae Jemison

Achievement: The first African-American woman to travel to space.

Why We Love Her: She became a doctor in 1981, working as a general practitioner and a medical officer with the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone and Liberia until she had a career change and fulfilled every little kid’s dream by becoming an astronaut. When she joined the crew of the Endeavour in 1992, she became the first African-American woman to travel into space, taking travel, women’s rights, and civil rights to new heights. Learn more.

Laura Dekker presentation.
Laura Dekker speaking about her travels. Photo courtesy of Laura Dekker.

Laura Dekker

Achievement: In 2012, at the age of sixteen, she became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world solo.

Why We Love Her: Dekker announced her intention to circumnavigate the globe in 2009 when she was fourteen. At the time, she was living in the Netherlands and the Child Welfare office declared the trip too dangerous for such a young person. Nevertheless, she was determined to lead to her voyage and in 2011 she began. Starting in Holland, she sailed to Gibraltar and from there passed the Canary Islands to Cape Verde and across the Atlantic to Panama, which led her to the Pacific Ocean, then the Indian Ocean, and eventually around the Cape of Good Hope. The final leg took her to Saint Martin via the South Atlantic. Whew. Learn more.

Photo courtesy of Junko Tabei.

Junko Tabei

Achievement: First woman to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents, including Mount Everest.

Why We Love Her: Growing up in Japan, where everyone is expected to follow a set path, didn’t stop Junko from climbing to new heights. She climbed her first mountain in fourth grade. Then moved on to conquer all the major peaks in Japan and start the Women’s Mountaineering Club to encourage fellow Japanese female alpinists. In 1975, she became the first woman to scale Mount Everest. But she didn’t stop there. Before passing away in 2016, she climbed the highest peak in every continent, and even set her sights on doing the same in every country. Hats off, Junko. Learn more.

Peggy Whiteson in space.
Peggy Whiteson in space. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Peggy Whitson

Achievement: The NASA astronaut began her work in 1989 as a research biochemist in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and has spent more time in space than any American, period.

Why We Love Her: She flew on Expedition 50-51 to the International Space Station. She participated in a record-breaking space walk (that's time spent in outer space without a vehicle) of four hours and 23 minutes. She completed her 665-day stint in space — a new U.S. record — in 2017.

Photo by Alexandria Bombach / Frame by Frame.

Farzana Wahidy

Achievement: First female photojournalist in Afghanistan to work with international media.

Why We Love Her: She tells the story of Afghanistan from the inside. And she’s one of the few female photographers doing so. She grew up under Taliban rule and, completely aware of what being a women in her society meant, chose to apply to Aina in Kabul, an institute set up to train Afghani women and men to pursue careers in photojournalism. She was one of their first students. Now she uses her platform and access to shed light on the life of women living in Afghanistan's segregated society. Learn more.

Felicity Aston holding her Guinness World Record award.
Felicity Aston holding her Guinness World Record award. Photo courtesy of Felicity Aston

Felicity Aston

Achievement: The first woman to traverse Antarctica solo on skis.

Why We Love Her: The former Antarctic scientist made her epic journey in 59 days, earning a spot in the book of Guinness World Records, just one of her dozens of achievements and accolades. The British explorer has also organized many all-female expeditions, leading the first British Women’s crossing of Greenland and the largest team of women to ski to the South Pole. Learn more.

Jane Goodall.
Jane Goodall. Photo courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute.

Jane Goodall

Achievement: The world’s most highly respected anthropologist and ecological preservation activist does amazing work through her Jane Goodall Institute.

Why We Love Her: By immersing herself in the world of chimpanzees in Tanzania, she found an alternative to the rigid procedures used to discover primate behavior. Her sensitivity to nature made her discoveries possible. Learn more.

Asha de Vos
Asha de Vos at TED. Photo courtesy of TED.

Asha de Vos

Achievement: The Sri Lankan marine biologist is helping to save the oceans, one blue whale at a time, through her groundbreaking work with Oceanswell in the Northern Indian Ocean. 

Why We Love Her: Because oceans cover 70 percent of the earth, and she is working tirelessly to preserve them through her research, mentoring, and TED talks (watch her talk "Why You Should Care About Whale Poo" below). The list of accolades is long: the first and only Sri Lankan to have a PhD in Marine Mammal research. The first Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation from Sri Lanka. Ocean Conservation Fellow at the New England Aquarium. Duke Global Fellow in Marine Conservation. World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. And she's not stopping anytime soon. Learn more.

Wendy Searle.
Photo courtesy of Wendy Searle.

Wendy Searle

Achievement: She is organizing SouthPole2020, an an all-female trip to Antarctica scheduled for 2020.

Why We Love Her: A modern-day Shackleton, her upcoming polar expedition will chart a new route from the coast over a heretofore uncrossed glacier to the geographic South Pole. Searle aims to inspire and to push women to be adventurous, with a goal of creating role models and motivating women to “see challenges, not barriers.” Learn more.

Margaret Bourke-White

Achievement: She was famous for her World War II photojournalism and was first first female documentary photographer to be accredited by and work with the U.S Armed Forces.

Why We Love Her: Her photos are astonishing, and she overcame considerable gender boundaries of her time. The first American photographer to take photos of Soviet industry and the Soviet Five-Year Plan, she was designated a Women's History Month Honoree in 1992 and again in 1994 by the National Women's History Project. Learn more.

Kira Salak in the field.
Kira Salak in the field. Photo courtesy of Kira Salak.

Kira Salak

Achievement: The adventure journalist was the first woman to traverse Papau New Guinea. She also recreated Mungo Park’s fatal trip down the Niger River, recounting her solo canoe journey in the book Cruelest Journey: 600 Miles to Timbuktu

Why We Love Her: She not only has incredible journeys; she also shares them through her eloquent writing, winning the PEN Award for Journalism for her reporting on the war as well as contributing to National Geographic Adventure magazine. Learn more.

Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart. Photo courtesy of The Official Licensing Website of Amelia Earhart.

Amelia Earhart

Achievement: A household name at this point, she was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

Why We Love Her: Her achievements go beyond her solo flight across the Atlantic and her fateful journey around the world. Her courage and passion for flying and testing boundaries made history, not only in the world of aviation but for women as a whole. “Girls, especially those whose tastes aren’t routine, often don’t get a fair break,” she once said, “an inheritance of age-old customs produced the corollary that women are bred to timidity.” No wallflower this one. Learn more.

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