International Women's Day:
celebrating travel pioneers

Nearly two-thirds of all travellers today are women, but this hasn’t always been the case.

When you think of aviation pioneers, the Wright brothers probably spring to mind. But what about the record-breaking Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic? And space is synonymous with Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind, but did you know that in 1963 Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space? So this International Women’s Day, we've taken a walk down memory lane to celebrate some of the female trailblazers and pioneers of travel. 

Nellie Bly: Around the world in 72 days

“I’ve always had the feeling that nothing is impossible if one applies a certain amount of energy in the right direction. If you want to do it, you can do it.”

Born in 1864, American journalist, inventor and industrialist, Nellie Bly was one of the world’s first investigative journalists. She also travelled the world solo 31 years before women were allowed to vote in the US. 

When Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne was published in 1872, Bly believed she could beat the fictional character Phileas Fogg’s wager that he could circumnavigate the world in 80 days on. "The idea of sending a woman unchaperoned without a man was just unthinkable. On top of that, they believed a woman would never be able to do it because she'd have to bring so many clothes." says Matthew Goodman. He wrote about Bly's incredible trip in Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World.


When Bly’s editor told her only a man could make the trip, she replied: "Very well," I said angrily, "Start the man, and I'll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him." Bly made it around the world in 72 days, beating Verne’s fictional record by over a week – and with just a single handbag.

Valentina Tereshkova: the first woman in space

“When you are up there, you are homesick for Earth. When you get back, you just want to get down and hug it.”

A textile factory assembly worker and amateur parachutist, soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to go to space in 1963.

After the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet government aimed to have the first woman in space and began work on a programme to train female cosmonauts. Out of more than 400 applicants, Tereshkova was selected to join the programme. 

In 1963, aged just 26, Tereshkova boarded Vostok 6 and became the first woman to fly in space. During the three-day mission Tereshkova orbited Earth 48 times, and the former textile worker was honoured with the title Hero of the Soviet Union upon her return. Her televised image was broadcast throughout the Soviet Union and her photographs of Earth and the horizon were later used to identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere.

Amelia Earhart: champion of women in aviation

“I believe that a girl should not do what she thinks she should do, but should find out through experience what she wants to do.”


Born in 1897, American Amelia Earhart served as a Red Cross nurse’s aid in Toronto during the First World War. Here she watched Royal Flying Corps pilots train at a local airfield, but it wasn’t until 1920 that she took her first airplane ride. She later said that "I knew I had to fly" as soon as the plane was just a few hundred feet off the ground. 

Just two years later Earhart set her first aviation record when she became the first woman to fly solo above 14,000 feet. 10 years later she became the first woman, and only the second person, to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. For this extraordinary feat she also became the first woman to receive the ‘Distinguished Flying Cross’ from the United States Congress. 

A champion of women’s advancement in aviation, she helped form an international organisation for the advancement of female pilots, the Ninety Nines, becoming its first President in 1931.

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