There have been countless female adventurers across the ages. Whether they were heading off on their adventures yesterday or hundreds of years ago, their stories remain inspirational and educational. Below, I’ve looked at 10 of the most famous female adventurers. Learn from and get inspired by their stories, and maybe you’ll become the next great female explorer.
Historical Female Adventurers
Jeanne Baret was a trailblazer. Not only was she the first woman to complete a circumnavigation of the globe, she did so at a time when women were restricted from even going on an adventure.
Born in 1740, in the Burgundy region of France, she became an adventurer through employment as an assistant to the French naturalist, Philibert Commerçon. Commerçon traveled the globe for his work, and Baret followed as his valet and assistant.
In order to travel with Commerçon, Baret had to dress as a man – though, Commerçon knew she was a woman, having been involved in a romantic relationship with her. This means that not only did Baret risk her life by visiting far off lands, she risked it because it was illegal for women to travel on expeditions as she did.
Isabella Bird was born in Yorkshire, UK, (1831) but traveled solo across the globe. During her lifetime she is known to have visited China, Korea, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Kurdistan, India, Persia, Morocco, Turkey, North America, and Hawaii. This makes her easily one of the most traveled women of her time.
Bird isn’t just famous for being a great adventurer. She’s also the first woman to be elected Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the UK’s professional body and learned society for geography.
Though she suffered from insomnia, problems with her spine, and nervous headaches from childhood, Bird was assured and outspoken throughout her life. She was a keen reader and it was this that opened up her eyes to the wonders that existed beyond the UK.
In 1854, Bird was advised by her physician to take a sea voyage. She sailed to the US and never looked back from her spirit of adventure. It was this spirit that kept Bird travelling throughout her life, for she remained in ill health until she died in 1904 – just after returning from Morocco and while planning a trip to China.
Polish sailor Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz holds the honor of completing a grueling, 401 day and 31,166 nautical mile trip before any other woman, making her the first female adventurer to sail solo around the world.
She used a 31.2 ft. long Conrad 32 sloop (a sailboat with one mast) called Mazurek to complete her journey. Mazurek was built by a team led by Chojnowska-Liskiewicz’s husband.
Chojnowska-Liskiewicz set off on her journey on February, 28, 1976, sailing from the Canary Islands. Having spent more than a year a sea, Chojnowska-Liskiewicz returned to her homeland on April, 21, 1978 – less than two months before Naomi James became the second woman to sail solo around the globe.
Annie Edson Taylor
Annie Edson Taylor went on quite a different adventure than our other famous female adventurers. While she did travel, it was over a considerably shorter, though no less terrifying, distance.
One of eight children, Taylor was born in New York (1838) to a flour mill owner. Training as a schoolteacher, Taylor later opened a dance school in Michigan, before becoming a music teacher. However, none of her educational ventures provided her with the financial reward and security she craved.
Taylor was the first person ever to survive a barrel fall over Niagara Falls.
Taylor decided that the only way she could get these things was to become a famous female adventurer. She sought the necessary equipment and carried out tests before determining that she was ready for her adventurer. And so, on October, 24, 1901, Taylor climbed into a barrel, was dropped into the Niagara River and was carried over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. It made her the first person ever to survive a barrel fall over Niagara Falls.
Modern Female Adventurers
Austrian nurse, speaker, and mountaineer, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is a modern-day female adventurer and winner of the 2012 National Geographic Explorer of the Year Award. She’s also the first woman to climb all 14 mountains over 8,000 meters (26,247 ft) without the aid of supplementary oxygen.
Born in 1970, she was a prodigious climber, having been on a number of tours by the time she reached her teens. Though she completed her nursing training, working as a nurse for a number of years, she never stopped climbing. This led her to become a professional mountaineer in 2004.
She climbed her first eight-thousander, Cho Oyu (found on the border of China-Nepal), in 1998 before climbing:
- Makalu: 2001
- Manaslu: 2002
- Nanga Parbat: 2003
- Annapurna I: 2004
- Gasherbrum I: 2004
- Shisha Pangma: 2005
- Gasherbrum II: 2005
- Kangchenjunga: 2006
- Broad Peak: 2007
- Dhaulagiri: 2008
- Lhotse: 2009
- Mount Everest: 2010
Kaltenbrunner climbed the final eight-thousander, K2 (located on the border of China and Pakistan) on August, 23, 2011.
Sunny swapped the life she’d known for one as an adventurer.
Sunny by name and sunny by outlook, the free spirited Suzanne ‘Sunny’ Stroeer took a radical approach to turning 30. She gave up her material possessions and swapped the life she’d known for one as an adventurer.
Moving into an Astrovan, Stroeer is a mountain fanatic who loves big walls and is addicted to being vertical. While she may have given up on her material possessions, Stroeer hasn’t turned her back on society. Stroeer has a popular blog and Instagram account, where keeps her many thousands of followers updated with her adventures on a regular basis.
In 2017, Stoeer became the first woman to circumnavigate and summit Aconcagua in a single push, also breaking the base camp-to-summit female speed record by 29 minutes, all with a respiratory infection.
Hilaree Nelson O’Neill
Hilaree pulling first aid supplies out of the Ultralight/Watertight Pro. Photo Credit: Chris Figenshau.
She may be a self-confessed ‘small person’ but Hilaree Nelson O’Neill is a female with a huge spirit for adventure. In fact, it’s so big that it’s taken her skiing and climbing to some of the most remote mountains on the planet.
She had an early start as an adventurer, picking up skiing when she was just three and waiting little longer to start climbing. However, it was after moving to the Chamonix Valley of France that her adventurer bug became a full-blown infection.
The result of that infection has seen O’Neill become the first woman to climb two 8,000m mountains in 24 hours (Lhotse and Everest), ski from the summit of Cho Oyu in Tibet, complete a ski descent of the Peak of Evil in India, and be named one of the most adventurous females on the planet by Outside Magazine
What were you doing when you were 16? I’m sure it was something daring, educational, and inspirational. But I bet it wasn’t as adventurous as what Jessica Watson was doing when she was 16, which is when Watson completing a solo circumnavigation of the southern hemisphere.
Watson travelled 19,631 nautical miles, beginning and ending in Sydney. It took the young Australian just under 7 months to complete her journey, having departed on October, 18, 2009 and returned on May, 15, 2010.
How many countries have you been to? 5, 10, 20, 50? You might have visited plenty more than me but I bet you don’t get close to Cassie DePecol. Before she turned 28, DePecol had visited 196 nations.
196 countries isn’t just a lot of places to visit; it’s every sovereign nation on the planet. DePecol set out on her travels on July 24, 2015. It took her less than 18 months for her to visit all 196 nations, as she visited the final country on February, 2, 2017.
This makes DePecol a double Guinness World Record holder, as she holds the record for:
- Fastest time to visit all sovereign countries
- Fastest time to visit all sovereign countries – Female
You might have some way to go to make it to the full 196 countries (heck, you might never get there) but let Cassie DePecol’s story inspire you and book your next adventure today!
Last (but certainly not least of our female adventurers) is British-German writer and ultra-endurance cyclist Juliana Buhring. Not only was she the sole female to participate in the maiden Transcontinental Race from London to Istanbul in 2013, she was the first woman circumnavigate the globe by bike.
Born in Greece, Buhring was abandoned by her parents when she was four and moved from guardian to guardian – she lived in nearly 30 countries during her childhood.
Buhring set off on her record-breaking cycle run on July, 23, 2012, leaving from Naples without having any support or sponsorship, and almost no money to fund herself – she was only able to complete her trip after receiving donations.
Just 152 days after setting off, Buhring returned to Naples. She had cycled through 19 countries, across, 4 continents, and covered 18,000 miles. It was just reward that she was entered into the Guinness Book of Records.
By taking inspiration from these famous female adventurers, you can embark on your own journeys and become the next famous female adventurer.
With the advent of Skype, Google Hangouts, and Slack making it easier for you to enjoy locationless living, you don’t have to uproot your life to fuel your love of adventure — simply move it to your current destination.
Heading out an adventure can help you be more confident. Whatever your chosen adventure, let these female adventurers inspire you to challenge yourself, get outdoors, and be safe!