Historically, major global expeditions have been left to so-called rugged, bearded men. However, all that was to change in the late 1800s. As educational and employment opportunities for women slowly improved, a wave of pioneering female adventurers started to emerge.
A notable example is the tenacious Nellie Bly. Nellie made a name for herself by infiltrating one of New York’s most notorious mental asylums, leading some to regard her as the mother of investigative journalism. Nellie later famously took off on an around-the-world adventure after a mere two days notice from her editor. Following in the footsteps of the fictional character Phileas Fogg, Nellie proceeded to circumnavigate the world in a record-breaking 72 days.
Nellie was a fierce women’s rights activist and charity worker who reshaped the way the world thought about women in journalism and exploration. Many of the women on this list, knowingly or unknowingly, have been passed the torch from the ever-inspiring Nellie Bly.
So, without further ado, here are eight phenomenal women who are paving the way for a better world through their inspirational adventures, beautiful storytelling and incredible fundraising endeavours.
*Feature image courtesy of Anna McNuff.
Anna’s parents were both Olympians, and as a result, Anna had ambitions of becoming a professional rower from a young age. At the age of 16, she became World Champion at the University Games in 2006. After being plagued by injury during her 20’s, she retired from sport and embarked on what would emerge to be a prolific career in adventuring, writing and public speaking.
In 2013, Anna took off on her first adventure. She cycled for 11,000 miles through every state in the US, which would be the inspiration for her book, ‘The 50 Shades of the USA.’ On the way, she raised £11,000 for the international charity ‘Right to Play’, a charity that educates and empowers those in poverty through the power of sport.
In 2015, she traded the bike for a pair of running shoes. She ran for 1,911 miles through New Zealand’s notorious Te Araroa trail which stretches from the northern to the southernmost tip of New Zealand. In doing so, she raised £7,000 for Outward Bound Trust, a charity that runs outdoor education classes for young people. This mammoth journey was the topic of her best-selling book, ‘The Pants of Perspective’.
One of her most daring ventures to date was travelling for 1,328 miles through Europe on a route decided upon by her social media following.
Her latest escapade was cycling the inhospitable spine of the Andes. She ascended over 100,000 metres, 11 times the height of Everest.
Through her fund and awareness-raising efforts, Anna continues to empower more young people and women to realise their true potential through the power of adventure.
Keep up to date with Anna on annamcnuff.com
Rosie Swale Pope
Rosie Swale-Pope is a British-born author, adventurer and marathon runner. In her early twenties, Rosie had a short stint as a reporter before taking off on her first voyage, where she hitchhiked with no money and minimal luggage to India, Nepal and Russia. This voyage would foreshadow an ambitious career in adventure travel.
In 1971, Rosie, her first husband Colin Swale and their daughter, Eve, took off on a round-the-world sailing adventure on a 9-metre catamaran. They sailed 30,000 miles armed with only a spitfire compass, a sextant and nautical papers. On her journey, Rosie completed her first book ‘Rosie Darling’, and wrote a second, ‘The Children of Cape Horn’ in the small cabin below deck.
In 1983, Rosie crossed the Atlantic by herself on a 17-foot sailing boat. On her journey, she almost got run down by an oil tanker and nearly got blown overboard. In total, she sailed 4,800 miles using only the navigation of the stars and her Timex watch.
In 2002, disaster struck. Rosie’s second husband Clive died of prostate cancer. This triggered Rosie to embark on a round-the-world run, where she would raise money for a prostate cancer charity and for an orphanage in Russia. She was armed with only a small cart for her belongings and minimal rations.
She chronicles her journey in her book ‘Just a Little Run Around the World: 5 Years, 3 Packs of Wolves and 53 Pairs of Shoes’, where she describes almost freezing in her sleeping bag in Alaska, being hunted by wolves in Siberia and almost getting killed by a bus in Russia.
She returned to her starting position of Tenby in Wales on the 25th of August. She hobbled over the line on crutches to an admiring crowd of fans and admirers. Rosie ran a total of 32,000 kilometres over a total of 5 years.
In doing so, she raised over £250,000 for her causes. In 2008, she was awarded an MBE for her charity work, and Rosie is now a Patron of PHASE Worldwide, an organisation which works with disadvantaged, remote communities in Nepal.
Follow Rosie at rosieswalepope.co.uk
Dame Ellen MacArthur is a retired sailor, serial record-breaker and environmentalist. At the age of 17, she completed a single-handed circumnavigation of Britain and went on to be named the Royal Yachting Association’s ‘Yachtsman of the Year’ in 1998.
At just 24-years-old, she single-handedly raced non-stop around the world in the prestigious Vendee Globe, coming in 2nd place after a heroic 94 days at sea.
Among her many sailing endeavours, she broke the world record for non-stop sailing around the world in 2005, with a time of 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds, covering a distance of 27,354 nautical miles. In recognition of her achievements, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
Her voyage also gave her a unique appreciation for how finite all the resources on our planet are. Her most ambitious project to date is the establishment of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The foundation aims to accelerate a transition to an economy that is regenerated by nature, otherwise known as a ‘circular economy.’ On top of that, she is the founder of the Ellen Macarthur Cancer Trust, which aims to rebuild the confidence of young people aged 18-24 who are recovering from cancer and leukaemia.
You can keep up to date with Ellen’s work on ellenmacarthur.com
Karen Darke is a British Paralympic cyclist, para-triathlete, adventurer and author.
When Karen Darke was 21 years old, she suffered a life-changing accident. She slipped whilst rock climbing and fell 10 metres, collapsing her lung, breaking her legs, neck and back, leaving her paralysed. She was told she would never, walk, climb or cycle again.
In 2006, she defied belief by taking part in a 372-mile crossing of Greenland’s ice cap in a specialised ski-cart. She has also gone on to climb Mont Blanc, El Capitan in the Yosemite National Park and the Matterhorn.
From her expeditions, she has written two books, ‘If You Fall’, and ‘Boundless’.
On top of that, she had a prolific career representing GB as a Paralympian. She won the silver medal for road cycling in the 2012 summer Paralympics and went on to win the gold medal in Rio in 2016.
She now inspires by speaking in schools, small businesses and charities about overcoming challenges, embracing change and making the impossible possible.
Follow Karen’s adventures on karendarke.com
Four years ago, Lizzie Carr was diagnosed with cancer. Before then, she played it fairly safe, working in an unfulfilling corporate job. After her diagnosis, she saved up enough to go travelling.
She rode through Mongolia on horseback in search of the snow leopard, she crossed Russia on the Trans-Siberian railway and spent two months in Sub-saharan Africa, studying and falling in love with the Rhino.
In May 2016, she became the first person to paddleboard the length of Britain. The distance spanned over 400 miles through the UK’s canal system taking four weeks. On her journey, Lizzie plotted more than 2,000 photos of plastic wastage along the way, splitting proceeds between two water charities, Water Trek and Water Aid.
On her return, Lizzie decided she’d do something about the shocking amounts of plastic she’d seen along the way. So she established Plastic Patrol, a campaign that seeks to rid British waterways of their plastic pollution. Along with running plastic clean-up sessions, she has developed an app that allows users to photograph and track how much plastic they have collected over time. This app then maps the photos, providing researchers with the data they need to help tackle the issue.
Plastic Patrol now has over 1,000 volunteers who have collectively ridden British waterways of 189 tonnes of plastic.
However, after recognising this was a global issue, she has decided to tackle America. In September, Lizzie became the first person to paddle the length of the Hudson River. She paddled 170 miles from Albany down to Manhattan, tracking the plastic pollution along the way.
Lizzie is continuing to make significant strides in tackling the world’s dire plastic problem.
You can keep up to date with Lizzie at lizzieoutside.co.uk and download the Plastic Patrol app to get involved.
Dervla Murphy is Ireland’s most prolific travel writer. For five decades, Dervla has travelled the world alone, largely by bicycle.
In 1963, Dervla set off on her long-distance cycle tour which would take her from Ireland to India. She took off with just a compass, a map, a bicycle and a .25 pistol. Her book ‘Full Tilt: Ireland to India on a Bicycle’ documents how she fought off thieves with her gun, had her ribs broken by a rifle butt in Afghanistan and volunteered for a Tibetan refugee camp for 5 months.
Dervla did not only achieve her goal but pioneered a completely new, immersive style of travel journalism which continues to inspire today.
Later into her life, Dervla’s writing became more political. In 1978, she wrote ‘A Place Apart’, which documented her travels through a religiously turbulent Northern Ireland. She describes the conversations she had with both Protestants and Catholics. Her first purely political book ‘Race to the Finish? Nuclear Stakes’ would carve out her reputation as not only a travel writer but a formidable political commentator.
In 1992, she cycled from Kenya to Zimbabwe and documented the AIDS crisis she saw in her book ‘The Ukimwi Road’. She has also been outspoken against NATO, climate change, the Rwandan genocide and apartheid in South Africa. She is now the patron for Sustrans, a UK travel charity that promotes sustainable travel.
Well into her 80’s, Dervla remains passionate about conservation, politics and cycling. Today’s influential travel writers, whether they know it or not, have been passed the torch by Dervla Murphy.
Alison Teal has been named the ‘female Indiana Jones’ by Time Magazine, and the ‘Oprah of adventure’ by the Huffington Post. She gained fame initially by appearing on the Discovery Channel’s ‘Naked and Afraid’, the reality TV show that test’s your survival skills.
Her upbringing was not a usual one. Her father was an adventure photographer and her mother was an internationally renowned naturalist and yogi. Alison was homeschooled as the family travelled. Her first friend was a baby monkey.
Alison has moved on to become a formidable environmentalist in her own right. In 2016, Alison posted a video to Facebook that would go on to encourage California to vote to ban the plastic bag.
When shooting ‘Naked and Afraid’ in the Maldives, Alison was shocked by the amount of plastic she found. So a year later, she returned to the island with a photographer and a videographer to make a film about her clean-up efforts. This film helped to initiate a full-scale cleanup of ‘Trash Island’.
Alison has also worked alongside the Lonely Whale Foundation and the 5 Gyres Institute to help change global policies on plastic usage. It was partly due to her efforts that Starbucks stopped using plastic straws.
In April 2018, Alison released a video documenting the impact that pollutants like sunscreen were having on Hawaii’s reef. The film preceded to be shown on all Air Hawaii flights and helped to pass a law banning toxic sunscreens in Hawaii.
Today, Alison continues to fight for the protection of the seas that we all depend on.
Follow Alison’s adventures on alisonsadventures.com
Ness Knight is a British explorer, conservationist and ocean advocate.
Ness’s career as an adventurer started in 2012 when she paddle boarded for over 1,000 consecutive miles down the Missouri river. She then continued to cycle for 2,000 miles across America down the Route 66 highway.
In August 2013, she became the first female in history to swim from the source of the River Thames, Thames Head, to Putney Bridge. She swam for 155 miles in total. After having to take 2 days off as a result of ‘Thames Tummy’, she then proceeded to run from London’s Big Ben down to Lands End, an equivalent of 15 marathons in 15 days.
In June 2016, Ness went back to her home continent of Africa. She became the first person to cycle across the Namib Desert. She rode a fat-bike for over 1,000km across Namibia’s arid, scorching desert. The journey was documented as part of Red Bull’s Open Space series.
Possibly her most impressive achievement to date was joining the expedition to locate the source of the Essequibo River, the third largest river in South America. With help from an international team and the local native Wai Wai tribe, the team mapped and documented this previously undiscovered region.
Ness is currently working on a documentary alongside the anti-poaching aerial control team in South Africa’s Great Kruger National Park.
Ness continues to fight for the cause of conservation through her motivational speaking, expeditions and TV work.
You can keep track of Ness’ adventures on nessknight.com
Have we missed anyone? We know we have. Keep an eye out for part two as we continue to bring these incredible female adventurers to the fore. Follow in their footsteps with our epic adventure holidays, unique and hand-crafted for your outdoor pleasure.