13 Inspiring women explorers that made history like Saray Khumalo

2019-05-16 12:30 - Gabi Zietsman
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Many history books might remember the pioneering explorers of the Age of Discovery as being mostly men, but there is a long line of women that also made their stamp in the world's passport.

And most recently, South Africa was made proud by Saray Khumalo, who became the first African woman to summit Mount Everest on her fourth try!

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Those that came before her travelled the globe either by boat, bicycle, plane or train - and some even went beyond the realm of earth to touch the stars. Among them were writers, journalists, archaeologists, entrepreneurs - all following a drive to explore the unknown and get their names in the history books, even if it may be decades later.

The next time you're considering to take a solo trip, but find yourself hesitant to do it by yourself, take courage from these women who ignored what men and society told them to do and instead paved their own way to a spectacular life.

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Beverly Joubert

Alongside her husband Dereck, this National Geographic resident explorer is an acclaimed photographer and wildlife documentarian with over 30 years of experience in the veld. The Joubert couple's coverage of predator and other animal behaviour has resulted in 25 movies, 11 books, six scientific papers and several articles for the National Geographic magazine, as well as eight Emmy Awards nominations, a Peabody- and a World Ecology Award.

Amelia Earhart

One of the most famous women travellers in history, Amelia Earhart was beloved for her tenacity as a skilled pilot. Her disappearance while trying to fly around the world has fascinated everyone for decades, but the recent discovery of a women's skeleton on a Pacific island has finally shed some light on what happened to her. She was also proposed to six times before saying yes, and kept her last name.

Annie Londonderry 

Annie Kopchovsky, known as Annie Londonderry, won a wager to be the first woman to cycle around the world and hustled sponsorship for her travels by letting businesses advertise on her bicycle.

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Fanny Bullock Workman

A pioneer in mountaineering, Fanny Bullock Workman travelled the world with her husband, wrote multiple books about her trips on bikes and up mountains and was a champion for women's rights. She also proved that women can climb to the same altitudes as men.

Ocean Ramsey

An avid diver, Ocean Ramsey made the news after video and photos were released of her diving - without a cage - next to a giant seven metres great white shark. Ramsey studies sharks, advocates for their conservation and leads cage-free shark diving tours. Alongside her team, she observes and identify sharks and share that data with relevant stakeholders, government agencies and scientists.

Gertrude Bell

Gertrude Bell was an archaeologist who helped map the Middle East for the British imperial government, and her political influences stemmed from her close interaction with the people of Arabia, Greater Syria and Mesopotamia. She was one of the few British representatives remembered fondly by Arabs.

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Ida Pfeiffer

Although her father made sure she received the same education as a boy, Ida Pfeiffer only started her life-long dream of exploring the world after her sons had moved out of the house. While she was a member of geographical societies in Berlin and Paris, London's Royal Geographical Society barred her entry because women weren't considered serious enough.


Sacagawea was a native American woman who was pivotal in guiding the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition through the Louisiana Territory - all of this with a newborn son. Her presence also showed that the expedition party was peaceful and helped ward off attacks from warring tribes.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova was a textile-factory assembly worker with a parachute hobby in Soviet Russia, who later became the first woman in space in 1963 in a solo space mission after beating out 400 other applicants. She went into politics after retiring as a cosmonaut, and a few years ago said she would love to go to Mars on a one-way trip if she could.

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Isabella Bird

Isabella Bird managed to break through the barrier that Pfeiffer couldn't, and became the first woman to become part of the London's explorers club. She was a Brit exploring the Americas and wrote books like A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. Bird did all of this while suffering pain caused by a tumour removal.

Cassandra DePecol

In 2017, Cassandra DePecol became the first documented woman to have visited every sovereign nation in the world, also breaking the record for doing it in the fastest time, as well as the youngest woman at 27 years old. DePecol was also a peace ambassador for the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism during her travels.

Jeanne Baret

Jeanne Baret did not let her gender stop her from taking part in a worldwide journey on Louis Antoine de Bougainville's expedition around the world. To get onboard she pretended to be a man and became the first woman to circumnavigate the world. She became an expert botanist on the trip, and even got a flower from Madagascar named after her although the name was replaced. 

Nellie Bly

A journalist that uncovered the atrocities that went on in women's asylums, Nellie Bly also followed in the footsteps of Jules Verne's fictional novel by travelling the world in 72 days, a feat that today might sound small but back then broke the standing record. The whole trip was done with only one dress.

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