Travel is awesome. Women are awesome. Agreed.
Though it is still rare for women to be mentioned in the the same breath as your James Cooks or your Mark Twains, most of us with an interest in travel writing will have heard of female adventurers like Freya Stark, Alexandra David-Neél and Dervla Murphy.
Not everyone who travels writes to an audience, however, and many extraordinary journeys by ‘ordinary’ folks are largely lost to us.
So I was excited to come across a wonderful resource from Duke University Libraries: a digital collection of Women’s Travel Diaries, conserving more than one hundred journals written by British and American women and detailing journeys to India and Africa, Europe, the West Indies and the Middle East. It’s a great find.
Studies in Travel Writing is another good resource and the generally wonderful ‘Project Gutenburg’ also has a handful of women’s travel journals and books that can be downloaded or read online, including a 19th century voyage to Brazil and an early 20th century journal of a nurse working in the trenches and field hospitals of France in WWI. Fascinating!
Last year the Royal Geographic Society reprinted Hints to Lady Travellers, originally published in 1889 to encourage and advise Victorian women in a time when independent travel was becoming more acceptable but was still quite unknown territory.
It seems a darling little book but with advise such as wearing skirts above your ankles when mountain climbing so as not to sully your petticoats, and the practicalities of having your maid travel in the same carriage as you, it’s not quite in the same realm as David-Neél who travelled across forbidden Tibet disguised as a beggar or Dervla Murphy’s trouser-wearing escapades across India on a bicycle.