14 Women Who Changed the World of Travel

5.17min read
Published 1 March 2022

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We’re fortunate to be working in travel, because it gives us front row seats to women changing the world! From strong women in history who blazed trails and broke records to modern-day icons who are making a big difference, here’s who we’re celebrating this International Women’s Day.

What is International Women’s Day All About?

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March 1911 – one year after Clara Zetkin proposed the celebration to the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. Women and men alike joined rallies to push for women’s rights to work, vote, and hold public office.

Today, International Women’s Day has reached all over the world. It’s a chance to celebrate women’s achievements, challenge gender-based discrimination, and join others in the fight for gender equality. You can learn more about International Women’s Day and join an IWD community near you by visiting www.internationalwomensday.com.

Meet 5 Influential Women in the History of Travel

Jan Morris

Jan Morris was a Welsh historian and travel writer. She was the only journalist who climbed to the 22,000-foot camp for the successful British Mount Everest Expedition in 1953. Her portraits on travel destinations including Oxford, Venice, Hong Kong, and New York City are well-celebrated and very popular.

As a trans woman, she and her wife faced discrimination in Britain where same-sex marriage was illegal. Although they were forced to officially divorce when Jan made her transition public, their love story was never interrupted. They celebrated 58 years together with a civil union in 2008.

Amelia Earhart

Did you know that Amelia only flew planes in her spare time? That never stopped her from breaking all kinds of piloting world records. When she wasn’t flying further, higher, and faster than most people in the air, Amelia was a women’s advocate.

She co-founded the Ninety-Nines, a women’s pilot organization, pushed for the Equal Rights Amendment, provided social services to newcomers at Denison House, and served as a women’s career consultant at Purdue University.

Elizabeth ‘Brave Bessie’ Coleman

Brave Bessie earned her nickname both in and out of the cockpit. As a child, Bessie walked four miles every day to the segregated school which she attended (when she wasn’t helping her family at the farm). She worked hard and saved up to attend Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University before moving to Chicago.

Bessie wanted to fly. But as a woman, a Native American, and an African American, she wasn’t allowed to attend pilot school in the USA. What did Bessie do? She learned French and moved to Paris where she could earn her international pilot’s license. She returned to America as the first Native American and first Black woman with a pilot’s license and she made her career wowing crowds with her stunt-flying shows.

Effie Hotchkiss

On 2 May 1915, Effie Hotchkiss left New York on a Harley Davidson with a jar of Atlantic Ocean water and her mother, Avis, in the sidecar. The adventurous pair rode the scenic route across the country and made it to Ocean Beach, San Francisco two months later.

When Effie poured out her water into the Pacific Ocean, she was celebrating becoming the first woman to cross the United States in a motorcycle. Talk about mother-daughter travel goals!

Emma “Grandma” Gatewood

When life got tough, Emma would find solace in nature. As a child, she shared a log cabin with her 14 siblings and her parents, and she often wandered into the woods to teach herself about wildlife and medicinal plants. Later in life, Emma would escape into nature to avoid her violent husband at a time when obtaining a divorce was difficult.

When Emma was 67, she decided to hike the Appalachian Trail – this time, not to escape, but just for “a nice lark”. Her knowledge of plants and help from friendly strangers helped her become the first woman to thru-hike the entire trail and the first person to do so three times.

Emma shared her love for hiking well into her eighties. She blazed a 30-mile trail in Ohio and organized an annual hike through Hocking Hills State Park for thousands of people. In 2012, she was inducted into the Appalachian Trail Hall of Fame.

Meet 9 Inspiring Women in Travel Today

Evita Robinson

Evita is the founder of Nomadness TV and Nomadness Travel Tribe, a predominantly Black femme community of about 25,000 members in 40 countries. She is outspoken about improving the representation of African Americans in the travel industry. Evita is a Contributing Editor of Condé Nast Traveler Magazine, a keynote speaker, TED Resident, and a consultant for Destination Marketing Organizations.

Kate McCue

When Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president of Celebrity Cruises, asked Kate to apply to be the Summit’s commanding officer, Kate was more than ready! She’d been climbing the ladder since 1996 when she began her studies at California State Maritime Academy. Since then, Kate’s worked in cargo ships, as a catamaran deck hand, a third mate, and a second officer. As America’s first female cruise liner captain, Kate will be taking the helm of the Celebrity Beyond later this year.

Nastassja ‘Nas’ Lewis

Nas Lewis has been a flight attendant for over seven years, and when she saw firsthand the need for better mental health services for flight attendants (especially during the pandemic), she decided to do something about it.

Nas is the CEO and founder of Th|AIR|apy, a non-profit organization that provides affordable or cost-free mental health services to flight attendants, works to eliminate mental health stigma, and provides resources like layover meet-ups and peer support groups.

Cassandra De Pecol

Cassandra’s been a very busy woman. She broke not one but two Guinness World records in 2017 by becoming the first woman on record to travel to every country in the world, and she’s yet to slow down. Cassandra is a public speaker, an author, an Ironman athlete, and she’ll be travelling to space with Virgin Galactic as their first sponsored astronaut.

Cassie is also the CEO and founder of Her International Inc., which funds female-driven projects that address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Martinique Lewis

Martinique Lewis is the president of the Black Travel Alliance and creator of The ABC Travel Green Book. Martinique is passionate about connecting Black travellers and travel professionals all over the world, and she serves as an advisory board member for Condé Nast Traveler, Hurtigruten Expedition Cruises, and the National Outdoor Leadership School. There’s no doubt why Travel and Leisure and Travel Pulse both named her one of the “Most Influential People in Travel”.

Lexie Alford

Lexie was born to travel. Her family runs a travel agency, and by the time she was 18, Lexie had already visited 72 countries. She became the youngest woman to travel every country in the world at the young age of 21 (a record which has yet to be broken). For Lexie, travelling solo was more than just fun. “I was determined to show everyone that the world isn’t as scary as the media portrays it to be and that there’s kindness everywhere,” she said.

Melissa Roy

Melissa became the first South Asian woman to travel every country in the world, including all 7 continents, and all 50 American states. She loves to skip the hotel and stay with local hosts, and she keeps in touch with the over 200 host friends she’s made along the way.

Melissa completed her round-the-world trip on 27 December 2019, with a visit to her “ancestral homeland”, Bangladesh. She said about her trip, “Saving Bangladesh for last was a tribute to my late father whom I’d seen for the last time on my sixth birthday. Finding the small village and the exact house where he grew up was nothing short of powerful and moved me to tears.”

Jessica Nabongo


Ugandan-American Jessica Nabongo is not only the first recorded Black woman to visit every UN-recognized country in the world, her travels have taken her to 195 countries and 10 territories. But her epic journey is far from complete. Jessica is a public speaker a writer, and an entrepreneur. She’s currently busy as the founder of Jet Black, a boutique luxury travel firm with trips curated from her epic adventures, and the founder of her lifestyle brand, The Catch.

Melanie Waters-Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excuse us for tooting our own horn, but we can’t help but shout out our very own Mel! Melanie is the Chief Executive Officer of Leisure at Flight Centre Travel Group. She began her Flight Centre career as a consultant in 1987 and has been leading by example through so many different roles ever since.

What’s her secret sauce? Melanie says, “Being a woman has never held me back. In fact, I credit it as a key factor in many of my successes over the years. Women have an uncanny ability, I believe, to combine both the hard and soft skills that are required to succeed not just in business but in many aspects of our lives.”

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