Since the early 20th century, female explorers have inspired generations of women to undertake exhilarating journeys all over the world.
From Amelia Earhart’s iconic solo flight across the Atlantic to Junko Tabei overcoming stereotypes to be the first woman to summit Everest, these stories have captivated hearts and minds, proving that adventure knows no gender boundaries.
We are proud that women have always been in Antarctica. Louise Séguin was the first woman to visit the region in 1772, just one year after Captain James Cook did so.
The first woman to see the White Continent outside of the deck of a ship was Caroline Mikkelsen, who physically set foot on the ice in 1935. Since then, women have continued with amazing feats and incredible research in Antarctica, including many of our colleagues.
Today, women really are redefining adventure travel. In fact, women now represent more than half of the overall adventure travel demographic, according to a study by the Adventure Travel Trade Association.
Even more impressive is that women now account for an estimated 84% of all solo travellers, data reveals.
We wondered what the inspiration behind this was – what female explorers serve as the most influential role models for women travellers today?
We looked at which pioneers of the 20th century and their impressive feats still gather the most attention, analysing who is being written about (both in books and the news) and searched for (on Google and Wikipedia) the most.
The Most Influential Female Explorers Of Today
- Three female aviation pioneers are included in the top 10: Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson, and Beryl Markham.
- The third youngest explorer, Jessica Watson, is the most searched for female explorer on Google. She was born in 1993 and sailed non-stop and unassisted around the world at the age of 16.
- Amy Johnson, the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia, has had the most books written about her, with an impressive 980.
- Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, took the crown for the most news articles written about her in the last 12 months and the number of all-time views on her Wikipedia page.
- In the last 12 months (Oct 2022 – 2023), searches for ‘Safest countries for solo female travellers’ have increased by 170%.
- Many of the female explorers on the list dedicated their lives to exploration and contributed to science, literature, and world record-setting. Some, like Ynes Mexia, began their explorations later in life.
Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic solo, inspired many other females into aviation.
She set many other records, whilst being one of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel, wrote best-selling books about her experiences, and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.
As Earhart’s fame grew, the public began to recognize her as a proud champion of women’s rights and she toured the United Kingdom giving lectures about women in the workplace and the field of aviation.
Before her most notable Atlantic-crossing feat in 1932, there were only 200 registered female pilots but, in the years following, the number of women pilots multiplied drastically.
By 1935, between 700 and 800 women had pilot licenses, which is a staggering increase of over 250% in just three years.
And in the last eight years, Pilot Institute (an aviation course provider) has reported an impressive 189% increase in the number of female student pilots, rising from 14,580 in 2015 to 42,184 last year.
Today, women make up an estimated 9.5% of pilots in the industry, with over 72,000 having licenses.
While the numbers are still small, the progress is clear.
An inspiration for many female climbers, Junko Tabei became the first woman to scale just over 29,000 feet to the top of Mount Everest, doing so with a 15-strong all-female team.
She overcame many sexist barriers including struggling to find a climbing club that would accept women, describing how some men refused to climb with her, and several online articles also quote her as having said that some men accused her of wanting to join their clubs just to find a husband.
She established a women-only climbing club in 1969 and before she died in 2016, Tabei also became the first woman to conquer the Seven Peaks.
This means summiting Mount Vinson, Antarctica’s highest mountain at 16,067 feet high, which is an extremely challenging ascent as a result of temperatures dropping to as cold as minus 40°C.
Since Junko’s Everest expedition in 1975, 741 women have undertaken the same impressive feat and, despite this only being 12% of the total number of people who have successfully reached the summit to date, these female climbers are showing impressive skills.
Data highlights that, of the women and men who have attempted the climb, women have actually been more successful in summiting (with a 68.2% and 64.4% success rate respectively).
Regarded as the ‘accidental mountaineer’, Barbara Washburn spent 40 years of her life mapping remote corners of the United States.
In 1941, Barbara, and her husband, were part of the first team to successfully summit 13,628-foot Mount Hayes. She wore men’s cold-weather gear because there was none made for women at the time.
Seven years later, she became the first woman to summit North America’s highest point, Mount McKinley (now called Denali). To do this, she left her three children at home and claimed that her training for the feat was pushing a baby pram, proving that women can do both.
But her real impact on the world was mapping the world’s highest peaks. Starting in 1970, Barbara committed seven years of her life to fully mapping the Grand Canyon for National Geographic, which required nearly 700 helicopter trips and measuring almost every foot of every trail in the 446-kilometre canyon, at least once.
We created a list of the most famous female explorers whose most notable feats took place in the 20th century and analysed each for the following: the number of books written about them, the number of news articles written about them in the last year, the number of Wikipedia page views, and the average monthly Google search volume.
Data was correct as of October 2023. A full dataset is available upon request.