A portrait of inspiring female inventors, travel industry game-changers, and adventurers making a mark on the world of travel
There are women in the history of travel we should not forget. Better yet, we should celebrate them by passing their stories onto the next generations of women, not as rare curiosities but as an everyday part of our lives. These historical female figures have paved the way for the next generations of women in travel, for those who have come and gone, and for those who are just about to start their journeys.
The women we feature here have changed the world of travel with their innovations and daring adventures, and they have gotten to places no one else has (be it on Earth, in space, or within the travel industry). Thanks to all these women of the past, present, and future, every little girl’s dream can become a reality.
Women we can thank for reinventing travel
Innovations and inventions often stand at the forefront of travel. Without them, we would still be using our legs to move from one place to another while getting lost without a proper navigation system. The brain of a woman is often behind these inventions, one way or another.
“Always doing things just right, to set an example for other people who were coming behind me, especially women.” — Gladys West
The names Gladys West and Grace Hopper might be familiar to some and both excelled in the field of computer programming.
West is the driving force behind the technology of GPS we use every day. During segregation, she received a full scholarship at a public university and studied mathematics, a field typically occupied by men. Later she started working at a US naval base (she became only the second African-American woman to be hired as a programmer there), collecting and processing satellite data that would prepare the basis for her invention of GPS.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that she was discovered at random by the world as one of the hidden figures for her contributions to science. In 2018, she earned her spot in the US air force hall of fame.
Just like West, Grace Hopper succeeded in the male-dominated fields. She contributed significantly to the development of COBOL, which became the first standardized business computer language and the most extensively used one in the 1970s.
But how about Dorothy Levitt, Maria Beasley, or perhaps even Mary W. Jackson? These are figures of the past that entered the history of science, innovation, and progress, yet their names aren’t known to many.
A car rear-view mirror originated in a suggestion that women carry a hand mirror
Thanks to Dorothy Levitt we now have a rear-view mirror in our cars — she suggested that women carry a hand mirror to look behind while driving. Even though it was a ground-breaking invention at the time, she instead became a media sensation for her boat and car racing at the turn of the 20th century. She often finished ahead of men and set new speed records for women.
In the field of inventors, Maria Beasley was indeed a prolific one. Between the late 1870s and late 1890s, she received 15 patents, many of which were related to machines. She worked towards improving transportation safety and came up with an anti-derailment device for trains and designs of the life raft.
Mary W. Jackson’s name will live on as the name of the NASA Headquarters Building renamed after her on 26 February 2021. She became the agency’s first African-American female engineer and led programs hiring and promoting the next generation of women in NASA.
No matter how different their stories, all these female inventors have meant that girls today might just have an easier start in their careers as mathematicians, computer scientists, or engineers. A teen reinventing Elon Musk’s hyperloop design? Today, it’s possible!
“Don’t be afraid to participate in science. I was the only girl in my entire school to go to the science fair.” — Caroline Crouchley
Caroline Crouchley, a 13-year-old student from New York, may have reinvented the Hyperloop solution to be more economical, safe, and eco-friendly. As her submission to the Discovery Education and 3M Young Scientist Challenge, her design makes use of magnetic shuttles traveling through vacuum tubes and relies on using renewable energy sources and already existing train tracks.
“I was inspired by Marie Curie, who I learned about from my mother — I would like to be a scientist and an engineer known for solving large problems facing our world. I want to leave the planet a better place and improve the lives of all people,” said Crouchley.
Female travel industry game-changers
Who would have thought a hundred years ago that a woman would lead a global travel company? Or that there would be many women leading many global travel companies?
Businesswoman and engineer Gwynne Shotwell joined space transportation company SpaceX in 2002 as its eleventh employee, and since then has risen to become the President and Chief Operating Officer there. The privately held company is working towards sending people to Mars and has a multibillion-dollar deal with NASA to bring astronauts to the ISS.
Gillian Tans followed a similar path into leadership as Shotwell. In 2002 she became part of what was then a small company set up in Amsterdam, later on becoming the CEO and Chief Operating Officer at Booking.com. Over her tenure, the global accommodation provider grew into a 10,000-employee corporation with 174 offices worldwide.
“I do not focus that much on gender — we all have different backgrounds, skills, experiences, origins, and approaches and only if we are open-minded and keen to listen to diversity, we can learn more and get to better solutions.” — Petra Vaškových
For Petra Vaškových, Chief Product Officer at Kiwi.com, traveling has always been part of her life. She joined Kiwi.com back in 2014 as only its fourth employee, and the first woman, and she’s been growing with the company ever since. It has been a rollercoaster ride, especially while most of the world has been working remotely for the past year due to COVID-19.
“If you believe there is something you would really like to try, go after it and try it, don’t wait for better timing or being better prepared. If you keep thinking like this, a better time might never come. Get someone who understands the domain, and start digging deeper to understand how things work behind the scenes,” said Vaškových.
Female adventurers conquering oceans, skies, and space
With the travel industry changing through innovations and hard work, there is a whole scoop of women out there proving every day that nothing is off-limits. These women are the fearless adventurers, traveling alone or together, not stopping for anyone or anything.
One of the earliest female adventurers in modern history was Bertha Benz. Without her support, Karl Benz might not have been the first to introduce a car to the world. Not only did he use her money to sponsor his development, but she also became the first person in the world to drive a car over a long distance (106 km or 66 mi). That was just the marketing his invention needed at the time.
Amelia Earhart, a name likely known to most, became the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1910–11, Lilian Bland also made aviation history by designing, building, and flying her own aircraft, the Bland Mayfly.
“If there’s something you want to do, then do it, it’s ok to go alone and do things, don’t let anything stop you!” — Jasmine Harrison
Fast forward to the 21st century where similar achievements are no less inspiring. Often these women travel alone, setting new personal and world records on the way.
For Jasmine Harrison, the record was becoming the first woman to cross the Atlantic ocean in a rowing boat. She achieved it at just 21 years old. For comparison, there have been fewer attempts to cross an ocean than there have been to climb Mount Everest just in the year 2019.
Starting in the Canary Islands, she arrived at the Caribbean island of Antigua 70 days later. “During the row, I learned a lot about myself, it gave me lots of time to think and reflect on what I want to do next. I don’t know what that is yet, but I definitely want to continue to solo travel and adventure,” said Harrison.
New Zealand-born Laura Dekker’s calling has been the ocean as well. In 2011, at the age of 15, she set off from Sint Maarten with the goal to circumnavigate the world. Alone. 518 days later she landed back in Sint Maarten, only now holding the world record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe.
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There are other stories of women packing up and setting out on a journey that would make the headlines. One of them is Alexis Alford.
Known as Lexie Limitless, she managed to travel to all 196 countries before she reached 21 in 2019, setting a new world record. Cassie de Pecol holds two records in two categories: Fastest time to visit all sovereign countries and Fastest time to visit all sovereign countries as a woman.
“I think it’s important for little girls growing up, and young women, to have one in every walk of life. So from that point of view, I’m proud to be a role model!” — Sally Ride
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Today’s young generation of women isn’t just staying on Earth. Almost 40 years after the first American woman — Sally Ride — made it to space, US-born 19-year-old Alyssa Carson, who calls herself “NASA Blueberry”, is an aspiring astronaut. She’s the only person ever to have completed all space camps, including those in Turkey and Canada, and has been preparing to go to space since she was a young child.
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However, it’s not always women traveling alone that makes it into the history books. In January 2021, an all-woman crew was cheered after landing an Air India plane at Bengaluru airport, India. They had just completed the longest non-stop commercial flight ever made on Earth, from San Francisco to Bengaluru, with a distance of nearly 14,000 km and a time zone change of 13,5 hours.
We could find other tales of inspiring women, at times with their contributions obscured by debate, or pushed aside by a more prominent name of another. Slowly but surely women have been making it into history, lifted by the women who preceded them and lifting those who will come after.
March 2021 is Women’s History Month. To celebrate it, we’ll publish interviews and in-depth articles featuring inspiring women we think you should know more about. For more inspiring stories on Kiwi.com Stories.