Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Celebrating International Women's Day: 10 women who inspire my travels

 March 8th, 2011 is International Women's Day. To celebrate, here is my list of adventurous, strong, intelligent women who have inspired me in my own traveling life.

1. Mormor
My mom's mother, mormor in Swedish, was a great lady who grew strawberries and beautiful flowers (peonies!), made great cookies and jam, and loved traveling. One of her favorite places was the flower gardens of the Schoenbrunn Palace. Unfortunately she passed away before she had a chance to come and visit me in Canada, but I know she would have loved to see this place.

2 & 3. My Swedish cousins, Annika & Karin
They are both some years older than me, and growing up I'd hear the stories of how they went to Israel and worked in a kibbutz, or how they traveled all around Europe on their own, backpacking and interrailing. They were my role-models and inspiration when I got old enough to travel by myself.

Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe4. Jane Goodall
One day I'd like to take my kids to Tanzania and Kenya, to see not only the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro, but also visit Gombe, where Jane Goodall has been studying the chimpanzees since 1960. Adventurous, committed, brave, tenacious, and intelligent. a woman could do worse than being compared to Jane Goodall. This introduction from the Jane Goodall institute says it all:
"In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall traveled from England to what is today Tanzania and bravely entered the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But with her unyielding patience and characteristic optimism, she won the trust of these initially shy creatures. She managed to open a window into their sometimes strange and often familiar-seeming lives. The public was fascinated and remains so to this day."

Florence Nightingale (On My Own Biography)5. Florence Nightingale
I remember reading a juvenile fiction biography of Nightingale when I was a teenager and becoming utterly fascinated. She traveled from her comfortable home in England to the war in Crimea with a team of nurses she had helped train, and tended wounded and dying soldiers there. Crimea was part of the Ottoman Empire at the time, and this career was not exactly the expected one for a woman of her social status:
"...Florence announced her decision to enter nursing in 1844, despite the intense anger and distress of her mother and sister. In this, she rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status, which was to become a wife and mother. Nightingale worked hard to educate herself in the art and science of nursing, in spite of opposition from her family and the restrictive societal code for affluent young English women."
Getting educated, getting a job and career and traveling to foreign places? What a rebel!

Gorillas in the Mist6. Sigourney Weaver
Weaver is one of my favorite actresses, maybe because she seems to prove that there is (was?) space for acting women who project intelligence, strength and independence. There's Alien of course, and Avatar, and even Galaxy Quest (a very underrated movie if you ask me) if you're space-travel inclined (which I am). And if you want more down-to-Earth travel inspiration from Sigourney, there's always Gorillas in the Mist, and The Year of Living Dangerously.

7. Christiane Amanpour
She's awesome. That's really all I've got. Poise, intelligence, world-traveler and reporter with a brain... what's not to like. Also, I could listen to her all day long just for the sound of her voice. At one point in my life, her kind of traveling, international, dramatic lifestyle was what I envisioned for myself. Turned out that wasn't for me, but I still think she is fantastic.

A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam8. Karen Armstrong
Armstrong is a writer, and though she is not a travel writer, her books on religion, history and the evolution of religious ideas have made me want to travel to all sorts of places, all over the world, but especially the Middle East. The first book of hers that I read was the fantastic A history of God. It's a great read and I highly recommend it.

She also initiated the Charter for Compassion, an inspiring project to emphasize the importance of compassion:
"The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect."

Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller9. Karen Blixen
"I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the north, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold."
I'm actually not quite sure whether it's Blixen or Meryl Streep's characterization of her in Out of Africa that I find inspirational. After all, who doesn't want to be adventurous and move to a far-away place and fall in love with (a younger) Robert Redford? I guess it's really a little bit of both, but a lot of my fascination comes from Blixen's own writings. Blixen's stories from Africa are certainly great writing, and she has a way with the beginning of a story that draws you in. 

Athena Greek Goddess Bronzed Statue Sculpture Minerva10. Athena
So she's not real. But reading Greek mythology was one of the reasons my first inter-rail trip took me and my best friend to Greece, visiting Athens and the Acropolis (and the beaches of Corfu as well). I find Athena an inspiring character in many ways.

She was certainly one of the world's many original multitasking women, being the goddess of warfare, civilization, wisdom, female arts, strength, strategy, crafts, justice and skill (according to Wikipedia).


  1. Cool idea for a post and some inspiring women for sure!

  2. Wow. Great inspiration!!
    /Maria HB


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