Our Favourite Women in Travel
Published on: March 3rd, 2020
Last modified: March 5th, 2020
As part of Women's History Month in March and International Women's Day on the 8th March, we conducted a series of interviews with interesting and inspirational women in travel.
From adventurers to conservationists, guides to rangers, there are some amazing women out there, and here's what a few of them have to say.
The safari superstar: Verity Williams
A wonderful Kenyan woman, Verity Williams spent years working in a notoriously male-orientated guiding industry in the 1980s. Quickly winning over clients and making an impact, Verity has since gone on to become the owner and manager of the beautiful Sabuk Lodge in Laikipia, Kenya.
Verity’s journey into guiding went a little something like this: ‘I worked for the E.A. Tourist Travel Association, then the East African office in London, both in administration and tourism. Then I worked in the Ker & Downey safaris office, as well as running the office in Abercrombie & Kent. When we left Nairobi, I used to help at times in lodges throughout Kenya, such as Lewa Downs, and organise correspondence for small safari companies – I was always moving with my children if it was holiday time! One morning, when my three children were at school and my husband Dave was on safari, I simply decided that I wanted to get involved with the guiding side. It was at that moment that I began to gather all the necessary permits to enable me to become a guide and it went from there.’
Verity’s journey hasn’t been a smooth sailing one, and as we spoke further, she enlightened us as to some of the challenges she has faced since becoming a guide: ‘When I had everything sorted, I went to the general manager of Ker & Downey safaris, and asked him if it was possible he give me some work taking out and guiding photographic safaris. He said “What? A woman?! I suggest you go and ask the minibus companies to work as a courier and be driven around by a driver instead.” It was like putting a red rag to a bull, as they say. I tried this for a short time, but eventually one of our good friends asked me to help as an assistant guide on his safari, driving my own safari vehicle. I was then asked to help on a Ker & Downey safari by one of the guides – at first the general manager said no, but then agreed. He obviously asked clients what they thought, and after that I was given the green light. He then asked me to take out many safaris!’
Today, Verity owns Sabuk Lodge, and is inspired by the beauty and wilderness of Africa, especially Kenya, with its diverse scenery, species of game, birds and culture all found in such a small area. She’s most proud of being able to show people the true experience of a safari in Africa, and for them to be able to enjoy it too. Ultimately, Verity hopes to inspire other women to work as guides and remembers her first general manager’s pivotal advice: “You, as a woman, have to try to be very good, knowledgeable, interesting, and fun – even more than the others.”
The world gardener: Anthea Guthrie
Lawyer turned award-winning landscape gardener, Anthea Guthrie’s love of gardening started at a very young age. She only made her lifelong hobby her career later in life though, and now Anthea offers amazing tours in her beautiful gardens and travels the world giving talks.
On what made her transition from law to gardening, Guthrie says “I realised I didn’t need to carry on with the law after our mortgage was paid off! I put an ad in our local weekly paper to do garden maintenance and spent the extra year pruning and weeding. Then, I enrolled on a part time horticulture course at a local college to hone my skills. Just after that, the RHS had their first spring show in Cardiff near where I live, and invited the students to produce a garden. They chose my design and that was my first garden – it featured a washing line with a washing mage of glass, and the judges loved it! Two years after that, I did my first garden for the Chelsea Flower Show.”
The women who inspire Anthea most are those who have gone ahead and become confident in themselves by taking a leap of faith. They include Marianne North, the spinster vicar’s daughter who travelled all over the world to paint plants in situ (who now has a gallery in Kew Gardens). She also has a soft spot for grumpy Gertrude Jekyll, the Edwardian garden designer who donated plants from her own garden to the war graves in Europe – she wanted our boys to each have a little English garden at the base of each gravestone. Some of the varieties she sent can still be seen.
On how she wants to inspire other women, Anthea concluded “I want to encourage women and girls to realise they can have a choice in what they do. My 8 year old granddaughter has already noticed there are hardly any superheroes who are girls ‘and that’s not fair’. I want her and all girls to understand they can be ambitious but still be kind, to love and appreciate nature, to get their hands dirty and still be girls. I want them to take risks! If I was a fairy godmother I would give the gift of resilience.”
The motorcycle enthusiast: Elspeth Beard
In 1982, adventurer and award-winning architect Elspeth Beard embarked on a two-year solo journey that would take her around the world on her beloved motorbike – and was the first British woman to do so. From the outback of Australia to the mountains of Nepal, Elspeth has travelled through some fascinating places. The great stories behind these places and her achievement as a solo rider have now been, rightfully, turned into a brilliant book, which you can also buy on Amazon! We talked to her about her journey and to find out more about her very cool experiences.
Elspeth has been riding bikes since she was sixteen, but it was a particular combination of various life events that drove her to set off around the world on her motorcycle ‘It was a combination of events in my life the following year which prompted my hasty departure. During my three years studying architecture I met and fell in love with someone who ended our relationship about three months before my finals. As a consequence, I graduated with a very poor degree and started to question whether I should continue with architecture as a career. These doubts combined with being brokenhearted made me decide I needed to get away. Wanting to travel, and with an overwhelming need to escape, I set about preparing myself and my bike with a plan to ride around the world.’
Elspeth’s favourite country that she visited whilst on her round-the-world-tour is a toss up between northern Thailand, Nepal, Ladakh and New Zealand, and she tells us that she learned some valuable life lessons whilst away. ‘I really learned how to accept different people and different cultures, and it made me realise how lucky we are as women to live in the UK, where we have education and a voice. There are millions of women around the world who don’t have any of the rights that many of us take for granted.’
Elspeth still loves to travel by motorbike, and is mostly inspired by people who are passionate about what they do in life. On how she wants her journey to inspire others, Elspeth finished: “I find it extraordinary that people are interested in something I did over thirty years ago when, at the time, no one wanted to know. If my story can now inspire other people, especially women to believe that there are no limits to what can be achieved with self-belief and determination then this would bring a whole new meaning to my trip. It’s important in life to face and overcome your fears and take yourself out of your comfort zone, you don’t know the person you are unless you are prepared to test yourself and find out. This gave me the confidence to take on anything life can throw at me without any fear.”
The young explorer: Jade Hameister
A young explorer, Jade Hameister first started intrepidly exploring at the age of 12, when she trekked to Everest Base Camp. At 14, she became the youngest person in history to ski to the North Pole from anywhere outside The Last Degree. She is also the youngest person to complete the Polar Hat Trick (traversing the North Pole, South Pole and Greenland ice sheet), and, as if that wasn’t enough, she also set a new route to the South Pole unsupported and unassisted. Did we mention she is only 16? We spoke to Jade to find out more about her achievements and what inspires her.
Jade’s journey into adventure travel is a fascinating one: ‘I have been brought up in a very adventurous family. While I was a young girl growing up, my dad was off climbing the seven summits, and both my parents took me and my brother on little adventures every year. Everest Base Camp was my idea – I wanted to see what Dad had climbed to the top of in 2011. The polar hat trick was also my idea and came mainly from talking to an Icelandic lady on my trek to Everest Base Camp. She was very inspiring – she’d skied coast to South Pole the year before and crossed Greenland – and we are still good friends today. She gave me a necklace to keep me safe on my most recent expedition.’
As a young adventurer herself, Jade is predominantly inspired by any young person – particularly young women – who choose to be brave in following their dreams. She loves when people look beyond worrying about whether they’ll appear foolish or silly, and simply work hard to chase a goal that others may or may not relate to. When it comes to how she’s using her own journey to inspire other young women, Jade states: “I really want to try and help shift the focus for young women from how we appear to the possibilities of what we can do and can contribute to this world. I think if we empower young women around the world, everyone will benefit and a more caring approach to our environment might also follow.”
“Choose bravery over perfection. Just get started and accept that you will make mistakes and might end up looking silly. But you will be moving towards whatever matters most to you and learning. If you get too focussed on trying to do something perfectly, you probably will never start.”