Female Solo Travel: An 1889 Race Around The World

Part of our Women’s History Month series: Female heroes!

[usrlist Must-read!:5]

It’s difficult to imagine a 19th century woman traveling the world, alone. Even today, female solo travel remains a popular blog topic. So back in 1889, when two women with adventurous streaks set out at the same time, in different directions, to circle the globe, you can imagine the interest they generated in the public! This was a race female adventurers, trying to beat Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg’s 80-day fictional trip, and competing to beat each other!

The Contenders: Nellie Bly vs. Elizabeth Bisland

Nellie Bly was the well-known daredevil reporter for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. Elizabeth Bisland was a writer and editor for Cosmopolitan magazine.

You can read each woman’s separate account, or a special version that weaves back and forth between the two: Bly vs. Bisland: Beating Phileas Fogg In The Race Around The World. My husband Dan and I listened to the audiobook together.

Female adventurers can be as unique from each other as day and night. Both had to prepare in just a night and you can tell the difference between the two in their styles of preparation.

Female Solo Traveler #1: Nellie Bly

Nellie Bly had already won the title of daredevil, having traveled by train to Mexico to work as a correspondent, and then having herself committed to the Blackwell Island lunatic asylum to write an expose on the mistreatment of the patients.

Still, Nellie’s newspaper publisher refused to let her make this trip around the world, saying he preferred to send a man. Nellie was furious. “Very well,” she warned, “Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.” Her publisher decided to send her.

Nellie Bly was simple woman. She decided to bring just one dress and one jacket. All of the possessions for her tip fit in just one mid-sized bag. Her mind was set on her goal of beating the 80-day record!

She regretted not bringing a Kodak camera, which had debuted earlier that year. Many tourists throughout the world already had them, she said. This was an age of new technologies. The steam engine made this trip possible and the camera allowed people to record the experience!

We take our photos with our smart phones, using Moment attachable lenses. Clip-on smart phone lenses create vignetting if you don’t attach them just right. Moment lenses attach to their custom case, making it easy and quick to attach. One of our first blog posts, way back in November 2017, was about our Moment wide angle lens.

Female Solo Traveler #2: Elizabeth Bisland

Elizabeth had arrived in New York City just two years before her race around the world with only 50-cents in her pocket. Before long, she had made a name for herself, and enough money to live comfortably. She did not like the fame, though, and did whatever she could to stay out of the spotlight.

Elizabeth Bisland’s publisher called her into their offices to tell her that she would be making the trip around the world, leaving the following morning!

Elizabeth Bisland was sophisticated. She packed much more clothing and brought an entire trunk.

Lone Female Travelers vs. One Male Traveler With A Servant

Phileas Fogg, their inspiration from Around The World In 80 Days! traveled with his servant. These two female solo travelers were left to take care of every task themselves, and they handled it all expertly! Of course, Fogg had a police warrant for his arrest, complicating his trip.

The Race Begins

High speed train racing down the tracks, reminiscent of the trips by these two brave female solo travelers

Both women began in New York City. Bisland boarded a train for San Francisco to begin her journey. Meanwhile, Nellie Bly boarded a steamship for England. The steamship was the only part of the journey that Nellie booked in advance. She wanted the freedom to travel spontaneously. If you, too, have that adventurous streak, you know how important spontaneity is! It lead to one of our most interesting adventures ever, starting in the morning with a debate if we should do something that day!

Nellie’s free spirit paid off, almost right away. When she arrived in England, Jules Verne and his wife had an invitation waiting for her to visit them in France. So Nellie made her first detour so she could meet them.

Opinion About The Book

Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland were two adventurous women, as different as could be! Nellie was very practical, ready for adventure. Elizabeth was more sophisticated with a more literary style. Nellie was more prolific, so she has many more sections in the book.

The spirit of adventure in both of these women makes their trips exciting to follow. The actual observations, though, are not the modern ones that we’re used. Parts sound racially ignorant, but there are many intriguing events and a lot of great writing. Mostly, you’ll enjoy the adventures of these audacious women. They were ahead of their time.


Read our adventurous exploration into the life of Edward Hopper. Just click below:

20 thoughts on “Female Solo Travel: An 1889 Race Around The World

    1. I thought so, too! I was fascinated by Nellie, and then ended up preferring Elizabeth, since her writing style is really beautiful. Both of them were inspiring, though. On Instagram, one person said her grandmother used to tell her stories about Nellie Bly, showing her that girls could do anything!

    1. I was so pleasantly surprised to read this book! These women were inspiring. On my Instagram account, one person told me how her grandmother told her stories about Nellie Bly.

  1. Weren’t they absolutely amazing. What a brilliant and fascinating post of two remarkable women, clearly ahead of their time. Intriguing. I’d like to read more.

    1. I couldn’t get enough, either. I binge read all of Nellie Bly’s books in just a week! Thank you for reading, Miriam!

    1. I’ve been thinking of you, believe it or not. I was thinking how you hadn’t posted in a long time so, seeing your comment, I went to your blog and see you’ve been posting a lot! And I’m not following you??? I’m not sure why but I have catching up to do.

      1. It’s ok this happens a lot.

        My life hasn’t been so easy lately. I’ve been depressed! Anyway, I suppose you’ll know why when you read my latest post.

        Hope all is well with you!

    1. I loved reading about these two women! It was an exciting adventure! I’m so glad you found me on Instagram, Peta & Ben! I was already following your wonderful blog!

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