Female Solo Travel: An 1889 Race Around The World

When two 19th-century women set out to circle the globe at the same time, in different directions, the public was fascinated! A worldwide race between female adventurers. The goal: to beat Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg’s 80-day fictional trip, and 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.

Both women’s separate accounts are compiled in a single volume. The book weaves back and forth between the two: Bly vs. Bisland: Beating Phileas Fogg In The Race Around The World.

Both adventurers had to prepare in just a night. You can tell the difference between their styles in their writing, and in how they prepared for the trip in so short a time.

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.

She also committed herself to the Blackwell Island lunatic asylum. She wrote an exposé on the mistreatment of the patients.

So it surprised Nellie when her newspaper publisher refused to let her make this trip around the world. She was furious when he told her that he preferred to send a man.

(This is the old smallpox hospital on New York City’s Roosevelt Island.)

Very well! Start the man, and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him!

Her publisher backed down. He sent Nellie.

Nellie Bly was a simple woman. She packed just one dress and one jacket.

All of the possessions for her trip fit in just one mid-sized bag.

She didn’t want to lose time transferring luggage. Her mind was set on her goal of beating the 80-day record!

Nelly regretted not bringing a Kodak camera. They 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!

Female Solo Traveler #2: Elizabeth Bisland

Elizabeth had arrived in New York City just two years before. She had just 50-cents in her pocket. Before long, she had made a name for herself, and had enough money to live comfortably.

She didn’t like the fame, though. Elizabeth did whatever she could to stay out of the spotlight.

One day, her publisher called her into his office. He informed her that she would be traveling around the world, and that she would be leaving the next morning!

Elizabeth Bisland was sophisticated. She packed much more clothing than Nelly, filling an entire trunk.

Here I am, looking at an old city map in Istanbul.

Two Solo 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. 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!

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 to meet them.

Verne told Nelly about his motivation in writing the book. A newspaper article calculating the possible of traveling the world in just 80 days. Verne knew he could calculate a better route.

Nelly explained the route she would be taking. Verne listened, and then asked why she would be passing through Bombay, like Phileas Fogg did. Nelly said she was more interested in saving time than a young widow, which was Fogg’s motive for passing through Bombay.

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.

Shorter but always interesting stories @moodandmystery on Instagram

Read about other strong women below: