Every year, there are women out in the world doing amazing things. Riding across countries, documenting struggle and conflict, writing epic stories and busting gender stereotypes. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down with eight of the best – photographers, writers, guides and professional adventurers – to ask them the big questions. Why travel matters for young girls, how women are influencing the industry, and why travel comes down to simple choices.
Yen Baet – Pro photographer
What would you say to young girls who want to travel?
“If, at any time in your life, you are given the chance to travel, don’t hesitate; just go. There are many benefits in travel but what I liked the most was how it constantly gives me a sense of purpose and how it changes the way I see the world. I’ve learned that differences in culture and beliefs is not a bad thing, and that people of all race and religion are generally kind and helpful if you make an effort to reach out to them. It’s only normal to feel afraid about stepping outside of your comfort zone, but try not to let fear stop you. Courage is not about conquering your fear but by taking that first step, and that first step could be the start of a long and exciting journey.”
Follow Yen’s adventures at yenbaet.com
Louise Southerden – Travel writer
Why is travel important for young women?
“Because the best kind of travel changes us, as surely as it changes the people we encounter and the places we visit (hopefully in positive ways). My first solo trip at 24 gave me more confidence than any achievements have before or since. Travel teaches us that other places aren’t like home (and that diversity is important), helps us find our place the world and opens our minds to new ways to live when we return. Every trip I take still reminds me how simple life can be and that most people are kind, not dangerous – that’s an important lesson for women of any age and it’s why I love to see women doing intrepid things, often alone, defying stereotypes. Because trust, not fear, is what takes us forward, helps us grow and makes us leap into unknowns we can’t even imagine until we’ve experienced them for ourselves.”
Read all about Louise’s travels at noimpactgirl.com
Lucy Piper – Videographer
What are you most proud of in your career?
“Standing on the edge of the viewing platform overlooking the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu after racing along the entire Inca Trail in a single day with the blind ultra-runner Dan Berlin. My assignment was to video and photograph the adventure for Team See Possibilities and Intrepid Travel, and the challenge was for Dan to become the fasted blind athlete to complete the trek. Setting off at 4:30 am, with a 3:30pm cut-off time to reach the third camp, we had a ridiculous challenge ahead – at over 45kms in distance, and climbing to above 4500m at Dead Woman’s Pass – this was a massive stretch goal for all of the team involved, even more so for Dan. The terrain was uneven and difficult for the team to navigate. We had to keep moving fast to hit our cut-off time. I was carrying a variety of camera equipment to document the trek, and it was physically and mentally exhausting. But every time I questioned whether I would make it, Dan’s energy would permeate me and lift my spirit; his strength, athleticism and determination in the face of his challenge was infectious.
When we passed through the Sun Gate and arrived at the ruins, we were treated to a private viewing of the sunset. The authorities had kept the site open for us, even though all the tourist buses had left for the day. Machu Picchu was totally deserted – there was nobody there apart from the team and our Intrepid leader and guides. As I took it all in, I got a pang of awareness when I realised that we were all looking at this incredible sight, but that Dan couldn’t see it. But in that moment it was like he read my mind: “I can see it because I can feel the wind on my face, and I can feel the dirt under my feet, and I can smell the air. And I can feel it in all of you – in your silence”. It was an awe-inspiring moment and day in the truest sense of the term, and was the experience that I am most proud of in my travel career.”
Anna McNuff – Full-time adventurer
What are your biggest fears, travelling solo?
“I’m never concerned about any harm that may come to me while on the road, as I genuinely believe the world is a good place full of kind, warm people. That said, before I leave I always battle with one fear, and that is: What happens if I get out there and get bored or lonely?! What happens if I am having the most rubbish time and I have to push on in a challenge because I’ve told everyone (friends, family, social media) what I intend to do?? To combat that I remind myself: we always have choices. And so I always have a choice – every day I get up and make the decision to continue in my travels. It’s my life after all, I can always change my mind, and funnily enough – I never do. The fears never translate to reality and it always turns out to be the most marvellous adventure.”
You can follow Anna at annamcnuff.com
Jo Stewart – Travel writer
What was your toughest adventure last year?
“I’ve had some pretty extreme experiences in places like Antarctica and the Simpson Desert, but last year I travelled to a place that showed me that tough moments don’t always come from climbing mountains. Camping in Cape York on Olkola Country as guests of the Olkola people was a humbling experience I won’t soon forget. Hearing an Indigenous elder speak of the time he wasn’t allowed to share a dinner table with white people because of the colour of his skin was very saddening. Facing the uncomfortable truth, and listening without prejudice or reacting with defensiveness isn’t easy. Anyone with a bit of physical fitness can make it to Everest Base Camp, but how many of us can practice deep listening during uncomfortable moments? How many of us can allow others to speak their truth? This is truly the tough stuff and not something I’ve perfected but a skill I hope to keep cultivating during my travels this year, and beyond.”
Read Jo’s stories at wordessence.com.au
Yasna Kargar – Iran Guide
What’s changing for women in Iran?
“Women have always played a crucial role in the long history of Iran. We can tell from recent archaeological digs in the country’s southeast, that women were prominent members of society as far back as the 3rd millennium BC. Life for women in Iran today is very different from the pervasive stereotype. The majority of students in our universities are now women. We have almost all the same social rights as men: we can drive, work, vote and are paid the same. As more women become financially independent, the average age of marriage has moved to the early 30s. Also, the dress code has changed a lot in the last 10 years. We still have to wear a headscarf, long top with sleeves and pants when in public, but there’s more colour now, more style, especially in the spring and summer. Overall, things are improving.”
Belinda Kirk – Pro adventurer
What motivates you to get out there and see the world?
“Primarily its all about the adventure because if I’m trying new experiences then I’m also learning, growing and having fun (even if its not always fun at the time, it will be fun in retrospect). This is when I feel most alive, when I’m challenging myself. And when I’ve done things I never thought I was capable of that’s given me strength in other parts of my life too. There’s also nothing better than getting out there with other people – sharing experiences with friends or meeting new ones. Away from the distractions of everyday life its a great opportunity to build and enjoy relationships.”
Follow Belinda’s adventures at belindakirk.com
Ellie Ross – Travel writer
What’s the biggest challenge facing women in travel?
“Women face a plethora of challenges navigating the globe – whether that’s close to home or on the other side of the world. As a female traveller, you come up against a long, frustrating list of rules about places you can’t go and things you can’t do; there’s that secluded, male-only monastery you’re forbidden from entering, and your guidebook advises you to ‘dress modestly’, while men seemingly have free rein. Yet perhaps the biggest challenge facing women in travel is the assumption that they are inherently vulnerable and at risk. This idea can be debilitating, putting some female travellers off visiting places deemed ‘unsafe’ for women. Trust your instincts instead of your assumptions. Yes, be cautious of your personal safety and respectful of different cultures, as every traveller – male or female – should be. But harness your fear. There’s something empowering about dong things that feel scary, about trying something new and challenging.”