“Much has been said about the danger to women, especially young women, travelling alone, of annoyance from impertinent or obtrusive attentions from travelers of the other sex. I can only say, that in any such case which has never come within my personal knowledge or observation, the woman has had only herself to blame. I am quite sure that no man, however audacious, will, at all events if he be sober, venture to treat with undue familiarity or rudeness a woman, however young, who distinctly shows him by her dignity of manner and conduct that any such liberty will be an insult.”
Hints to Lady Travellers at Home and Abroad by Lillias Campbell Davidson published in 1889, gives a rather self-confident picture of a travelling woman at the end of the 19th century. In this description she is aware of the fact that women travelling have to face much more difficulties during their journey than male travellers. James Boswell claims: “I am made for travelling” in his Grand Tour Journal from 1765. This “I” almost indicates that all male travellers are made for travelling but not females. In fact, prior the middle of the twentieth century, women were discouraged for travelling at all, unless they were planning a journey through safe, civilised territory. Even then they were typically chaperoned by male relatives. Clothing gear for travel related activities like bicycling, horseback riding, and mountain climbing were originally designed only for males. This essay will try to deduce what kinds of difficulties women had to confront and how British women’s and girl’s travel experiences differed from the experiences of British men in the 19th century. To certify my thought I will analyse some letters and books written by travelling women.
If one thinks of travel literature it will mostly bring male authors into your mind, especially literature of the Grand Tour period. A short look at the authors in the Oxford Anthology of Travel Writing 1700 – 1830 proves that most writers were male. Even in recent popular culture one will find male protagonists in road movies and travel books. But there are several reasons why there were so few women travelling, and even less women writing about it.
According to Jane Robinson there is one essential difference between male and female travellers is that men’s travel accounts are to do with ‘What’ and ‘Where’, and women’s with ‘How’ and ‘Why’.
Like most women who travelled in the 18th and 19th century and wrote books about it, these women were relatively privileged, and their journeys were voluntary. There were several reasons why women travelled: some, such as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu or Isak Dinesen, were accompanied by their husbands; others, such as Maud Parrish, were running away from home, and Mildred Cable and Francesca French went as missionaries. Some seemed to flee from home like Isabella Bird and Isabelle Ebehardt.
Women, of course, (have to) move differently through the world and their journeys proceed in another way than men’s travels do. Especially the emotions a woman feels while abroad mostly vary from those of men. The phenomenon of a culture shock was quite common in the early travel era of women. The feeling of anxiety, helplessness and frustration; the fear of succumbing to an illness or of being cheated, robbed or injured; excessive concern over cleanliness, sanitation (which will be analysed later) and other aspects of the host country. More women than men experienced a culture shock because women are more socially oriented and therefore feel the loss of their native culture more deeply.
The fear of rape or harassment, for example, affects the modalities women travel through the world; women always have to be aware of the limitations of their sex. That is why many women in the 18th and 19th century travelled incognito, or disguised as men. For example Sarah Hobson describes in her book Through Persia in Disguise that she travelled through the Iran to see the forbidden shrine at Qum, dressed in men’s clothing in the middle of the 20th century. Isabelle Eberhardt (already mentioned above) travelled through North Africa, also dressed as a man and pretending to be a Muslim convert. Even nowadays unescorted journeys by women to these kinds of countries are still considered to be dangerous.
 Campbell Davidson, Lillias: Hints to Lady Travellers at Home and Abroad, 1889. As cited in: Robinson, Jane: Unsuitable for Ladies. An Anthology of Women Travellers. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994. (12.)
 As cited in: Bohls, Elizabeth A. and Ian Duncan [ed.]: Travel Writing 1700 – 1830: An Anthology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. (xiii)
 Netzley, Patricia D.: The Encyclopaedia of Women’s Travel and Exploration. Westport: Onyx Press, 2001. (ix.)
 Bohls and Duncan (2005)
 Examples for road movies: Easy Rider, My Own Private Idaho, Paris/ Texas, Vanishing Point, Into the Wild. Books: Kerouac: On the Road. Thompson: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Poulin: Volkswagen Blues.
 Robinson, Jane: Wayward Women – A Guide to Women Travellers. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991. (x.)
 Siegel, Kristi [ed.]: Gender, Gerne, & Identity in Women’s Travel Writing. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2004. (2.)
 Morris, Mary [ed.]: The Illustrated Virago Book of Women Travellers. London: Virago Press, 2003. (10 f.)
 cf. Netzley (2001): 58.
 Excerpts found in ibid. (195ff.)
 Excerpts found in Foster, Shirley and Sara Mills: An Anthology of Women’s Travel Writing. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002 (210ff.) and Morris (2003): 54f.