News: The Women Who Travel Power List
Over the past two years, we’ve worked tirelessly to build our Women Who Travel community, a network of bold, adventurous, self-identifying female travelers from around the globe. What started as an annual collection of stories on International Women’s Day (psst that’s today) has expanded into a weekly podcast, a Facebook group (now 130,000 members strong!), a nationwide meetup series, and—as of a few weeks ago—group trips to Colombia. It’s all tied together by a single thread: That women are traveling, really crossing borders and boundaries, more than ever. Which is why, for this year’s International Women’s Day, we decided to celebrate some of the most powerful women in travel today—the ones in traditional leadership roles, but also those using their platforms to shape the way we understand the world, and empowering others to see more of it.
In this inaugural Women Who Travel Power List you’ll find mountain climbers and dog mushers, startup founders and industry disruptors, war photographers and verified bloggers. Some of these women are among the highest-earning CEOs in the country; others might have more stamps in their passports than dollars in their bank accounts. But no matter what they do—or what their journey has been—they all have a desire to break down walls and build bridges instead. These are the women paving the way for all the female travelers—from backpackers to civilian astronauts—who will follow them.
Shelma Jun, founder of Flash Foxy
There’s no denying that climbing is having a moment right now—the sport is making its Olympic debut next year in Tokyo and new climbing gyms are opening around the country as more people chalk up. But one woman has been tapping into and building up a community of female climbers for the last five years, creating a space for the newbies and the callused pros alike. In 2014, 36-year-old Shelma Jun launched @heyflashfoxy, just sharing photos of herself and her friends messing around in the gym or on boulders. Flash forward (ba dum tss) and the Instagram has skyrocketed, with more than 40,000 followers and a Women’s Climbing Festival, now in its fourth year, known for selling out in a single minute.
For Jun, the real purpose of the Flash Foxy community is representation. Many, if not all, of climbing’s household names (like Alex Honnold from the Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo) are men, and climbing gyms can, admittedly, be intimidating. But Jun’s working to change that, and bring even more women into the sport: by posting photos of badass women climbing with girlfriends, hiring female guides to lead training sessions at the festival, and championing women of color and different climbing abilities. “We’ll be celebrating women in climbing,” she told Outside in an announcement of the 2019 summer festival. “But we’ll go a little deeper, too, and think about the challenges faced by women of color, queer women, adaptive women. We shouldn’t be talking about these things in silos.” —Meredith Carey
Blair Braverman, author and dogsled racer
As you read this, Blair Braverman is likely somewhere between Anchorage, Alaska, and Nome, a small town on the southern coast of the state’s Seward Peninsula—and the final stop of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Dubbed ‘The Last Great Race on Earth,’ the competitive expedition spans 938 miles, taking participants along remote, grueling, and often treacherous trails amid brutal, sub-zero weather conditions. It’s a race the author and professional musher has been training for since she first assembled her dog team in 2014, and one that her 69,000 Twitter followers are sure to be following avidly.
Since she began learning to mush in 2008 while living in Norway, Braverman has made a relatively niche sport feel accessible to those of us who have never owned a pair of snow boots—thanks, in no small part, to her writing. Her memoir, Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, received rave reviews when it was published in 2016, praised for its captivating prose that captured the violence of Norway’s frozen wilderness and the patriarchal society that occupies it—all while still drawing in readers in with her exhilarating descriptions of mushing through thick forests and intense blizzards.
Braverman’s tweets, on the other hand, are an equally compelling form of storytelling—scroll through her feed and you’ll see endless pictures of her training for the big race alongside her 20 #UglyDogs, a hashtag inspired by a trolling commenter. While it’s worth your attention solely for the escapades of Flame, Boo, Pepé and the rest of her team, Braverman’s journey also flips the perception of dog sledding as a male-dominated sport on its head. “Mushing is one of the only sports where men and women compete together at an elite level,” Braverman told NPR on the eve of the Iditarod. “We are taken seriously as athletes because there’s no chance for people to tell themselves we’re not on the same playing field.” —Lale Arikoglu
Lhakpa Sherpa, climbed Mt. Everest nine times, the most summits by a woman
Most of the time, Lhakpa Sherpa spends her time shuttling between her job as a dishwasher at her local Whole Foods and her home in Hartford, Connecticut, where she raises her three children. However, once a year, the 44-year-old single mom saves up enough money to fly back to her native Nepal and climb Mount Everest—and in May 2018 she successfully completed the trek for the ninth time, setting a new world record for summits of Everest by a woman. She’s no stranger to overcoming major challenges: Growing up in Nepal, she wasn’t allowed to attend school with her brothers and, like other sherpa girls, was never encouraged to climb; and her marriage to ex-husband George Dijmarescu, another climber, ended after years of abuse. With no driver’s license, she walks two miles to work each day.
Yet she continues to persevere: After becoming the first Nepali woman to survive the return trip from Everest’s summit in 2000, she’s kept pushing her limits, even climbing 29,029 feet eight months after giving birth, and again while two months pregnant. Up next? Summiting K2, the world’s second-highest peak—and one of the deadliest—for the first time later this year. “I wanted to show that a woman can do men’s jobs. There is no difference in climbing a mountain,” Sherpa told the Associated Press. “I climb for all women.” —L.A.
Katherine Lo, president and founder of Eaton Workshop
Hotels are not traditional incubators for social activism, but then 36-year-old Katherine Lo isn’t a typical hotelier. The activist (she’s protested on behalf of Greenpeace at the Hague), humanitarian, and documentary filmmaker saw untapped potential in the communities hotels inevitably create. “Hotels touch on so many of the facets that connect with people—architecture, food, beverage, design. People are already drawn in,” she says. “They are here to eat and drink and to also be part of something more enlightening.”
Eaton’s D.C. and Hong Kong hotels, both of which launched last year (Seattle and San Francisco are up next), host seminars and talks ranging from gender equality to racial intersectionality, led by thought-leaders like Whitney Tome of Green 2.0 and members of local organizations. But creature comforts don’t play second fiddle. Lo, daughter of Langham hotel founder Lo-Kah Shui (she launched his property in Chicago), partnered with all the right players, tasking Kengo Kuma and Gachot Studios with design and placing top chefs in the kitchen, while making funky amenities like rooftop bars, co-working spaces, and radio/podcast recording stations as imperative as a gym. It’s this mix of acumen and vision, paired with her new platform, that has made Eaton one of the most relevant brands to launch in the travel scape recently—and Lo, a uniquely positioned voice within it to translate the desires (aspiration and aesthetic) of her fellow millennials. —Erin Florio
Liz Lambert, CEO and founder of Bunkhouse Group
For nearly a quarter of a century, Liz Lambert has been defining Austin’s hotel culture—a far cry from her first career choice, as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Over the years, her effortless style (that somehow manages to fit just the right amount of knickknacks, color, and cool into each corner of her spaces) has become a gold standard for how to make a hotel feel uniquely of a place. Don’t think that if you’ve stayed in one of her seven hotels, you’ve stayed in them all: Whether you’re checking into her OG hotel (Hotel San José in Austin in 1995), her first trailer park (the wonderfully wacky El Cosmico in Marfa), her first space outside of Texas (the Phoenix Hotel, which we think could actually make San Francisco a hotel city), or her first international hotel (Hotel San Cristóbal in Baja California Sur), there are enough groovy spaces to explore for years—and there are more to come.
In 2015, Standard International, the parent company of Standard Hotels, invested in a majority stake of Lambert’s Bunkhouse Group, and the partnership is finally coming to fruition: The group just announced four new hotels will launch in the coming years, in Austin, New Orleans, and Atlanta. This powerhouse is far from slowing down, and she’s changing the way we all think about a hotel room. —Meredith Carey
Alexandra Champalimaud, founder of Champalimaud Design
“A titan of hospitality decor.” A name “practically synonymous with luxury.” As the creative force behind such ultra-high-end hotels as The Carlyle in Manhattan and L.A.’s Hotel Bel-Air, Alexandra Champalimaud sounds like she could be a bit, well, hard to relate to. But drop your judgment at the door of one of her thousands of bespoke-designed projects: The New York–based artist—because, truly, these are more than hotel interiors—showcases an insatiable global curiosity that lacks pretense, with influences spanning everything from her native Portugal to her adopted Montreal, where she founded her Champalimaud Design firm; trips off the beaten path in Kenya and Indonesia; and fashion designers ranging from Dries van Noten to Isabel Marant.
Champalimaud shows great respect—for other cultures, her clients’ needs, and the environment—in her life and work, and shares what she’s learned as a member Network for Executive Women in Hospitality. The next time you set foot in a luxury resort or hotel, do a quick Google search to see if Champalimaud was involved. You won’t be disappointed. —Laura Dannen Redman
Tina Edmundson, global brand officer of Marriott International Luxury
When Marriott acquired Starwood and all of its 30 different hotel brands, one thing was clear: Tina Edmundson had her work cut out for her. As Marriott’s global brand officer for luxury and lifestyle, Edmundson was tasked with helping to define the strategy for all of Marriott’s five-star hotels, as diverse as classically luxe St. Regis, design-forward EDITION, and nightlife-friendly W, figuring out what to keep and how to change. What Edmundson brought was a highly personal touch, whether encouraging each brand to feature moments that are authentic and experiential—it’s the reason you’ll continue to get live jazz at the St. Regis and a run concierge at a Westin—and reminding staff that, quote, “we are in the business of caring for people.”
Edmundson has spoken about incorporating more widely the idea of “high tech andhigh touch,” or using technology to free up employees from mundane tasks so they can better serve (and engage with) guests. In an era where robot concierges are becoming more and more widespread, we’re guessing this will go a long way. What might go unnoticed, though, is how she surrounds herself with other smart women at the helm of each of her luxury brands—among them, Lisa Holladay, vice president and global brand leader of St. Regis Hotels and Resorts, and Mitzi Gaskins, global brand leader of JW Marriott—who care about mentoring female leaders within the company. It’s not a show, folks. —Katherine LaGrave
Kate McCue, first American woman to captain a cruise ship, and master of the Celebrity Equinox
Kate McCue, currently master of Celebrity Cruises’ ship Equinox, made her name in the industry in 2015 as the first American woman to captain a cruise ship—and again last week, when it was announced that later this year she’ll take over Celebrity Edge, the cruise line’s newest launch and arguably the biggest in the cruise game of the past year.
Despite a maritime degree and nearly 20 years of experience, she regularly faces surprise at the position she occupies. A recent post on her Instagram went viral, capturing an exchange with a port attendant who couldn’t guess her position on the ship, as Traveler’s Cynthia Drescher reported. “I think you’re the captain’s wife, but if you’re not, then I think you’re the cruise director’s wife,” he said. “What do you think if I tell you I’m the captain?” she replied (like a boss), and her post racked up more than 16,000 views alongside fans vowing to only sail ships that she’s captaining.
Now claiming more than 65,000 followers alongside a recent New York Times profile, she’s noted in several interviews that she doesn’t feel her gender has worked against her in her career, but that changing people’s perspective does come with the territory. “I don’t like the stereotypes, but I love smashing them,” she told us in 2016. “People expect me to be a Goliath of a person. I love to show that you don’t have to squeeze into a mold to meet people’s expectations.” —Corina Quinn
Serena Melani, First Master of Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ newest luxury ship, Seven Seas Splendor
The cruise industry has grown ever more inclusive of women, with an increasing number occupying prominent roles like captain and master on ships. But Serena Melani, of Regent Seven Seas Cruises still stands out as the first Italian woman to captain a ship in 2016 on Regent’s Seven Seas Mariner; in that role, she was also Regent’s first female captain. In her latest achievement, she’ll be the first woman to captain a brand new cruise ship, when Regent’s Seven Seas Splendor launches in February 2020.
It hasn’t been an easy climb (just to break into the industry, on an Italian cargo ship, took five years), and she readily admits her career isn’t for everyone, given the long time spent away from home and family when you’re on a contract. “It’s hard to have a ‘normal’ life,” she says. “But if you become an officer or a captain, it’s because you really want to do that—not because you didn’t have other opportunities.” To that end, having equal representation at different levels of the industry sends a strong message. “To know there are women in certain positions, like captain, can help other female officers get more strength to go ahead, like it did for me,” Melani says. “I always tell other women to be persistent, because of course you will find at times that people don’t like the idea that there is a woman at a certain level. Try to do your best, be confident in yourself—and always have a hint of sense of humor. Sometimes, that’s the best way to deal with people.” —C.Q.
Jane Sun, CEO of CTrip
CTrip may not be widely known in the U.S., but that’s besides the point. As China’s largest online travel agency, it’s the world’s second-largest online agency by market value, coming behind Priceline but ahead of Expedia and TripAdvisor. At the helm the $24 billion company, which counts 33,000 employees and has 150 million monthly active users, is CEO Jane Sun, who was with CTrip for 11 years before taking over the top position.
She didn’t take long to make her mark: Under her leadership, CTrip has launched a car rental service for 6,000 international cities, acquired U.K.-based travel search site Skyscanner, and bulked up rail offerings in Europe and Asia. Perhaps most notably, Sun has also been vocal about hiring and investing in women, and emphasizing work-life balance, by developing incentives to attract and retain female staff. (These initiatives include providing pregnant women with a taxi service to and from work, offering education subsidies, and letting them freeze their eggs for free.) “I have faced these obstacles [around working and being a mother] before,” Sun, one of the country’s few female chief executives, told the South China Morning Post. “That’s why I know what has to be done to eliminate unnecessary barriers.” —K.L.
Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com
A Booking.com employee since 2002, when the company was a nascent start-up, Gillian Tans has seen the online hotel and rental behemoth go from 500 listings to nearly six million in more than 190 countries around the world. The company veteran has been at the helm as CEO since April 2016, and has made a name for herself as one of the highest-paid CEOs of a public online travel company, according to Skift. The Dutch-born mother of three is based out of Booking.com’s headquarters in Amsterdam but spends more than half the year on the road, checking in on the company’s tens of thousands of employees in offices across the globe and encouraging diversity—gender and otherwise.
“Diversity of all kinds has been core to Booking.com’s culture since the company was founded 20 years ago.,” Tans said in a press release in late 2017. “Preserving our position as one of the most diverse and gender-balanced tech companies in the world is as important to us today as it was at the start.” That same year, Tans introduced the company’s Women in Tech scholarship initiative that set aside more than $560,000 for women going to Oxford and the Delft University of Technology for computer science and more. Now, the company hosts a summit as well, featuring Tans and high-profile female entrepreneurs and tech professionals. Talk about practicing what you preach. —M.C.
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises—and Kate McCue’s boss—is an industry first herself. In 2014 she became the first woman to run a publicly traded cruise line, a position she’s held while developing initiatives to recruit more women to shipboard leadership roles. Celebrity now leads the industry, with women accounting for 22 percent of its bridge teams. The Celebrity fleet of 13 ships counts two female masters—McCue on the Celebrity Equinox (and soon, Celebrity Edge), and Nathaly Albán, the first Ecuadorian cruise ship captain, on the Celebrity Xploration—two female staff captains, Wendy Williams and Maria Gotor, as well as many more at other officer levels.
Yet another industry first came when Lutoff-Perlo had a chance meeting with a female cadet from Ghana’s Regional Maritime University. Learning that women enrolled at the institution have no career path following graduation other than turning around to assist or teach at the university, Lutoff-Perlo helped forge a partnership with the school to create a pipeline for female maritime professionals from Africa, and in 2017 RMU Cadet and Cameroonian Nicholine Tifuh Azirh became the first West African woman to work on the bridge of a cruise ship.
All this trailblazing was also key in Celebrity’s convincing Malala Yousafzai, the female education activist and Nobel laureate, to christen and be godmother of the line’s newest ship, Celebrity Edge, in December 2018. “Balance is important in business,” Lutoff-Perlo told MarketWatch last year. “Having men and women at the table makes for better and more diverse conversations and solutions to business issues. Gender balance leads to more profitability and a better blend of experience. As a CEO, I feel it is my responsibility to create a balance that has never been achieved before in our industry.” —Cynthia Drescher
Caryn Seidman-Becker, CEO of Clear
By all accounts, biometrics are the future of air travel, and if there’s anyone making sure that future comes to fruition, it’s Caryn Seidman-Becker. As the chairman and CEO of Clear, a New York-based biometrics company, Seidman-Becker is leading the charge for traveling paperless, with only your biometrics—your eyes, fingerprints—to verify your identity. “I’ve said this again and again,” she told us in an interview last year. “If we don’t do it, somebody else will, because it makes too much sense. Walking around with a wallet and paper tickets, or even mobile tickets? You are your ticket.
You are your best wearable.” Clear is currently available at more than 40 airports and stadiums around the country—all you have to do is tap a screen, scan your eyes, and jump to the front of the security line—and Seidman-Becker says the company is targeting the top 40 U.S. airports before moving onto the U.K., Canada, Europe, and beyond. “We want—and expect—Clear to be ubiquitous in every major market,” she says. So long, passports… —K.L.
Jen Rubio and Steph Korey, co-founders of Away
If you’ve passed through a U.S. airport in the past two years, chances are you’ve seen an Away suitcase—or have even wheeled one to the gate yourself. The luggage brand has become the statement piece for well-traveled millennials, garnering immense waitlists and coveted celebrity collaborations with the likes of Karlie Kloss and Dwyane Wade, and flooding our Instagram feeds with boomerangs of the brand’s cult carry-ons. The brains behind the success story? Two women.
In the space of three years, former Warby Parker execs Jen Rubio and Steph Korey have turned one good idea (read: high-quality luggage at a reasonable price point) into a multi-million dollar company. Last October, the brand was listed as one of Forbes magazine’s “Next Billion Dollar Startups,” and is estimated to have now made $150 million in revenue. They’ve even launched a travel magazine called HERE (a recent cover featured Queer Eye’sJonathan Van Ness), and received the royal seal of approval from Meghan Markle, transforming the luggage company into a fully-fledged lifestyle brand. Of course, it wasn’t always easy to be taken seriously, but the pair refused to let the naysayers stop them. “Never let the idea of failure deter you from bringing your vision to life, or limit how big your vision can be,” says Rubio. “I’m so glad that we ignored anyone who doubted us and focused on surrounding ourselves with people who believed in and supported our vision.” —L.A.
Evita Robinson, founder of Nomadness Travel Tribe and Audacity Fest
Ask Evita Robinson why she travels and she’ll tell you: freedom. The three-time expat and veteran solo backpacker has been racking up passport stamps ever since a life-changing trip to Paris following university. In 2011, she founded the Nomadness Travel Tribe, an online community for adventurous travelers of color. What started out as a small, scrappy group has evolved into a network of over 22,000 members whose journeys bring in an estimated $50 million for the travel industry annually. Numbers like that are enough to get people’s attention and in recent years, tourism boards and tour companies have been reaching out to Robinson to find out how to connect with travelers of color in more meaningful ways.
Yet despite significant progress, Robinson sees a lot of work left to be done in order for the industry to truly diversify, and she has continued to spread her message through other initiatives, including the web series “The Nomadness Project,” which she co-created with Issa Rae of HBO’s Insecure. And last year in Oakland, California, Robinson launched Audacity Fest, a travel festival catering to millennial travelers of color featuring discussions and speeches from the likes of Kellee Edwards, the first black woman to have her own show on the Travel Channel, and Janaye Ingram, an organizer of the Women’s March. “[Nomadness] was about galvanizing community. It was about breaking not only racial, but also socioeconomic bounds—letting people know that they didn’t need to be rich, white, and affluent to see the world,” Robinson says. “It’s about creating space among ourselves for us to celebrate one another and travel.” —Diana Hubbell
Samin Nosrat, author and host of Netflix’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Not too long ago, Samin Nosrat had just one television credit on her résumé—a brief appearance on Michael Pollan’s Cooked. But a lot can happen in a year. Her Netflix show, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, born of her bestselling cookbook of the same name, has quickly become a breakout hit, changing the way we think and talk about food. And yet the Iranian-American chef’s on-screen warmth, curiosity, and joyful sense of humor make her totally relatable. When she makes pesto in Liguria you long to stand beside her, pounding garlic cloves and basil leaves with a mortar and pestle, and when she sits down with friends to eat the crispy tahdig rice she prepared with her mother, you wish you could pull up a chair. It’s all part of Nosrat’s ongoing message: that all of us can learn how to cook, and learn to cook well.
With the exception of her former workplace Chez Panisse, you won’t find any Michelin-starred restaurants on her show. Instead, she champions the local chefs, home cooks, and artisans working behind the scenes. We meet a fifth-generation soy sauce producer in Japan, learn about Parmesan from an Italian cheesemaker, and watch Nosrat taste some of the world’s best honey with farmers in Tixcacaltuyub, Mexico. The biggest game changer, though? We get see a woman starring on food-and- travel television, still a rarity in 2019. You could say she’s the next Julia Child—or maybe even the next Anthony Bourdain—but really, she’s 100 percent Samin Nosrat. And that’s what makes her arrival so exciting. —L.A.
Samantha Brown, host of PBS’s Places to Love
If you had told 23-year-old Samantha Brown that she would be one of the foremost travel hosts of her generation, she would have laughed in your face. She hadn’t even left North America, after all. But in 1999, the aspiring actress was making her way through New York City’s audition scene when she was hired for her first show, Great Vacation Homes. As both a new traveler and host, it wasn’t easy: She suffered from imposter syndrome, she told Traveler. Two decades and ten-odd shows later, it’s that lack of travel knowledge that she thinks brought her such success. “I wasn’t a travel expert or a travel journalist. I was just this newbie, figuring out this world,” she says.
Part of that “figuring out” was navigating what life looked like without the Travel Channel: She was let go in 2010 after more than a decade on the network. It took them seven years to bring a new female host on board. “The white male travel hosts I know are very good at what they do, but they’ve also been allowed to get better. They’ve been allowed to fail in a way that women and people of color have never been allowed to.” These days, Brown is still on the job, pushing for full ownership of her latest show, Places to Love on PBS, and championing for a new, more diverse world of travel hosts. —M.C.
Kellee Edwards, host of Travel Channel’s Mysterious Islands
After the Travel Channel’s seven-year spell without a female host, Kellee Edwards stepped in front of the camera. But, as with most recent travel shows, Edwards’ Mysterious Islands is on the more extreme side than, say, Samantha Brown’s wandering through Tuscany or Buenos Aires. The show, which premiered in 2017 and takes you to—you guessed it—mysterious, often far-off islands, comes with a twist. Edwards, a licensed pilot, certified scuba diver, and former entertainment journalist, flies herself to the remote destinations.
The triple threat of a modern adventurer is also the network’s first black woman to host her own show (Ed: Queen Latifah hosted a mini-series, The Best Places to Be, in 2016), and is actively using Mysterious Islands to showcase voices that don’t usually make it on national television. The closest example to home? The Sea Islands on the southeastern coast of Georgia in the U.S. “The inhabitants of these islands are direct descendants of West Africans who were enslaved in this country. As an African-American woman, I am proud to share this episode on such a large platform as [the Travel Channel] as this country was indeed built off of the labor and backs of the enslaved,” the host wrote on her Instagram. —M.C.
Lee Litumbe, @spiritedpursuit
In a social media landscape plagued by sameness—and a noticeable lack of diversity—travel blogger Lee Litumbe of @spiritedpursuit stands out. With 136K Instagram followers and counting (plus a slew of dedicated blog readers), the daughter of Cameroonian immigrants uses her platform to candidly relay her experiences of traveling as a woman of color, sharing her journeys with a depth and intimacy often lacking on social media. Litumbe certainly moves around—in just the past week, she’s posted photos from Zanzibar, Indonesia, and India—but her heavy focus on African travel beyond the safari shows off a wealth of art, design, and innovation across the continent. Her mission? To shift the narrative usually told by foreigners traveling through Africa. “I hope my photography and travels create visibility and representation for those in my community,” Litumbe wrote on her Instagram. “I have spent a large part of the part two years documenting people in various African countries—particularly women—in ways I hope will empower them.” —Megan Spurrell
Liz Carlson, @youngadventuress
While many of Liz Carlson’s more than 200,000 followers keep up with her Instagram account and blog for the sweeping travel photos and useful tips, plenty more are drawn to it for her absolute honesty about traveling full time. The 30-year-old American—who relocated to Wanaka, New Zealand four years ago—has been using her platform to share the not-so-glamorous side of travel as often as she shares the glamorous. For every stunning mountain-top shot from New Zealand’s South Island, there’s a reminder that overtourism and poor etiquette are ruining some of our planet’s most beautiful natural assets. For every scenic beach shot in the Maldives, there’s an admission of loneliness or burnout. It’s a transparency that we don’t see everyday—especially on travel social media. “I get these messages about how I must be wealthy, but I’ve worked to make this happen,” Carlson told Traveler in 2018. “I’ve sacrificed, made choices, and risked losing out on a lot to make travel a priority for me.” —M.C.
essica Nabongo, @thecatchmeifyoucan
How do you go from pharmaceutical representative, to ex-pat English teacher, to business owner, to competitive world traveler, all in little more than a decade? Just ask Jessica Nabongo, founder of boutique travel agency Jet Black and the brains behind @thecatchmeifyoucan, who, at 34 years old, is on track to become the first black woman to visit every U.N.-recognized country. As of writing, Nabongo is in Burkina Faso, having recently left Niger (stop number 156 of 195), but the enthusiastic country hopper, entrepreneur, and—we’ll say it—bonafide badass had already visited her fair share of countries before her official quest began in 2017.
It was all that travel that left the Ugandan-American itching for more. “I really want to do something crazy,” she says she told a friend on the eve of her journey. “Something that I can say, ‘I’m the only person who has done this.’” Nabongo, who hopped on 150 flights in 2018 alone, has learned a lot along the way, spreading the gospel of her travels among her more than 88,000 Instagram followers and providing a colorful template for fearless living, connection-making, and, yes, tips for where to eat, party, shop, and sleep.
Most importantly, though, Nabongo, who is using both her U.S. and Ugandan passports for her travels, sees her public journey as a sort of salve for fears felt by other types of travelers. “I want to show the visibility of black travel, […] and African travelers,” says Nabongo. And, as a solo traveler, “hopefully also for women.” So, after more than 150 stops, is Nabongo tired of traveling yet? “I still love learning about new cultures and meeting local people in new places,” she says. “[But] I despise planes.” —Betsy Blumenthal
Kris Tompkins, conservationist and former CEO of Patagonia
To describe Kris Tompkins as a conservationist is the understatement of the century. Tompkins first started breaking records in the 1970s, when she helped Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard turn his small piton business into what is now a household-name outdoor gear brand: Patagonia. Tompkins went on to act as the company’s CEO for more than a decade, pushing the company toward a sustainability-focused model—at a time, no less, when female CEOs were even rarer than they are now (in 2018, only 24 corporations on the Fortune 500 list had women at the helm; in 1995, two years after Tompkins retired, none did).
After Tompkins left Patagonia in 1993, her real work began as she and late husband Douglas Tompkins, the founder of Espirit and rival outdoor gear brand The North Face, focused their attention—and billions—on buying up wild terrain in South America to protect it from developers. We’re talking national park–sized parcels, totaling over 2 million acres in various parts of Chile and Argentina, all of which they personally purchased, restored, and have kept open to the public as national parks. Before Doug Tompkin’s passing in 2015, the two had protected more land than any other private individuals. “Getting people traveling was absolutely one of our goals,” Kris Tompkins previously told Traveller. “We didn’t make everything private and put a lock on it; we wanted people to get out into the wild and fall in love again.” Tompkins, who continues on her mission in her husband’s absence, describes her work an essential duty: “paying rent” for living on Earth. —M.S.
Elizabeth Becker, author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism
When author and journalist Elizabeth Becker was researching overtourism for her 2013 book, Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism, she found many people nonplussed, unaware of the gravity of the situation altogether—be it the crowding of Venice or the closing of Thai beaches. “People didn’t understand what I was looking at,” she told us in an interview last year. She was, by all accounts, ahead of the curve: Fast-forward five years to the present day, and overtourism is one of the industry’s biggest buzzwords.
Becker, for her part, is facilitating the conversation everywhere from BBC World News to forums at George Washington University, all the while showing just how dynamic the discussion around overtourism can and should be—travel is an industry, she reminds us, and a large part of ethical travel is considering the bones and people of a place we’re visiting. How can we travel responsibly? How can we really see the heart of a place, without compromising it for the travelers who’ll follow—and the people who remain? What, as travelers, can we do better, and better? These are all questions to ask, and Becker is helping us answer them. —K.L.
Lynsey Addario, photojournalist
Ever since Lynsey Addario began her photography career at the Buenos Aires Herald in 1996, she’s spent most of her time crisscrossing the world with her camera, capturing the stark reality of life—for women, especially—in some of its most remote corners. Her photographs offer insight into everything from women’s oppression under the Taliban in Afghanistan to sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and it’s a body of work that earned her a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting in 2009.
But what sets her apart isn’t just the strength of her sobering images: It’s also the way she channels their power to affect change. Now a mother herself, one of Addario’s main focuses is maternal mortality, which she covered in harrowing detail in Sierra Leone in 2010, where several women died, mid-frame, of complications from childbirth. “To me, it was just criminal that, as a woman, you die giving birth,” she told The New York Times in 2018. “I really decided to […] do at least one story a year” to bring attention to the cause. One such project, a collaboration between Time magazine and the maternal health initiative Merck for Mothers) called ‘Finding Home,’, saw Addario lend her talents to showcase Syrian refugees’ journey to motherhood. “I try to change policy and to affect policy,” she says, “or at least get people motivated to do something.” —B.B.
Cristina Mittermeier, photographer and conservationist
It doesn’t take long to get hooked on Cristina Mittermeier’s Instagram account (one million followers can’t be wrong). A former marine biologist-turned-National Geographic photographer, the Mexico City–born photographer’s work has included portraits of indigenous communities in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, and close-ups of harp seal pups on thinning ice in the Arctic. (Remember that viral video of a starving polar bear searching for food? That was Mittermeier.) Beneath all of her photographs is one consistent chord: to acquaint viewers with the natural beauty of the world around us—and to mobilize them to help protect the nature, and communities, threatened by extinction.
“My work is about building a greater awareness of the responsibility of what it means to be a human,” says Mittermeier. “Even though most of us may never feel the chill of Arctic air through the frozen flap of an icy tent, images can help us understand the urgency many photographers feel to protect wild places.” She’s also the president of SeaLegacy, a nonprofit she founded with famed wildlife photographer and partner Paul Nicklen, which funds ocean conservation projects and uses visual media to create awareness around climate change. The pure reach and volume of the audience drawn to Mittermeier’s work is noteworthy, but the use of her platform fo r change—and a relentless focus on conservation—is matched by few. —M.S.
Deb Calmeyer, founder of Roar Africa
Deborah Calmeyer, founder of safari-planning specialist Roar Africa, can finagle just about anything. She planned Robert Redford’s first trip to the Botswana in decades; has engineered a separate airport check-in area for her guests so they speed through; and even convinced Cape Town top chef Luke Dale-Roberts to shutter his famed Test Kitchen for a private meal. But her real claim to fame, at least in our eyes, is her investment back in the continent—and specifically its women. In steering travelers toward lodges that employ more female guides, pilots, trackers, chefs, and owners (like Tswalu in South Africa’s Kalahari) in a landscape that’s been male-dominated for centuries, the 11th-generation African is putting forward-thinking travelers’ money (and lots of it) into hard-working women’s pockets.
But she’s not stopping at your (above) average safaris: In June 2019, Calmeyer and Roar Africa will lead its first women’s empowerment retreat. “I decided to do the women’s empowerment retreat because my vision is, ‘If African women rise, wildlife will thrive,’” she says. “My goal at Roar Africa is to save our wild spaces and wildlife and in so doing engage as many African women as possible in the one industry that can save our unemployment crisis—tourism.” Designed not only to inspire the women joining the trip, Calmeyer’s retreat will bring them face to face with local South African women redefining travel (like girls in training at the SA College for Tourism) and international social entrepreneurs (like female-focused VC The Helm’s Lindsey Taylor Wood). Now that’s one hell of a way to go on safari. —M.C.
Judi Wineland, founder of Thomson Safaris and Thomson Family Adventures, and co-owner of AdventureWomen
The adventure travel space has historically (read: always) been dominated by men—they’re hailed as the intrepid explorers, the bold mountain climbers, the daredevil divers. But things have changed, and it’s all thanks to women like Judi Wineland. The first woman to launch and operate an adventure travel company (Overseas Adventure Travel) in the U.S. back in 1978, she’s spent her career running tours around the globe—still leading many of them herself.
In 1981, Wineland and her husband Rick started Overseas Adventure Travel East Africa, which later became Thomson Safaris, running safaris across the Serengeti and treks up Kilimanjaro (or “Kili” as Wineland fondly refers to it). But it’s her work with women that continues to grab our attention: In addition to her initiative Focus on Tanzanian Communities, which leads women’s empowerment programs and sustainable development projects across the country, she also acquired AdventureWomen in 2016 alongside her two daughters. Offering meticulously curated itineraries for female travelers of all abilities (trips span everything from trekking to Everest base camp to mother-daughter trips to Iceland), the company’s mission lies in pushing its guests to launch themselves out of their comfort zones (say, bungee jumping with Mom?) while educating them about the lives of other women around the world.
In Japan, travelers get to hike with a local ascetic priestess; in Mongolia, they spend the day with an eagle huntress. “We, as women, travel for many reasons, but all of us seek greater understanding about ourselves along the way,” says Wineland. “We’re kind of a tribe of sorts, seeking other like-minded spirits to share our adventures with. So, if you want to make travel experiences really transformational for women, it’s probably best if women are driving the ship.” —L.A.
Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic astronaut trainer
On February 22, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity reached space for the second time, carrying with it its first “test” passenger, Beth Moses. (As a result, Moses also set a record for being the first woman to fly to space on a commercial vehicle, according to The Verge.) But Moses is more than just a lucky passenger in the right place at the right time—an aerospace engineer and the former Extravehicular System Manager for the International Space Station, she’s currently Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, and will be the person prepping would-be spacegoers on what to expect after they fork over a cool $250,000 each to fly to space. (Some 600 people are currently waiting for their ticket to ride.) “I just want people to arrive in space having the time of their lives and being able to savor whatever it is that they want to get out of it,” she told National Geographic earlier this year. Sign us up. —K.L.
Gwynne Shotwell, COO and president of SpaceX
While Elon Musk may be the face of SpaceX, it’s Gwynne Shotwell whose name you should actually know. Named among Forbes’ most powerful women in business, Shotwell is the one who makes Musk’s (sometimes) harebrained ideas actually come to fruition. She’s been at the company since 2002 (and its president since 2008), and was the one who had to figure out how to actually get SpaceX’s Falcon rockets to space. Her solution? Sell the rocket launches to satellite companies (SpaceX’s rockets carry their gear to space on test runs), the military, and even NASA itself—all before the company could even launch its first Falcon 9. Now, the Falcon 9 rockets have launched more than 70 times, more than 22 missions are planned for this year, and the company anticipates sending a tourist on a tour of the moon in 2023. Just like Musk, the trained mechanical engineer doesn’t see our moon, or even Mars, as the end goal for SpaceX. “I want to find people, or whatever they call themselves, in another solar system,” Shotwell said in a 2018 TED talk. Because for this woman, the sky isn’t even the limit. —M.C.
Betty Reid Soskin, park ranger
Earlier this year, a poll by Gallup shared that most working Americans expect to retire at the age of 66—of course, Betty Reid-Soskin isn’t one of them. At 97 years young, Reid-Soskin works at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park in Richmond, California, as the nation’s oldest park ranger. The museum, whose development she was involved in, aims to memorialize the role of women on the home front—Reid-Soskin’s personal goal, though, is to ensure visitors also take away an understanding of how that experience was different for black women, who were segregated at the time. “What gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering,” Reid-Soskin has repeatedly said.
Her goal? To keep her seat at the table, to ensure the things she’s seen aren’t forgotten—and to make sure other women of color are given chances to do the same. In a viral Facebook post from several years back, which helped Reid-Soskin gain the Internet fame she’s long deserved, she was quoted by the National Park Service saying, “[I] wear my uniform at all times; because when I’m on the streets or on an escalator or elevator, I am making every little girl of color aware of a career choice she may not have known she had.” For her work, Reid-Soskin has received several awards, including a Silver Service Medallion from the National WWII Museum, and a silver coin with the presidential seal from Barack Obama. —M.S