Travellers in Corsets

On a flight from Warsaw to Chicago I noticed the Kaleidoscope magazine and interesting article about women who traveled all around the world 150 years ago.

I read that one of the golden rule of the travelers is Pack only what’s necessary and then discard half of that – I think that because of that rule I would have a lot of problems to become a traveler 😉 but women travelers in XIX century didn’t have that problem – they were packing everything they needed + some extra stuff as well on dozens of mules and camels. The problem was that if they didn’t take something – they couldn’t just go to the store and buy it. That’s why they needed to have a fantastic logistic skills: how to pack everything and still be able to travel. And please lets not forget about the XIX century etiquette (like Russian journalist Lydia Paszkow did: corsets, dresses, sun-umbrellas, eating lobster with asparagus, etc.).
Can you imagine climbing the mountains wearing embroidered blue flip flops decorated with French lace like Lydia Paszkow or like Mary Kingsley was crossing Gabon and the Congo in 1894, she made sure wearing corset under the tick dress. Most of those ladies travelers decided that Victorian fashion is one but traveling across the world is something different. That’s why some of them were wearing more comfortable clothes than corsets like e.g. jacket and leather boots, some weapon to protect themselves or even dressed as men which secured them an easier and safer journey. Swiss traveler Isabelle Eberhardt often pretended to be a young Algerian lad and eventually shaved her head and joined a Tariqa or like French traveler Jane Dieulafoy, traveled across Persia and Kurdistan dressed as a cavalry man.

No matter what cost – they wanted to travel and have that dream come true – discover the world!

I ALMOST forgot to mentioned about the ‘nice’ part of travelers’ life during journeys – fleas, lice and bedbugs – yes that’s something unforgettable I should say but unfortunately true. Did you know that Agatha Christie had to cope with bedbugs during her Orient Express journey to Baghdad? But not only bedbugs were the travelers’ enemy but also yellow fever, cholera or malaria – and all the y could to to protect themselves was to smoke tabscco or opium, drink wine instead of water. Marianne North (British botanist traveling across India) wrote: Everyone smoked opium. So I went along assuming that prevention was better than cure.

I bet that life wasn’t easy, and traveling was something totally different than nowadays. I can’t forget what one of those great travelers – Isabella Bird said regarding traveling with men: I would love to go, but I am married now and that is hardly the place for a man to taken to So she waited until her husband died before embarking on a journey to Kashmir and the Tibetan borderland. I am thinking why some men are saying that women are weak – ohh they are not weak. Ida Pfeiffer found that being a woman was sometimes an advantage during her travels. She wrote: If I were a man they would have taken me for a spy and sent me home or, more likely, killed me.

And at the end of the article I found nice comment that it seems that certain Victorian ladies were made of much more durable material than we might have expected. I agree – no matter the pain, bad weather, dangerous places/people – they wanted to travel and no one could stop them.

just in case you want to know more:
1.some info about corsets
2. Mary Shelley
3. Isabella Bird
4. Ida Pfeiffer
5. Isabelle Eberhardt

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