“I am going to go away for thirty-five days. If I go away and I don’t die, then that will probably be the metaphor for the rest of my life,” says Evelyn Hannon. She is the creator of Journeywoman, the premier travel resource for women, providing newsletters and travel tips for over 72 000 women worldwide. When asked the main reason she loves travelling, Evelyn replied: “I think it’s for the people; different cultures, different ways of being, but under our skin women are the same all around the world.” Evelyn has touched on all seven continents, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and she’s been to all the places she’s ever dreamed of travelling, amounting to over sixty countries.
“Sometimes life unfolds in a way you would never have imagined. And sometimes you are forced to react to those life events in ways you would never have imagined. But, you do and looking back you understand that that was the absolute right thing to do,” she writes. Evelyn is currently a world-renowned travel blogger for women but it wasn’t always this way.
Evelyn was born in 1940, and when she was growing up in the fifties, “women could do one of two things: you could be either a nurse or a teacher; anything else was pretty much unusual,” she says. She decided to become a teacher and got married quite young; her husband and herself both nineteen years old at the time. Married women were expected to stay home and take care of the children, and let the husband go out and earn money. Evelyn’s big problem wasn’t that she minded her husband being the “boss”, but rather that she couldn’t stay home because it just didn’t feel right and it was boring. She needed to have something more fulfilling.
By age forty-two, Evelyn was divorced and alone, scared. This was a huge step for her, because in the eighties divorce just wasn’t done and your husband had to accompany you everywhere – you didn’t ever go by yourself – it was an absolute rarity if a woman was seen travelling by her lonesome. “If I have to stay home and bake chocolate cakes, I’m going to die of boredom,” thought Evelyn. She took into consideration her love of travel and the fact that she had never travelled alone before, and decided to go on an adventure for thirty-five days. “So I bought the cheapest ticket I could find, and off I went, and for thirty-five days I cried,” she said, having felt scared, sad, and sorry for herself. “The next thirty-five days were laden with intense emotion and storybook adventure. I soared in the heavens and wallowed in the depths,” she writes. But on this journey as an independent woman, she learned something very valuable about herself, in that she was very comfortable with people. “I could strike up conversations everywhere and anywhere. By doing that, I was learning all kinds of interesting things about the country I was in, but also about myself. That maybe I didn’t have to rely on a husband and maybe I wasn’t nothing now that he was gone”, says Evelyn.
After five weeks abroad, she came home to find that the travel bug had bitten her. This trip had been the first time that she was truly testing herself, learning about another culture but also learning about who she is as a person. By 1994, Evelyn noticed that there was no information about women’s travel anywhere; no books, no magazines and certainly no newspapers. This is when she finally decided that she was going to begin a newsletter for women travellers.
Evelyn Hannon was the first person to evolve a society’s outlook on women’s travel to the point where it would be socially acceptable to travel solo as a woman. It’s worth mentioning that she was also one of the web’s first bloggers back in the nineties. Along with the new century came more and more opportunities for women to travel alone or with their friends, no longer needing their husband to accompany them everywhere.
In 1994, Evelyn wrote a paper copy of her newsletter, and by 1997, she had transferred onto the Internet. “My mandate became, for that newsletter, to inspire women to travel safely, to travel often and to travel well.” Her intentions were to connect women travellers all around the world; it was never intended to become a business. She thought that women had to find ways to help each other in their travels so that they wouldn’t get into trouble. In the late nineties, very few women had access to computers, so she started out with a hundred women who could connect via e-mail. She told them that she would do all the work, she wouldn’t charge anything for the newsletter, and the only membership fee was that they had to give her one travel tip during the year.
Evelyn believes that it was, at first, her pure love for travel and her determination that kept the newsletter running, because she certainly wasn’t earning any money off of it. She later began her attempts to contact travel editors who could possibly help her expand her network of travel women.
Gradually, her website and her story began appearing in little dots around the world. Her reputation was progressively snowballing and in 2000, she was contacted by People magazine for a spread about her and what she was trying to accomplish. “At that point, being on the web was really different and a woman talking about women’s travel and trying to organize it so that the world would accept women travellers was a complete oddity,” says Evelyn. “Slowly but surely, it began moving around the world, and I became a kind of “cult figure” – which I had no intention of ever doing – but suddenly, there I was in the limelight.” The more Evelyn appeared in newspapers and magazines, the more people began joining her. In 2000, Time magazine chose Evelyn as one of the top 100 innovators of the new century, an incredible reward for her accomplishments. Young women were starting to travel and they were starting to write about it. As a result, travel companies noticed the amount of money to be made in this sector and they began to incorporate women’s travel opportunities into their catalogues.
When asked what is the most important tip to remember when going on an adventure, Evelyn said, “Even before you decide what your destination is going to be, you have to get onto the Internet and research that place. Find out if it’s safe for women […], and once you’re satisfied that yes, you can handle it, you’re ready to go.” Her theory is that before travelling, women must do their research to become culturally aware and prepared to get the most out of their destination.
The face behind Journeywoman is an inspiration to women around the world, the first valid encouragement and effort to get women’s travel to become the norm. Without her and her tenacity to keep the newsletter going, women might not have had as much flexibility and incredible opportunities to follow their hearts’ desires as they do today.
“I’ve heard countless wonderful stories and have had a myriad of lovely adventures to match. All because I am a woman who refuses to be timid and who has learned, by trial and error, the benefits of solo travel. And when I am ninety and sitting in my rocking chair, I know that I will be grinning, remembering my past exploits,” writes Evelyn on her website.
Readers, I hope you are as inspired and motivated as I am to travel well and travel often. Mrs. Hannon, you have brought a big change to our world, and I do hope that you have the opportunity to share your story with many more, as I have had the wonderful pleasure of hearing it.