Nellie Bly: Her skeptical editor at the New York World Newspaper initially rejected her proposal to beat Jules Verne’s fictional record around the world in eighty days. A lady, he insisted, would need several trunks and a chaperone to make such a trip. In response, Nellie Bly threatened to take her idea to a competing publication. Sure enough, Nellie Bly raced around the world with one handbag.
Faced with the threat of seeing her byline appear in a rival publication, he ultimately relented – nearly a year later.
It was 6 p.m. on a Monday, November 11, 1889. Once the approval came down to Nellie Bly, there was just one catch. Her editors allowed her just two days to prepare for her trip. As she had promised, her only luggage was a single satchel – one handbag.
How on earth would Nellie Bly manage to pack so lightly for an extended trip that would take her from freezing cold and damp weather, to the heat of the subtropics?
“It will be seen that if one is traveling simply for the sake of traveling and not for the purpose of impressing one’s fellow passengers, the problem of baggage becomes a very simple one,” Bly said.
1. Pick a suitcase you can carry without help, even if you must leap onto a train or a ship, a burro, or balloon as Bly did.
Bly chose a 16-by-7-inch Gladstone bag. (Her bag is now in the “Newseum,” in Washington D.C., a museum devoted to five centuries of journalism.) In it, she managed to cram everything she would need.
2. Wear your bulkiest items while traveling.
For her warm overcoat, Bly purchased the now famous plaid ulster, the double pointed cap (made famous by Sherlock Homes), and a gossamer waterproof cover. She did not carry an umbrella.
She also visited Ghormleys that day, the fashionable Manhattan dress shop. She ordered them to make her a gown that could survive three months of constant travel and she needed it in one day. When the owner balked, Bly threatened to go elsewhere. The gown was boned and ready for a fitting the next day.
3. Prioritize your essential items.
Bly chose: three veils, writing pens and paper, handkerchiefs, changes of underwear, two traveling caps, slippers, toilet articles, a sewing kit, a tennis blazer, drinking cup and flask.
4. Eliminate unnecessary items.
Bly had turned to her personal dressmaker, Florence Wheelright, for a lighter weight dress of brown camel hair for warm climates. She did not take this with her, so we can assume it was sacrificed for last year’s silk bodice, which took less space.
5. Allow yourself a comfort or two for the road.
Bly decided she could not live without her cumbersome jar of cold cream.
Bly was given 200 pounds in British gold, which she wore in a pouch around her neck.
Millions of people followed the telegraphed news of Bly’s journey. Her outrageous stunt appealed to a populace that was only semi-literate, but could not get enough of her exploits. The result was an explosion in newspaper readership.
As promised, Nellie Bly accomplished her feat well ahead of Phileas Fogg, in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes. And she raced around the world with one handbag. Would she have made such great time had she been carrying heavier luggage?
Racing Nellie Bly
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