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Practical Hints Encouraged Lone Lady Travelers

Lady Travelers going solo were increasing in numbers by the late 19th century. They were still considered scandalous by many. Travel could be dangerous and was often uncomfortable, hence requiring the assistance of a male companion. But despite any downsides, author Lillias Campbell Davidson’s Hints To Lady Travelers (1889) encouraged budding female globetrotters to reach for the horizon.

It Was The Beginning Of A New Era For Solo Lady Travelers

A few famous female explorers had paved the way. One of the most famous was Isabella Bird Bishop. She travelled widely through the Far East and America in the 1850s. Botanical painter Marianne North circumnavigated the globe in search of rare species beginning in the 1870s. But solo lady travelers were rare until later in the 19th century.

The expansion of railways and ocean liners enabled faster, more efficient transportation by the later 1800s. The middle class was growing and the number of people able to travel snowballed. Among them were a growing number of independent lady travelers.

Travel Could Be Dangerous And Uncomfortable

Countless perils awaited vulnerable tourists, both male and female. Just getting abroad could be difficult. Passport control was minimal. Crossing borders was notoriously difficult. Travelers and their luggage were frequently searched. Border authorities collected high taxes on imported of luxury items. Pirates were active in some areas.

Women faced particular challenges. They were easy targets for thieves and unwanted male attention in train cars and ship cabins. Unreliable connections were common. Women were often stranded alone. In many places, women were still were not allowed to enter a restaurant or hotel without a male escort.

Highlights From Hints to Lady Travelers

Along came the little blue book that brought the horizon closer. Lillias Campbell Davis intended for lady travelers to pack her little book along with countless other items she deemed necessary. It was a source of practical advice that became a must-read.

She wrote:

‘It is in the hope of helping those members of my own sex to whom the world of travel is still a wide and unexplored region…that this little book has been written.”

Of course there are many common-sense basics that hold to this day. Among them she tells her readers to buy travel insurance and to pack as lightly as possible. She also urges readers to pack, among many other items, an ivory glove stretcher.

Following are a few less obvious hints.

Don’t Jump Ship

“In all cases of runaway carriages, tricycles, etc., the only plan is to sick to the ship, so to speak. Jumping is fatal; the only chance is to hold tight and watch for the moment of capsize.” P. 15

Wear Your Life Jacket!

In case of night time accidents at sea  dress as rapidly and warmly as possible.

“Make your way at once on deck. If possible secure provisions…Look out at once for a life-belt, and if one can be secured, tie it about your waist, close under the arms—not lower down, or you may find yourself floating feet uppermost in the sea…” pp 15-16

Bring Your Own Bottle

Dont leave home without”

“…a small flask of brandy and water, a tiny case of court-plaster, with scissors, and strong smelling salts or sal-volatile.” P. 16

An Alternate Meaning For BYOB (Bring Your Own Bathtub)

Campbell-Davis warned warned about the difficulties of finding a decent tub in many destinations.

“…the comfort of having one at hand among one’s own luggage is very great.” You can pack other items inside your portable tub. Don’t forget to bring towels and soap. Pp. 24-5

Bring Your Own Lamp

Lamps in railway carriages were often insufficiently strong.

“It is best for long distance or night journeys “to carry with one a portable reading lamp…” p, 100

Leave Petticoats Behind When Cycling

Campbell-Davidson could be traditional in her views of the woman’s place in the home. But she urged women to cycle vigorously before settling into a day of domestic chores. She also supported “radical” clothing for women.

‘Wear as few petticoats as possible; dark woolen stockings in winter, and cotton in summer; shoes, never boots; and have your gown made neatly and plainly of flannel…without loose ends or drapery to catch in your machine (bicycle)…Grey is the best color, or heather mixture tweed, which does not show dust or mud stains, and yet cannot lose its color under a hot sun.’ p. 42

Choose Your Undies With Care

Many popular “author-doctors” warned women of medical issues that could be caused by cycling and other strenuous activities. The dreaded bicycle face was one of those. Some of these doctors also wrote that high-speed trains could cause the uterus to “fly out.”

“Dr. Jaeger’s sanitary woolen under-wear, or some of the English-made goods are the best in winter, thought thin merino will be found far more bearable in summer heat.” P. 42

To Tip Or Not To Tip

There was no legal or moral foundation for cabbies requesting tips from passengers.

‘Still when one considers the wretched life of a cab driver one is not inclined to grudge a small sop to Cerberus.” p.33

Choose Your Deck Chair Carefully

Make sure your deck chair isn’t too light.

‘”….otherwise your enjoyable after-dinner nap on deck may be abruptly terminated by a sudden lurch of the vessel, and you may find yourself overturned, chair and all, and sent flying to the other side of the ship in a manner more sudden than graceful.'” P. 194

Toss Your Soiled Clothing Overboard

Bring enough linen (a.k.a. undergarments) to last while you’re afloat.

“After all, it “can be thrown overboard when done with.”

Bathing Machines Are Best For An Ocean Dip

Campbell-Davidson wrote that the still popular Bathing machines were by far the most convenient form of dressing and undressing for one’s bath (a.k.a. dip in the ocean).

“Some of these machines at certain seaside places are very comfortably fitted up, and are furnished with conveniences in the way of looking glasses, shelves, hooks, and pin cushions.” P. 143

Co-Ed Swimming Is Not So Bad

“In America as on the Continent, ladies and gentlemen bathe together—a plan which, once one is accustomed to it, strikes one as somewhat more sensible.” P. 144

After Swimming, Wash Your Hair With An Egg

“After a course of sea bathing it is a good plan to have the hair well washed with the yolk of an egg, which should afterwards be thoroughly well rinsed out in clear tepid water. Avoid hot water, which will cook the egg, the most unpleasing results.” P. 144

Campbell Davidson concludes her travel guide:

“If by my endeavors, I have in any way assisted my sisters in their wanderings, or encouraged a single woman to join the path of travelers by land or sea, I shall feel I have achieved the object of my labors.”

The Royal Geographic Society reprinted Hints To Lady Travelers in 2011. Additional anecdotes from other pioneering Victorian female travelers are laced throughout. Among them are Kate Marsden, who became a missionary in Siberia, and Isabella Bird Bishop, the first female fellow of the RGS.

Campbell Davidson Also Encouraged Bicycle Trips

The bicycle played an important role in the expansion of mobility for middle class women. Campbell Davidson was an avid fan of cycling. She wrote that women cyclists were considered improper in her neighborhood. As a result, she rode early in the morning and often took side streets to avoid public scrutiny.

Despite her moderate attitudes, she wrote a column for ladies in the Scottish Cyclist and the Cyclists’ Touring Club Gazette. In 1892, she founded the Lady Cyclists’ Association, an early cycling organization for women, and served as its president for the next five years. In 1896, she published her collected wisdom in the “Handbook for Lady Cyclists.”

Racing Nellie Bly
Victorian Secrets From Footnotes In History
Know The Past To Invent The Future

2 Responses

    1. I cycle daily as well. Try Abe Books. They often have vintage editions. Definitely go to WorldCat.org. They have a few copies right now. Super fun book. Thanks for visiting Racing Nellie Bly. And if you have any topics you’d like us to explore, let us know.

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