Nellie Bly’s Inspiring Journey Around the World in 1889
I recently came across an article about the life of American journalist Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, better known by her pen name, Nellie Bly. A pioneer in the field of investigative journalism in Victoria-era New York, Bly is best known for spending 10 days in an insane asylum so she could expose the horrible conditions.
But Bly gained the greatest notoriety at the time for her record-breaking, 72-day solo trip around the globe in 1889, inspired by the Jules Verne novel Around the World in 80 Days. She took a side trip from Paris to Amiens to meet Jules Verne, bought a monkey in Singapore and visited a leper colony in China. And, unbeknownst to her, she beat another female journalist by four days who was circumventing the globe in the opposite direction.
While I have no desire to speed myself around the world, I am in awe of her bravery, courage and tenacity to set out on a solo adventure in a time when the only communication was by telegraph and mail. And only the wealthiest people owned a telephone. Bly sold her story to the New York World (the newspaper that funded her travels), and with only a couple days’ notice from her editor, she left for London on a steam ship — the only portion of the trip she arranged before departing. Determined to show her independence, Bly packed only a small satchel seven inches tall by 16 inches wide and wore the only dress she brought on the trip.
If Bly could solo travel around the world in 1889, there's no reason for any of us not to travel by ourselves in the 21st century. Today we have so many resources at our fingertips. Here’s a few of the online tools I used to plan my current six-and-a-half-week solo journey through England.
Google search for best direct flights
To find out which airline has the most direct and least expensive flights, start with a Google search. For example, I searched for, “Flights from Rennes, France to London.” Several airlines appeared in the results, but only easyJet had direct flights and the others were hours longer and more expensive.
You can also use Kayak, Priceline or Expedia to search for flights. Once you find the best airline, go directly to that airline’s site to compare rates. If the rate is the same, book your flight directly with the airline. Be sure to sign up for the airline’s loyalty program if you haven’t already, and download their app to your phone.
Figure out how you’ll get from point A to point B
Whether you’re going by train, plane, bus, taxi or automobile — or all of the above — there are websites to help you book and manage getting from one place to another. Start with a search on GoogleMaps and Rome2Rio. They both offer various route options via car, mass transit or walking, including the estimated time, but Rome2Rio includes routes via taxi as well as the estimated cost for each option.
Each country in Europe has their own train system and each major city has their own mass transit system. To arrange train travel to Rennes, I used SNCF, the main booking site for trains in France. There are several websites for train travel in the United Kingdom, but the one I use is Transport for Wales as they do not charge additional fees. Your itinerary and your tickets appear on their app, but you can also print them at home or print them at the train station kiosk.
London has an excellent mass transit system. Their TfL Go app helped me plan transportation throughout the city via the bus, Tube, London Overground and tram lines. There’s no need to purchase a special card. Just tap your contactless credit or debit card when boarding a bus or entering a tube station.
Bus service in Europe tends to be more regionally focused, often servicing one city or small rural area. By searching the route on Google Maps and Rome2Rio, you'll find the name of the local bus service. Then verify the route through the bus service website. Once you arrive in a city, you’ll typically find the name and website for the local bus service posted at the bus stop.
Need to rent a car? It’s easiest to book it in the US before you leave, and you may receive the best rate. However, if you decide to rent a car at the last minute, you'll find rental agencies in most larger cities in Europe. If you plan on using your credit card's auto insurance plan, be sure to bring a proof of insurance letter, which is available through the credit card's benefits department. If you’re coming to France, speak the local language and are comfortable driving stick shift, the local supermarkets offer the best deals on rent-a-cars. If you need a car in Europe for six weeks or more, Auto France is an affordable option.
Use online booking sites to find accommodations
If I’m staying a week or longer, I prefer to book through Airbnb or VRBO as most hosts offer weekly and monthly discounts. In much of rural Europe the Airbnb cancellation policies are quite strict. So, if I’m only staying one or two nights and there is the possibility my plans might change, I’ll check out accommodations on Booking.com as they often have a generous cancellation policy. Booking is a good search engine for checking out available accommodations. The reviews are extremely helpful in setting expectations.
However, even though Booking says they are giving me a discount, in most cases I’ve discovered I’m paying the going rate and sometimes more. When you find a place you like, I recommend, if possible, calling the accommodation to see if they have a lower rate for booking directly.
Another warning about Booking: If you book through Booking, be sure to call the hotel directly and confirm your reservation. I showed up at a motel near Seattle on a Saturday night in high season only to be told there was no room available because Booking had overbooked their motel. I was turned away even though I had a copy of my confirmed reservation in hand. Thank goodness my Airbnb host for the next night — two hours further north in Bellingham — let me come a day early, or I would have been sleeping in my car.
With all these tools at our fingertips there is no excuse not to travel and see the world. When you make your own travel plans, you can set your own schedule, enjoy slow traveling and leave plenty of time for spontaneous exploring.
Let Nellie Bly’s adventure be your inspiration as you plan your own solo adventure. If you want to learn more about Bly's amazing journey, read her memoir, Around the World in Seventy-Two Days, available on Amazon, at your local library.