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Women Who Van Life: Pioneering Travelers and Modern Nomads

Women Who Van Life: Pioneering Travelers and Modern Nomads

Among the many adventurers vans have attracted over the years, women have carved out a unique and inspiring path. From historical wanderers to contemporary influencers, the journey of women in van life is rich with stories of courage, innovation, and community. 

We want to give a special shout out and celebrate these women, exploring the evolution of female nomadism and the experiences that have shaped their journeys.

The Early Days

Historical Pioneers in Travel

Annie Kopchovsky: The fearless woman who cycled the world in the 1890s

Long before van life became a hashtag, female explorers were challenging the boundaries of traditional living. Figures like Isabelle Eberhardt, who roamed the Sahara in the late 19th century, and Annie "Londonderry" Kopchovsky, the first woman to bicycle around the world in 1894, embodied the spirit of nomadism and adventure. (More below!)

Evolution of Van Life

The modern concept of van life has roots in the societal shifts of the post-World War II era, with the 1960s and 1970s marking a significant cultural turn towards freedom, exploration, and nonconformity.

This period saw the rise of the iconic Volkswagen bus, a symbol of independence and the counterculture movement, paving the way for the van life movement that thrives today. 

Oldest-known Volkswagen Bus is a Dove Blue 1950 panel - Autoblog

Oldest-known VW bus from 1950

Breaking Stereotypes: Women in the Driver's Seat

Challenging Norms

Women embracing van life today are not just living adventurously; they continue to challenge deeply ingrained gender roles and societal expectations, redefining what it means to be a woman on the road.

Safety and Community

Safety is a very real concern for women living the van life, leading to the creation of robust online and offline communities. These platforms—like Solo Women RV—offer a space for sharing tips, advice, and experiences, fostering a sense of solidarity and support among women nomads.

Inspirational Women of Van Life

Historical Figures

The legacy of women in van life is built on the achievements of female pioneers who set new precedents for women travelers.

These women ventured into the unknown, defied societal norms, and significantly contributed to our understanding of the world. Here are a few such extraordinary women whose legacies continue to inspire adventurers today:

Jeanne Baret (1740-1807)

Jeanne Baret

The first woman to complete a voyage of circumnavigation of the world. Disguising herself as a man, she joined an expedition aboard the Étoile, contributing significantly to botany. She is associated with the discovery of the bougainvillea among other plants​​.

Ida Pfeiffer (1797-1858)

Pioneering Travel Writer Ida Pfeiffer Was Not Afraid of Cannibals –  Adventure Journal

Renowned as one of the first and greatest female explorers, the Austrian adventurer embarked on extensive travels, including two circumnavigations of the globe, collecting specimens for scientific study. Despite her contributions, she faced exclusion from the Royal Geographical Society due to her gender​​.

Isabella Bird (1831-1904)

Isabella Bird (1832-1904), Traveller, Travel Writer and Photographer. Part I

An English explorer whose ill health spurred her to travel, Bird became the first female inducted into the Royal Geographical Society. Her extensive travels took her across the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East, and she authored several books illustrated with her photographs.

Annie Smith Peck (1850-1935)

Annie Smith Peck | Smithsonian Institution

Peck was a trailblazing mountaineer and a proponent of women's suffrage. She is known for planting a "Votes for Women" flag on the summit of Mount Coropuna in Peru and for her defiant stance on women's attire for climbing​​.

Nellie Bly (1864-1922)

Nellie Bly's Record-Breaking Trip Around the World Was, to Her Surprise, A  Race | Smart News| Smithsonian Magazine

Remembered for her pioneering work in investigative journalism, Bly also set a world record by traveling around the world in 72 days, inspired by Jules Verne's novel "Around the World in Eighty Days." Her journey demonstrated her adventurous spirit and her challenge against the norms of her time​​.

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)

Gertrude Bell - Historic UK

A British archaeologist, linguist, and mountaineer, Bell played a significant role in shaping the modern Middle East, particularly Iraq. Her extensive travels and studies contributed to archaeology and the establishment of the Iraq Museum​​.

Annie Londonderry (1870-1947)

This Jewish Mom Was the First Woman to Bike Around the World — in 1894! –  Kveller

Born Annie Cohen Kopchovsky, she became the first woman to bicycle around the world, embarking on her journey in 1894 to fulfill a wager. Her travels were financed through ingenious moneymaking schemes, including advertising, lectures, and exhibitions​​.

Dervla Murphy (1931-2022)

Dervla Murphy, Irish travel writer whose 1960s bestseller Full Tilt told of  her solo cycling trip to India – obituary

An iconic figure in solo travel, Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy embarked on an incredible journey from Ireland to India by bicycle in 1963, a story beautifully captured in her book Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. Her adventures spanned continents and included volunteering with Tibetan refugees and exploring Africa on foot, showcasing her as a trailblazer for women in adventure travel​​​​.

These women, among others, broke barriers and made significant contributions to exploration, science, and culture. Their stories continue to inspire and challenge us to question the limits of possibility and to venture beyond the known.

Modern Influencers

Today, the van life community is enriched by women who share their journeys and insights through social media and blogs. Here are some of the women who have significantly impacted the van life community:

Jessica Nabongo (@jessicanabongo)

Recognized as the first documented black woman to visit every country in the world, Jessica Nabongo's journey is both inspiring and groundbreaking. Through her travels, she challenges stereotypes and encourages a spirit of adventure and exploration across diverse cultures and locations.

Katie Larsen (@soweboughtavan)

Founder of So We Bought A Van, Katie shares her passion for the outdoors and van life through her blog and social media, offering insights into the joys of travel and the importance of work-life-travel balance​​.

Morgan & Hannah (@nomadic.tortoise)

This duo started their journey in a 1971 Blue Bird Wanderlodge and later transitioned to a Ford Transit van. Their story is particularly compelling as they embraced van life while Morgan was in cancer remission, showcasing resilience and the healing power of travel​​. Their latest adventure? Refitting a sailboat!

Libby Kasmer (@lkasmer)

Combining van life with rock climbing, Libby and her partner's journey is a testament to pursuing passion with mobility, offering a unique blend of adventure sports and nomadic living​​.

Sonia Moroni (@wildlysonia)

Sonia’s account offers a perspective on traveling and van life through a black female lens. Her blog extends her insights beyond Instagram, uplifting and sharing stories of the Black and Deaf communities, showcasing her meaningful voice in diversifying the van life narrative​​.

Liesbet Collaert

A frugal nomad since 2003, Liesbet has a rich history of adventure in her RV, sailing ventures, and as a house and pet sitter. Her blog and her memoir Plunge – One Woman’s Pursuit of a Life Less Ordinary provide deep dives into her nomadic lifestyle​​.


These women, among many others, enrich the van life community with their stories, proving that the road less traveled is worth exploring. They challenge norms, embrace freedom, and inspire others to consider a life on wheels, regardless of the challenges it may present.

The Van Life Culture: A Female Perspective

The van life culture from a female perspective is marked by inclusivity and support. Women have been instrumental in building communities that offer advice, share safety tips, and celebrate the freedom of life on the road. 

Despite the challenges, from safety concerns to the logistics of mobile living, women in van life speak of the unparalleled freedom, personal growth, and the deep connections made with people and places. This balance of challenges and rewards continues to draw more women to explore life on the open road.

We would love to hear your story! Stay in touch with us on Instagram @sandyvansofficial or shoot us an email at

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