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Glove Stretchers and Petticoats: Packing advice from a Victorian Lady Traveller

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This is a guest post by Sophie McGovern. Sophie is a writer, musician and full-time nomad. When not writing she can be found reading about the adventures of ladies throughout history, and cruising along the UK waterways in her house-boat. She will soon be moving to Thailand to write for HeadingThere.

Whenever I’m reading about the inspiring adventures of female travellers today, I always wonder where it began. Who were the first women to explore the world alone? What was it like for them?

My pondering led me to the work of Lillias Campbell Davidson, a Victorian English writer who paved the way for generations of intrepid female travellers.

Lillias Campbell Davidson
Lillias Campbell Davidson (c) BNPS.CO.UK

Many of her crucial snippets of advice included things like, when travelling, ladies should never forget ‘strong smelling salts’, ‘a small bottle of brandy’ or your ‘ivory glove stretcher.’

This advice was included by Lillas in what was the very first travel guide ever written for female globetrotters.

Hints to Lady Travellers was published in 1889, and marked the beginning of a new era.

Before this time, there had been several travelogues written by upper class ladies who were privileged enough to travel, but never anything that gave the middle classes the advice and inspiration they needed to get out there and have a go themselves.

In the book, Lillias offers practical tips and encouragement for independent minded ladies with a thirst for adventure. Some of this, such as advice on tipping etiquette and respecting local cultures, is still hugely relevant today.

Other sections, including how to store your teapot when on the move and how many petticoats to wear on a cycle tour, are affectionate glimpses into the priorities and difficulties for intrepid travellers of the Victorian era.

For starters, luggage and equipment were far from our compact backpacks and quick-dry hiking trousers. In fact, when such items as a ‘well stuffed cushion for one’s feet’ were considered essential, I can only imagine with fascination the contents of a Victorian lady’s trunks and bags.

Reading Lillias’ advice on what best to wear when cycling is enough to make me break out in a sweat: ‘Wear as few petticoats as possible…and have your gown made neatly and plainly of flannel without loose ends or drapery.’

Written at a time when the woman’s place was still strongly considered to be in the home, when women did not yet even have the right to vote, Lillias’ ideas were pretty radical. Her writing began the trend in female travelling that has become so normal today, inspiring ladies all over the country to pack up their parasols and see the world.

‘If, by my endeavours, I have in any way assisted my sisters in their wanderings, or encouraged a single woman to join the path of travellers by land or sea, I shall feel that I have achieved the object of my labours, and that my task has indeed not been in vain.’

I only wish that I could drop Lillias a telegram with some pictures and stories of travel adventures from women’s blogs and journals today. I am sure she would feel thoroughly proud, of us and herself!

Get your copy of Hints to Lady Travellers: At Home and Abroad on Amazon.com.

hints to lady travellers


Tags : book reviewtravel tips

5 Comments

  1. I’m reading Isabella Bird’s ‘Golden Chersonese’ at the moment – keep wondering what she would be wearing – thanks for your article; I’m going to buy ‘Travel Tips’ now.

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