Who is the world’s greatest traveler? Well, that is a topic for debate. There are probably as many opinions as there are travelers. Celebrate these incredible nomads as they inspire travelers around the world. Where do these notable globetrotters fall on your list?
XUANZANG (602-644) | Chinese
Xuanzang was a Chinese Buddhist monk who went on an incredible 17-year pilgrimage. He was a scholar, travel journalist, and translator. He travelled to India in the seventh century and wrote about the differences between Chinese Buddhism and Indian Buddhism during the early Tang dynasty. He suffered from starvation, kidnapping, dehydration. He also survived an avalanche. The epicness of his travels for Chinese and Indian history is unparalleled.
He travelled through Xian, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The details of his journey have been recorded in the (Chinese text) Great Tang Records on the Western Regions. His trip was the inspiration for the novel Journey to the West written by Wu Cheng’en.
IBN BATTUTA (1304-1369) | Moroccan
As a medieval scholar and geographer, he makes Marco Polo look like an amateur. Over 30 years he travelled more than 44 countries. At 21 set off from his hometown on a pilgrimage to Mecca and would not return to Morocco for twenty-four years.
He suffered at the hands of pirates and was mugged from time to time.
He wrote about his journeys in Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling. His journals offer unparalleled insight into a mysterious 14th-century Muslim world.
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1451-1506) | Italian
Perhaps one of the most controversial explorers in history, Christopher Columbus’ contributions to world discovery can’t be missed. While he didn’t actually discover America, he opened the gate to the European exploration of two of the world’s continents. His voyages marked the beginning of the colonization of the Americas. Counted among his expeditions are the Mediterranean, four voyages across the Atlantic ocean, the Lesser Antilles, Bahamas, Canary Islands, Trinidad, Hati and Cuba.
While there is much controversy surrounding Christopher Columbus, he paved the way for Spain’s global empire.
CAPTAIN JAMES COOK (1728-1779) | British
Captain Cook is said to have discovered more of the earth’s surface than any other man. He was a prolific scientist and cartographer. Cook joined the British merchant navy in his teens and joined the Royal Navy in 1755. Commissioned in 1766, Cook took command of the HM Bark Endeavour.
In three voyages, Cook sailed thousands of uncharted of miles. He charted the lands from New Zealand to Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean in greater detail than previously achieved. He named features and recorded islands and coastlines on European maps for the first time. Cook circumnavigated the globe twice and travelled to all seven continents. He also crossed the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
Cook was killed in 1779 during his third exploratory voyage in the Pacific while attempting to kidnap Kalaniʻōpuʻu, a Hawaiian chief, in order to reclaim a stolen cutter.
His legacy of scientific and geographical knowledge left a considerable contribution to future explorers.
SIR RICHARD BURTON (1821-1890) | British
Sir Richard Francis Burton an explorer, geographer, cartographer, translator, linguist, ethnologist, writer, soldier, spy, diplomat and poet. He spoke over 20 languages. His travels included Arabia, East Africa, Fernando Po, Brazil, Syria, and Trieste. He served in Diplomatic Service as consul on the island of Fernando Po (Bioko) in Equatorial Guinea. Burton was probably the first modern anthropologist. He helped John Hanning Speke to discover the source of the Nile.
Burton’s accomplishments include a well-documented journey to Mecca in disguise, at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death. He also an uncensored translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English. He wrote numerous books and articles about a variety of subjects including travel, human behaviour, sexual practices and ethnography.
He suffered from syphilis, malaria, arthritis and conjunctivitis. He was also struck in the jaw by a spear.
Sir Richard Francis Burton has been described as a foul-mouthed, drunken misogynist. In spite of his shortcomings, he has left an indelible mark on the world at large.
FRIDTJOF NANSEN (1861-1930) | Norwegian
Nansen is the godfather of polar exploration. He even has an asteroid named after him. He was an avid skier, oceanographer, diplomat, and humanitarian. Fridtjof Nansen was the first to cross Greenland’s ice cap and the Arctic Ocean. He sailed further north than any man had been before. He skied across Norway, traversed Greenland and pushed further north than any man had been.
He endured nine gruelling months in a hut made of walrus hides and rocks.
In his later years, Nansen devoted himself to the League of Nations, following his appointment as the League’s High Commissioner for Refugees. In 1922 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the World War I and related conflicts
YURI GAGARIN (1934-1968) | Russian
From base to space, Yuri Gagarin was a rocketman and the first human in space. His Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Gagarin circumvented the Earth and travelled 315km above it. He shot to fame and was awarded several medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honor.
Yuri Gargin was disciplined, fearless and focused. On 12 April 1961, In the days when space travel was still new, Yuri was bravely blasted into space. He withstood the incredible demands on his body forced upon by space.
Garagin’s stood only 5’2″ (1.57 metres) but his contributions to space travel immeasurable.
Dervla Murphy | (1931-) | Irish
You may have never heard of her, but this trailblazing pioneer, Dervla Murphy deserves some props. When Dervla’s parents gave her a second-hand bicycle and atlas for her 10th birthday, she was bitten by the travel bug. Dervla never learned to drive and she is scared of flying, but that hasn’t stopped her from bicycling through 54 countries. To her credit, she has written 24 travel books about her journeys. In 1963, with £65 in her pocket, a change underwear and a .25 automatic pistol she set out on a six-month cycle ride from Ireland to Delhi, India. She’s been travelling ever since.
Dervla’s adventures include scaring off Bulgarian wolves, warding off an assault in Azerbaijan, meeting a tiger in Nepal and a robbery in Siberia.
The remarkable octogenarian travels light these days, packing a change of clothes and her Scrabble game.
MICHAEL PALIN (1943-) | British
The prolific traveler, travel documentarian and good-natured actor, Michael Palin is a modern-day adventurer. He’s done more for the armchair traveller than perhaps any traveller alive. He’s travelled around the world in 80 days, gone from pole to pole, circled the world and crossed the Sahara and through the Himalaya.
In spite of suffering from altitude sickness and cracked ribs, the former Montey Python funny man makes adventurers from around the world wish they were his travelling companion. His travel documentaries have made the world more accessible to those who can’t get out.
Palin wrote a book after each trip about his travels. He provides information and insights beyond what is in his TV program. All seven books are available as audiobooks and are read by Palin himself.
So who is on your list? Share with us your notable nomads in the comments below.