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The 30 Greatest Travelers Of All Time | The Expeditioner Travel Site

The 30 Greatest Travelers Of All Time

Monday, December 19, 2011


Having just received my brand new passport in the mail, I flipped through the blank pages and saw endless possibilities. The stamps are gone, the airplane tickets are yet to be purchased and the stories not yet told. What will the future be for this little document? And what’s in store for the awkwardly-photographed owner of it? Perhaps, this is the time to finally leave my stamp on this world by becoming the greatest traveler in the history of the universe.

Okay, so that may be a bit out of reach for me at least. I mean, I’ve got a dog to care for; she’s not much for air travel. But those stories — those possibilities — have been recognized by a long line of people throughout the history of, well, the universe.

So, in true Expeditioner fashion, we offer you the inspiration to venture into the world. Jenna and I have teamed up to ransack The Expeditioner’s in-house library. Our results have become the ultimate list ever created: The greatest travelers of all time.

Before you start to carve up those we’ve deemed “the greatest,” just remember, there are still stones unturned.

Without further adieu, in no particular order, we present to you the greatest travelers in the history of the universe.

1) Christopher Columbus

The Italian navigator/explorer is probably the best failure in history. The first explorer to sail across the Atlantic in search of Asia, he fell a bit short when he ran into the Americas.  Not only did he pave the way for European exploration there, he was also a very astute businessman, giving the natives yellow fever, measles, typhoid (among others) in exchange for syphilis. Not sure who fared better in that deal.

2) Reid Stowe

This intrepid traveler recently completed the longest, unsupported voyage at sea in the history of mankind: 1,152 days aboard his schooner Anne (shattering the previous record of 1,067 days by a Norwegian ship in the 1890’s). It takes a special kind of person to sail solo for three years and not return having conversations with fish, but Stowe is both a dreamer and a romantic. the30greatesttravelersofalltime45“I was never lonely once in the whole voyage,” he said. “Being alone in the wildness and beauty of nature is an enlightening experience.”

3) Kira Salak

Her resume includes traveling solo to almost every continent including Madagascar, Borneo, Rwanda, Burma and the Democratic Republic of Congo; named 2005 National Geographic Emerging Explorer; first to kayak solo 600 miles down West Africa’s Niger River; first woman to traverse Papua New Guinea; Ph.D. in English; Author of three books; but most importantly, she has been called the “real-life Lara Croft.” ‘Nuff said.

4) Cat Videos

Ahhh, yes, the rigorously tested technique to ensure your Youtube video travels to all reaches of the internet: insert “cat” in the title. Seriously, you ask? Yes. They consistently have had views in the millions. Some, such as the beloved “Funny Cats” are blessed with over 62 milion views.

That’s a lot of people in a lot of places streaming rambunctious kittens and clueless felines into their homes. My take? Sure, it’s cute. Cats are adorable and they do amusing things. But 62 million? President Obama’s illustrious speech after winning the presidency on November 4, 2008, has brought in just over 5.6 million views. Inspiring and encouraging, it triggered a dormant feeling of patriotism across the United States, but no cat. Cold, hard proof that any political speech will reach more people if a kitten stumbles off the podium.

5) Sylvia Earle

Dubbed “Her Deepness” by such publications as The New Yorker and The New York Times, Sylvia is not only one of the world’s leading oceanographers — logging over 6,000 hours underwater — but she also holds the record for the deepest solo dive ever: 380 meters (1,250 feet) down. At 76 years old, Ms. Earle is still the chief steward of ocean conservation and founded three companies that design and build deep-sea submarines for ocean research. Groovy.

the30greatesttravelersofalltime26) Waldo

Whether at a beach, banquet, museum, circus, mall, grocery store or ski resort, Waldo has the audacity to assimilate with the local inhabitants of his travels while simultaneously being persistently searched for by wanderlusting whippersnappers at bedtime across the globe. Waldo also maintains a composed, calm demeanor despite the claustrophobic, crowded situations he frequently finds himself in. For hygiene’s sake, let’s hope that this famous traveler has more than one change of that red and white striped shirt in his backpack.

7) Dwight Collins

How would you like to spend 40 days in an 850-pound, 24-foot tube-shaped boat outfitted with little more than freeze-dried Fig Newtons? This guy was down with the idea, and succeeded in making the fastest human-powered crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. Peddling his rig an average of 19.5 hours a day, Collins battled sea-induced ailments like boredom, sleep deprivation and curious 12-foot long sharks. On the completion of his journey in Plymouth, England, Collins tossed a champagne bottle into the sea with a note inside reading: “To whoever finds this bottle — may you have the courage to pursue that which means the most to you.” Spoken like a true Expeditioner.

8) Will Steger

New Zealand had Hillary, the English had Mallory, and Americans have Will Steger. Strong advocate for the global climate crisis, Steger has spearheaded multiple expeditions across both the North and South Poles. His first trip involved him leading seven men and one woman across the North Pole by dogsled without resupply.

After 55 days of minus 70-degree temperatures and grueling work, six members were able to complete the crossing. As if that wasn’t enough, several years later, Steger embarked on a 220-day journey to traverse Antarctica — on foot no less. The International Trans-Antarctic ’89-90 Expedition team of six used both sled dogs and skis to complete the journey, battling the very limits of human endurance. Think about that the next time you’re zip-lining through the Costa Rican jungle.

9) Michael Palin

Starting his career as a member of Monty Python, he reinvented himself as a traveler. Proving there’s still hope for many of us. This guy accepted the BBC’s challenge to travel around the world in 80 days, Jules Verne style. He finished the adventure in 79 days 7 hours (airplane-less), which became a television series; pretty much pioneering the concept of getting travel into people’s homes.

10) Rolf Potts

The Jesus of traveling on a budget, he is probably best known as a true vagabonding advocate with his first book, and his more recent book sticks it to another traveler on our list: Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations From One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer. He also has a tendency to travel the world with no luggage: an airliner’s fantasy passenger.

the30greatesttravelersofalltime311) Arctic Tern

And you thought Aunt Edna’s efforts to avoid winter ruled. This little guy is the king of all migrators. They spend their first summer in their breeding grounds in the Arctic, and when it gets a bit too nippy, they head south to their “wintering grounds” in Antarctica. These dudes chalk up roughly 45,000 miles annually under their own power — the human equivalent of walking to Jupiter.

12) Xuanzang

This Chinese monk basically went on the mother of all pilgrimages in search of the origins of Buddhism. Not only did he travel through China, the Indian subcontinent and Afghanistan, he found time to document it all, making him one or the world’s first real travel writers.

13) Captain James Cook

Cook likely discovered more of the earth than anyone else, circumnavigating the globe twice and charting damn near every inch of it. Though known as having a bad temper, his logs indicate a genuine interest in other cultures. That is, until he was clubbed to death in Hawaii. Regardless, his philosophy of going “farther than any man has been before me,” should be inspiring to us all. Just watch your back in Hawaii.

14) Mark Twain

The pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn fame, the book’s widespread reading and criticism has provided an opportunity for people to contemplate the nature of differences and freedom — the ultimate theme of traveling, really.

the30greatesttravelersofalltime415) Jack Kerouac

His influential book On the Road details spontaneous road trips across America in search of, well, anything.  It not only defined the Beat Generation, it showed you raw America and added to the lure of road tripping. I’ve heard it described as an American version of The Odyssey. That’s pretty good company.

16) The Tarahumara Tribe

Barefoot running shoes may be marketed as a new technology designed to make your feet look suspiciously like those of a gorilla, but the Tarahumara or “Running” people in the northwest canyons of Mexico have been jogging sans-Nikes for 500 years, and they make a marathon look easier than an amble from your Laz-E Boy to the fridge.

It’s said that one particularly ambitious tribe-member completed 435 miles in two days — the equivalent of running from New York to Cleveland. What’s the secret? Among other things, homemade corn beer called tesguino is purported to aid in the phenomenon. The Tarahumara: Putting armchair travelers to shame since the 1600’s.

17) Santa Claus

The jolly old fat man has an army of “elves” that trick out his “sleigh” so that he can travel to every house in the world on Christmas. Imagine what the airline industry could save by way of fuel costs if they just employed a few reindeer.

18) African Wildebeest

These animals are a part of the dwindling great migrations left in the world. The spectacle includes 1.5 million wildebeests migrating about 1,800 miles annually, from the Serengeti plains to Kenya, in search of some grub. Never, ever, complain about your two-block walk  to the store again.

19) Bill Bryson

No, Bill didn’t finish hiking the Appalachian Trail in his book A Walk in the Woods, and he’ll be the first to tell you how damn hard it was. This uppity writer has made traveling more doable than anyone in history, and he’s not so bad at telling about it all either.

20) Anthony Bourdain

This snarky s.o.b. is a chef, author, drinker and traveler that holds the Travel Channel’s scrotum in his back pocket. He has made travel cool again through his shows No Reservations and more recently The Layover.

the30greatesttravelersofalltime521) Sir Edmund Hillary

Hillary is fond on standing on things. He reached both poles, the top of New Zealand’s highest peak, and in 1953, he was the first to stand on top of the tallest mountain on earth:  Mt. Everest. In fact, the most famous picture taken on the summit is that of his Nepalese Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay. Apparently, Hillary was standing on top of Norgay, but that was eventually Photoshopped out.

22) Lewis and Clark

These guys are America’s ultimate pioneers. A government-funded exploration of the American frontier sent them into, well, no one knew at the time. Two years later, with the ass-saving skills of Sacagawea, they walked out of the wilderness as the gnarliest travelers on the continent.

23) Yuri Gagarin

I’m not sure we’ve seen the true impact of Yuri’s travels quite yet, since space tourism is still considered a joke. He was shot into outer space in little more than a tin can in 1961, beginning his reign as the man who took the greatest leap into the unknown since Columbus. Ironically, he died in a crash on a routine training flight in 1968.

24) Ibn Battuta

This traveler provided the world insight into the Muslim world of the time. The 14th-Century scholar survived muggings, pirate attacks and hiding in a swamp for weeks without food to travel in over 44 countries — from Shangai to Timbuktu. And you thought your last pass through customs was tough.

the30greatesttravelersofalltime725) Marty McFly

Three words: DeLorean time machine. The talented skateboarder and wicked lead guitarist of the Pinheads, McFly broke into the world of travel during his accidental trip back to 1955 at the age of 17. While other teens are more engulfed in the world of acne prevention, Marty manages to get back to 1985—1.21 Gigawatts!—with side trips to 2012 and 1885. I’d like to have his frequent flyer miles.

26) Marco Polo

While working for the great Kublai Khan, Polo took off on a 24-year ramble through Asia. He came home to a war, was imprisoned and used that time to dictate his journeys to his cellmate. Unfortunately, he also spent that time inventing that annoying call-and-response game still used by children in every backyard pool to this day.

27) Vasco DeGama

DeGama can really only claim navigating a rickety old ship around the Cape of Good Hope and opening up European trade with India . . . in 1497 . . . without a GPS. His trek from Lisbon, Portugal, to Calicut, India, and back is a longer distance than the entire equator.

28) Flat Stanley

Stanley, a paper cut-out of a boy, is used in elementary schools all over America to teach geography and culture. The premise: Send your Stanley to someone; they report back to the student, writing in Stanley’s diary and taking pictures of his time there, before sending him on to someone else. Makes you wonder what kind of shenanigans ol’ Stan isn’t sharing with his diary.

29) Charles Darwin

In our mind, this dude’s undying curiosity overcomes his ship’s sissy name: the Beagle. Really, Chuck, a Peanuts reference? His studies took him across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, most famously to the Galapagos Islands while developing his theory of natural selection. Often overlooked are his explorations through the Peruvian desert and Argentinean plains. Darwin is a bad-ass traveler that changed the way we looked at the world from then on.

30) Sir Richard Francis Burton

Considered the first modern anthropologist, his motivation was understanding how communities operate. While most of us struggle using our native language, Burton knew 30 languages and is probably the closest human to fluently speak monkey. True fact, that’s what happens eventually when you end up devoting your life to wandering the world.

By Jon Wick and Jenna Blumenfeld.


About the Authors

Jon lives in Butte, Montana, spending most of his time on skis or bikes; sometimes both. He began travel writing while teaching in Korea and is currently pursuing his Master’s Degree in Technical Communication at Montana Tech. Jon has begun writing his first book, The Story of Will, whose movie rights are still (very) available. Catch more of Jon at (@ExpedJon)


Jenna Blumenfeld, (Jenna Ogden Blumenfeld when she’s in really big trouble) hails from the wee state of Connecticut. Although her childhood dream of becoming a bug doctor — with a specialization in ladybugs — has gone unfulfilled, she is content writing about travel, cuisine and culture. A vegetarian, she currently resides in the food hub of Boulder, Colorado. You can see examples of her fine cookery at

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