When we embark on a backpacking trip, taking only what we need for weeks or months, we are really doing no different than some of the world’s earliest explorers. Discovering cultures, new lands, languages and meeting new people, essentially “traveling” has been done for centuries upon centuries. But who started it all?
“People have always been stepping out of their comfort zones, creating motivating stories and being an inspiration for all travelers today.”
History is filled with amazing adventures who paved the way for future explorers and inspired generations of wanderlust.
Here are the top 5 famous travelers who changed the world:
#1 Marco Polo
Probably the most famous traveler of all time. As the son of a wealthy merchant and trader, he was well educated and spoke four languages. He, his dad and uncle set off for Asia in the early 1270s. They traveled through Persia, Afghanistan, and Mongolia all the way to present-day Beijing. He led missions to India, Burma and other parts of China. He returned to Venice and while being captured he met a writer who then recorded his stories and journeys on paper, to become The Travels of Marco Polo. His journeys and writings helped to open up the Far East to Europe and are said to have inspired Christopher Columbus and many other explorers. After he got home he was captured and imprisoned. In prison, he shared his experiences and stories with a fellow inmate, who wrote them down. The book became known as ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’
Chinese monk, scholar, and a famed translator, Xuanzang is famous in the South Asian history as the traveler who brought the great Indian and Chinese cultures in contact with each other. He became famous for his 17-year overland journey to India, on which he was often ambushed by bandits, nearly died of thirst, and survived an avalanche. He became famous after writing ‘The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions’, an extremely detailed report of his travels. It’s an extraordinary report containing very precise descriptions of distances, landscapes, trade routes and several cultures.
#3 Christopher Columbus
The most controversial explorer in history. Famous for being the discoverer of America, Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer, navigator and colonizer citizen of Genoa. Columbus made four ground-breaking voyages to the Americas 1st journey was in 1492 to the Bahamas. He’s a guy who had no idea where he was when he landed so assumed he was in India, enslaved a population of which he admitted to feelings of remorse later in life, and brought a host of terrible diseases to an entire hemisphere he got syphilis from the native people, in return. Ambitious and determined, this explorer’s four voyages are a testament to his will and spirit that has inspired travelers all across.
#4 Ibn Battuta
This traveler provided the world insight into the Muslim world of the time. Undoubtedly the greatest traveler in the history of humankind, who traveled more than 120,000 kilometers through regions that, today, comprise 44 countries. He was a Moroccan Muslim and during his lifetime he visited almost the entire Islamic world as well as many other regions. His comprehensive accounts of the places visited have guided historians as well as future travelers alike. His travel writings provide a rare perspective on the 14th-century medieval empire of Mali from which not many records survive.
#5 James Cook
Cook was a British explorer who made groundbreaking voyages to the Pacific Ocean. Definitely one of history’s greatest ever explorers. Captain Cook discovered more of the surface of the earth than anyone else. He circumnavigated the globe twice, visited all seven continents and crossed the Arctic and Antarctic circles. He was the first man to circumnavigate and map New Zealand and Hawaii, and he discovered Australia and claimed it for Britain. He was killed by natives in Hawaii after visiting all seven continents, sailing around the world twice and crossing both the Artic and Antarctic circles. Regardless, his philosophy of going “farther than any man has been before me,” should be inspiring to us all.