From intrepid explorers who tackled the wild wastes of the Arabian Desert to 20th-century writers and cult figures who galvanized the romanticism of globetrotting, this list of eight people who sum up the traveling spirit is essential reading for any would-be backpacker. It's got Columbus, Polo et al, along with just a few you might not expect…
Marco Polo ain't just an awesome game you used to play way back when, he was also one of the most successful adventurers of the 14th century. Leaving his native Venice behind as a young man, he joined his uncle and father on intrepid trading expeditions along the Old Silk Road. His travels took him through Arabia and Central Asia, all the way to the mystical east and China, where he even managed to ingratiate himself into the court of the Mongol emperor Kublai Kahn. Marco Polo is perhaps more famous for the journals he kept, which were written after his travels back in Italy. You could call him the original travel blogger, I guess.
While modern travellers deal with budget issues and work constraints, choosing the best backpack and deciding which is the top LBW tour through Thailand (we know, it's hard!), travellers back in the days of Christopher Columbus were faced with the daunting news that the world was flat and anyone who sailed over the horizon was bound to drop off into the bottomless pit of nether. This badass explorer from little Genoa in northern Italy wasn't having any of it though. He rigged up his Spanish galleons, took money from the Catholic monarchs and headed out west, where he eventually hit the Caribbean, Central America and the Eastern Seaboard. Not bad spots to discover if you ask us!
From the Berber towns of Morocco to the wild reaches of the African Maghreb, the shifting sand seas of Arabia to the salt-washed Swahili coast, the palm-fringed coves of Indian Kerala to the rugged Zagros Mountains, the enthralling streets of Peking to the rolling waters of the Thai Gulf, Ibn Battuta clocked up some pretty hefty travels in his time. But it's not just the sheer distance covered by this great explorer from Tangiers, it's also the challenges he faced along the way. There were bloodthirsty pirates in the seas and tropical diseases aplenty – it kinda' makes those Thai Changovers seem like something we shouldn't complain about, huh?
The pioneer of the so-called Lost Generation, Ernest Hemingway was one of the first of the beatnik breed; the sort to throw caution to the wind and hop across the globe on long, booze-fueled trips that had no boundaries. His travels took him to the romantic streets of Paris, the wild interior of Africa, and the dust-caked hills of Andalusia in Spain (where he attended the [in] famous San Fermin Running of the Bulls in Pamplona). They also nurtured a writing style that was to become an iconic precursor to the free-flowing creativity of the 1950s and 60s, making Hemingway both a literary and globetrotting legend.
Anyone who can take a look at the roaring swells of the Antarctic Ocean and the windblown wastes that roll out to the South Pole and not be so scared that they end up just staying home with a bag of chips and good travel movie is worthy of a mention on this list. Cue Ernest Shackleton, a hardy and rugged Brit that makes most young male explorers today look like they're made out of paper. With a series of voyages in the early 20th century, he discovered countless glaciers and ice shelves, all before ending up joining the British expeditionary force in WWI and even having a hand in the Russian Revolution of 1919.
Known today for her pithy and pointed travel quotes (they are great if you're in need of a little inspiration for the wanderlust, seriously!), Freya Stark is also famed as one of the most successful and daring female travellers of all time. In the early 1930s, she took on the vast sand seas of the Arabian Desert, and crossed from her native Europe all the way to the mysterious Valleys of the Assassins, home to mystical Islamic sects and a place where few people had trodden before her. Stark's other long odysseys through the Middle East were chronicled in works like Beyond Euphrates and Riding to the Tigris – top reads for any budding explorer.
There's nothing like a hardy Viking to get us all thinking about mighty voyages across unknown seas. And what better Viking to add to this list than the iconic Leif Erikson? Singlehandedly credited with discovering North America, way before Columbus even discovered the Caribbean, sometime between the end of the 10th century and the start of the 11th, he's certainly one to look up to. And Erikson didn't just land and leave an Icelandic flag either - it's thought that some of the earliest settlements on the Canadian east coast were begun by his crews. Today, he's still considered one of the greatest and most intrepid explorers of all time. Well, if tackling the Atlantic won't do it, what will? Kudos buddy!
Xuanzang, a native of Luozhou in Henan, does well to buck the trend of west-to-east travel that’s perhaps most dominant amongst the explorers of old. Instead of hitting the Pacific Ocean from his Chinese hometown, Xuanzang went west, across the Himalaya, to India and beyond. The journey took around 17 years in total, and included arduous pushes across the Gobi Desert, the scorched Flaming Mountains, the wild Kyrgyz steppe, and eventually the then-Buddhist cities of the Punjab and the Ganges basin. He was almost certainly the first person to follow that route, which is something we totally respect!
There are oodles more historical figures who say something about the travelling spirit. If you can think of any that could inspire the wanderlust, we'd sure love to hear about them in the comments below! Or, if you can feel another trip coming on, why not check out LBW's tours, which have destinations from Costa Rica to sun-kissed Southeast Asia…
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