The 10 greatest travellers of all time
Saturday 08 April 2006
Just who is the world's greatest traveller? That is the question posed by Wanderlust magazine. While there is some consensus about the greatest movie ever (Citizen Kane) and best pop record (Bohemian Rhapsody), opinion is divided on the top explorer. In a bid to discover the Orson Welles/Freddie Mercury of the travel world - and provoke a bit of healthy debate - Wanderlust asked a selection of experts to pick the person who they believe has most changed the way we travel. This is the final top 10, counting down to the best traveller of all time. But do you agree? Please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will compare notes with the readers of Wanderlust.
10 APHRA BEHN (1640-1689)
First Englishwoman to make a living by the pen; possibly the world's greatest armchair traveller
Nominated by Dea Birkett, travel writer: "Aphra Behn was groundbreaking, claiming to have sailed to Suriname in the 1660s. Yet 300 years after writing Oroonoko, her powerful anti-slavery novel set in Suriname, we still don't know if she went to South America or not. She started the tradition of European travellers grossly exaggerating and lying about what they'd done. We've been fictionalising ever since."
Travelling style: mysterious, incognito - often travelled as a spy, and in the 17th-century equivalent of economy class.
Places visited: Suriname (probably), Antwerp, the Netherlands. Behn's plays suggest knowledge of Italy - though this may be the fruit of her stupendous imagination.
Hardships suffered: Rumour suggests she lost family members in Suriname and was once shipwrecked.
Changed-the-world rating: Helped to invent the English novel and the travel memoir. Oroonoko is fictional, one of the first great exotic travel narratives and an indictment of slavery. An unusual mix today, this must have seemed outlandish 300 years ago.
9 MICHAEL PALIN (1943-)
Affable Python and actor who went from spoofing Alan Whicker to replacing him as TV's foremost traveller
Nominated by Charlotte Hindle, Lonely Planet author: "He's done more than anyone else to bring the world into everyone's living room."
Travelling style: Intrepid, good-humoured Englishman abroad, self-confessed dromomaniac - one who suffers from the compulsive urge to travel.
Places visited: Around the world in 80 days, pole to pole, full circle, across the Sahara and through the Himalaya.
Hardships suffered: Cracked ribs, altitude sickness, getting a cut-throat shave from a blind barber, being mistaken for Eric Idle, having his car rocked by an angry mob.
Changed-the-world rating: The surges in bookings that follow his televised travels are known as the "Palin effect". Travel on TV once meant Judith Chalmers wishing you were there; Palin turned travel into a prime-time attraction and made the world a more exciting, accessible, place.
8 YURI GAGARIN (1934-1968)
Starman - the first man in space - who became the man who fell to earth, dying in a crash on a routine flight
Nominated by Mark Ellingham, Rough Guide's founder: "He took the greatest leap into the unknown since Columbus - or at least since Laika, Sputnik 2's dog."
Travelling style: Focused and fearless. On 12 April 1961 Yuri was blasted into space in crude terms - in a seat on top of a tin can, which was itself on top of a bomb.
Places visited: Around the Earth and 315km above it.
Hardships suffered: In training he withstood 13Gs of force in the centrifuge and sat in a dark, silent room for 24 hours; being grounded after his historic flight drove him to drink.
Changed-the-world rating: Fuelled the space race. With space tourism still somewhere between a prophecy and a joke, we haven't seen the full impact of his heroism.
7 FRIDTJOF NANSEN (1861-1930)
Skier, oceanographer, humanitarian, godfather of polar exploration; has an asteroid named after him
Nominated by Pen Hadow, explorer: "Nansen was the first to cross Greenland's ice cap and the Arctic Ocean, and sailed further north than man had been before."
Travelling style: Brave but not reckless - he never lost a single man nor major piece of equipment.
Places visited: Skied across Norway, crossed Greenland and travelled 255km further north than any man had been.
Hardships suffered: Endured nine winter months with a colleague in a hut made of stones and walrus hides in Franz Josef Land, eating polar bear and walrus.
Changed-the-world rating: Technologically revolutionised polar exploration, inventing a cooker and water bottle still used today.
6 CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882)
Founder of evolutionary theory
Nominated by William Gray, TV presenter and writer: "Darwin discovered many species, while his observations during his voyage on the Beagle formed the bedrock of his theory of evolution through natural selection."
Travelling style: Argumentative, determined, blessed with an inexhaustible curiosity.
Places visited: Across the Atlantic, Pacific, both coasts of South America, remote islands such as the Galapagos and Tahiti; he also rode across the Argentinian plains, hiked up mountains and trekked through the Peruvian desert.
Hardships suffered: Stomach pains, vomiting, heart palpitations, boils, storms and revolution in Buenos Aires.
Changed-the-world rating: He changed the way we think.
5 CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (1451-1506)
The most controversial explorer in history
Nominated by Bill Bryson: "Christopher Columbus didn't actually discover America, but he opened the door to the European exploration of two mighty continents."
Travelling style: Visionary, fearless, neurotic, ruthless. Stopped travelling only when mortally ill.
Places visited: Four voyages across the Atlantic, around the Mediterranean and, possibly, to Iceland.
Hardships suffered: Arthritis, flu, temporary blindness, fever, bleeding eyes, malnutrition, insomnia.
Changed-the-world rating: "He was head of the horde that introduced yellow fever, dengue, malaria, smallpox, measles, diphtheria, typhoid and a few others to the Americas," says the explorer Dr Jane Wilson-Howarth. "In exchange, they brought back syphilis." Columbus paved the way for Spain's global empire, genocidal conflict with the indigenous cultures, slavery and the European settlement of North America.
4 IBN BATTUTA (1304-1368 OR 1377)
Medieval geographer who made Marco Polo look like someone who ought to get out more
Susan Spano of the Los Angeles Times says: "His tale is a wild but true yarn that surpasses that of Marco Polo."
Travelling style: A charming freeloader, resilient, brave, a bit of a fussbudget and teller of tall tales.
Places visited: Travelled more than 120,000km, through regions that, today, comprise 44 countries, from Italy to Indonesia, Timbuktu to Shanghai.
Hardships suffered: Muggings, attacks by pirates, was held hostage, once hid in a swamp for a week without food.
Changed-the-world rating: He was the last great Muslim geographer. His work offers an unparalleled insight into the 14th-century Muslim world and a rare perspective on the medieval empire of Mali.
3 SIR RICHARD BURTON (1821-1890)
Diplomat, fencer and explorer; man of towering intellect
Nominated by John Gimlette, travel writer: "While others travelled to blow the family cash, for Sir Richard Burton it was all an exercise in comprehension. He constantly challenged convention, and left his readers gasping."
Travelling style: "Disloyal, waspish, foul-mouthed, scruffy, drunken and misogynistic, he was the worst of travelling companions," says Gimlette. But he was seldom short of courage, ideas or a word - he knew 30 languages and 60 sounds in the vocabulary of monkeys.
Places visited: India, Arabia, East Africa, Fernando Po, Brazil, Syria, the US West and Trieste.
Hardships suffered: A spear struck through his jaw, syphilis, malaria, rheumatic ophthalmia, attacked by bandits, smoked too much opium and was circumcised to make his disguise as a Muslim more convincing.
Changed-the-world rating: Burton may have been the first modern anthropologist, and he helped John Hanning Speke to discover the source of the Nile. His feat in becoming only the second European to visit Mecca, inspired countless explorers. His translation of the Arabian Nights opened up a mysterious - and still misunderstood - culture to the West.
2 XUANZANG (602-644 OR 664)
Chinese Buddhist monk who went on the mother of all pilgrimages and pioneered travel writing
Nominated by Michael Palin: "Xuanzang travelled alone on a pilgrimage to discover the origins of Buddhism. The scope, scale and significance of these travels for Chinese and Indian history have never been equalled."
Travelling style: "He was curious, courteous, determined, intelligent and courageous," says Palin.
Places visited: Xian, the deserts and mountains of western China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, all of India.
Hardships suffered: hunger strikes, often caught by bandits, nearly died of thirst, survived an avalanche.
Changed-the-world rating: "He left a priceless legacy in the record of his journeys and translations of Buddhist writings that might otherwise have been lost," says Palin.
1 CAPTAIN JAMES COOK (1728-1779)
Indefatigable explorer who had all the essential traveller's virtues - until he went a bit funny at the end
Nominated by Sara Wheeler, travel writer: "Captain Cook discovered more of the earth's surface than any other man and excelled as a scientist, cartographer and surveyor. He was bad-tempered - I like a touch of clay feet in a hero."
Travelling style: Precise - an excellent navigator, he always drew up accurate charts; indomitable - when his ship, the Endeavour, ran aground in the Coral Sea, he beached and repaired it; shrewd - he averted scurvy by forcing his crew to eat fruit and sauerkraut; open-minded - his notes show genuine interest in other cultures.
Places visited: He circumnavigated the globe twice, visited all seven continents and crossed the Arctic and Antarctic circles.
Hardships suffered: Sailed with Captain Bligh, recovered from biliary colic by eating stew made from a ship's dog; was clubbed to death in Hawaii.
Changed-the-world rating: By finding Australia and mapping New Zealand, Captain Cook essentially created the map of the Pacific we know today. He also anticipated ethnology and anthropology - and, arguably, independent travel. His aim to go "farther than any man has been before me but only as far as I think it possible for a man to go" is an inspiration to every traveller.
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