Though there’s never been an easier time to travel than the present, history is filled with iconic explorers who often beat the odds, discovered new lands and shared their exotic experiences with the rest of the globe. Here are ten iconic travelers who have helped shape the world as we know it.
In 1271, at the age of 17, Marco Polo set out on a 24-year trip through the Asian continent. The young merchant was the first to chronicle his experiences through Asia and the Middle East and introduce the distant region to Europeans.
An Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus is, of course, best known for “discovering” the Americas. While he was actually meaning to reach Asia, and there were already people living in the “New World,” there’s no denying that Columbus certainly changed the course of history and helped spur on an unprecedented age of European exploration.
In the 7th century, Xuan Zang, a Chinese Buddhist monk, embarked on a 17-year journey to India and back tracing Buddhism’s history and teachings. His writings were highly influential and responsible for issuing in an era of Chinese Buddhism that lasted for centuries.
Isabella Lucy Bird
While most of the world’s historic explorers were men, in the Victorian Age many adventurous women also sent off on their own to lands unknown. Brit Isabella Lucy Bird began traveling at age 23, and didn’t slow down until her death 50 years later, spending time in a number of countries such as Japan, China, New Zealand, Kurdistan, Turkey, Iran, Morocco, the United States and more.
Another British female explorer, Freya Stark was a prolific travel writer, producing a number of books between the 1930s and 1980s. She was one of the first Westerners to travel extensively throughout the Middle East and was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1972…all quite a feat for someone who didn’t receive any formal education as a child!
Captain James Cook
A scientist, cartographer and accomplished explorer, Captain James Cook circumnavigated the world twice, traveled to all seven continents, plus the Arctic and Antarctic circles and put Australia and New Zealand on the map – literally.
Lewis & Clark
Lewis & Clark essentially won the “Best Job in the World” when they were commissioned to lead an expedition into the Western part of the United States, a region that hadn’t been explored by settlers before. From 1804 to 1806, the two explorers mapped out unchartered territory while also conducting scientific research and opening trade routes.
You can’t think about famous American travelers without Jack Kerouac coming to mind. While he may not have made it to quite as many places as others on this list, he forever epitomized the great American road trip in his book, “On the Road,” which is still a staple read for backpackers and wanderers to this day.
As a pioneer of the aviation industry, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo. Earhart was a worldwide celebrity, promoting aviation to a new generation of fliers and served as inspiration for a number of other female adventurers.
Before Lonely Planet and Rick Steves, there was Arthur Frommer. Frommer revolutionized the way people travel, starting with his original guide book, “Europe on 5 Dollars a Day,” published in 1957. Though prices have certainly gone up, the Frommer publishing empire still shares budget travel tips, guides and recommendations for travelers around the world.