Travelers today are spoiled. At the click of a mouse, we can book a flight, snag the last room in that great hotel, and rustle up great recommendations for things to do from friends and strangers alike. Oh, and there’s GPS. And airplanes. And cell phones. And people who have gone before.

But it wasn’t always this easy.

A handful of history’s boldest travelers staged epic journeys that crossed new lands, broke cultural barriers, and revealed the radical diversity of the world. In doing so, these trailblazers confirmed that wanderlust is part of the human condition — and made us want to follow in their footsteps, and even blaze a few trails of our own.

Take Ibn Battuta, a 21-year-old Muslim scholar from 14th-century Morocco, who took literally the Prophet Muhammad’s charge to “seek knowledge, even as far as China” when he set out from Tangier to perform his first hajj in Mecca.

His journey didn’t end there. Battuta’s pilgrimage grew into a tour that would cover more than 40 countries on a modern map, leaving behind a dizzying oral history of three decades on the road in the Rihla (“Journey”).

Some of the travelers in our Famous Great Travelers Photo Gallery are household names. Others, not so much. And some of them are better known for other contributions to the world. But all of these intrepid travelers left the world a better place.

Who would you add to the list of great travelers — past or present? Tell us in the comments section below, and we might just add them to our gallery or do a special follow-up post to shine a light on your suggestions.

Comments

  1. Rita Mangone
    November 20, 2012, 6:30 pm

    My english is terrible, but i’m interesting in this historic travels. I read many of this books and so I. Battuta.

  2. Gary Benton
    London, UK
    November 20, 2012, 8:15 pm

    Wilfred Theisiger – first Westerner to cross the ‘Empty Quarter ‘ from east to west and from north to south. In the next fifty years, no one else was able to cross the feared ‘Rub-al-Khali’. Some of his journeys in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq had never been done before, either.

  3. Kunzeroyale
    San Francisco
    November 21, 2012, 1:49 am

    The Spanish Conquistador Cortez is one of the World’s great travelers. He must have seen some of the most spectacular and awe-inspiring sites ever known to Man, during his journeys across the Pacific, Europe, the Carribean and of course – Mexico. His epic travels though Mexico are mythic and almost unbelievable.

  4. Marius Moen Holtan
    Norway
    November 21, 2012, 3:50 am

    Thor Heyerdahl

  5. Aslam
    Bangladesh
    November 21, 2012, 10:38 am

    I’m found our great history from Ibn Battuta’s travel story. Bengal Tours is great highlights of his tours story.

  6. Walt Zink
    Boston, MA
    November 21, 2012, 2:22 pm

    two suggestions:

    1 – alexander the great. while he was certainly conquering? well, he was learning, to boot!

    2 – neil armstrong. i mean, come on. THE MOON.

  7. shivam tomar
    new delhi, india
    November 21, 2012, 2:24 pm

    For me it would surely be Sir Edmund Percival Hillary, KG, ONZ, KBE.
    The first man to climb the everest, the first to drive farm tractors to the south pole. Also with his contribution in research for Yeti and the life on high altitudes.
    The way he gave back to the society by making school, bridges and ewven air stips in nepal, for me his journeys are always inspiring.

  8. Mike
    USA
    November 21, 2012, 2:25 pm

    I’d add Sima Qian. He was China’s most influential historian and documented the extent of the Han dynasty’s influence by writing about the empire’s tribute states, which are also the earliest written histories of Central Asia. He did this all by traveling to those distant lands.

  9. Selman Ozdan
    Northern Ireland
    November 21, 2012, 10:17 pm

    Evliya Celebi
    He is an Ottoman-Turkish traveler. He started his travels in 1640. It took 40 years. He also wrote a book on this journey, it’s name “seyahatname” or in english “book of travel”. His story is really interesting. I strongly suggest him to read…
    twitter.com/SelmanOzdan

  10. David Quammen
    Montana
    November 24, 2012, 8:39 pm

    Alfred Russel Wallace. Four years in the Amazon, searching for the answer to how species evolve; sailed home with specimens and notebooks, ship caught fire, sank, he lost everything, barely survived in a lifeboat. Got back to England, caught his breath, went out AGAIN, this time to the Malay Archipelago, eight years there, more native canoes, more jungles, more near-death adventures, looking for the answer to how species evolve; found it.

  11. oana Ivanciu
    Bucharest, Romania
    November 25, 2012, 1:54 am

    Nicolae Milescu Spatarul, Romanian boyer, who traveled in the 1600′s as far as Japan and wrote an account about it.
    Badea Cartan, a Romanian peasant and patriot, who went on foot from Romania to Rome, in 1877, to see the Column of Trajan, and see with his own eyes that the Dacians, our forefathers, are there, on the column.http://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badea_C%C3%A2r%C8%9Ban

  12. rabindrabhatnagar
    Melbourne,AUSTRALIA
    November 28, 2012, 6:05 am

    I am a great fan of your channel and our all family members love it

  13. guddodadi
    usa
    December 11, 2012, 8:54 am

    wonder full site

  14. Denford
    Harare
    December 28, 2012, 12:09 pm

    I can not believe that Herodotus, the father of history, is not at the top of this list – Egypt, Britain, Europe and even a bit of Sub-Saharan wandering……if not he, then whom?

  15. Tony Chiroldes
    New York City
    January 12, 2013, 4:19 pm

    Richard Halliburton.

  16. Stephen
    USA
    February 3, 2013, 7:04 pm

    Think you need to include Cabeza de Vaca, and certainly Merriwether Lewis.

  17. Penny Hall
    Bundaberg, Australia
    June 9, 2013, 7:11 am

    Agree with Denford – Herodotus wrote The Histories after travels in his native Asia Minor, Greece, Rome and Egypt! Plus he is known as ‘The Father of History’ !!

  18. Nimo
    CA
    February 17, 11:03 pm

    Ibn Battuta, the greatest traveller of all time.