Imagine the world, several hundred years ago, when only a small percentage of the planet was documented. They didn’t have google maps back then, did they?! Nor did they have any real concept of what was out there in the vast, dark void. But that didn’t stop them from bravely venturing forth out into the big wide world (believed to be limitless at the time – which is very big indeed) to be the first to conquer a new territory, document an exotic beast, or map our planet as we have come to know it.
These intrepid souls have gone down in history as the most inspirational travelers of all time, and without their fearlessness, our history might be an altogether different one. In today’s blog post, we salute those who have gone before us, and continue to inspire every traveler who dares to venture forth into the great unknown.
One of the most famous explorers ever to grace the seven seas, Marco Polo inspired countless of voyages after him, adventures, books, and then later films and television – and even board games. There’s little doubt he is the poster boy for exploration during the golden age of discovery. Hailing from Venice, Polo was an Italian merchant operating in the 13th century, and the first European to meet Kublai Khan – the ruler of the Mongol empire.
His writings on Asia and China in particular were ground-breaking, and the first real source of information that Europe had about the far east. However, the definitive print of this work can never actually exist, because of the difference in the manuscripts. Lost in translation you might say.
Polo was to significantly inspire another Italian – Christopher Columbus – the Genoa-born explorer credited with discovering the New World. His voyage in 1492 is perhaps one of the most famous of all time, as he set sail westwards from Spain, expecting to reach Japan to open up a new East India trade route.
Instead, he happened upon the rather large continent of the Americas, and the rest is history. The fact that North America had already been discovered by a Norse explorer in the 11th century is often overlooked, but Columbus himself had accomplished his goal of spreading the word of the Catholic church in Central and South America.
Not to be outdone, the Portuguese had their own fearless seafaring adventurer in Ferdinand Magellan, the man credited with the first circumnavigation expedition in 1519 to 1522. It took much longer to get around the circumference of the planet back then. Actually setting out in a Spanish backed voyage to sail to the East Indies, Magellan managed to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the process.
He went on to discover the Philippines but was to meet his end there while attempting to convert the islanders to Christianity. Magellan’s legacy nonetheless continues, particularly when it comes to naming spacecraft or topographical points of interest on planets.
Cook was a British explorer and captain in the Royal Navy. Hailing from the north of England, Cook is credited with being the first person to discover the Hawaiian Islands, as well as Australia and New Zealand. No mean feat considering the vastness of ocean that exists in those parts, not to mention the dangerous currents therein.
His experience sailing the Pacific over 12 years pretty much provided Europe with everything they needed to know about the region at the time. His two famous ships, the Endeavor and the Discovery, regularly lend their names to space exploration and scientific ventures.
Although the golden age of discovery was dominated by men, women began to play significant parts as inspirational travelers in later years. None more so than Nelly Bly, who was a pioneering US journalist known for her work exposing the treatment of mental hospital patients in New York. However, perhaps her most famous exploit was to circumnavigate the globe in 72 days, by hook or by crook. Determined and inspired to beat the fictitious “Round the World in 80 Days” record set in Jules Verne’s classic, she achieved the feat in 1888. A movie about her exploits is currently in production – and more people need to be aware of her incredible adventure.
There is simply no name as synonymous with undersea exploration as the great Jacques Cousteau, a French Navy officer, explorer and conservationist who pioneered the development of the aqualung. Cousteau was a brilliant filmmaker who documented the subaquatic world in the 60’s and 70’s with his popular television programme “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” He was to continue to produce over 120 films and 50 books, and was the first person to win the coveted Palme d’Or for a documentary feature in 1956. Although passing in 1997, Cousteau’s adventures continue to inspire both travelers and filmmakers in equal measure.
We’ve gone underwater, so let’s finish by going into space – and more specifically setting foot on the moon. That’s exactly what Neil Armstrong managed to achieve in 1969, and he needs little introduction. Arguably the most famous pioneer of all time, his immortal worlds “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” will still give you goosebumps every time. Armstrong and his team of Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin entered the Apollo 11 spacecraft at the turn of the decade and made history.
In becoming the first man to walk on the moon, Armstrong passed into legend, and to this day it is still regarded as our greatest achievement. Maybe someone reading this is destined to beat it. Mars anyone?
To boldly go…
Yes, we know we’ve missed out a bunch of extremely important and inspirational travelers and explorers, including Lewis and Clarke, Shackleton, Amelia Earhart, Ibn Battuta and James T Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise. Please accept our humble apologies – we’ll include them next time. While you’re waiting, why not follow in their legendary footsteps, and set out on your own voyage of discovery? In the words of poet T.S Elliot – “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know that place for the first time.” What he said.
Who is your favorite inspirational traveler? It doesn’t have to be someone in the past! Let us know!