Chalking up a fifty odd thousand frequent flyer points on a one-stop flight to London might seem typical these days. With the advent of air travel over the past century or so, becoming a world-class traveller isn’t such a unique feat as it once was. But it was these men who paved the way for humanity, constantly pushing the boundaries of geography and culture by foot, by mule, by boat, and by whatever means necessary. These are seven of history’s most courageous explorers.
Obviously. Marco Polo set out from Venice as just a teenager and returned more than two decades later with more wisdom and experience than any man around him. Polo’s fantastic tales of the exotic would spark the imagination of Europe and lay the foundation for trade routes and inter-continental relationships for centuries to come.
Unlike Marco Polo, Magellan came to the orient via sea. Magellan was one of the first great Portuguese naval explorers, mastering the pacific and creating a true understanding of the scale of Earth. Funded by Portugal’s neighbor and rival, Spain, Magellan risked the lives and finances of countless men in his quest for glory. The sailor met a cruel end, hacked to death by an unwelcoming tribe in the Philippines.
Captain James Cook
Just over two centuries ago, the massive landmass that would become Australia was shrouded in mystery. That is until the naval efforts of Captain James Cook secured for Britain one of its finest additions to their growing empire. Cook continued to explore the pacific and, like Magellan, met his end at the hands some understandably hostile locals.
Flexing the might of the Islamic Empire during the middle ages, Ibn Battuta made it his life’s work to travel and document the known world. Crossing what would today be a total of 44 countries over a course of 30 years, Battuta used slaves, animals, and mercenaries to get him where he needed to go. His journeys (some perhaps considered to be fiction) were documented in a tome called the Rihla.
Out of antiquity and on to modernity comes Ben Carlin, an ingenious Australian man who became the first to circumnavigate the globe via an amphibious vehicle. The beauty of Carlin’s story is its strangeness. The amphibious vehicle of choice was a half-boat, half-jeep concoction of spare parts. With a vehicle not made for speed, the journey would have been particularly lonely and arduous if Ben’s wife had not accompanied him.
Sir William Walter Herbert
With a name like William Walter Herbert, one is expected to achieve great things. And nothing pushes man to his mental and physical limits like the cold. While Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon, ‘Wally’ and his rag-tag band of explorers were crossing the North Pole. Starting in Alaska and finishing in Norway, Wally wasn’t satisfied with just an overnight stay. Legend has it that he and his men stayed up there for the winter, set up a small retreat, and snuggled in for the winter.
Mr. America. Well, that’s up for contention. But Christopher Columbus’s apparent discovery and definite establishment of colonies on what would become the world’s greatest superpower is a feat that cannot go unrecognised on a list such as this one. Italian-born and Spanish-sponsored, Columbus’s actions would ignite centuries of war, hardship, and death in the quest to claim the New World.