Ah, the World-Traveler.
Just invoking the word probably brings a stock image to your mind.
For some, it may be a picture of Indiana Jones - rugged, resourceful, intelligent and never left without a witty comeback due to his years of worldly experience.
To others, it may be a feminine role model. Again, maybe we dream up something from pop culture and insert Julia Roberts from Eat. Pray. Love. as the quintessential representation of the benefits of world travel.
But these representations have become clichés (even if Eat Pray Love was the memoir of Elizabeth Gilbert, the idea of the transformed person through travel has taken on a life of its own and become overused to ad nauseam).
What we need are real travel heroes. People that are much more human and don't have hollywood producers behind them. At least not yet.
Known as the Oldest Backpacker in the World (at least he was until a local New Zealand news agency found a 95 year old backpacker recently), John has been traveling around the world on the solo tip for the last 30 years. He started backpacking after his wife died in 1982 and hasn't looked back since. In a great story (from a great blogger might I add), Michael Turtle from Time travel turtle takes us in into the world of a really interesting human being. The Turtle tells us that John met and conversed with the Dali Lama and Mother Theresa, got stoned in Islamabad and was even attacked with a short pipe and left for dead in Mexico.
Follow in his footsteps:
You don't have to be a pensioner to walk the line like John. Just be willing to try things that are outside of normal expectations, if they catch your fancy. If you are a corporate executive and you love street food, then invite your colleagues to dine with you at the small noodle cart with red plastic chairs and wax paper napkins. Damn the expectations.
What's inspiring about Chris is not that he walked across China on his way back home to Germany, it's that he quit halfway through his journey and did something that he really wanted to do (ok, it's pretty inspiring that he walked across China too); he went back to school to get his degree. In a Forrest Gump type of way, he just stopped when he reached what he felt like was his finish. To me, that reminds us that we always have the power to change our trajectory.
Follow in his footsteps:
Although you won't be literally walking in his footsteps, try hiking the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain. It's not as long - it can be completed in around 30 days - but it provides you solitude, friendship and reflection, things that Chris also experienced on his journey.
Chris's website: http://www.thelongestway.com
At 16, Laura became the youngest person ever to solo circumnavigate the globe. Not only did she fight storms and physical exhaustion, she also had to reckon with Dutch courts, who initially forbid her from undertaking the journey. Like any good petulant child she argued until she got her way. But seriously, her determination and single minded pursuit of a dream is admirable, especially for someone so young.
Following in her footsteps:
Sailing around the world is not only for adolescents with mega ambition. Many couples dream of sailing around the world as well and one couple is actually going to do it. After four years of planning and saving, on January 1st 2015 Tate and Dani will embark on a 3 to 5 year expedition. If you have 115.000 dollars saved up and space for a 3 to 5 year sabbatical, you can do that too.
A more feasible way to stretch your sea legs is to rent a gulet with about 13 friends, and sail around the windex clear waters off the coast of Croatia. I did this in 2011 and it was a fantastic experience. We used the Gulet Linda, and her Captain Tony, is the man. The price is in line with other week-long European vacations (when you consider hotel costs, restaurants, transportation, etc) and thus surprisingly affordable.
This dude travels epically. Not only does he journey through vast swathes of continents, he does it without a motor. He holds the record for the longest travel on skateboard at 12,159 kilometers. But, you know, because he needed to warm up first, he cycled from Tokyo to Switzerland right before hand.
Follow in his footsteps:
Really this one is about getting into your own slow travel groove. During your next vacation, look into alternative travel options. Maybe you take a two day boat ride down the Rhine river instead of a 3 hour car ride. Or maybe you take the Siberian Railway from Moscow to Beijing. Or, maybe, like me, you have a silly ambition to drive a 50cc moped across Europe (I will do it). The point is to look at the travel part of traveling and not to waste it. Sometimes we get so consumed with the destination, that we don't think about what it actually takes to get there.
Hollywood hasn't caught up to Grandma Gatewood, but they are close on her trail. Recently, Ben Montgomery published a book called Grandma Gatewood's Walk: The Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail (You can read the first chapter here for free). Ok, walking the Appalachian Trail doesn't make you a World Traveler, but Grandma is pretty badass, so she gets an honorary World Traveler degree. She was 67 years old the first time she walked the Appalachian Trail, or the AT, as those in the know call it. But no, that wasn't enough, in true beast mode she walked the AT a second and third time, becoming the first person, man or woman, to achieve such feats. She is also credited with saving the trail. Her celebrity status back in the 50s allowed her to spread the word on shabby maintenance of the route and likely turned around it's care.
Follow in her footsteps:
11,000 other people have reportedly already followed in her footsteps. You don't have to "thru" hike the AT (read do it all in one go), instead you can break up the hike into smaller sections and do it over the course of years. You can visit http://www.appalachiantrail.org/hiking to plan your trip.