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The Greatest Travellers Of All Time

Updated on October 22, 2011

When one talks of journeys, that too of thousands of miles, one cannot forget the names of some travellers who set out for journeys covering millions of miles and thus came to be known as great travellers of the world. Here is a brief account of some of them.


Captain James Cook was a supreme navigator and mapmaker. He was born on October 28 1728 at Cleveland. Said to be the father of Antarctic exploration, Captain Cook expanded the British Empire by exploring Australia and New Zealand.

Son of a farm labourer, young James developed a love affair with the wonders of the mysterious sea and left his hometown for Whitby to see pirates and islands. There he was apprenticed at a coal ship, named Walker. For the next fifteen years of his life, he worked on the ships serving the Norwegian and Baltic ports and made three journeys. He had a keen interest in scientific phenomenon and possessed considerable ability as a surveyor and mathematician.

In 1768, he was given command of an expedition to the south pacific to witness the transit of Venus across the sun by the Royal Army. On August 25, the same year, he took 83 men, including a party of scientists, headed by Joseph Banks, and embarked on a three-year voyage on Endeavour. It was in the spring of 1769, he reached Tahiti from where astronomical observations were taken. He circumnavigated the north and south islands and made a detailed survey of east coastline of Australia, which he named New South Wales and Botany Bay, a harbour with unexpected variety of plants. He returned to England in 1771.

In July 1772, after becoming a commander, he set out for his second voyage with two ships, Resolution and Adventure and a crew of 193 men to search for the southern continent. Sailing through the reef-strewn seas of the Antarctic, they navigated for months without sight of land. In this voyage he determined the location of Easter Island and plotted the position of Marquesas and the Tonga or Friendly Island and re-discovered New Hebrides group. Having sailed 60,000 miles in three years, he returned to England in July 1775. It was during this voyage that he discovered the cure for scurvy, the disease which caused death to people at sea.

On June 25, 1776, he left for his third and last journey with Resolution and Discovery. After touching Cape of Good Hope, he first landed at Tasmania and then sailed on to New Zealand. On his way, he crossed several islands and re-discovered largest of all the Pacific islands, the Hawaiian or Sandwich Island, (named after his friend, Lord Sandwich). Then he made for western coast of America and sailed north to discover Northwest Passage. He sailed through the Bering Strait as far as the point named Icy Cape, which was blocked by a wall of ice.

He returned to Hawaii in early 1779 where he was killed after clashes with islanders.


Ibn-e-battuta, the great Muslim traveller and scholar was born in 1304 at Tangier, an important town in the international zone of Morocco. His real name was Mohammad bin Abdullah; Ibn-e-Battuta was attached later as a family name. He belonged to the Berber tribe, a nomadic tribe that originated from the borders of Egypt.

In 1325, when he was just 22 years old, he decided to go to the unseen lands and set out with a noble aim of making the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. Brought up in a religious environment, he was interested in theology and religious matters and because of his intellect and piousness was made the Qadi, leader of the caravan.

In his first journey to Mecca which covered Alexandria and Cairo, he met Burhanuddin who motivated him to see India and China. Before embarking on his journey to India, he performed Haj twice and went to several other places, which included his visit to Turkey where he stayed as a royal guest.

In 1333, he made his long desired journey to India via Samarkhand and reached Delhi. There he expected to receive his fortune as the ruling Sultan of Delhi was attracting large numbers of scholars and theologians from other countries. He received full share of Sultan's bounty and was appointed as the Qadi of Delhi, a position he served for more than seven years.

In 1342, the Sultan sent Ibn-e-Battuta as his ambassador to the most powerful ruler of his time, the Mughal Emperor of China. This was a golden chance for him to see China. He was born with a driving urge to see places and meet people and wherever he went he studied the culture and customs and gained wonderful experiences.

In 1345, he went to Lanka, Sylhet, Bengal and Cambodia and on his way back passed from Sumatra, Malaya, Malabar Coast, Amman, Baghdad and Caylon.

In 1347, he arrived in Mecca to perform Haj for the fourth time. During his stay in Baghdad, he learnt that his father died 15 years back and his mother was still alive. So he made a return journey to his homeland, Tangier, after a long span of 28 years.

In 1352, still ambitious to travel more, he left home for his longest and last journey. Passing along the kingdom of Grenada in Spain, Western and Central Africa, particularly Timbuktu, Mali and Niger basin, he returned to Morocco in 1354. With his return, his extensive journey, which stands as a milestone in the history of travelling, came to an end. He travelled for almost 30 years during which he covered 75,000 miles. His series of journeys from 1325-1354, which is recorded in a dictated account was rediscovered during the French occupation of Algeria


Marco Polo, the Venetian merchant, adventurer and traveller was born in 1254 in Venice (Italy). He is known to be the traveller who gave Europe new knowledge and new outlook beyond the boundaries of its own narrow world. The tale of his travels is one of the greatest, which nicknamed him Messer Marco Millioni or Master Marco Millions, for the millions of miles he had travelled.

Polos i.e. Niccolo and Maffeo, Marco's father and uncle, were the greatest of the 13th century travellers in Asia. They were wealthy merchants who set out on a trading expedition to the Crimea in 1260. After two years they were to return to Venice, but political events prevented them from reaching home and hence they travelled eastward to Bokhara in 1265. Where they accepted an invitation to the court of Great Kublai Khan, Chief of the mighty Mongolian Empire. Khan received the Europeans with delight and asked them to send hundred educated men to his country to teach his people liberal arts and Christianity. The Polos made the long journey back to Acre in 1269.

In 1271, they set out for a journey overland back to China and left Acre, this time sixteen-year-old Marco joined them too. They made their way from Italy to Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. They crossed Persia to the Pamirs and then followed a caravan route along the Southern edge of the Tarim Basin and Gobi Desert to Cambaluc. Then Polos came to the northwestern boundaries of China and in 1275 after a journey lasting three and a half years, they reached Shang-Tu, the summer city of great Khan. Marco, being a man of accurate and keen observation was taken into the service of Khan. He learned the language of his people and entered the public service. Afterwards, he was appointed a second-class commissioner to the imperial council. During his service for Kublai Khan, Marco lived and worked in South China, travelled all through the provinces of Shensi, Szechuan, Yunnan as well as the borders of North Burma and visited the magnificent city of Quinsay (Hang-Chou). The authority that he was given became increasingly important and he was made governor of Yangehow, a position he held for three years. All in all he journeyed from Europe to Asia from 1271-95 and spent seventeen years in China.

In 1298, he was captured while fighting against the Genose and while in prison he dictated an account of his travels to a fellow prisoner. His travel accounts became a classic of travel literature which gives earliest description of the far east. In 1299, Marco was released and he returned to Venice, his hometown. He died on January 9, 1324.


Christopher Columbus, the Italian navigator and explorer was born in 1451 in Genoa. He is the first historically important European discoverer who made four voyages to the New World. He is credited for opening the way for European exploration and was the first European to sail across the Atlantic Ocean and make landfall on the American continent and bring great profit to Spain and other European countries.

He began his life as a seaman at an early age, in 1476, when he joined Portuguese Marine and settled in Lisbon. In 1477, he sailed with the Marine to Ireland and Iceland for trade. Between 1482 and 1485, Columbus traded along the Guinea Coast and made a voyage to the Portuguese fortress of Sao Jorga da mina and gold coast of equatorial west Africa and gained knowledge of Atlantic wind system and Portuguese navigation. In 1486, he was stationed in Spain and was determined to reach Asia by sailing westward. After three years of effort to seek patron and financier for his voyage, he finally won the royal support of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabelle of Spain in 1492.

On August 3, 1492, he set off on his first voyage from Polas with three small ships Nina, Pinta and flagship Santa Maria. The first land he sighted was San Salvador Island. After staying for weeks and planting the royal banner, he advanced to discover Haiti and Cuba. In January 1493, he left for Spain.

On his second voyage, September 1493 - June 1496, he sighted majority of Caribbean Islands and established a base in Hispaniola, now divided into Haiti and Dominican Republic.

His third voyage, May 1498-October 1500, took him to Trinidad and to the mainland of South America for the first time and he also reached Venezuela and Orinoco River Delta.

On May 4, 1502, he began his fourth and last voyage, during which he explored the coast of Hunduras and Nicaragua in the hope of finding a straight passage to India. He died on May 20, 1506 in Valladoid. On October 12, Columbus Day is declared as public holiday in some states of America.


Portuguese navigator, Vasco da Gama was born in 1460 at Sines. His interest in mathematics and navigation from an early age led him to become one of the greatest travellers of the world.

In 1497, King Manual I chose Gama to command a Portuguese fleet to India to open the sea route to Asia around the Cape of Good Hope in modern south Africa. On July 8, 1497, he sailed from Lisbon with a fleet of four vessels, Sao Gabriel, Sao Rafael, Berrio and a 200-ton storeship. Passing the Canary Islands, the fleet reached Sao Tiago in Cape Verda islands. After surviving unfavourable weather conditions, which delayed their expedition, the fleet took a circular course through the south Atlantic to the Cape of Good Hope and reached the coast of Natal on Christmas Day. In late January they reached Mozambique and in April set out for the southwest coast of India. After 23-day run across the Indian Ocean, Gama sighted the Ghats Mountains of India and reached Calicut on May 20, 1498. He arrived back to Portugal in September 1499.

In 1502, he founded a Portuguese colony in Mozambique and in the same year he commanded a fleet of ten ships to avenge the murder of Portuguese seamen. Until 1505, he served as an advisor to the king on Indian matters and was made count of Vidigueira in 1519. In 1524 he was made the Viceroy to India and just after two months when he reached Goa, he died of ill health.


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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      my homework was that write 4 great travellers

      and i got it

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      why did journey from china to persia take such a long time /

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      any idea when he left Portugal for his final voyage and when he got there?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      informative biographical notes& the portraits are also good

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      excellent writing.

    • jdaviswrites profile image

      Jeff Davis 

      10 years ago from California

      this is a well written breakdown of some interesting history. where did you get all your information?


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