For most people, travel is a leisurely activity, taken as an opportunity to casually indulge in new sights, sounds, scents and sensations. The fulfillment of the act resides in its contrast to everyday life. Travel is escape. Travel is release. Travel is a deviation from the norm. But what happens when travel becomes a way of life? When kineticism is more regular than stasis? Travel ceases to be a novelty, and, in many cases, ceases to be leisure. Lest this rambling rumination of an introduction become too boring, I’ll cut it short. I simply ask you consider the question, “Why travel?” Is it for wisdom? Adventure, perhaps? Or is it a sort of ostentatious exercise in badge-collecting?
Here we look at a few of the world’s most traveled people. As we introduce each traveler, keep our question on the tip of your lips. Yes, these folks have been lucky enough see more than anyone in the history of mankind. But why did they do it? And does distance necessarily equate to fulfillment?
Our first specimen hails from Calcutta, India and is currently based in Dubai. In 2008, Samaddar became the first person to set foot in all 194 UN-recognized countries and territories. He spent 13 years traveling (he made a complete circuit in under 7 years), covering 2 million miles and spending more than $550,000 USD. Samaddar was born into a poor family and earned his fortunes through multinational business dealings. Though his motivations are unclear, one of his major goals was to address the issue of discrimination. While stranded for two days in Johannesburg while his Korean business associate cruised through immigration, Samaddar realized the stigma attached to his Indian passport. He made it his mission to raise awareness and make a statement about passport discrimination by setting records with an Indian passport, refusing citizenship elsewhere.
Making his millions during the dot com boom, Charles Veley is, perhaps, the world’s most traveled human being. Samaddar may have hit every UN-recognized country, but Veley has devised a more thorough system of score-keeping, dividing the planet into 872 countries, territories, autonomous regions, enclaves, geographically separated island groups, and major states and provinces. He runs a website, mosttraveledpeople.com, that maintains a comprehensive list of these locations and keeps track of who has visited the most regions. On the homepage, you’ll see the names of the top 9 most-traveled (according to Veley’s definition) people on the planet. Veley is in the lead with a score of 827. Veley claims his wanderlust is a sort of neurosis, a profound addiction to new experiences he can’t seem to shake.
Graham Hughes launched a journey called “The Odyssey Expedition,” an attempt to visit every country on earth in a single journey without air transportation. His quest is nearly complete with 200 of 201 countries visited (as you can see, everyone has their own count). In 2009, he set the Guinness world record for the most countries traveled (133) by ground transportation in a single year. He keep an up-to-date blog and uploads adventure videos to YouTube. His budget is less than $100 a week, which he manages by CouchSurfing and hitching free rides whenever possible. You can visit his site at: http://theodysseyexpedition.com/
Unlike the other three characters discussed here, Tom Stuker is not in the business of collecting countries, but rather frequent flyer miles. A car sales consultant from Illinois, Stuker has flown over 10 million miles with United Airlines, wracking up over 50 million frequent flyer miles. Since 1982, he has flown with United over 6,000 times, both for business and leisure. United has never once lost his luggage. Last summer, the CEO of United personally awarded Stuker a permanent upgrade (the only Titanium United Mileage Plus card in existence) and named a plane in Stuker’s honor. The dude LOVES to fly.