10 Greatest Fictional Travelers

Lists: From La Mancha to Lilliput, Jim Benning and Michael Yessis track down the world's finest made-up globetrotters

08.23.07 | 1:23 PM ET

Fictional travelers have inspired our travels just as much as real-world travelers. To pay tribute, we’ve searched the corners of our English major brains to come up with the foremost fictional travelers: characters new and old whose travels are central to who they are, and whose journeys have helped shape and enlighten the world we live in. Here are World Hum’s 10 greatest fictional travelers.

10) Dora the Explorer

imageKids need travel role models as much as adults, and the animated Latina vagabond Dora the Explorer is an exemplary role model. With her trademark purple backpack, wash-and-wear bob (perfect for the tropics) and monkey sidekick, Boots (Sancho Panza to her Don Quixote), Dora wanders a lush countryside, navigating around strawberry mountains and chocolate lakes, embarking on all manner of quests. Along the way, she consults her trusty map, breaks out handy Spanish phrases, asks viewers for help and sings out, “Come on, vámonos!” The message to kids is clear: The world is yours for the exploring, and with a little effort and help from your friends, you can surmount any obstacles that get in your way.

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Jim Benning

Jim Benning is editor and co-founder of World Hum.

Michael Yessis

Michael Yessis is the cofounder and coeditor-in-chief of World Hum.


43 Comments for 10 Greatest Fictional Travelers

Eva Holland 08.23.07 | 2:49 PM ET

For me it was definitely the four Walker children - John, Susan, Titty and Roger - from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series. They sailed, camped and hiked in England’s Lake District, but they also moved in and out of imaginary worlds filled with explorers and pirates, treasure islands and uncharted waters, and natives both friendly and hostile. (Yeah, fair warning, there’s some pretty un-PC stuff in there.)

In later books they made it to the Norfolk Broads, the coast of Suffolk, and the far northern islands of Scotland, as well as more exotic locations like China - again, presumably in their imaginations, although Ransome doesn’t always say exactly what’s really happening to the children and what is fantasy.

Those books were single-handedly responsible for me pestering my parents to sign me up for sailing lessons when I was 11.

J WIlliamson 08.23.07 | 3:14 PM ET

I lean towards Jake Barnes and crew in The Sun Also Rises. Often over shadowed by the bull fighting, the drinking, and Lost Generation notions, Hemingway’s scenic description and characters who desperately grasp at the culture and land before them while struggling to come to terms with themselves inspire both the inward and outward journey.

TambourineMan 08.23.07 | 4:10 PM ET

Dora the Explorer???

My nominations:

“The Time Traveler” (he doesn’t have a name) in HG Wells’ The Time Machine. He travels through time, parties with the docile, hippie-like Eloi, fights the hairy Morlocks and eventually witnesses the end of the world. And you give the man no props?

Philleas Fogg. This cat traveled Around the World in Eighty Days, for chrissake. With the state of today’s airline industry, let’s see you try to do it.

And finally. Dudes, you should know better than this. It’s not Trekkies…it’s Trekkers. You’ll be lucky if some Spock-eared computer hacker doesn’t vaporize your website by tonight.

Michael Yessis 08.23.07 | 5:23 PM ET

Jake Barnes and Phileas Fogg are strong candidates, certainly. Going into this, we knew we’d have to leave out a lot. I had a few favorites that didn’t make the cut—Frodo, Richard from “The Beach,” Dorothy from Kansas, to name a few—and so did Jim.

Thanks, too, TambourineMan for trying to save us from vaporization. We went with Trekkies after consulting Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trekkie

Kyle 08.23.07 | 7:24 PM ET

To me this was the first person who came up in my mind as a fictional traveler: James Bond. International spy for the British Secret Service. A Jack of all trades. Another name that came to mind is Indiana Jones.

TambourineMan 08.23.07 | 10:57 PM ET

I second the 007 nomination.

Mike wrote:
“We went with Trekkies after consulting Wikipedia:”

Ok, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when a Photon Torpedo lands in your living room.

ScreenwriterGuy 08.24.07 | 8:00 AM ET

My vote is for Uncle Traveling Matt from Fraggle Rock.

Soja 08.24.07 | 2:26 PM ET

What about my childhood fave “Tommy Tricker and the Stamp Traveller”.... lol

Don Hackett 08.24.07 | 7:47 PM ET

Tom Jones (not the singer.)  His journey was short in distance, but socially (from the country to the big city) and personally (from innocence through adventures to beginnings of maturity) he covered a great distance—and a rollicking good time was had by all.

Catfish 08.24.07 | 9:17 PM ET

C’mon, how ‘bout Ford Prefect from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?!
Now there’s a traveler!

sidetrips 08.25.07 | 12:36 AM ET

An outsider’s view of the legacy of the Beats and “On the Road” is being blogged at http://kerouac2007.blogspot.com/

Michelle 08.25.07 | 4:04 AM ET

what about Alice in Through the looking Glass?

The children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

The Joads in Grapes of Wrath?

Ed 08.27.07 | 2:20 PM ET

Tintin. C’mon. He should be the undisputed number 1.

Also, of course, the most famous duck to ever earn his fortune in the world, who raised generations of future archaeologists + rockhounds, Scrooge McDuck of the clan McDuck.

Nelle 08.27.07 | 6:39 PM ET

Charles Marlow from Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness—man, did he see some horrible things.

Kyle 08.27.07 | 10:50 PM ET

Check out Harry Flashman.  He gets around, 
if you know what I mean.

Harry 08.28.07 | 3:30 PM ET

I would suggest Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin from Patrick O’Brian’s series of novels.

Marilyn Terrell 08.28.07 | 4:26 PM ET

Sir Harry Flashman of George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman series certainly merits consideration:  his adventures span China, Afghanistan, India, America, Borneo, Africa, Europe, Madagascar… And always in the right place at the right time, like a swashbuckling Victorian Forrest Gump.

James 08.28.07 | 6:18 PM ET

Phileas Fogg was robbed.

Rebecca Lewis 08.29.07 | 4:48 PM ET

Don’t forget Doctor Who, who travels through time and space having the most amazing adventures!

Chris (Amateur Traveler podcast) 09.01.07 | 12:28 PM ET

I would have to include Phileas Fogg on such a list.

Delacy 09.04.07 | 7:18 PM ET

Definitely Bilbo Baggins and Ford Prefect.

Michelle 09.04.07 | 9:45 PM ET

As a child Uncle Traveling Matt from Fraggle Rock was the first traveler I met along the road. In my youth, Sal Paradise was #1 to me too. However, I cannot forget Sam Beckett from “Quantum Leap.” He traveled through time and space as he lept into people different decades from the 1950s to the 1980s. They even did episodes where he met Jack Kerouac and preformed in the musical “Don Quixote.”

hedgeguard 09.11.07 | 11:02 PM ET

Milton’s Satan in “Paradise Lost” manages to cover a good deal of territory, crisscrossing the universe.  So, for that matter, does Dante in “The Divine Comedy.”

Jeff 09.12.07 | 9:01 AM ET

Jim and Michael, good topic.

I would have added Allan Quartermain to the list, and the Hardy Boys.

And I’m wondering, could a real author recounting fictional travels be included? Someone such as Dante?

shelli 09.12.07 | 12:00 PM ET

What an absolutely marvelous read!  Just terrific!

Sarah 09.24.07 | 3:43 PM ET

Gosh, there are so many - I like Sydney Fox from Relic Hunter, and, of course, Lara Croft. From novels? I’d have to say Daine Sarrasri and Numair Salmalin from Tamora Pierce’s ‘Immortals’ Series.

~S
(and if anyone knows where I can get Relic Hunter seasons on DVD, email me!!)

Jake 09.25.07 | 4:06 AM ET

Ford Prefect & Bilbo Baggins HAVE to be on this list!

Elly 12.28.07 | 10:46 PM ET

Travelers! Good call on Odysseus; my first choice, actually. Then there’s Bilbo, Gandalf, Frodo, etc. from Tolkien of course. Ender Wiggin from Speaker for the Dead traveled a fair distance. So did Herge’s Tintin. What about Bastian Balthazar Bux? Fantastica was a vast, indeed Neverending, land. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis, is exactly what the title declares: a voyage. And does anyone remember Jules Verne? :)

HS 05.06.08 | 6:55 PM ET

I know I’m posting a little late, since I prefer non-fictional travel, especially my own.  I must say that the more recent travel fiction you mention is not as worthy as the classic.  What about Sterne’s _A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy_?  Or Jules Verne’s works, other than _80 Days_?  Or the _Satyricon_ of Petronius?  That has a great journeying theme in it.

Rex 05.07.08 | 1:29 AM ET

I would say Phineas Fogg, and how about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World. And Candide of course. And the Joads.
Now for non-fiction there is Marco Polo, Thor Heyerdahl, Columbus, Leif Ericson, Abraham,and Lehi and family.

Brian Leverenz 06.10.08 | 4:19 PM ET

James Bond gets my vote, he’s wreaked havoc, destruction, frolicked with beautiful women, plundered, pillaged, and killed with great style at every exotic locale, all in a tuxedo.

Aiakos 07.03.08 | 4:28 AM ET

Hi everyone. Great blog. Hold on.

Ava 07.11.08 | 10:51 AM ET

Larry Darrell in The Razor’s Edge may be more of an expat than a traveller; still, he did make it to 20’s Paris, the Dalai Lama and through WWI unscathed,unlike poor Sophie.

Health Care 09.10.10 | 10:54 AM ET

The children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?

The Joads in Grapes of Wrath?

pam 09.10.10 | 11:54 AM ET

I love you guys, you know that. But I’m with commenter Michelle. Where’s Alice? She went down the rabbit hole AND through the looking glass and as a girl, solo! THAT was a trip.

Austin Beeman 09.12.10 | 10:02 AM ET

I don’t know of any fictional character that has driven the desire to travel as much as James Bond.  The most interesting places, exotic women, and a little bit of danger.  Whenever I step out into a new town and see the world swirl around me, at that moment I hear a little bit of the James Bond theme play.

Billy Hatfield 09.14.10 | 2:40 AM ET

Don’t forget Fievel Mousekewitz!

Grizzly Bear Mom 09.15.10 | 12:07 PM ET

What about Laura Ingalls WIlder’s books on pioneering through the American Mid West?  She and Huckleberry Finn tempted me to hop boxcars for a year (As a 110 pound woman, it was wise to resist that one.) Surely there are some great immigrant stories other than my grandparents’, but I can’t recall any.  I’ve been to England, France, Germany, Greece, Guam, Hawaii, Italy, Korea, Japan, Okinawa and most states and “ready for more.” 

By the way Travel channel, paging through articles like the above is painful for individuals with carpel tunnel, and difficult for individuals with visual limitation because we have to continually refocus on each page.  Please limit articles presented in this mann.er.  Thank you for your consideration.

Nery 09.17.10 | 7:13 PM ET

I’d add Ishmael (i.e. “Call me Ishmael”).  The novel begins with what I thought was a hilarious, but also powerful description of wanderlust/cabin fever:  “...whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.  This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”

He also promotes cultural and religious plurality, trying to get past his own uncomfortable first impressions of different cultures—like that of his roommate, Quequeg, at the whaler’s inn.

Ryan 09.20.10 | 1:54 PM ET

Larry Darrel, Candide, Dante, and any hobbits ever to point their hairy hobbit feet away from the Shire get my vote.  Great list, great discussion.

Kevin Capp 09.20.10 | 7:34 PM ET

Glad you guys selected The Sheltering Sky.  I’d also recommend travelers read Bowles’ Let It Come Down and Up Above the World, if for no other reason than that their wanderings probably won’t end as badly as it does for the characters in those novels.

Rory Moulton 09.21.10 | 4:55 PM ET

Stephen Maturin from the Aubrey-Maturin novels (“Master and Commander”)! Particularly in “HMS Surprise” when he and Jack travel to India.

Donald Wilson 09.23.10 | 7:44 AM ET

Three of the greatest travelers ever:

Odysseus (Ulysses) from Homer’s Odyssey
Aeneas from Aenied
Don Quixote

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