The 39 Greatest Names in Travel and Adventure

Lists: These men and women changed the world through their travels. Michael Yessis appreciates them for more superficial reasons.

07.08.09 | 10:33 AM ET

Juan Ponce de Leon, from an anonymous 16th Century portrait

Want to be transported? If these magic travel words don’t do it for you, just seeing or hearing the names of these men and women should trigger mental journeys to far-off lands, even if you don’t know their exploits.

Poppa Neutrino

Vasco da Gama

Zheng He

Scylax of Caryanda


Tenzing Norgay


Xu Fu

Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen

Juan Ponce de León

Thor Heyerdahl

Genghis Khan

Valentina Tereshkova

Kira Salak

Marco Polo

Amerigo Vespucci


Ferdinand Magellan


René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle

Mungo Park

Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta

Jacques Cartier

Hernán Cortés

Arthur Frommer

Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Vérendrye

Vasco Núñez de Balboa

Gaspar Corte-Real

Henry Hudson

Pánfilo de Narváez

Fray Marcos de Niza

Pico Iyer

Freya Stark

Piri Reis

Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Henryk Arctowski

Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra

Étienne Brûlé


What traveler or adventurer’s name sends you on a mental journey?

18 Comments for The 39 Greatest Names in Travel and Adventure

Chris 07.08.09 | 10:54 AM ET

I think the guys that “traveled” for the sole purpose of conquering should be on a different list. :-)

Robert P. Schmidt, Jr 07.08.09 | 11:18 AM ET

Personally would add Sir Richard Francis Burton to the list.

Robert Reid 07.08.09 | 11:26 AM ET

Great list. I need to do some research one some!

Maybe add Anton Chekhov? Went across Russia a year before Trans-Siberian in three months to live at pre-gulag labor camp for several months.

Donna 07.08.09 | 11:57 AM ET

I’d also add Sir Edmund Hillary.

Urbano 07.08.09 | 12:04 PM ET

Isabella Bird, Mary Kingsley, Dervla Murphy

Susan 07.08.09 | 12:30 PM ET

Isabelle Eberhardt

Joanna Kakissis 07.08.09 | 4:06 PM ET

Martha Gellhorn, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Nikos Kazantzakis, Ryszard Kapuscinski

Love Robert Reid’s suggestion of Chekov.

Michael Yessis 07.09.09 | 2:23 PM ET

Thanks for all the suggestions! Clearly this could have been expanded this far beyond the 39 on the list.

And to think this was initially a Top 10 list…

JackieB 07.10.09 | 11:15 AM ET

Graham Greene, Rudyard Kipling, Paul Theroux, W. Somerset Maugham…..clearly, I have a thing for writers.

pelu awofeso 07.12.09 | 6:43 AM ET

David Attenborough wows me on end

pelu awofeso 07.12.09 | 6:44 AM ET

as does Jane Goodall

Grizzly Bear Mom 07.14.09 | 2:22 PM ET

the adventuress of Grizzly Bear Mom!, not that anyone other than myself would be interested.

Bill 07.18.09 | 10:19 AM ET

Why is Tenzing Norgay on the list but not Edmund Hillary? They did climb Everest together. Hillary then devoted his life to working for the betterment of the Sherpa people. On the other hand, I suppose Tenzing has been viewed by westerners as the junior partner in the endeavor, which he assuredly was not.

Scribetrotter 07.19.09 | 3:17 AM ET

Ella ‘Kini’ Maillart, of Switzerland, died only a few years ago in her nineties and was a precursor of the female athlete/explorer… her books are filled with atmosphere and although she was deeply troubled in many ways, she was also a trailblazer.

Drew 07.23.09 | 9:43 AM ET

Uhm, Ibn Batutta?  His book is a classic.

Michael Yessis 07.23.09 | 10:50 AM ET

More great suggestions everyone. Thanks!

Bill: I put Tenzing Norgay on the list because the name itself mentally transports me more than Edmund Hillary.

Drew: Ibn Batutta is representing, but as Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta.

steve 09.01.09 | 7:55 PM ET

Great list. It must have been hard to stop at 39.

I like seeing Tenzing Norgay on the list, but I would be tempted to add Jon Krakauer. Well, maybe not Jon, but his book was amazing…

I would definately add Ernest Shackleton!

And I would consider adding any of the Apollo astronauts (the ultimate “travelers”)...


trade show displays

David 09.03.09 | 7:30 PM ET

Conquerors, adventurists, venal knaves and rascals fleeing the bailiffs are all fine with me, but they have to have written about their journey (or someone has to have written about it).  The Hero must go on a journey, have adventures and come home and tell about them.  People have been making epic journeys since our progenitors wandered out of Africa.  If they don’t get written up — if we don’t get to see the individual making the journey — it doesn’t move me. 

And why are Estevanico and Sacagawea on the list and Cabeza de Vaca and Lewis & Clark not?

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