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Historic Travelers Who Will Inspire Your Next Trip: 100 to 1500 AD

Historic Travelers Who Will Inspire Your Next Trip: 100 to 1500 AD | CosmosMariners.com

I'm about to tell you something that will rock your world, so get ready:

Travel existed before 1981.


I know. It's hard to believe that people would be interested in leaving their hometowns prior to Instagram, Facebook, and Polaroid cameras, but it happened. And, given that travel blogs, Lonely Planet, the Travel Channel, and Rick Steves didn't exist a few decades ago, it's a wonder that people found themselves anywhere.

But these historic travelers did go out into the world despite the lack of infrastructure and amenities to which modern day travelers now have access. In many cases, travelers back in the day just packed their suitcases and sailed off into the horizon, hopefully to be seen again. They didn't have hotel reservations (or even a bed in many cases), a guided tour, or guaranteed meals. They either had to be very, very brave or ridiculously stupid (or maybe a little of both.)

Even today, traveling across the world is seen as this extraordinary thing: imagine what it would've been like if your only means of communication was a letter that might takes weeks or months to get home. It makes our travels now look practically worry-free.

If you, like me, find historic travelers fascinating, you'll love my new series that checks out these guys and gals who saw the world on their own terms. For the first part of this series, I've avoided the obvious ones such as Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo and delved into the less well-known, but still inspiring catalog of travelers who've come (way) before us.

Historic Travelers of the Post-Classical World

Other than (probably) fictional characters like Odysseus, we don't know much about travelers during the ancient Greek and Roman times. Yet, people were moving about quite frequently, since the Roman Empire stretched all the way to modern day England at its peak, and religious tourism to oracles and temples was quite popular.

As the ancient world gave way to the post-classical world (an era that lasted from roughly the 1st century AD to 500 AD), traveling became slightly more common for the non-demi-god set. Not only was there an interest among some groups in setting out for far shores for something other than war or religious causes, there was also an increase in people writing about their experiences.


What he's known for: A 2nd century Greek geographer, Pausanias is one of the world's first recorded historic travelers. He traveled across Greece in order to learn more about the architecture, natural beauty, and social customs in various places throughout the country. He compiled his thoughts in a 10-volume set of travel books, each of which is focused on a different area.

Travel in his footsteps: Visit key religious sites from ancient Greece, such as Delphi, to soak in the mythology and culture.

Read on: Guide to Ancient Greece by Pausanias


What he's known for: A Buddhist monk from China, Faxian (sometimes spelled Fa-Hein) set out for India at the age of 65. Young at heart and spry of foot, Faxian walked to India on his quest to find Buddhist manuscripts. His slow travels took him through modern day Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Nepal.

Travel in his footsteps: Put Lumbini, Nepal, in your GPS and start walking. Faxian traveled here as part of a pilgrimage since it was the birth place of the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama.

Read on: A Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms

Historic Travelers of the Middle Ages

There weren't too many people setting out for foreign lands in the Middle Ages (a time period that roughly spans 500-1500 AD), but there were enough to inspire Geoffrey Chaucer to write Canterbury Tales. Modeled after The Decameron, Chaucer's work is an unfinished series of tales that follows a group of pilgrims journeying from London to Canterbury Cathedral. This was a popular route for the English devout who were unable or unwilling to travel to the Holy Land, and is quite indicative of who was traveling at that time and why.

Although pilgrimages, missionary work, and other religious travel were the most popular reasons for optional travel, there were plenty of adventurers during this 1,000 year span who broke the mold and went off to see the world on their own rules.


Ramon Llull

Historic Travelers Who Will Inspire Your Next Trip: 100 to 1500 AD | CosmosMariners.com

What he's known for: There wasn't much that Ramon Llull (sometimes spelled "Lull"), a wealthy man from Majorca (then a kingdom unto itself), didn't do during his lifetime. He served as a tutor to the king, learned Arabic, traveled to the Middle East in an attempt to convert Muslims to Christianity (which caused him to be stoned in Bougie when he was 82), taught in France, wrote extensively on Christianity in multiple languages, and wrote what is considered the first novel in European literature. He's also considered a Christian mystic, philosopher, and mathematician. The only thing the guy wasn't good at was hanging out with his family: he married and had 2 kids, but left them back in Majorca to pursue his own interests.

Travel in his footsteps: There aren't many major cities in modern day France, Spain, and Italy that Llull didn't make it to (check out this map for specifics). You can also visit Algeria, though hopefully, you'll be received better than he was by the locals (that's where he was stoned nearly to death)

Read on: Doctor Illuminatus: A Ramon Llull Reader


Historic Travelers Who Will Inspire Your Next Trip: 100 to 1500 AD | CosmosMariners.com
What he's known for: Besides founding humanism, being a poet laureate, and working to save ancient Latin manuscripts, Italian scholar Petrarch is also known for being the "first tourist," thanks to his love of traveling exclusively for his own pleasure. Unlike earlier travelers, who often traveled for religious pilgrimages, educational pursuits, or empire building, Petrarch wandered to and fro just for the heck of it. 

Travel in his footsteps: Hike Mont Ventoux, a pinnacle in southern France that Petrarch climbed. He claimed he was the first to do so, and there's no evidence that he wasn't, so he wins the title.

Read on: Petrarch's Guide to the Holy Land (It should be noted that Petrarch never actually made it to the Holy Land as his seasickness prevented such a trip, but he still compiled a plethora of information for travelers undertaking this journey.)

Ibn Batutta 
(1304-1368 or 1369)

Historic Travelers Who Will Inspire Your Next Trip: 100 to 1500 AD | CosmosMariners.com
What he's known for: Originally from Tangiers, Ibn Batutta was quite the traveler. His first trip was to Mecca for a religious pilgrimage; this experience led the the 20 year old to seek experiences elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Ultimately, he traveled for 35 years, a lifelong journey that took him through 44 modern day countries and allowed him to log 75,000 miles. That's quite a feat when you consider that his means of transportation were essentially his own feet, a horse or camel (perhaps with a buggy if he was really lucky), or a non-motorized boat. Before his death, Batutta returned to Morocco and related his journeys to the Sultan's secretary, who compiled the stories in a book (see below).
Travel in his footsteps: Batutta was particularly drawn to religious sites, so visit three of the places that impressed him the most: Jersusalem's Dome of the Rock, and the mosques in Aleppo and Damascus. 
Read on: The Travels of Ibn Batutta: in the Near East, Asia, and Africa, 1325-1354

Fan Chengda

What he's known for: In a rags-to-riches kind of story, Fan Chengda rose from humble beginnings to become one of China's most well-known poets and writers in the Song Dynasty. Although he's equally famous for a series of poems he wrote later in life, we're more interested in his travel writing. Following in a long tradition of travel literature in Chinese history, Fan journeyed through the southern provinces of his country, taking meticulous notes on the geography, topography, and agriculture of each. 
Travel in his footsteps: Strap on your backpack and head to Shaoxing, Guangzhou, and Ji'an. 
Read onTreatises of the Supervisor and Guardian of the Cinnamon Sea: The Natural World and Material Culture of Twelfth-Century China

Antoine de la Sale

Historic Travelers Who Will Inspire Your Next Trip: 100 to 1500 AD | CosmosMariners.com

What he's known for: Clearly, people in the past managed to cram more into their lives than 10 modern people combined. The French writer Antoine de la Sale was no exception. The result of a liason between a local peasant and a wealthy mercenary, de la Sale served several French dukes and capped his career as governor to the sons of Louis of Luxembourg, Count of St. Pol. During his military career, he traveled to Italy multiple times; don't think his time there was all business, though. He is said to have climbed into the crater of a volcano while visiting the Lipari Islands just because he wanted to. 
Travel in his footsteps: Head to the Sibillini Mountains in Italy, where de la Sale and Louis III of Anjou ventured during Louis III's campaign to become King of Naples.
Read on: Jean de Saintre: A Late Medieval Education in Love and Chivalry

Do you think you would've been brave enough to travel during these times? Which historic traveler's adventures is most inspiring to you?

Historic Travelers Who Will Inspire Your Next Trip: 100 to 1500 AD | CosmosMariners.com

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