Your luxurious getaway vs. my top 5 trailblazers: Who’s the real adventurer?

In the world of modern luxury travel, adventure and danger often go hand in hand. The desire to explore exotic corners of the globe while enjoying the finest accommodations and experiences is the hallmark of today’s luxury seekers like you and I. But, long before the era of private jets, flights to space and luxury resorts, there were a set of intrepid travellers who blazed trails through remote lands, combining their quest for discovery with a thirst for the privileged lifestyle.

As readers of ALuxuryTravelBlog.com with a taste for luxury and intrigue, I’m sure, like me, you share a passion for both the finer things in life and the thrill of adventure. In my latest blog, I’m going to take you on a journey back in time to meet who I would consider contenders for the top 5 most intrepid travellers of the last century, exploring their motives, the destinations they explored, and the intriguing discoveries they made during their amazing journeys.

1. Wilfred Thesiger: The master of Arabian Sands

Motives: Embracing desert solitude and cultural immersion

My absolute favourite and a huge inspiration to me is Wilfred Thesiger, who was a British explorer born in 1910. Wilfred sought the solace of the Arabian deserts and a profound cultural immersion. His motivation lay in experiencing the harsh, beauty of the desert and understanding the traditional Bedouin way of life, which he loved.

Destinations: The enigmatic Arabian Sands and Ethiopia’s rugged Danakil Depression

Thesiger’s most famous journeys took him through the vast emptiness of the Arabian Sands, including (famously) the Rub’ al Khali, one of the world’s harshest deserts. He also explored Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression, known for its really harsh conditions and active volcanoes.

Discoveries: Insights into Bedouin life and the resilience of Ethiopian tribes

During his travels, Thesiger documented the lives of Bedouin tribes and Ethiopian tribal communities, providing valuable insights into their cultures and traditions. His writings, notably “Arabian Sands” and “The Danakil Diary,” offered a unique window into the challenges and triumphs of desert life.

I first learnt about Thesiger during a trip to Africa where I had the time to hear his amazing book “Arabian Sands” via audiobook which I definitely need to buy in hardback.

2. Alexandra David-Néel: The Tibetan trailblazer

Motives: Spiritual enlightenment and exploration of mysterious Tibet

Another fascinating travel legend is Alexandra David-Néel, a French-Belgian explorer born in 1868. Alexandra was a pioneering traveler, writer, and Buddhist scholar. Her primary motivation was to explore Tibetan Buddhism and the hidden mystical practices of Tibetan lamas (teachers of the Dharma). Alexandra sought a deep spiritual enlightenment through her travels and, like me, wished to share her discoveries with the world.

Destinations: Forbidden Lhasa, Tibet and inner Asia’s enigmatic landscape

David-Néel’s most notable journey led her to the forbidden city of Lhasa, Tibet, where she became one of the first Western women to enter the sacred city. She also explored remote regions of Inner Asia, including the Himalayas and India.

Discoveries: Introduction of Tibetan Buddhism to the Western world

During her travels, David-Néel immersed herself in Tibetan Buddhism, studying under lamas and delving into meditation practices. Her writings, including “My Journey to Lhasa,” introduced Western audiences to Tibetan Buddhism and the mystical experiences she encountered.

3. Osa and Martin Johnson: Safari pioneers of the wild

Motives: A passion for wildlife adventure and exploration

My list of top five inspirations wouldn’t be whole without recognising Osa and Martin Johnson, an American couple born in the late 19th century, renowned pioneers in the realms of safari travel and wildlife exploration. This travel genre holds a special place in my heart, just as it did in theirs. Their unwavering drive stemmed from a profound love for adventure and an unending fascination with the world’s most extraordinary animals. Their dedication to documenting and sharing their wildlife experiences prompted a serendipitous moment of reflection, particularly when recalling our past ownership of the esteemed family safari business, Norman Carr Safaris.

Destinations: The vast Serengeti plains of Africa and the enchanted rainforests of Borneo

The Johnsons embarked on numerous expeditions to Africa, capturing remarkable footage of African wildlife in its natural habitat. They also explored the jungles of Borneo, documenting the indigenous tribes and pristine ecosystems.

Discoveries: Documenting Africa’s majestic wildlife and Borneo’s indigenous tribes

Osa and Martin Johnson’s cinematic creations and photographic masterpieces offered the world a window into Africa’s rich tapestry of wildlife, featuring majestic lions, formidable elephants, and enigmatic rhinoceroses. Their lens also captured the vibrant cultures and time-honored traditions of Borneo’s indigenous tribes, playing a vital role in safeguarding their heritage. It’s truly remarkable to consider that their groundbreaking efforts laid the foundation for the opulent journeys we enjoy in the present day.

4. Jacques-Yves Cousteau: Beneath the ocean’s veil

Motivation: Unveiling the mysteries of the deep

I’m sure anyone born in the 1960’s will remember staying up to watch Jaques Cousteau’s weekly underwater documentaries on TV back in the 70’s.  Jacques-Yves Cousteau, a French naval officer and marine explorer, was born in 1910. His motivation lay in revealing the secrets of the ocean, its uncharted depths, and the fascinating creatures that inhabited it. Cousteau sought to raise awareness about the importance of ocean conservation through his expeditions.

Destinations: Coral reefs, Amazon River and Antarctica

Cousteau embarked on numerous underwater expeditions, exploring coral reefs worldwide, venturing into the Amazon River to study freshwater ecosystems, and even conducting research in the icy waters of Antarctica. His iconic research vessel, the Calypso, became synonymous with marine exploration.

Discoveries: Pioneering marine research and the wonders of the underwater world

Throughout his career, Cousteau made groundbreaking discoveries, including the study of coral reefs’ intricate ecosystems and the rich biodiversity of the Amazon River. His inventions, such as the Aqua-Lung (a precursor to modern scuba gear), revolutionised underwater exploration and made it accessible to a broader audience. Cousteau’s films and documentaries, including “The Silent World,” introduced the world to the mesmerising beauty of the oceans and played a pivotal role in ocean conservation efforts.

5. Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke: Nile navigators and Victorian adventurers

Motives: Unraveling the mystery of the Nile’s source

Last but not least, my number 5. In the heart of the Victorian era, Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke were driven by a shared motivation: to unravel the age-old mystery of the source of the Nile River, one of the most sought-after geographical mysteries of their time.

Destinations: The waters of East Africa, including Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria

Their epic journey led them to the vast waters of East Africa, including Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria. These lakes held the key to solving the mystery of the Nile’s source, a question that had fascinated explorers for centuries.

Discoveries: Confirming Lake Victoria as the Nile’s source and Nile River mysteries

After numerous hardships and trials, Burton and Speke confirmed that Lake Victoria was indeed the source of the Nile, a discovery of monumental importance. Their pioneering exploration provided valuable insights into the geography, culture, and history of the African continent, making them iconic figures in the annals of exploration.

Here we have it, my selection of the top 5 intrepid explorers, who were always on the quest for adventure, and occasionally, a touch of luxury, in their relentless pursuit of discovery. While the world may seem more explored today, I invite you, as a fellow luxury traveler, to take a moment during your next journey to envision your destination as these pioneers might have seen it.

Kerrie Potts

Kerrie Potts is CEO at Exclusive Private Villas. Exclusive Private Villas offers exquisite, handpicked luxury villas around the world. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. When I’m not travelling I love to read travel books. Obviously I’ve heard of most of these but there are 3 here to add to my must read list. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. I visited Abu Dhabi and read some Thesinger to get into the mood. We stayed Between the Bridges which would have been a wilderness when Thesinger began his adventures.

    He probably crossed the waterway somewhere near where the Ritz-Carlton is now to head towards the Empty Quarter.

  3. Who’s the real adventurer? I can see a great TV series on that one.

    You would need a huge budget to make a documentary that did each justice to each of these amazing trailblazers. Could it be a job for Netflix?

    Who would be a narrator who could do justice to each of these great trailblazers?

  4. This was a fascinating read. It would be nice to have a few more pieces on travel books, there’s so much great travel writing out there.

  5. As I’ve got a hip replacement coming up soon it will be sometime before I’m able to do any adventurous travel. I’m going to order some of these books so that I can at least do some armchair travelling to satisfy my wanderlust.

  6. It may be the excitement of travel but I’ve always believed that some of the best writing around is inspired by travel.

  7. Thank you for including and highlighting the pioneering documentary achievements of Martin and Osa Johnson! Their photos can be seen at the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum in Osa’s hometown of Chanute, Kansas and at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House at Walt Disney World in Florida.

    1. Conrad,

      Thanks for your kind comments and information on Osa’s museum and Animal Kingdom. There pioneering work to date is testament enough but to acknowledged so strongly by the Disney corporation must be a proud achievement too.

      Best wishes,

  8. Some people may say that it’s too earlier to be thinking about Xmas pressies … I always say if you see something good then get it.

    The books here solve at least 3 Xmas present issues for me.

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