Inspirational Eco-Friendly Pioneers

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The world is full of extraordinary people achieving some mind-blowing feats of nature, but a surprising number of those hitting the record books are also unknowing champions for eco-friendly travel. Whether they were in it for the personal challenge, to raise money for charity, or simply because opportunity presented itself, these 7 pioneering travelers rode across countries on horseback, sailed the seven seas, cycled the globe, or clocked up some impressive distances on foot, becoming an inspiration not only for those of us who dream about expanding our travel horizons, but for everyone who frets that the only way to bear the weight of their carbon footprints is to stay home.

1. Peter Jenkins

There are few better ways to turn your back on modern technology and go back to basics, than to set out on a mammoth cross-country hiking expedition, but few would manage the extremes reached by Peter Jenkins on his trailblazing walk across America. Recently graduated from Alfred University and disillusioned by the Watergate generation, Jenkins’ started out from New York in October 1973, undertaking a journey that took him an incredible 5 and a half years to complete, finally culminating in Oregon in 1979. The mind-blowing journey traversed the country, seeing Jenkins taken in by a black family in North Carolina, experiencing a commune in Tennessee, working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, reconnecting with God as he trekked through the South and even getting married along route (his wife finished the journey with him). Oh, and working his way through around 40 pairs of shoes. The first part of his journey was chronicled in the 1970’s bestseller ‘A Walk Across America’, which remains one of history’s greatest travel memoirs – an ode not only to the determination and perseverance of Jenkins himself, but to his beloved country in all its vast and varied glory.

2. Evliya Çelebi

A revolutionary traveler far ahead of his time, Evliya Çelebi’s extensive cross-country travels throughout the Ottoman Empire were remarkable not only for their vast scope and impressive distance covered, but for the detailed accounts he provided of his accomplishments – no mean feat when you consider this was back in the 17th Century. Trailblazing routes atop his trusty Arab steeds, Evliya Çelebi inspired a group of modern-day adventurers to follow in his footsteps back in 2009, waymarking the ‘Evliya Çelebi Way’, which covers the early stages of the legendary traveler’s 1671 journey to Mecca (covered in the Evliya Çelebi Way guidebook by Caroline Finkel and Kate Clow). The trekking route is a 621 miles (1000km) long route best undertaken by horseback, beginning in Hersek in the in Altınova district and running through Afyon, Uşak, Eski Gediz, and Simav, through many villages and country roads little-visited by tourists. It’s not just about the route itself though – Turkey’s long-standing equestrian traditions, acclaimed horse breeds and its modern day renaissance as a popular horseback riding destination make it a great place to rediscover one of the oldest methods of eco-friendly travel available. As historian Professor Gerald MacLean puts it: “Turkey is a land that asks to be traveled on horseback” and with its acres of still-undiscovered landscapes and incredibly varied terrain, it’s easy to see what he means.

3. Ed Stafford

Sweltering temperatures, deadly tropical diseases, and unforgiving terrain; the Amazon might be one of the world’s most incredible natural landscapes, but its not without its potential hazards. While most of us are content to drift downstream on a passenger boat or spend a few days wildlife spotting in the jungle beneath a haze of mosquito repellent, English adventurer Ed Stafford took his journey of the region to the extremes, becoming the first person to walk the entire length of the Amazon River. A former British Army Captain and expedition leader for conservation company Trekforce, Stafford undertook the challenge for several charities, setting out on 2nd April 2008 and taking over 2 years to complete the journey from the southern coast of Peru to the Brazilian Atlantic coast where he arrived on 9th August 2010. The popular TV series ‘Walking the Amazon’ aired the following year, documenting the expedition, which also won Stafford the 2011 European Adventurer of the Year title, as well as a place in the Guinness Book of Records. Whilst Stafford remains insouciant about his eco-warrior status, his epic trek served not only to draw the world’s attention to the area’s immense beauty, but to highlight the fragility of the natural ecosystems and the need to encourage preservation efforts and prevent deforestation.

4. Jessica Watson

In the days when most of us have foregone sailing boats and cross-channel ferries for budget flights and stopover packages, Jessica Watson is one of a new generation of sailors proving that the elements are all you need to get you from point A to point B. A modern Australian heroine of the seas, the 16 year old sailed around the world in a remarkable 210-day journey setting out on October 18th 2009. Sadly, the trip fell short of the World Sailing Speed Record Council’s criteria for circumnavigation of the globe, meaning that the record-breaking trip was not officially recognized (Jessica would have been the youngest person to sail non-stop and unassisted around the world), but her trip hit headlines nonetheless, proving that age and gender pose no boundaries when it comes to wanderlust. Jessica’s boat, ‘Ella’s Pink Lady’, now housed in Sydney’s National Maritime museum, employed a self-steering windvane system, harnessing wind power to help propel the boat across the seven seas.

5. Annie Londonderry


Not only did Annie Londonderry snap up the title of the first woman to cycle around the world, but she pioneered a new wave of feminist thinking along with it. “I am a ‘new woman’ if that term means that I believe I can do anything that any man can do,” she is famously quoted as having said, and she certainly proved critics wrong after completing her 15-month journey. 25 years old, a mother of 3, and having never ridden a bike before, Annie might have been a unlikely candidate for such an undertaking, but never one to shy away from a challenge (supposedly the idea was first posed to her as a bet), she set out from Boston in 1894. Cycling through Europe, across the Mediterranean to Egypt, sailing to Singapore and crossing much of Asia before returning to San Francisco and cycling back across the United States to her family in Boston, the journey cemented Londonderry not only as one of the most remarkable women of her generation, but one of the most entrepreneurial – she made around $5000 on her travels, using her bicycle as ‘billboard’ space, undertaking numerous interviews and photo opportunities on route and writing about her journey on her return. She even gained a sponsorship deal from the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company of Nashua – from whom she took her name.

6. Ewart Grogan


History is full of tales of the insurmountable lengths people have gone for love, but few are quite as extraordinary as that of Ewart Grogan, a British explorer who became the first person to walk across Africa, in an effort to prove his worthiness and strength of character to his love interest’s disapproving stepfather. Assumedly his incredible show of perseverance was convincing enough, as after a 2 ½ year, 4,500 mile journey from Cape Town to Cairo, being made a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and being granted an audience with Queen Victoria, Grogan finally got to marry his sweetheart. Fast forward 100 years and American journalist Julian Smith immortalized the journey in print with his book Crossing the Heart of Africa, following in the footsteps of Grogan to prove his sincerity to his fiancée’s family. It seems flowers and diamonds just don’t cut it these days.

7. Robert Garside

Forest Gump might be the cross-country runner that first springs to mind, but his real life counterpart, Robert Garside, didn’t just run across America, he became the first person to run around the world. Dubbing himself the “Runningman,” the British athlete started out from New Delhi, India on 20 October 1997 and completed the route nearly 6 years later. Along the way he racked up 5 days in a Chinese prison (due to visa issues), crossed 29 countries on six different continents, covered around 35,000 miles (56,000 kilometers) and even met his future wife along the way. The expedition wasn’t without its share of controversy though, with a vocal group of naysayers insisting that his claims didn’t ring true – accusations that were thoroughly investigated and dismissed by Guinness before he finally made it into the Guinness World Record book in 2007.

Read more about ecotourism around the world:

Every traveler is free to create their own story. Whether or not your journey is written of hundreds of years later, your travels can still employ the principles of ecological responsibility and cultural sustainability. Global Basecamps specializes in creating custom Tanzania safaris, and sustainable Galapagos cruises, among many other featured destinations. Call one of our travel specialists today to begin planning your adventure!

Photo credits:  Wandering the worldgirolamerickzSheba_AlsoMichael Neubertdelayed gratificationmrtruebeliever

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