The 6 Most Hardcore Explorers You’ve Never Heard Of

We all crave a little adventure. It’s why we strap on our packs and head off into the unknown, to get a taste of that unexplored life.  While every moment we spend abroad makes us a little more bad ass, check out these 6 little known explorers who set the standard for unbelievable escapades abroad.

1. Alexandra David-Néel 


No one is messing with this lady.

Alexandra was born in 1868 in a suburb of Paris.  From her earliest years onward she exhibited an incredibly free spirit and sense of adventure, travelling to England, Spain, and Switzerland on her own before the age of 18.  By the age of 30 she had  traveled and studied in over 10 countries in Europe, ridden a motorcycle from Belgium to Spain (SOLO), and had even written an anarchist treatise that was deemed too hardcore for print by European publishers. Bored with the European continent, she traveled to India an only came home when she was out of funds. Later, she decided to travel to Vietnam to work as an opera singer, even though she had NO formal training in opera singing.  After performing for over a year, she proceeded to travel all over the Asian continent, visiting  Japan and Tibet, where she lived in a cave for two years learning about Asian spirituality.  Her ultimate travel craziness came during the height of WW II, when in her late 60’s she walked through much of China and India at the height of Japanese aggression in the region, eventually disguising herself as a beggar and completing a 19,000 foot trek through one of the most brutal mountain passes in the region.  She lived to be 101, even applying for a fresh passport at the age of 100 so she could once again visit Tibet.

2. George Anson 


Admiral George Anson was born in 1697 in Staffordshire, England.  He quickly developed and interest in maritime navigation, and entered the Royal Navy at the age of 15.  In less than 10 years he received his first command at the age of 24.  By 1740. he was tasked with taking a fleet to interrupt the Spanish supply lines due to the war that was underway between England and Spain.  Only intended to be a year long expedition, it would be nearly 4 years before George would see England again.  Facing disease, starvation, and attacks by the Spanish, many of the original men that started the journey would never make it home.  After losing two of his six ships to bad weather at see, he overshot his original destination and found himself crossing the Pacific on the other side of the world.  Even with his severely depleted fleet, he was able to capture one of the prize Galleons of the Spanish navy and took an insane amount of gold as reward.

Captain's crazy route around the globe

When his ships were spotted In the Chinese sea, the Chinese mistook him for a pirate captain due to his capture of the Spanish ship and the rag tag appearance of his crew.

Of the 1,854 men who had set out on the journey, only George and 187 of them would return.  He would end his official account of the voyage with this absolutely inspiring quote: ““Thus was this expedition finished, when it had lasted three years and nine months, after having, by its event, strongly evinced this important truth: That though prudence, intrepidity, and perseverance united are not exempted from the blows of adverse fortune, yet in a long series of transactions they usually rise superior to its power, and in the end rarely fail of proving successful”. 

3. Keiichi “Kei” Iwasaki


Keiichi is a modern day inspiration.  At the age of 36, Keiichi decided to start traveling the world due to his frustration making air conditioners in Japan.  Not letting his lack of funds stop him, he decided that he was going to bike around the world and make money on the way.  Keichi set out with only 2 dollars in his pocket, and has since traveled for over eight years and through thirty-seven countries.  Throughout his trip, he has been attacked by rabid dogs, gotten sick, and had his bike stolen 5 times.  The incredible thing is, he is still going and has no plan on stopping. You can read more about him at his blog

4. Alexander Gordon Laing


Alexander is a Scottish explorer who is famous for his attempts to reach Timbuktu in the 1800’s.  It was his journey that has inspired the use of Timbuktu to refer to a far away, remote location.  Setting out with his small group from Tripoli in 1825, Alexander anticipated his journey to take only a few weeks.  It would take 13 months of traveling through unknown desert, marauding bandits, and scheming locals that he would finally reach his destination. One year into his journey he was still hopelessly lost but continued on, and in a surprise attack orchestrated by a former guide and a group of bandits, he was severely wounded. He describes his severe gashes and fractures in a letter to his father as “minor inconveniences” and ended the letter with “I am nevertheless, as I have already said, doing well.”  He would finally arrive in Timbuktu several months later, only to be murdered in the city.  An unfortunate end for an explorer who would just not give up.

5. Ibn Battuta

The guy also apparently had a hell of a beard

The guy also apparently had a hell of a goatee

Ibn Battuta was born in the 1300’s in Morocco in a traditional family.  His path to unbelievable adventure started with a decision to complete a pilgramage to Mecca.  In of itself not much for the standard of insane adventurers, but it’s what he did after that really cements his position as one of the most ambitious explorers of all time.  Once he arrived in Mecca, he spontaneously decided that he was going to continue onward to (paraphrasing here) “see what the hell was out there”.   He would end up traveling for the next THREE DECADES, traveling nearly 75,000 miles and to 44 modern countries.  With no specific destination in mind, Ibn visited nearly every corner of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East in a trip that would stand unparalleled for the next 500 years.  He also is responsible for one of the first “travel diaries” in history, publishing The Travels of Ibn Battuta: in the Near East, Asia and Africa. Interestingly enough, many scholars agree that certain portions of his journal may be inaccurately embellished, showing us that even one of the most adventurous explorers of all time still felt inadequate.

6. James Holman

But seriously how is there not a movie about this guy

But seriously how is there not a movie about this guy.

James Holman is probably one of the most incredible human beings to ever live.  Born in 1786, James Holman is considered by many scholars to be the most traveled man in history.  James would traverse 250,000 miles over the course of his lifetime – Enough to go around the circumference of the Earth TEN TIMES. What makes his story even more incredible?  James Holman was BLIND. Dubbed the “Blind Traveler”, James set out to experience as much as he could, ignoring the supposed notion that a blind man was meant to be an invalid and shut-in.  His adventures included climbing an actively erupting volcano, visiting every country in Europe, fighting the slave trade in Africa, and a nearly completed overland circumnavigation of the globe.  His travels are described in the excellent book A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler.  Looking at his life, it’s hard not to think – what’s my excuse for not getting out there?