10 Incredible Record-Breaking World Trips Throughout History

We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.

History’s most famous adventurers share one thing in common — a desire to further explore the globe. Although their modes of transportation may vary among airplanes, bicycles, sailboats, or running shoes, these gutsy travelers share a thirst for adventure. The following explorers stopped at nothing to break records. Here’s how they did it.

Amelia Earhart's Flights Across the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the U.S.

Amelia Earhart sitting in a plane about to take off.
Credit: Universal History Archive/ Getty Images

As one of history’s most famous female adventurers, Amelia Earhart needs no introduction. But before she was an aviator, Earhart was a Red Cross nurse and a pre-med student who loved to watch airplanes from the ground. Then a trip in a plane changed the trajectory of her life — within two years, she learned to fly and bought a yellow airplane dubbed “the Canary.” After passing her flight test, she began undertaking several daring trips.

In 1932, she became the first woman — and the second person — to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Soon after, she became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the U.S., and the first aviator to fly solo from Hawaii to the mainland. In 1937, she attempted her boldest adventure yet — flying around the world. Sadly, this trip ended in her disappearance, when her plane went missing over the Pacific Ocean. Since her plane’s wreckage was never found, there are plenty of theories but no answers as to what happened to Earhart on her infamous final flight.

Nellie Bly's Journey Around the World in 72 Days

A formal portrait of Nellie Bly, the famous journalists and world traveler.
Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images

Before she became known for her journey around the world, Nellie Bly was a fearless female journalist. After working her way up in the industry, Bly made headlines by impersonating a patient in a woman’s asylum and then penning a revealing tell-all about her treatment. Her next stunt would go down in history — inspired by the popular book Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, Bly’s editor asked her if she wanted to circumnavigate the globe in the same amount of time. After agreeing to the challenge, she had two days to prepare, which she spent commissioning a seamstress to sew her a traveling dress and packing a modestly sized suitcase (7 inches tall by 16 inches wide).

On November 14, 1889, she boarded a German ocean liner and crossed the Atlantic, in an attempt to race around the world in under 80 days. In the end, she completed the feat in only 72 days, with a mix of land and sea travel. After departing New York, she stopped in places including England, the Suez Canal, Africa, India, Asia, and San Francisco, before circling back to where she began.

Annie Londonderry’s Bicycle Ride Around the World

A close-up portrait of Annie Londonderry, the famous bicyclists.
Credit: MediaNews Group/Reading/ Getty Images

With a single change of clothes and a pearl revolver, Annie Londonderry was the first female to ride a bicycle around the world. This astonishing feat took 15 months, from 1894 to 1895, and was supposedly attempted to “settle a wager.” As a Jewish woman in the late 19th century, she changed her name from Annie Cohen Kopchovsky to Annie Londonderry for safety reasons. The name Londonderry was chosen for marketing purposes, used to promote the Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company.

Apparently, the PR ploy was a success, because her cycling journey made the Londonderry name famous around the world. The trip included stops in Chicago; Paris; Marseilles, France; Alexandria, Egypt; Singapore, Saigon (present-day Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam); Shanghai; and San Francisco. Her achievement is even more incredible considering the gear she used — Londonderry’s bicycle weighed 44 pounds, which is quite hefty by today’s standards. As a result, she still represents female empowerment to women who are determined to break the mold.

Steve Fossett’s Hot Air Balloon Ride Around the World

Steve Fossett standing in the apparatus for his solo round the world balloon attempt.
Credit: John B. Carnett/ Getty Images

Steve Fossett was already a successful aviator when he decided in 2002 that he wanted to break a new world record. This is what led him to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon, a solo mission that took under 15 days. After launching from Australia, Fossett crossed the Pacific toward South America, flew over Chile and Argentina, and then traversed the Atlantic toward South Africa. The last leg of his journey had him drifting over the Indian Ocean until finally touching back down in Australia.

Since Fossett had no navigator at his side, he slept a mere four hours a day, in 45-minute increments. The vessel, aptly named “The Spirit of Freedom,” used a combination of hot air and helium, and its gondola is now on permanent display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Cassie De Pecol’s World Travel Record

Close-up portrait of Cassie De Pecol, the famous world traveler.
Credit: Paul Bruinooge/ Getty Images

In 2015, 23-year-old Cassie De Pecol decided to go on a big trip around the world. With $10,000 saved from babysitting jobs, De Pecol set off to visit every country in the world — 193 sovereign nations, plus Taiwan, Kosovo, and Palestine. De Pecol’s goal was not without purpose. As an ambassador for the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism, De Pecol was on a mission to endorse peace and sustainable tourism. She also wanted to encourage other women to get outside their comfort zones by visiting foreign places.

On July 24, 2015, De Pecol stepped foot in Palau, the first country on her list. Eighteen months and 26 days later, she successfully completed the journey — which she nicknamed "Expedition 196" — with countless stories to tell. One of her most impressive feats included visiting North Korea with an organized tour group based out of China. In total, she spent $198,000 from sponsors on her trip expenses, which included flights, visas, food, and tours.

Benoit Le Comte’s Swim Across the Atlantic

French marathon swimmer, Benoit Lecomte, preparing to jump into the Potomac River in DC.
Credit: MANNY CENETA/ Getty Images

Benoit Le Comte is more than just a long-distance swimmer; he is also an activist and an adventurer. In 1998, the French-born swimmer completed a career-changing journey by becoming the first person to swim across the Atlantic without a kickboard. During this trip, he swam alongside a sailboat that warded off sharks by emitting electromagnetic waves. In total, Le Comte swam a total of 3,716 non-contiguous miles over the course of 73 days. Since then, Le Comte has continued to set records — in 2018, he became the first person to attempt to swim from Tokyo to San Francisco, a journey that was filmed for the documentary The Swim (2018).

Although the 5,500-mile journey was cut short due to bad weather, the plastic debris Le Comte encountered on his long-distance swim inspired his next endeavor. The next year, he swam through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, also known as “the Vortex,” which has the highest concentration of plastic in the world. This act was done to raise awareness regarding marine pollution, which he considered far more important than breaking the next world record.

Tom Turcich’s Walk Around the World

Tom Turcich, a famous world traveler, sitting outside of his tent in the outdoors.
Credit: TheWorldWalk

Tom Turcich decided to go for a walk one day. But instead of walking around the block, Turcich wanted to walk around the world. After departing his home in New Jersey on April 2, 2015, he spent two years walking south to Uruguay. Four months into the solo journey, he adopted a dog, Savannah, who has been his walking companion ever since. With his dog alongside him, Turcich pushes his gear in a baby stroller and replaces his running shoes every 500 miles.

After walking to Uruguay, Turcich flew to Ireland and then traversed across Denmark, Spain, Italy, and Turkey. By the four-year mark, Turcich had walked across North America, South America, and even part of Antarctica. As of today, he is six years into his walking journey, and according to his Instagram account, he is currently en route through Kyrgyzstan and on track to finish his mission.

Zac Sunderland’s Sail Around the World

17 Year old Zac Sunderland setting sail aboard his 36 foot sailboat.
Credit: Al Seib/ Getty Images

In 2009, Zac Sunderland became the first person under 18 to sail around the world solo. Accustomed to adventure as a young child, Sunderland was raised by his parents on a sailboat and had learned to sail by the age of four. With money earned from his part-time job, the young sailor saved $6,500 to buy a sailboat at the age of 16. The boat, which was aptly named “Intrepid,” was Sunderland’s vessel as he sailed across three oceans and five seas.

The 13-month voyage was completed with no funds from corporate sponsors, making Sunderland a completely free agent during his time on the water. Although thrilling, the journey wasn’t without its mishaps and scares. From nearly wrecking the boat in dense fog along the Panama Canal to being approached by what appeared to be pirates in the middle of the Indian Ocean, Sunderland had to overcome incredible odds to complete his round-the-world journey.

Wiley Post's Solo Flight Around the World

Wiley Post standing outside his Winnie Mae airplane.
Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images

On July 15, 1933, Wiley Post took off from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York. Seven days, 18 hours, and 49.5 minutes later, he landed his plane in the same airfield, becoming the first person to fly around the world solo. But this record-breaking trip wasn’t his first spin around the globe. In 1931, Post flew around the northern tip of the world with co-pilot Harold Gatty in just over eight days, breaking the record previously set in 1929. Still, it was his second solo journey around the world that brought true fame.

Not only was he alone, using autopilot and a compass for navigation, but Post also flew faster and farther than other pilots at the time — 15,596 miles to be exact. The accomplishment was made more notable by the fact that the ex-oilman had lost his eye in an oil rig accident in 1926. His nationwide fame led to a dual career as a New York Times columnist and a silent film star, before he tragically died in a plane crash in Alaska, only three years after his celebrated journey around the world.

Aloha Wanderwell’s Drive Around the World

Portrait of Aloha Wanderwell sitting outside her car.
Credit: Keystone-France/ Getty Images

Often referred to as the “Amelia Earhart of the open road,” Aloha Wanderwell was a well-known adventurer in her day. The young woman, whose real name was Idris Welsh, was attending a convent school in France in 1922 when she saw an advertisement promoting a “World Tour Offer For Lucky Young Woman.” She mailed in her application and got a job as a mechanic for an expedition that was filming a travelogue featuring the Ford Model-T. At six feet tall and blonde, her good looks translated well in front of the camera, and eventually, she became the star of the show.

This promotion resulted in her driving an automobile 380,000 miles across Europe, India, China, and the U.S.S.R. Her journey across the world made her an instant celebrity, prompting her to change her name to Aloha Wanderwell. Her intrepid spirit and can-do attitude also led her to be the first woman to drive across India and the first woman to drive from Cape Town to the Nile.

Share this article:

More from the Blog

Related article image

17 of the Fanciest Restaurants Around the World

Related article image

9 Historic Speakeasies You Can Visit in the U.S.

Related article image

8 Cities to Visit If You Cruise the Mississippi