by Hugh Morris, The Daily Telegraph, August 14, 2018
We travel for many reasons - be it business, pleasure, escape or adventure - but for some, it's a competition - to be crowned the most prolific voyager on the planet.
Mosttraveledpeople.com exists for that very reason, to document the travellers who have ticked off nearly every corner of the globe.
The site - MTP for short - breaks the world down into 871 places - from countries and territories to island groups, enclaves and exclaves, and its 18,400-plus members have signed up to see them all.
It is by this list of 871 “items”, as the site describes them, that the members are judged. You're labelled a “couch potato” if you've visisted 24 sites visited or less, and placed in the Hall of Fame if you’ve seen more than 400. There are six categories in between.
For the purpose of this article, the Hall of Fame, boasting just 283 members, is our focus.
Don Parrish sits at the top of the table, having visited 852 of the places on the list, leaving just 22 remaining, one fewer than his closest rival, Robert Bonifas.
So what of the top 10? Eight of them are American, one (in eighth place, Jorge Sanchez) a Spaniard, and one from Switzerland (Roman Bruehwiler, in at fourth). The highest ranked Briton is Harry Mitsidis, in 11th, and to break into the top 10, you'll need to have visited at least 773 of the places.
Who are the world's most travelled people?
First, the current champion, Don Parrish, who Telegraph Travel interviewed recently about 10 of the places he most enjoyed in the last decade.
On his page at MTP, the Illinois native says he retired young and that travel is a hobby he shares with history. “What a joy to visit places you have read about," he writes. "What an education to talk to people all over the world.”
In second place, having visited just one fewer places than Parrish, is another Illinois gentleman, Robert Bonifas, founder and CEO of an alarm and security firm. He says: “I have travelled for years but never kept score before discovering MTP and had over 100 countries before registering.”
His favourite places are, he says, Rio, Hong Kong and Dubai, among others.
The third-placed traveller, lagging somewhat behind having visited only 833 places, is Charles Veley from California, whose travel was aided by his work for a software company and time in the US Air Force.
The two to complete the top five, our Swiss friend Roman Bruehwiler in fourth, and Californian Bill Altaffer, both work in the travel industry.
Of particular note regarding Mr Bruehwiler is that he visited 195 countries in one year in 2006, under the banner of Touch the World. His website, 80tage.ch details how he achieved this, staying only five minutes in some nations including Turkmenistan and Mozambique.
He said: “The thing that's really fascinating about Touch the World is the organizational challenge, putting a puzzle of 195 pieces in it's right order. The fact that we're bringing humanitarian aid to those countries, seems very satisfying to me."
Aside from Christina Beekenkamp, entered alongside her husband Willem in 11th place, none of the top 20 is female.
What counts as a visit?
Most people recognise that you can never truly cross a country off your list on the basis of a single trip, but that’s not how it works at MTP.
The proof required of a “visit” to a country is, ideally, a passport entry stamp, then in descending order, an airline, rail or boat stub, credit card receipts at the destination, signed affidavits or photographic evidence.
But what counts a visit (it makes clear an airport transfer does not)?
Broadly speaking, one must pass through immigration or passport control, but if not possible “the traveller must stand with both feet on land fully within those borders. This includes landing on islands. Sailing through territorial waters alone does not count, nor does flying through territorial airspace”.
It also specifies that if landing on an island is prohibited by law then it is acceptable “to touch a portion of the island above the waterline”.
MTP is aware that the nature of its box-ticking challenge is somewhat at odds with the horizon-broadening benefits of travel. It asks how can anyone really define "most travelled"?
“MTP uses the phrase ‘Most Travelled’ to mean pure geographic coverage of the land on Earth,” the sites says. “There is no further subjective criteria. This is because different people have different travel goals, and different travel styles. For example, some people choose to spend substantially in order to travel in luxury, while others take great pride in their resourcefulness and see authenticity in their frugality.
“Some strive only to eat local dishes, to use local transportation, to find local romance, etc. - and count their successes in their own individual ways. While such experiences are certainly core to everyone's travel experience, they are individually subjective. And as such, MTP does not try to objectify or quantify them.”
Can I join the club?
MTP says even if you have never been anywhere you can join “you’re still very welcome”: “The important thing is that you are interested in travel, in geography, and in life experiences around the world. As long as you truly aspire to be well-traveled, you can be one of the Most Travelled.”
Alternatively, if you are ticked off more than 100 countries on your travels you can join the Travellers’ Century Club, which lists 325 “territories” on its target list.