THE world’s most well-travelled person has been to an incredible 852 places across the globe.
Don Parrish was officially named as the number one most travelled person after reaching Conway Reef, off Fiji.
To get to the remote spot, which is around 450km away from the main islands of Fiji, he chartered a boat along with another traveller. It certainly wasn’t the first time Don had been on a boat — he has visited 60 islands by ship as “that is the only way to get there”.
His incredible journey to Conway Reef is one of hundreds which have seen him visit all 26 cantons of Switzerland, all 16 states of Germany and all 85 political subdivisions in Russia over 13 visits.
His trip to North Korea even made front page news as he was one of the first US tourists to visit the secretive state.
Making it as number one requires extreme dedication and as Don himself acknowledges “some suffering”.
The 73-year-old, who lives just outside Chicago, got the travel bug after spending summer 1965 in Germany working in a metal factory. It was his first time abroad apart from a day trip to Mexico.
Now he joins other extreme travellers in reaching parts of the world most of us can only dream of. He has been to Easter Island, Somalia, Curacao, Madagascar and North Korea.
He has been to the narrowest part of the Khyber Pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan and has stood on the Arctic Circle in Finland.
Now retired, he worked hard in telecommunications and saved his money to be able to take trips around the globe.
Most of the places left on Don’s list to visit are remote islands — including the Bounty Islands (New Zealand), the Scott Islands (Canada) and Paracel Islands (South China Sea) — which are difficult to reach. Guantánamo Bay is also one of those he is yet to reach.
For Don extreme travel also means that he is one of 23 who have completed the Travellers’ Century Club, visiting the 325 countries or territories on their list. He has been to all 193 United Nations countries and been to more than 1000 places on the Nomad Mania list.
Only 23 people have completed any version of the Travellers’ Century Club list since 1954 — compared to 24 who have orbited the moon.
Don — who has never married and has no children — said: “I spent the summer of 1965 in Germany working as an unskilled labourer in a metal factory. I lived with a family.
“What made this a transformative experience is that I refused to speak a word of English. It is a good way to get over the idea that the world revolves around yourself.
“As part of that summer I took a vacation for about eight or nine days with a German group into France on a camping trip.
“My first trip around the world was in 1971. I still have a copy of my air ticket. This was a very expensive trip for me at the time — the cost of a new car. But to see all of these wonders of the world, cultures, cities in a span of just six weeks was another transformative experience.
“Easter Island is one of the must-visit places for a serious traveller. I was there about six years ago and there are so many restrictions. I was so lucky to see it in 1994 too.
“In 1976, I rode an ostrich in South Africa and did a flying dismount which got me the only standing ovation of my life.
“I was at the South Pole on its 100th anniversary (of Amundsen reaching it).
“I have been outside the US for about 11 years — about 250 trips. I have also travelled for a year or so in the US while I visited all 50 states.
“I like to see the real place where things happened and I like making connections. I travel by myself, with one person, with a few people, small group, large group, with driver, with driver and guide.
“I live frugally — no smoking, no coffee, old cars and I have spent my life savings.”
Not every trip is smooth sailing and Don says travelling at night in remote places is one of the most dangerous parts of the journeys he makes.
“In 2010 I visited Bossaso, Puntland, Somalia. My travel agent refused to help me because he thought I would get kidnapped,” he said.
“So I requested security from the local guy I used to plan this trip. The word security got translated into four armed guards who stayed in their own room at the hotel and even followed me from my room to the computer room when I did email at 11pm at night.
“I visited North Korea with four others and since we were the first American tourists in North Korea for two or three years, the Los Angeles Times had a front-page story on the five of us.
“To be in the tribal areas of Pakistan required us to have a rifleman for our protection. It took us nine days to get from Cape Town to Marion on a small sailing vessel with a four-man crew and four passengers.
“There was no shower on the ship. We experienced stormy seas, people were sea sick. There were no chairs to sit on, only benches. That was the one time that I thought I might not make it mentally.”
While Don acknowledges there have been dangerous times and some hair-raising moments there have been a whole host of unique times along the way too.
He said: “In 2007, I was in Ghana with my German guide, Herbert Goebels, and we attended the court of the Ashanti king. I also met the beautiful Alexandra Rosenfeld, Miss Europe of 2006, while on my travels in Congo.”
But for all his travel when asked where his favourite place in the world is, Don — who said he has no plans to retire from travelling — replies: “My favourite place is the one I have been to most. It’s called home.”