From a distance – or, rather, from the perspective of Google Maps -- the Chesterfield Islands are located somewhere between Australia, Papua New-Guinea and New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean. They are tiny chunks of land, rock outcrops for the most part, uninhabited save for the sea birds who use them as resting places.
Very few people have ever seen the Chesterfield Islands from up close. And nobody really cares, either. For tourists, the lure of these tiny islands is virtually nil.
But Don Parrish has been there anyway, though his visit was brief and he only actually set foot on one of them. It was in 2011. Stormy seas and strong rains meant he arrived at the islands later than planned and could only make his landing in the middle of the night. To do so, he and his buddy Bob Bonifas had to climb out of the vessel they had chartered into a rubber dinghy and then strike out into the darkness in what they hoped was the right direction. It was risky, but it worked out in the end. Upon their arrival, frightened birds began clamoring wildly. Parrish tried to find a French navy memorial stone so that he could have his picture taken in front of it to properly document his visit. But in the miserable weather conditions, they were unable to find it. After about 40 minutes, he and Bonifas gave up and were motored back to the ship by the crew.
A useless excursion? Perhaps. But Parrish was satisfied. He could put another check mark on the list. One of 875. That’s the number of destinations listed on the website Most Traveled People, or MTP for short. It isn't just a list of countries, but also of regions, archipelagos and islands. After all, just because you've been to France doesn't mean you've visited Martinique -- or the Chesterfields, which also belong to France. "On the Road to Everywhere," is MTP’s motto. The site has more than 12,000 registered users and it includes a ranking to show the number of places a person has visited. And according to the rankings, Don Parrish is the closest to having seen every place on the list, only missing 25 check marks. He is No. 1, the "most traveled man on earth." At least for the moment. At least according to the list.
No one has visited as many territories as he has -- and that likely also includes the rest of the people on the planet, even those not included in the ranking. After all, only true destination hunters have any real reason to focus their travel attentions on the furthest-flung corners of the planet. Don Parrish calls it "systematic travel," a term that sounds both bureaucratic and bizarre, a contradiction in and of itself. Systematic travel – what is that supposed to be?
Unfortunately, we cannot accompany him on one of his trips. He says he personally wouldn't have anything against it, it's just that, for the places left on the list, he needs special permits or will have to take long voyages by ship or be prepared to take advantage of spontaneous rides on board special transports. It's not the kind of thing where you can easily take someone along with you. So instead we meet with the world’s No. 1 traveler at his home in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove. It’s one of these typical subdivisions full of light colored gable houses surrounded by green lawns and a couple of trees. The home he owns is one of the more modest ones. "Other people spend their money on big cars and property," he says, almost apologetically. "I spend my money on travel." He doesn’t look like the typical weathered adventurer. He’s short, with soft hands and has a slight stoop when he walks. His hair is thinning and his moustache is neatly trimmed. Parrish is 72 years old. Will he manage to make it to all the destinations left on the list? We decide not to ask.
A map of the world hangs in a tiny hallway, but there’s not a single pin stuck in it. "And why should I? The map would be completely covered," he says with a broad smile. We continue in socks to his living room, where shoes are forbidden, a custom he picked up while visiting Japan. There’s also no evidence in the living room of his one-of-a-kind travel career – no collection of souvenirs or trophies. There are a few African statuettes, a landscape panorama from Indonesia, two idyllic Wild West winter landscapes. There are tasteful decorations, but no chaotic bric-a-brac from around the world. That, though, wouldn't really be something one would expect from a systematic traveler anyway.