Of course no list of travel accounts would be complete without Marco Polo. His story is considered the quintessential story of world travel, few are unfamiliar with at least the basic outline of his adventure. He departed Venice in 1271, travelled to China and returned with tales of wonder, wealth and a noodle recipe. Truth is, in my opinion at least, that when compared to some others in this list his story is a bit of a disappointment. By the time he finished his travels, he started 55 years before Ibn Battuta, his journey was the longest recorded and his account, often discounted, was referred to as The Million Lies. There remains controversy as to the validity of his story.
But he has, more than any other single figure in history, compelled travellers, tourists and idle wanderers to leave the familiar in search of a world that was alien to them. He accompanied his father and Uncle, who themselves had previously made the journey starting in 1260, from Venice to the Black Sea then eastward along the famed silk trade routes to the Mongol capital of Khanbaliq or modern day Beijing. Polo travelled throughout the far east in service of Kublai Khan acting as ambassador to various kingdoms in the far east and perhaps waging war on a recalcitrant city in the south of China.
The trio departed China in 1291 with a young Mongol princess, Cocachin, intended as the bride for the Mongol ruler of Persia. They took the southern sea route bypassing modern Vietnam, navigating the Straits of Melaka, sailed to Sri Lanka, India and on to the Persian Gulf where they delivered the young princess. From Persia they made their way to Constantinople then returned to Venice by sea in 1295. Marco settled in Venice and became a successful merchant never to travel to Asia again. His story would have been lost to posterity had it not been for the wars between Venice and Genoa, Polo was captured and imprisoned and spent his time in custody telling his story to a certain Rustichello of Pisa who made transcripts of Polo’s account which had been handed down to us as the most famous travel story ever told.