Moving Picture: Downers Grove man is world's 'most traveled'

Travel, it seems, is in Donald Parrish Jr.'s blood.

The Downers Grove man says five of his ancestors boarded the Mayflower in 1620 in search of the New World and a new life and that sense of adventure and wanderlust appears to have trickled down through the generations.

So much so, in fact, that the website recently named the 69-year-old the most traveled person in the world.

Not only has he visited all 193 counties recognized by the U.N., he has visited every state, province and region within those countries along with many of the most important islands around the world.

He began his travels in the 1960s and is a member of the Travelers Century Club, which requires that members have visited 100 territories across the globe.

By the end of this year, Parrish says, he will have visited every one of the 321 territories on the club's list.

“At one level,” he says, “I'm running out of world.”

Parrish calls himself an “extreme” traveler who finds the journey is its own reward. Reading history, he says, helps him to better understand the places he visits and to see links to the past and between locations.

He travels about six months a year, often alone but sometimes with one or two others to share the costs.

“I travel in every imaginable way,” he says, including chartering planes and ships to reach remote islands that don't show up on most tourism brochures.

He's no stranger to dangerous places. When he wanted to visit Somalia in 2010, his travel agent refused to help, fearing Parrish would be kidnapped. He made the trip anyway and was able to find a contact there who helped him with security.

When he visited a region called Puntland, his party traveled in two Ford Explorers with four guards carrying AK-47s.

“It turned out to be an absolutely fantastic place to visit,” he says. “It's really quite interesting when you travel with your own armed guards. When you go to the hotel, people take notice of you.”

Parrish will be the first to tell you that extreme travel isn't for everyone.

“You have to be willing to suffer,” he says. “If you value your own convenience, forget it.”

It also helps if you know your history, have some intellectual curiosity and understand that every country has something different to offer.

“As you travel you start picking up pieces of big themes and you start understanding it in a lot more depth,” he says.

Even with his many travels, he knows he'll never reach all the sites listed on, which was started by a man named Charles Veley and lists 874 places to visit in the world.

“No one will ever finish that list,” Parrish says. “It's just too difficult.”

He says he'll have to wait for more peaceful times to visit two places still on his to-do list: the Gaza Strip and Guantanamo Bay.

For now, he says, he's focusing his travel goals on U.N. World Heritage Sites.

“Some of them are just jaw-dropping wonders of the world,” he says.

When people learn of his many travels, they frequently ask Parrish about his favorite spot on the globe. When they press him, he always smiles and answers in several languages. But the translation is always the same: the United States of America.

To read more about his travels and to get links to locations he's been and World Heritage sites, visit his website at

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  Don Parrish of Downers Grove is called the most travelled person in the world. Bev Horne/
Don Parrish of Downers Grove with a lemur at the Vakona Lodge, in Madagascar in 2009. courtesy of Donald Parrish
Don Parrish poses by a Dragon Blood tree on the island of Socotra. courtesy of Donald Parrish
  Don Parrish looks over some photos on his laptop. He doesn't collect souvenirs when he travels, but has around 80,000 photos. Bev Horne/
Don Parrish of Downers Grove made a visit to the South Pole in 2011. courtesy of Donald Parrish
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