A Lifetime of Travel
At 850 places and counting, this Downers Grove man follows his dream — all around the world.
According to members of the Most Traveled People website, the Earth is made up of 875 separate places, and so far no member has gone everywhere on earth. But “the farthest along is Donald M. Parrish, Jr. of Downers Grove, who has visited 850, or 98 percent of the places.”
Parrish, 71, began with a solo Dallas-to-Chicago flight at the age of 10. Before the trip, his father said, “When you come back, the plane lands in Fort Worth. Get a limo and come to the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas.”
Despite the information not being written down, the child remembered to ask the pilot when the return flight landed, “Where do I get a limousine?”
The surprised pilot asked where his parents were.
“At the hotel waiting for me.”
Acknowledging now that “the world was different then,” Parrish was led through a door marked ‘Authorized Personnel’ and to the airport limo stand.
An auspicious start.
At age 20, Parrish first traveled internationally — to Germany with 60 other University of Texas students.
His career at Bell Labs, opening the Naperville office in 1966, included a stint as planning manager for the International Switching department. Work took Parrish to “only” 25 to 30 of his 850 places.
Days off were dedicated to travel — in 1969, to Russia and Eastern Europe. In 1971, he put two years’ vacation back to back and traveled for six weeks.
“I told the travel agent I want to see the Taj Mahal, Mt. Fuji and the great pyramids of Egypt. I took a Pan Am tour part of the way and customized the trip the other part.”
Fascination with travel was perhaps sparked by choosing his father’s stamp collection for school show and tell.
“I put them in a notebook and wrote the name of each country. I worked on it for two years. At 8, I knew which was Hungary, and which one was Switzerland.”
He also devoured biographies of famous inventors and explorers. In 1971, his goal was to see Napoleon’s tomb.
“I start with a target, with something I want to make sure to see. I travel for the stories, but the thrill is the unexpected,” explains Parrish.
Like in Siberia, when he met a 70-year-old who had never before seen an American in person. “If I had been a king … it was that kind of thrill to him. He couldn’t wait to tell his daughter.”
Checking off locales he longed to visit accelerated after retiring from Lucent Technologies in 1996. While consulting for another five years, a colleague told him about the Travelers’ Century Club (TCC).
“You have to visit 100 countries before you can join. I was the only person he knew who qualified.”
Parrish paid his $45 and visited Cuba with that club, which counts 193 U.N. countries as “everywhere.”
“That’s a good approximation,” says Parrish, who completed the TCC list with experiences like sleeping in a tent at the South Pole and visiting a place in Antarctica to which there is only one flight each year. He has visited all 83 political subdivisions of Russia, and every province in China and state in India, Mexico and Brazil.
Most Traveled People (MTP) was created in 2003 by another TCC member, who is now # 3 in the MTP rankings. The free club ranks members — a “highly competitive” group — after they input their travels.
“You’re also competing with yourself. You become like any collector — you’re missing one more albatross,” says Parrish, who travels about half of each year,three to six weeks at a time. Unmarried, he has no children or pets and owns a low-maintenance home — perfect for a frequent traveler. His trips range from places with nice hotels and restaurants to more difficult itineraries.
“When you try to visit everywhere,” adds Parrish, “you deeply understand the issue of places that are open to Americans. Libya opened in 2004 after 24 years; I visited Syria in 1978, but you can’t now.”
Special challenges include visiting Marion Island in the subantarctic region of South Africa, a place most sources say can’t be reached. Parrish took a nine-day, no-shower, seasick-punctuated voyage on a ship that travels there just once a year.
“A fabulously interesting place — 4,000 feet high, no trees and rain 320 days a year — thousands of penguins.”
Refusing to pick a favorite destination or make travel recommendations, Parrish has only this advice: “Go any place you really want to see — don’t allow circumstances to prevent you.”Edit Module