The world has changed a lot since 1872 – so can you still take this classy route around the world? It turns out it is possible.
One of the earliest and most classic of early adventure novels around the world was Around the world in eighty days. The book is actually French and was first published in French in 1872. Around the world in 80 days tells the story of one, Phileas Fogg of London, and his wager. The bet was a £20,000 (half his fortune) bet with his Reform Club friends that he could circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.
The story follows Fogg and his newly employed French valet Passepartout as they set out to accomplish what no one had ever accomplished before. Fogg is a very particular character of deep mathematical planning who makes all the latest train and steamboat schedules. So is it possible to follow his journey today more or less as he did in 1872?
The exciting moment of making the world smaller
When French writer Jules Verne first published his adventure novel in 1872, the world was changing. For the first time in history, the world was truly opening up and the last corners of the world were being explored. For better or worse, the Industrial Revolution and European empires brought the world closer together than ever before.
- Published: 1872
- Tongue: French – Translated into English
Around this time steamships were coming into use making shipping much faster and the Suez Canal was built (by the French) – which cut off the need to sail all around Africa. At the same time, railways were being laid at a breakneck pace all over the world, opening up the interior of countries like never before.
In this context, Jules Verne writes Around the world in eighty days. But is it always impossible to travel more or less this road? Today the political map has changed massively, European empires are gone and there are failed states and closed borders where there were none in 1872.
Fogg’s original route in the book
- London to Suez, Egypt: 7 days – They take the train to Italy and then a steamer across the Mediterranean Sea
- Suez to Bombay, India: 13 days – today called Mumbai, the steamer (called the Mongolia) Crosses the Indian Ocean to Bombay
- Mumbai to Kolkata: 3 days – A new rail (which turns out wasn’t fully finished
- Kolkata to Hong Kong: 13 days – Another steamer (the Yangon) Around Singapore
- Hong Kong to Japan: 6 days – Another steamer (the carnatic) From Hong Kong to Japan
- Japan to San Francisco: 22 days – The liner (the General grant) Across the mighty Pacific Ocean
- San Francisco to New York: 7 days – by train
- New York to London: 9 days – By Steamer (the China) Across the Atlantic To Liverpool then to London By train
Is the route doable?
It turns out that one could more or less follow this same route today with very little modification (disregarding the actual schedule). The good news is that the route does not cross closed borders or failed states – or states with very difficult visas.
It’s no problem to take the train from London to Italy – the trains are superb in Europe and today one could even take the Chunnel under the English Channel.
If one does not have a private boat, there are a few options for travel. The days of steamboats are long gone, but it is possible to take freighters as passengers almost anywhere in the world. Fortunately, the ports mentioned in the book are among the largest and busiest ports in the world today.
It may also be possible to cruise to and from some of these points, but in the absence of cruises (which are really trips to nowhere), freighters are likely to be a better bet.
While India was divided into Pakistan and the Republic of India, Bombay and Calcutta remain in India and their rail network is vital to the functioning of the nation today (don’t expect it to work on time).
From Japan to San Fransico, one could probably find an Arctic/Alaska cruise that stops at different attractions and fjords along the Alaskan coast. The railroad works very well across the United States.
Perhaps the most exciting part is that once well, one can take the world’s last operational Oceanliner – the Queen Mary 2 across the Atlantic from New York to Southhampton in England.
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