Owney and Walter Stohl

So, you've never heard of these veteran around-the-world travelers.. .


Owney saw the world without passports, visas, cameras or even tickets. In fact, he sniffed his way around the world without even a vaccination while he left his mark wherever he went.

In the late 1800s, an endearing and scraggly mongrel was discovered by mail clerks asleep behind the mail sacks in Albany, New York. Given the name "Owney" and a collar by the clerks, the mutt was soon jumping rails and visiting cities up and down the line. As other clerks in distant cities met him they attached stamps to his collar to show where he'd been. Soon, Owney was heavy with tags and touring the entire country on his own.

Illustration of Owney courtesy The National Postal Museum.

In 1885 this clever four-legged tourist stowed away on a ship and began an epic journey around the world. He was on the road, pawing his way to Japan, China and the Middle East -- all the way back home with a collar heavy with medals from his "sabbatical."

Rumor had it he retired then, living on his memories and in a "dog's life of luxury." However, he apparently died of a bullet wound in Ohio. After he died, he was stuffed and put on exhibit in the National Postal Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. To read more about his story, you might check out the following links: The National Postal Museum, Owney the Traveling Dog Educational Project or Roadside America.

Walter Stohl

To the best of my knowledge, Walter is not stuffed and on display in the Smithsonian. But his tale is every bit as interesting as Owney's.

I first met Walter in the Retired Seaman's Home in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1976. He had just completed bicycling his 150th country, Greenland, adding to his remarkable Guiness World Book record for the longest bicycle tour through the most amount of countries. He was on his third bike in his 20 year "sabbatical," and determined to hold on to his record.

To survive such a journey around the world for so long, Walter had perfected the art of travel -- and I learned much from him.His bags were light with only his bike, passport, a change of socks, a bag of money from every corner of the world, a camera and his photo slide show. It was his slides that kept him going.

Wherever he went he would give slide shows and talks about the places he'd seen, the people he met, the world he knew, all in exchange for food and shelter, and if the village could afford it a few extra dollars to keep him on the road.

Walter Stohl in Iceland, 1977

I have no idea where Walter went, or if his remarkable record lasted. But I do know I owe much to him for his kind gifts and wise counsel about the world we live in. If you read this Walter, please let me know.

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