I’d like to say that I became a travel writer because I grew up immersed in Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels. But honestly? I travel because I spent my formative years reading Tintin comics. My earliest pangs of wanderlust were stirred by following my cartoon hero around Tibet, Scotland, Peru, Shanghai, and Arabia. What child could pore over these adventures and not feel tempted to sail off to the Amazon, or trek across the Sahara?Tintin made travel seem worthwhile and, above all, fun.
These comics have never achieved mass appeal in the U.S., but in the rest of the world, Tintin is as ubiquitous as futbol and more recognizable than Harry Potter (oh, that cowlick!). Since his creation by Belgian cartoonist Hergé in 1929, Tintin’s exploits have been translated into 77 languages, from Welsh to Esperanto, and have sold more than 200 million books. The final volume appeared in 1976—Hergé died in 1983—but the Tintin juggernaut has rolled on, spawning a TV series, video games, a musical, museum shows, official shops (there’s a great one in London’s Covent Garden), a novel by Frederic Tuten (Tintin in the New World), and—currently in the works—a trilogy of 3-D animated feature films produced and directed by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.
Though he’s known as the boy reporter, Tintin is really the world’s most famous traveler, forever en route with his terrier, Snowy, to both actual places and fictional ones (I once spent days trying to locate the kingdom of Syldavia on our classroom map of Europe). This was my introduction to a world beyond my hometown in New Hampshire. And what a glorious world it was—a wonderland of flying boats and steam locomotives, Chinese junks and dugout canoes, Citroën taxis and hand-pulled rickshaws.
Curious thing about Tintin: in all his travels—uncovering Incan temples, meeting Al Capone in Chicago, even walking on the moon—he’s hardly ever seen carrying a camera. Then again, he’s got Hergé to illustrate his travel scrapbooks. Lucky kid. Would that all our journeys could be as memorable, all our landscapes so breathtaking, and all our long, boring train rides just a heartbeat away from adventure.
Peter Jon Lindberg is Travel + Leisure’s editor-at-large and Travel + Leisure Family’s favorite boy reporter.