Traveler Spotlight: Bill Altaffer, One of the World’s Most Traveled People

Traveler Spotlight: Bill Altaffer, One of the World’s Most Traveled People

Bill Altaffer, MIR traveler extraordinaire, had the honor of being named the “World’s Most Traveled Person” in 2005, on the website Most Traveled The website has calculated that “…the land area on Earth is made up of 875 parts.” Altaffer worked hard for that moniker, chalking up 822 “parts” of the globe by 2018.

Today he’s not so intent on getting to the 53 places that he’s never been.

“I’ve already been to all the countries in the world, territories, colonies, island groups, disputed areas, exclave, enclaves, oblasts. My Bucket List is full. I just love to travel. I don’t care where I’m going anymore ­– it’s all good.”

Bill with Mother Russia in Volgograd, Russia. Photo credit: Bill Altaffer.

Bill with Mother Russia in Volgograd, Russia
Photo credit: Bill Altaffer

“The World is My House”He describes the world as being like a person’s new house: He can’t imagine not wanting to explore it from top to bottom, peeking into every room, climbing into the attic, and scoping out the cellar.

But these days Altaffer’s interested in getting more granular, looking into all the drawers, inspecting the closets. He wants to really get to know a place, and meet the people who live there.

An Early InspirationQ: Did something happen to you early in your travels that inspired you to want to see every part of the world? 

“In 1971 I learned about a club that was formed in 1954. It’s called the Travelers Century Club, and you had to have been to 100 countries to be a member. At that time I’d already been to 84, and I thought, ‘I could become a member of that club.’ By 1972 I qualified.”

Remote and ObscureQ: Many of the trips you’ve created with MIR have been to remote and obscure places. What’s your favorite remote and obscure place?

“Definitely the Ob River, in Siberia. I was in Tomsk in 2007 and saw the Ob, and I wanted to do it.”

In 2017 he and MIR arranged an “Ob River Cruise to the Arctic Circle,” floating north on the world’s seventh longest river, a major waterway in western Siberia.

At the cruise’s ultimate destination, Salekhard, which sits astride the Arctic Circle, the Ob is iced in from the end of October to the beginning of June. Bill’s family group arrived at the end of June, sometime around the summer solstice, and the Midnight Sun shone all night long.

Sunset on the Ob RiverPhoto credit: Nika Tours

Sunset on the Ob River
Photo credit: Nika Tours

Favorite MIR TourQ: Which of the small group tours you’ve planned with MIR is your favorite? Why?

“For many years I had wanted to go to Tuva; I had read the book Tuva or Bust! and it really caught my interest.”

Tuva or Bust is the story of Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman’s futile quest to visit the tiny on-again-off-again country, Tannu-Tuva, which had disappeared from maps after WWII. Altaffer determined that he would visit what is now an obscure little Russian republic on the Mongolian border.

“We put together a 21-day tour of Tuva in 2005, and from that time on, I’ve been working with MIR on trips to Russia and the former Eastern Bloc.

MIR is the foremost wholesaler and retailer in travel to Russia and its contiguous states. For me they were instrumental in setting up my Tuva trip. Having regional offices across Siberia as well as the ‘Stans [in Central Asia] is a very comforting feeling…If a problem occurs it can be dealt with in a rapid fashion.”

A shaman ceremony in Tuva (Siberia). Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Respectful participants at a shaman ceremony in Tuva
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Go UNESCOQ: You’ve been to more than 900 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Why should travelers try to include them in their itineraries?

“UNESCO Sites are the highlights of a country. Some are manmade, like the Great Pyramids of Giza, and some natural, like the Grand Canyon. They’re not all equal, but they are all worth seeing. Focusing on them gets you away from the capitals and lets you see more of a country.”

Travel TipsQ: Do you have any recommendations for people who want to see hundreds of parts of the world?

“My advice is to treat it like a board game. Take at least three weeks when you travel halfway around the world, and try to see as many contiguous countries as possible on the same trip. You save cost and mileage that way. Always have a world map with you, read books, and consult Wikipedia before you plan your trip.

I use a hard plastic suitcase – soft bags can get sliced open. For long trips I pack it three weeks before I leave, then I start taking things out until it’s light enough.”

SouvenirsQ: What’s the coolest thing you’ve brought back from your travels?

It’s difficult for him to pick a favorite. “I’ve got a wonderful snake mask from Sri Lanka hanging in my home, as well as spears and shields from Africa, and some stick charts that Polynesians used to navigate by.”

A Traveling LifeQ: What is the best thing about having lived a traveling life?

“Meeting people, and seeing what’s out there in the world. It’s like that house I mentioned earlier. Why wouldn’t you want to know what’s up in the attic? You just don’t know till you go. I don’t understand how you could you not be interested in what’s around the corner.”


Travel with Bill Altaffer and MIR

“For many reasons, an agent can not only plan a program more accurately, but [can] get the latest information. The level of MIR’s tour quality is excellent as well as the price structure. Besides having excellent local operators, the choice of accommodation is most important. MIR fills all the needs for me to plan a trip from scratch to completion.”  

Bill Altaffer and MIR have collaborated on tours to Tuva, the Russian Far North, Siberia’s Yenesei River, to the Five ‘Stans of Central Asia and the Pamir Highway, through the Caucasus, Belarus and Ukraine, to overlooked Chinese towns and cities, to the Hero Cities of the Soviet Union, around the Baltics, South Korea, Poland, and Czech Republic, on an Ob River Cruise, to Bulgaria, and, in 2018, Romania.

You can also plan a custom, private trip for yourself to places that intrigue you – solo, or with your family and friends.

MIR is celebrating over 30 years of connecting travelers with fascinating destinations at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

30 years of travel expertise means that the specialists at MIR know how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and how to enhance your trip in each of our destinations.

Contact MIR today at or 1-800-424-7289.


Top photo: Bill Altaffer visiting Star City, Russia’s premier cosmonaut training facility.

PUBLISHED: April 2, 2018

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