Whilst we may live in a world that decided Donald Trump was the right man to lead the United States of America, there are definitely some aspects of life that are much easier today than they were a century ago. The world is smaller now, and whilst foreign places are most definitely still foreign they are a whole lot more accessible than they once were. What I’m getting at is that if you’ve got even the teeniest amount of cash and a passport with some clout, traveling is easier than it has ever been.
With that in mind, there must be some delightfully quirky stories of individuals from the long ago, trekking around the world with curiosity and intrigue at the forefront of their minds as opposed to ‘where can we take a picture of a girl leading a man so that the internet will love us’. These were days when travellers ventured to places like Sri Lanka not because of the promise of elephant rides, but because of a genuine interest in just what it was Sri Lanka had to offer.
The first Serb around the world was a man from the small town of Leskovac, a man by the name of Milorad Rajčević. Milorad carried with him a business card that simply read ‘Milorad Rajčević – World Traveler’, and whilst this would most likely attract eye-rolling and wanking motions today back in the late 19th century this made Milorad cool as shit. His acquiring of sea legs came about somewhat by accident, but before we get to the movement we must get to the start.
We won’t spend too much time at the start however. Milorad was born near Leskovac in the late 19th century, although which Leskovac I’m not too sure. There are a number of towns and villages with the same name in Serbia, but the most likely one would be the ‘large’ Leskovac down in south Serbia, a town known mostly for being the location in which NATO bombed a passenger train during the 1999 campaign against Yugoslavia. Gotta save those lives, NATO! NATO was just a twinkle in the eye of the west when Milorad was born however, and an early interest in painting led to him eventually swanning off to Vienna to work with the court painter.
Whilst in Vienna Milorad began to get restless however, and wandering soon took precedence over his studies. With each passing city his interest in the world grew, an interest that couldn’t be contained by Salzburg, Munich and the rest. Milorad tried to knuckle down with the paintbrush, spending three months working in Paris with Georges Weber, but it was no use. The road was the only home he knew. After moving around France and Switzerland he left Croatia for the United States, where he stayed for a short while before being deported due to that whole ‘not having his passport’ thing.
This didn’t deter ol’ Milorad however, and he simply continued his travels in the opposite direction. He headed to his aunt in Romania, who was kind enough to fund his travels through to Constantinople and Jerusalem. Realising that the traveling life was the only one for him, Milorad waltzed into the offices of the popular newspaper ‘Mali Žurnal’ in 1910. The owners of the paper, two brothers named Savić, were impressed with his chutzpah and as such offered him a bet of sorts. They bet Milorad that he could not travel the world in two years, on a monthly stipend of 150 Serbian dinars. Milorad Rajčević wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth and as such accepted this bet, accepting the caveat as well; he had to send home a letter of proof from the authorities in each of the nations he passed through.
Did Milorad Rajčević achieve his goal? Well, contrary to your assumptions he didn’t exactly pull it all off, but he did enough to be remembered as the first Serbian around the world. His journey began on March 14, 1910, as armed with just his backpack and a notepad he set off. Within two hours he had gained his first signature, the autograph of none other than Karađorđe himself. More success followed with the penmanship of Montenegro’s Prince Danilo, but his initial attempts to move through Africa via Libya were thwarted by the whole ‘war’ thing. Undeterred, Milorad changed his route and heading to Russia via England and France (strange route) before heading on to Siberia and Asia.
Milorad had a strange time in Asia. The culture was so different to him that it made him yearn for Europe, it made him miss something a little more familiar. He was still greeted with joyful enthusiasm wherever he went, but for the first time in his life Milorad Rajčević began to miss home. Things weren’t helped by the Crown Prince of Japan refusing to sign his book, on account of the Emperor of the Land of the Rising Sun being treated as a deity. Milorad moved on, and had much more success in Siam (modern day Thailand) where the King gave him his very own motorbike. Milorad was greeting as something approaching a hero in India, in Persia, in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and more. He was a true globetrotter and a true ambassador.
He was still a Serbian however, and on September 21, 1911 he returned to his home country. Once more he was received as a hero, but his traveling wasn’t quite complete. Africa still eluded him, and one more plan to travel the mysterious continent was thwarted by the onset of the First Balkan War, in which Milorad participated as a soldier. He travelled the length and breadth of the USA following that war, before another attempt to head to Africa was blocked by guns and bombs, this time in the shape of World War One. With that war out of the way, Milorad Rajčević finally made it to Africa.
Traveling is great. It isn’t great 100% of the time, but it widens one’s mindset, introduces you to people you need to meet and allows you to see existence from a variety of different lenses. If you have the opportunity to travel you should do it, unquestionably. We aren’t all going to be paid a minor stipend by a popular newspaper to travel the world on a whim, but one can’t blame Milord Rajčević for jumping at the chance and being one charismatic chap along the way. His travel book remains one of history’s great collections, full of the autographs of early 20th century leaders and people of importance. Except the Crown Prince of Japan of course, who surely went on to regret his decision to deny Rajčević his signature.