Around the World in 44 Days with Denmark’s Boy Wonder

How a globe-trotting teenager enthralled millions in 1928

The planet has become such a small place. Now, we can hold the world in the palm of our hand, scrolling on our smartphones from one country to the next while lounging on the sofa.

Unfortunately, the more we open ourselves to the world on the internet, the less we get to see it for real. What a shame that is, because in shrinking the world to bitesize we, too, have grown smaller… both in our life experiences and in our understanding of how others really live.

Not only are we less than once we were, but as the darker aspects of human nature are revealed to us on the internet, so we have become more fearful, too, about undertaking exotic adventures of our own. And when it comes to letting our children loose into the great unknown, well that’s a definite no-no.

In short, we have become fiercely cautious and overly protective.

So, there we sit, smaller and more afraid than ever before. It’s enough to make one hanker back to a time when ignorance was bliss; when not knowing what lay beyond our own shores was a lure, not a threat… when it was a reason to knock down the metaphorical walls around us and embark upon discovery.

Which brings me to Palle Huld, a boy who had the spirit of adventure imbued in his soul; a Dane who travelled the world, and who undertook this remarkable journey alone and at the tender age of just 15 years.    

Palle Huld (15) on his solo global adventure, in Moscow’s Red Square

It was 1928, and Denmark’s Politiken newspaper was marking the centenary of the birth of Frenchman Jules Verne, author of Around the World in 80 Days. They did so by launching a competition, the winner of which would echo the globe-trotting adventure that had been embarked upon by Verne’s character Phileas Fogg in his famous novel,

Rather unfairly, it was only open to teenage boys, and it was won by a red-haired, freckled lad named Palle Huld, whose challenge was to circle the globe unaccompanied and to do so within 46 days. He would do it in 44.

Huld, who was a boy scout, set out on March 1, 1928, on a voyage of discovery across land and sea that took him from Denmark to England, Scotland, Canada, Japan, Korea, China (then called Manchuria), the Soviet Union, Poland and Germany.

He crossed the Atlantic to Canada, where he met First Nations’ tribes, and then went by luxury liner across the Pacific, meeting with Japan’s Admiral Togo along the way (the only downside to that being when Huld had to remove his shoes for the occasion, thereby revealing the hole in his sock, much to his mortification).

What a journey, though…. and all done on first-class tickets. While Huld did travel alone, he was assisted along the way by reporters from Politiken, as well as by Danish embassy staff around the world, and local boy scout groups in various countries.

His adventure caught the public’s imagination, and newspapers across the globe followed his exploits. Upon his return to Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, 20,000 people turned out to welcome him home.

Author Jules Verne, by Étienne Carjat (Public Domain)

Huld’s exotic travels must have surely inspired a generation of teenagers to follow in his footsteps. Not only that, but they also seemed to have inspired cartoonist Herge (real name Georges Remi), whose globetrotting teen character Tintin, complete with red hair and freckles, appeared in newspapers a year later.

Palle Huld went on to chronicle his adventures in the book, A Boy Scout Around The World. He later became an actor, first taking to the stage in 1934, and thereafter making regular appearances on Danish TV and in films, until his retirement in 2000.

He died in 2010, no doubt with the memories of the people he met and the places he visited on his remarkable journey still embedded in his mind.

How many parents out there would allow their young teen to embark on such a journey alone? Many of us would balk at such a risk, but what a loss that is for our children… the chance to explore and experience life, unfettered by parental control.

In my own days as a boy scout, I had some of that freedom – nowhere to the extent of Huld, though. My experiences were of going away on a week-long camp aged 13 that I planned and led, organising activities, work rotas and meals for a group of six other boys, all done without the presence of an adult.

I mention this not to show my own organisational ability, but to lament the state to which we have come, where health and safety is taken to the nth degree, to such an extent that almost any sense of risk is eliminated and where concerns over liability overrule everything else.

Such caution, though well intended, impinges on true learning and growth. The spirit of adventure, of risk, as personified by Palle Huld, should be fostered, for it is in such times that our true strengths emerge.

We should step away from the smartphone and embrace the unexpected. Doing so may reveal hidden strengths… ones which, for sure, a certain Danish teenager tapped into on his remarkable voyage of discovery back in 1928 – the year when the name Palle Huld became a byword for exotic adventure.

About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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4 Responses to Around the World in 44 Days with Denmark’s Boy Wonder

  1. carolkean says:

    Have you read any of Lenore Skenazy? “Free Range Kids” is a book and blog/movement urging parents to let their kids run free, have time to play, to organize backyard ball games without adults coaching, supervising, planning every detail, down to the snacks…. children a hundred years ago, even 50 years ago, had so much more freedom. And responsibilities. (Chores.) Jobs. They were more adult at age 14 or 20 than today’s kids are at almost 30…. thanks for a great story! And the reference to Tin Tin. (Our son used to love watching that cartoon — almost as much as I did). 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d heard the term ‘free range kids’ but didn’t know the author. I feel so sorry for today’ kids.. tethered to the internet when they could have much more fun experiencing life for themselves instead of through a screen. I hope you and the family are all well, Carol

      Like

  2. At the age of 12 I showed livestock and spent several nights alone in places I had never been. I lost my money and had to go without food for a day and it was tempting as I had to walk through the food that was on display or judging. I remember some of it really tempted me. But being a good scout know that was against all I had been taught.

    Like

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