SHELBURNE — Robert Warren never thought this day would come.
After a childhood dreaming of world travel, after nine years in college and the formation of five companies that would give him the means to traverse the earth, after 10 years of maritime voyages, after 36 years of months-long “walkabouts’’ to 189 countries, only four countries on earth — North Korea, Vanuatu, Kiribati, and the Maldives — remain unvisited.
The 72-year-old Shelburne resident, known by most as “Bo,’’ embarks on his next adventure in January, when a three-month journey will take him to the four remaining countries and seven others. He will set foot in the demilitarized zone on the border of North Korea, but outside circumstances will dictate whether or not he is able to enter the country.
He designed his entire life with travel in mind, and knew by the seventh grade that he would need time, money, health, and determination to see the world on a “macro’’ level. Determination was no issue.
But, coming from a poor family, acquiring the means to travel required nine years in college, studying engineering and environmental science, and the formation of three operations and two holding companies in those fields to obtain the funds; none of his trips was sponsored by an outside entity. Junior partners oversaw day-to-day operations while Warren was abroad.
There were personal sacrifices too, including the thousands of friendships along the way cut short by his nonstop itinerary.
“It’s [constantly], for 36 years, people telling me, can’t you stay a little longer?’’ he said. “And my having to go because I know how long my road is, how long it will take.’’
He has documented his feat in approximately 40 leather-bound journals — filled with mementoes, itineraries, and personal anecdotes — and over 140 “artifacts’’ — objects as varied as ostrich eggs and wood-carved figurines and a walrus tusk cribbage board, each with their own story — on display throughout his Shelburne home.
On his living-room wall hangs an enormous map, about 6 feet wide and 4 feet tall, pins sticking out of it like an acupuncturist’s masterpiece: Hundreds of black pins protrude from places once trekked, sparsely peppered with the few red pins that mark his upcoming destinations.
Warren regards the map with pride. But even though he’s healthy now and about to embark on yet another trip, he senses he’s entering another phase of life — one in which it might be harder to keep traveling at the same pace.
“I knew that at some point in time, I would have to transition out of doing what I was doing,’’ he said.
That transition involves a recent decision to share his experiences publicly — he did so for the first time last year — and a mission to preserve his Shelburne home “in perpetuity,’’ he said.
He hopes it will become a learning center for students to study his international travels through his journals and mementos, now digitally indexed thanks to a year of work with his cousin, Robert Mosco.
For decades, Warren maintained that his travels were a personal, private matter, and felt that sharing his stories would diminish their value.
“Now that I’m facing my mortality, I find that it’s more important to me now that this not all be just lost,’’ he said. “If I die as it is right now, this is all going into boxes somewhere. It’s going to serve no one, and that disturbs me.’’
He hopes that sharing his stories now might generate philanthropic interest in his new mission.
Warren also hopes that, in sharing his own experiences, he can also convey one “fundamental’’ message: “The world is not a dangerous place.’’
“I am living proof that you can go out in your world and come back with all your fingers and toes,’’ he said. If his own existence isn’t enough evidence to support his message, Warren believes his tales of “the goodness and dignity and the awesome grace of the people of the world’’ will.
After all, it’s not the landmarks that Warren travels to see but the people, and the children especially. In seeing the lives of others, travel has been a humbling and eye-opening experience, allowing him to meet children “with all the capability in the world, [and] with literally no opportunity. Talk about an untapped resource.’’
“You want to solve the problems of the world? Just give people opportunity,’’ he said. “That’s it. There’s no question about it.’’
In the end, was it worth it? For all the sacrifices, for all the goodbyes, for every place he had to visit only to leave it just as soon, was it worth spending his whole life walking around the globe?
“Absolutely, without equivocation, it was worth it,’’ Warren said. “Nothing has impacted my life nearly as much as my going out and seeing my world.’’