Seen on BBC, National Geographic, Forbes, Al Jazeera, CNN, Vice, Lonely Planet and many more, goodwill ambassador for the Danish Red Cross Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor for short), is set to become the first man to travel to every country without using any flights. His adventure began on 10th October 2013 at 10:10, and just under ten years, one pandemic and many container ships later, he only has eight countries to go! His website is called Once Upon a Saga, and you can find his complete journey there.
Thor was born in Denmark to Scandinavian parents but grew up in North America before returning to Denmark. He finished school and military service in Denmark, then moved to shipping and statistics in the private sector. By the end of 2009, Thor became an independent businessman and worked internationally for years.
Setting this aside, Thor embarked on a multi-year journey to make history and set several records by visiting every country without flying. While chatting with Thor, he shared travel advice and more information about being one of the world’s most travelled people. He is just eight countries away from becoming the first to reach every nation, completely without flying!
What motivated you to start your journey to every country around the world without flying?
Not many people have actually reached every country in the world in their lifetime. Far less people have done so than people who have summited Mount Everest. I find that to be an interesting thought. Interestingly nobody has ever travelled to every country in the world completely without flying.
Some adventurous souls have however come pretty close. Doing something new is exciting, and it turns out that it serves as a source of inspiration and motivation for many. But the inspiration is not always what seems most likely. Some are naturally inspired to visit new countries and far away cultures. But some are inspired to finish an education, to marry a loved one, to do the dishes, to take a chance… It fascinates me and makes me wonder where inspiration really comes from.
How did you prepare for the trip? Any tips or travel hacks for hopeful travellers?
The best advice I can give you is to stick to the plan and make it happen. So many people find excuses. Once you are out there, you should stay positive, open and smile a lot. I guarantee you that it will change your world! Try local food, learn bits and pieces of the local language and use it every chance you get.
Trust people but trust your intuition too. The world is not an entirely safe place, although I believe that the vast majority of everyone you will ever meet is goodhearted well-meaning people. People are generally more into family, sports, food, the weather, taking selfies, updating Facebook and stuff like that. Much more than anything else.
If you have a smartphone, then I suggest you download these apps:
– Xe currency
– Google translate
– Maps.me or similar
– A good VPN
You are a Goodwill Ambassador of the Danish Red Cross and have visited and brought attention to the movement in over 180 countries. Can you tell us more about this – what they do and your affiliation with this charity?
I have been honoured to travel as a goodwill ambassador for the Danish Red Cross. As such, I get to represent and promote the Red Cross in 192 countries in the world. That means that the Red Cross is basically in every country in the world. Like most people, I knew very little about the movement when I left home. But from interviewing and listening to volunteers all over the world, I have been amazed. I am on my knees for the millions of volunteers that make a difference in the lives of furthermore millions of people every day. And most people have no clue what the Red Cross does. It seems that people only learn about it when they need it.
It is an adventure within itself to learn about this old organisation which was founded in 1863. And it is undoubtedly an honour to promote it publicly. As a goodwill ambassador of the Danish Red Cross, I have paid a visit to the movement in 189 countries already. I have raised awareness as well as funds for the noble humanitarian work which is carried out globally. The Red Cross is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation and aims to alleviate suffering to the most vulnerable people across the globe.
How many countries have you been to so far? Where in the world are you currently? What destinations are left for you?
I have been to 195 of the targeted 203 countries, which make up every country in the world within this project. I am currently in Palau and have the following eight left: Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
What was the most difficult country to get into?
Palau due to the pandemic. They closed their borders, and shipping companies began operating with impossible regulations and many other things. So, it took a long time, a lot of logistics and a lot of bureaucracy to make it to Palau. About six months in preparation and an additional fifteen days on a ship. And after all of that, I ended up within a strict hotel quarantine.
Do you have a top 5 country list? What is it about these destinations that left such a great impression?
No, I don’t do top five’s. It is too hard when you have been to so many countries. It also depends on the top 5 for what? For low prices, for beaches, for mountains, for museums, for relaxing, for going out etc… Generally, I can say that the countries that made the biggest impression on me have been countries where I stayed for a long time or where I got surprised because I expected something else. That list is kind of long too 🙂
I’d argue that every country in the world is the best country in the world. It is to someone. Whenever you visit a country, you should keep in mind that you are a guest and for that reason, it is your responsibility to look for the good and not the bad. There is no such thing as a perfect country, but whichever country I’m in is always the best.
You use the quote, “A stranger is a friend you’ve never met before”, on your website when explaining about yourself and what you do. Do you have any memorable moments, in particular, of interactions with strangers on your travels you’d like to share?
You’re in luck. I made a video long ago!
Have there been any difficult situations in any of the countries? How have you overcome them?
There have been many. Overall I have dealt with them by not giving up, staying polite, staying focused and by looking into what is needed to be done. Sometimes I have been able to solve such situations on my own, and sometimes I had to rely on help from others.
The complexity of an eight-year journey across 195 countries has involved visa issues, challenging checkpoints, complex borders, difficult embassies, general bureaucracy, the hardship of finding vessels, getting permission to come on board ships, permission to enter countries during the pandemic and much, much more. I could have given up a thousand times. But I never have – persistence is a big part of the success so far.
Also Read: Jo & Jack On Living the Van Life
You’ve travelled to War zones, such as Yemen and Syria. What was that like? Did you learn anything from this experience?
It turned out that people were just people there too. The cameras tend to point in the direction of the most dramatic aspects, while life behind the cameras is often not all that abnormal. I have often been treated with the utmost respect and love in some of the most conflicted countries.
Your aim is to finish travelling to each country this year. What’s in store for 2023? Any future travel plans? What will you do next?
Well, I would love to complete it this year, but it is not realistic. The best chances are 2024. After getting home, I will sleep for one month!! When I wake up, I will have a shower and shave. Then my wife and I will try to start a family. Obviously, I will see all my friends and family as soon as possible…and all the children they have had while I’ve been away.
I plan to write at least one book and pursue a life as a motivational speaker. Regarding social media, I hope to keep them alive and grow them. In the best-case scenario, the Once Upon a Saga website will keep inspiring people for many years.
To catch up further with Thor’s journey so far, check out his website Once Upon A Saga and his YouTube channel. And be sure to follow his travels through the last eight countries on Instagram and Facebook.