Traveling to every country in the world sounds like an almost impossible task, and doing it without flights sounds even more daunting; it's a challenge nobody has conquered.
Torbjørn C. Pedersen, who goes by Thor, is currently on a mission to be the first person to travel to every country in the world, on a continuous journey, without the aid of flight.
As of November 2018, he is only 41 countries shy of his goal of 203 countries in total. Pederson and his team decided on 203 countries by using the number recognized by the United Nations and adding a few states that claim sovereignty.
We caught up with the star of Once Upon a Saga to ask him about his journey and experiences.
So you're a businessman from Denmark. Tell us about your inspiration for this trip and what made you decide to do it.
I was wondering what I could do to single myself out and provide for myself and my family in the future. If I could possess a unique product, then the competition would be minimal and the possibilities manyfold.
In 2013, I also realized that nobody in history has ever reached every single country in the world in a single unbroken journey completely without flying. And since I have always been drawn to adventure, adventurers and achievements I began to look into [it.] That is how Once Upon A Saga was born.
After completing this unique adventure, I will be able to write books and do public speaking and that can be a lucrative business. Meanwhile, this project has now grown over the past five years to inspire, educate, motivate and entertain people all over the world. The Red Cross Red Crescent movement—a non-profit organization that works to prevent and alleviate human suffering—also enjoys a worldwide promotion so it is indeed a rich project which benefits many and can be utilized in many ways.
You’re traveling on a $20 a day budget. Is that hard to maintain?
It’s not really that hard although, in the long run, it does box me in a lot. It is meant to cover four elements; transportation, accommodation, meals and visas. The visas are non-negotiable but I, fortunately, do not need a visa every day so, over time, the price of a visa comes down. Cheap hostels and guest rooms are widely available and often I get invited to stay locally with a family. Local food is usually cost-effective and street food is likewise often very affordable. I travel mostly by public transportation and usually by the cheapest sort which lowers transport costs. Some countries accommodate the budget much better than others but the $20 a day is to be seen as an average and not a limit.
As the Saga has now gone on for more than five years, I have become accustomed to a very basic lifestyle. However, once in a while I need to splurge on a good meal, a movie and a nice room to sleep in.
What country's food has been your favorite? Was there a specific dish you loved best?
I’m generally fond of Italian food so I might say Italy. However, Peru also cooks up some great dishes. I could in fact point to a lot of countries as there is much good food to be found. Ethiopia is a clear favorite alongside Peru and Italy. A favorite dish of mine is probably found in Cameroon or Gabon. I really like the grilled fish they serve with manioc and sauce and eating it with your fingers adds to the overall experience as you feel the texture of the meat and bones.
Which country's been your favorite so far?
It’s hard to answer when you have been to 165 countries and it largely depends on what I want in the moment. As an example, a shark enthusiast might not favor Switzerland, while it's still a great country. I usually twist the question and say that if I cannot return to Denmark, then I would live in Iceland.
Iceland is a spectacular country with a good infrastructure and modern way of life. I wouldn’t miss anything. There’s a small population and lots of adventure to be found between the ocean, volcanoes and glaciers. However, the mentality found in Iceland is really what attracts me. In most of the world, you are supposed to follow suit and be sensible. In Iceland, it’s okay to have a unique idea and try to outlive it. In fact, it seems encouraged and I find that there is much support to be found in Iceland.
What's one thing that you can’t travel without?
My passport. Basically, anything else can be left behind. However, I have a few prized possessions which I wouldn’t like to leave behind. I always carry a pen in case I need to illustrate or write something. I am very fond of my smartphone for navigation, photos, social media and communication. I prize carrying a scarf as it can keep me warm, can cover something, can be used as a towel, can wipe up stuff, can be used as a sling, can tie things together and much more. However, my passport is really the only necessity in this bureaucratic world.
What's been the most difficult thing about this entire journey?
It’s basically three things. It’s bureaucracy, logistics and motivation. Almost anyone could visit every country if there were no restriction regarding visas, nationality and travel permits. Also, the crossing oceans and reaching islands would be no problem if there were always ferries. And amidst all the hardship and as one year takes the other, the toll of being away from home is certainly felt.
You proposed to your girlfriend on the top of Mt. Kenya back in 2016. Any idea where you and your fiancee will honeymoon now that you’ve seen the world?
Well, we are [...] talking about getting married somewhere in South Eastern Asia before the Saga comes to an end. So we will take that honeymoon wherever that may be.
I’m sure you have met many interesting people along your journey. Anyone specifically that's left an incredible impression on you?
I have met many, I’ll mention two.
In the beginning of the Saga, I met Maria in Suwalky, Poland. I was kind of lost and it was late at night. She took me in, fed me and gave me a place to sleep. She was very kind and showed me much hospitality. The next morning, she served me breakfast and drove me to the bus. She is a true inspiration and example that a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before.
More recently, I met Nourdin Ahmadi in Herat, Afghanistan. He, likewise, took very good care of me. Ahmadi studied science but had to pick up a rifle and fight alongside the other Mujahideen against the Russians for nearly two decades. After his fight, he joined the Red Crescent and served the most vulnerable people in his country for another two decades, while raising his children. It’s never too late to change.