Sunday September 21 2014, three Norwegian travelers set out to break the world record for the most countries visited in one day.
Beginning in Greece and looping their way through 18 other European countries, they succeeded in their challenge, and made it to Liechtenstein, clocking up 19 countries literally 20 minutes before the 24 hour period was up.
The trio beat the previous record of 17 countries which was set back in 2012; the group’s second attempt after equalling the previous record in May.
The youngest hobby traveler to visit every country in the world, Gunnar Garfors was part of the trio, and speaks to us today about his world record journey.
What inspired your recent world record attempt to travel through 19 countries in one day?
I am an extreme traveller, and I love challenges. Having visited every country in the world means new kinds of challenges, and such a turbo trip was just one of many ideas that popped up. Idiotic? Absolutely! But also fun and thrilling.
There is something special about doing something that none of the other 7.26 billion people have managed to do – or bothered to even consider doing, more likely.
Setting a world record simply feels amazing, but even more so when doing it with good friends.
How much planning and preparation was involved with this challenge?
A lot! We equalled the record back in May, and decided to research and plan better.I don’t like sharing, not world records, at least.
We researched loads of possible routes, flights and roadworks in order to find the optimal route.
Did you actually get to see or experience any of these countries, or was it just a mad dash?
A mad dash, indeed, but that doesn’t mean that we didn’t experience anything.
We saw fascinating forests, wild mountains, charming villages, big cities and a lot of countryside. Not to mention how great it is to experience something wild as this with my mates. It must have been the ultimate boys’ trip.
Not only were we en route to a world record, the betting company ComeOn (comeon.com) even put odds on our trip, so people back home were betting money on which country we would visit next, whether we would manage to break the record or not and on how many times we would be stopped by the police.
The answer to the latter was none, by the way.
Did anything go wrong along the way?
Yes. The brand new Audi A4 we had booked for the first leg wasn’t there, so we had to go to a tiny local car dealer to get the best alternative we could find. That meant a knackered, old Ford Focus with 100,000 kilometers on it.
Needless to say, we had to adjust our starting time a little.
In Switzerland we drove into the worst rain I have ever experienced outside India.There was no way we could drive at normal speed, and we lost quite some time. Enough to not manage 20 countries.
How did you stay awake?!
Praise whoever invented energy drinks! Chocolate bars, petrol station gourmet sandwhiches and salty foods provided the remaining diet.
Let me put it this way, it was not a gourmet journey!
What kind of rules or criteria did you have to meet to claim the world record?
We had to follow the three rules set out by Recordsetter.com:
- Must physically stand in each country
- Must complete visits within any consecutive 24-hour period
- Must provide media evidence
You’re the youngest hobby traveller to visit every country in the world. Was this something you set out to do, or a goal which evolved over the course of your travels?
This was something I realized I would be able to achieve when I had, say 15-20 countries to go.
A few younger people have, or claim to have, visited all countries, but they have done so as professional travellers, on a full-time basis.
In your opinion, what constitutes a visit to a country?
A lot of people ask me how I count a country. The answer is short, I must have done something there and have a story to tell.
And no, I do not count transit stops in airports. I don’t count driving through a country by car or train either. I must have had my feet in the ground.
When attempting to do a record, it is a little different. In this record case, all we needed to do was have both feet on the ground and take a photo to prove it.
The next question is usually whether I need to stay overnight to count a country. Of course not. I may have visited a country 10, 20 or 30 times in a year without having spent the night there.
This is easily achievable by taking a morning train or plane, spending all day in meetings, having breakfast, lunch and dinner, running a marathon, meeting friends, drinking a dozen of umbrella drinks, shopping to the limit of your Platinum Am Ex or having amazing sex with that special one.Or a combination of the above. And still manage to leave the country by midnight.
If you still think that I need to spend the night, should I ignore the examples above, including a possible conception of a potential first born daughter?
I can alternatively have landed at 23:40, taken a taxi to the airport hotel, gone to bed, risen six hours later for a continental breakfast with burned toast, a very soft boiled egg and a slice of Edamer, returned to the airport, cleared security and been safely in seat 8A to another country by 07:00 the following morning.
Yes, I have spent the night, but experienced next to nothing. Do people still insist that staying the night is required?
Yes? How do they then count the Vatican? A man can always become cardinal or pope. Women struggle a little bit more in that respect.
So you’ve been everywhere. Tell us about some of the least visited countries in the world and why we may still want to visit?
Hehe…I researched and wrote a piece on the world’s 25 least visited countries last year. It’s been read by millions, and still receives hundreds, sometimes thousands of hits every day. Number one on this list is Nauru, with only 200 tourists.
Why so few? Nauru is a tiny island nation in the Pacific. The smallest republic in the world covers only 21 square kilometers. There is almost nothing to see there as most of the island (there’s only one) is a large open phosphate mine. Only one airline serves the island. You also need a visa to be allowed in, and the country doesn’t have many embassies abroad.
Why you may still want to visit: The beaches surrounding the island are beautiful and “proper” Pacific style. The coral reefs surrounding Nauru makes it great for diving or fishing.
There are however only 10,000 people in the country, huge unemployment and virtually no nightlife. There are two hotels, one “posh” on the beach and one “in town.”
Tell us about one or two of the world’s hardest countries to visit and how you got in.
I published a list of the world’s 15 hardest countries to visit, and here are a few from that list:
Why so inaccessible? The country is a one party state. It is the only country that ranks below North Korea(!) on the press freedom index. Even if you fill out the application form very carefully, it may still returned with your passport. Also, expect the process to take 6-8 weeks. The biggest obstacle is that you never know whether you will be accepted or not. The uncertainty stops people from even applying.
Why you should still bother to go? Asmara is heaven for architects, photographers and beer drinkers.
How I got in: I applied and reapplied. The second time around I added a separate letter describing how much I had heard about the country and why I wanted to visit. I was eventually granted access.
Any loopholes? It’s one of the worst police states in the world with a heavily guarded border. Don’t even think about sneaking in.
Why so inaccessible? I don’t really think I have to answer this question.
Why you should still bother to go: The scenery in large parts of the country is breathtaking. Afghanistan was also one of the most modern countries in the world in the early 70s. The contrast to what it is like now is huge. Women who have lived to see both times must be really depressed.
How I got in: My press card was needed. Again. The Afghani embassy in Oslo only issues visas to the press and military personnel. Neighbouring countries may be more lenient when it comes to tourist visas.
Any loopholes? You can always join the army.
Why so inaccessible? There are big challenges when it comes to both government and infrastructure in Somalia, although the situation has improved greatly recently. Just finding an embassy might be a challenge, but I’d go for the Somali Embassy in Turkey. Turkish Airlines can take you directly to Mogadishu three times a week.
Why you should still bother to go: Piracy has plummeted and the government has regained control in Mogadishu. Your friends will love receiving a postcard from your holiday in Somalia and you will love hearing about how brave you were for having gone there in the first place. It is the second least visited country in the world. Possibly for a reason.
How I got in: I applied for a visa to Somaliland in the north from its consulate in London. The process only took an hour, but the staff there ensured me I was completelly mad for wanting to go there.- Why do you want to go to Somaliland? Are you crazy? Do you want to die?
They still issued me the visa, strangely enough. I travelled straight there from London, only to discover that there were no hotels in the town of my choice. I ended up sleeping in the mayor’s “house.” In his guestroom. That left the vice mayor less than happy as he then had to sleep in the living room. You win some, you lose some.
What are some of the world’s most dangerous countries, and how did you survive?
I have been very lucky, and never really experienced much threatening. Except for ending up in a fight in Somalia about who should get to sit in the front seat of the shared taxi (the fight involved me, but was between a local guy I met who had given the seat to me, and another local guy who contested the seat).
And once in Central African Republic I took a photo of an angry crowd in a bank. They became furious and threatened to kill me. Only the assistance of a young, English speaking guy, made sure I managed to get out of there alive. After deleting the photo, though.
Tell us about your most unforgettable travel moment.
My visit to the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan stands out. It is a crater, 70 meter across, in Karakum desert, and gas is sifting up from the ground, burning!
It is the most underestimated tourist attraction ever. Except that there are no tourists. Which is all the better!
You must visit at night, and stay in a tent by the crater, there are no people there, no lights in the distance, and all you can hear is the soothing sound from the flames.
Truly a once in a liftetime experience, and totally unreal. Our guide cooked us food, and we had drinks sitting on an Afghan carpet on the desert sand.
What are some of your top travel tips?
They include downloading maps in advance, making a note of the exchange rate, scouting out your own transportation options and remembering the right adapter. Use guidebooks to figure out where not to go, eat local food and travel with hand luggage only.
Feel free to read more of my top travel tips.
What’s next? Is there anything left on your bucket list?
There always will be. I have been to every country, but naturally not to every place.
I love visiting new towns, cities, islands, mountains, beaches, rivers and villages and will continue to do so until I am carried off the planet.
I do also very much enjoy going back to places I have been to before, to see what have changed, to visit old friends and to endulge in the many amazing cuisines of the world.
Why should people travel?
Because it is the best and most interesting school in the world. And it is all about challenging yourself, about daring to explore the world and one’s own mind at the same time.
There is nothing that promotes relations between people and a common understanding of different cultures, either.
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