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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Great post Gunnar! Huge props on your achievement…it’s all about the journey, right? And don’t worry what anyone said, weather you travel at one city per year, or one country per hour, as long as you are seeing the world and not sitting home, that’s all that matters!
Exactly Mike! It’s all about actually getting out there and seeing the world; doesn’t matter how you do it!
Amazing! I didm’t think it could be done. I would be so tired! Haha
They almost had 20 if it weren’t for the bad weather! Lol so 19 is the new record to beat :D!
If they’d did it in the A4, I would be “Oh, yeah, cool.”, but to do it in a Ford Focus with 100000 km on it, “Spec-freakin-tacular!”, I don’t think energy drinks help as much as the burning spirit to break the world record! :D
Very true – I’m sure the adrenalin from the challenge was probably more stimulating than any energy drink!
OK I can’t help but say this is a little crazy but then again, why not?
Exactly – why not?!
Wow, amazing interview, and not just for beating the record! He’s been around the block for sure!!
Definitely has! What I would give to have experienced that much of the world!
Amazing story, sounds exhausting but insanely fun!
I generally find every epic story is exhausting … but in a good way of course!!
Dang now that is dedication! With a dash of craziness. Sounds like an awesome time though, he’s visited a lot of interesting places (That I have to admit I haven’t heard of embarrassingly). Would love to be as spontaneous and crazy as him one day!
Don’t be embarrassed – I hadn’t heard of some of them either. Eritrea was a new one for me – though that’s why I love interviewing other travelers – we’ve all seen a little of the world that others havent!
WOW. I had never seen the list of dangerous countries. This guy really inspires me to keep going. Thanks Megan!
Thanks Sarah! So glad you enjoyed the interview – I hope you can (safely) get to some of those dangerous countries soon!
Megan and Gunnar,
Inspired post! Awesome feat and I give you max credit for visiting places like Somalia.
I know the chances of getting hurt their are low but I’ve a tough time going to any land with a low quality of life. I know, I’m a softie. Either way, kudos to you man for experiencing the world.
I do enjoy taking a more off the beaten path approach in other respects. Much can be said about going places where few people go, and doing things few people do. In truth, most people on earth are nice and friendly, but sometimes the feeling or being around someone who looks different – us tourists – can make folks close up.
That’s why it’s key for us to be happy, smiling, polite tourists….and if angry folks in a bank tell us to delete our picture of them we’d be wise to do it lol :)
What a fab interview guys. You pushed me a bit more out of my comfort zone, and I’ve moved out of it a bit more here in Savusavu, Fiji. Paradise of course, but we’ve been forced to detach from many creature comforts which is a wonderfully freeing although at times uncomfortable thing.
Thanks so much!
Tweeting soon for my travel blogging buddies.
Thanks Ryan – so glad you enjoyed the interview.
Totally agree with you re the world being more accepting of us as tourists if we start acting in a more happy, positive and accepting manner. All too often we expect our culture to follow us wherever we go, and that’s just not the case.
So glad to hear you’ve been inspired to step a little further out of your comfort zone; that’s where all of the fun truly beings after all!!
Thanks for your really thoughtful comment!
Ah-mazing! Having done a 24 hour straight road trip (Ottawa, Canada to Orlando Florida…2 countries..not so exciting now!) I totally get the exhaustion. Energy drinks and sugar really are life savers!
WOW that’s a huge drive! Kudos! We drove Florida to DC and spaced it out over 5 days, so FL to Ottawa is massive! Keep those energy drinks pumping!!
Sounds really cool but exhausting (Or maybe I’m just getting old!).
Lol you’re only as old as you feel :D!
Another great interview Meg. You must have a finger on an invisible pulse to be constantly finding these interesting people.
Thanks Andrew! So glad you enjoyed it! We truly are surrounded by interesting people – I realized a while ago that everyone has a story to tell!
I don’t know what to say except, insane! How absolutely insane!
Pretty insane! I’m inspired to try and beat it and go for the 20 lol :D
Hehehe…thanks! To me, that is a compliment…
Gunnar has had some pretty incredible experiences over the years! As I’ll be back in East Africa soon, I’ll need to adopt his determination in making it to Eritrea. I’ve heard so many great things about Asmara and the landscapes so I’m dying to get there soon.
All the best! Will be following for your updates – I would love to see you get to Eritrea!
I just am so jealous. I mean, I read the all piece and all I have been thinking is – wow. I also want to do this!
He’s a pretty inspiring guy! So glad I had the opportunity to interview him. Glad you’re inspired – hopefully this means you have many adventurous and crazy travels to come!
Wow what an intense experience! I’d love to visit all of these countries, on my own time of course though lol. Kudos to you guys!
A worthy goal to strive for! Best of luck and happy travels!
This is incredible! I’m glad that they achieved all of their goals and beat the record! Checking out Gunnar’s site right now as I’m intrigued about all of his traveling!
Have fun! I spent two full days being distracted by all of his crazy blogs and adventures lol his site is a great inspiration and an even better tool for procrastination!!
That world record is something I wouldn’t want to attempt, but I can see it for him – a new challenge. This was a really interesting read. I like that included the least visited countries here as well. Wonderful article.
Thanks Rhonda – I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview.
I totally understand that a challenge like this isn’t really for that many people, though I guess when you get to the stage of saying you’ve been to every country in the world you do have to start getting creative!
At first I was like… mmmm, not sure. As a hater of the whole box-ticking attitude to travelling, this kind of things are usually not up my alley. But I actually enjoyed this interview a lot! Good on ya Gunnar with the challenge!
So glad you enjoyed the interview Margherita! Gunnar is a pretty interesting guy!!
Wow! 19 countries in one day? How amazing is that! That Door to Hell in Turkmenistan sounds pretty awesome, would love to see it!
Pretty crazy right!! I would also love to get to the Door to hell – hadn’t heard about it until I interviewed Gunnar!
Love his post on the least visited countries. Ever since we visited Vanuatu, a less popular destination, my eyes were opened to a different kind of exciting travel. Still haven’t made it to any of the bottom 25, though.
Sounds like youve got some pretty epic travel ahead of you then!
I’m also going to start aiming to complete his list of the 25 countries less traveled – the thing which is most attractive to me is the lack of tourism and feel of a truly undiscovered destination!
Wow! What an amazing record! Gunnar is certainly fearless and seems to be constantly in some sort of adventure. Inspiring interview! :)
So glad you enjoyed the interview Nita! He is definitely both fearless and inspiring! Can’t wait to see where his adventures lead him next!
Whoaaaa!!! So nice to meet a guy like Gunnar!! He sounds totally awesome!
He’s pretty inspiring! So glad you enjoyed the interview Raphael!
Wow, what a wonderful, inspiring interview to read! I’m heading over to his page to check out some more of those 15 hardest countries to visit right now :D Fascinating! I loved how he said at the beginning “or bothered to even consider doing, more likely.” He said it not me :D Great interview. Thanks!
I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview Dana, thanks for stopping by! Definitely head on over to his blog – it truly is a fascinating read!
Wow, this is truly amazing, I want to do the same thing but on the other side of the planet.
For example I want to start in the U.S. in San Francisco because they have some geysers there.
Sounds like a great plan! We’ll be hitting up San Fransisco in a few months so will have to check out the geysers you mentioned – thanks for the tip!
My god, this is amazing! Reading the post one can check the hard it has to do in order to be done, and on the other hand, once can think about the possibility to bear the record ;)
Crazy achievement right!! It was definitely a hard one to pull off, but it all paid off in the end when they drove into first place and stole the record!!
Glad you enjoyed the interview :)