Torbjørn C. Pedersen is currently on a mission to visit every country in the world in a single journey, without flight, and is currently succeeding in achieving this goal.
Slowly traversing his way across the globe utilizing a mixture of trains, cars, buses, canoes and the odd container ship, Thor’s aim’s are twofold: to inspire others to travel and challenge their preconceived worldview, and to prove that people are basically the same all over the world. The project motto is: “a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before”.
On an average budget of $20 per day, he’s also proving that travel is a dream which is possible for every individual, and one which can be completed successfully on a shoestring budget.
“Once Upon a Saga” is the name of this epic journey around the world, and we’re all wishing Thor every success in completing the journey without flight.
What do you love the most about travelling?
I absolutely love being surprised by new encounters within foreign cultures as well as being confirmed in my belief that the world, although not always a good place, by far mostly is full of good people who will go far out of their way to help and encourage you.
I love a good adventure and traveling provides the baseline.
What inspired you to start travelling?
My mother is a travel guide, and as my father was stationed in various different countries while I was growing up, our family moved around a lot. So in some ways I was brought up with traveling.
As I child I began walking off on “long” day trips into and through forests and fields. On some occasions I ventured so far that my parents would have to bring me back in the evening by car.
As a soldier I was stationed in Africa and within my later employment in the private sector I was stationed in various countries such as Libya, Greenland, Kazakstan and Azerbaijan. Whenever I was stationed I would always hear about some dam, waterfall, market, village, mountain, volcano etc and would get curious.
I would almost always find a way to get to whatever it was in my spare time.
Tell us about Once Upon a Saga.
This is a big one: Once Upon a Saga is a sponsored journey to every country in the world in a single journey, without flight.
For me it is a very serious project which is full of wonder and amazement. Graham Hughes from Liverpool claims to be the first person to travel to every country without flight. He somewhat inspired me when I first read an article about his achievement.
I think it is very important for people to keep pushing the envelope forward as this inspires others. Especially within travel as this is something which undeniably opens people’s eyes to how the world really is.
It’s a shame when some North Americans are scared of visiting Mexico. Or when some people refrain from visiting Honduras or Colombia based on some misplaced information of hazardous conditions. Granted you could risk getting hit on the head in some countries, but surely the same could happen visiting the wrong streets at the wrong hour in London, Paris, Tokyo, New York or anywhere else.
You cannot judge a country based on the news because it will never give you the full picture. You simply need to avoid the “wrong streets” and keep your eyes and mind open. The world is always a wonderful place if you are ready to give it a chance.
Once Upon a Saga aims to prove that people are basically the same all over the world. For most people religion and politics do not play a vital role on a day to day basis. You are much more likely to find yourself speaking to people about children, the weather, sports, food and other “eye level topics”.
People with children, wherever they live, have an interest in bringing them up with clean clothes, good good, solid friends, the best education and with odds of achieving the best possible life. That I believe is universal.
When I reached Panama I met Graham Hughes who confirmed that he actually flew on 5-6 occasions although he came back to the same location in order to continue his journey. To this I say that you wouldn’t break a marathon into pieces by running 5 km today, 3 tomorrow, 6 the next day and so on.
We also talked about how he visited 7 countries in 1 day and why he only spent 30 seconds in North Korea but still claims it counts as a visit. This is the “completion element” of the journey. While I respect Graham Hughes as an outstanding adventurer I cannot back his claim as being the first person to visit every country without flying.
On Once Upon a Saga it has been decided that the following rules must be observed: 1) minimum 24 hours in each country. 2) absolutely no flights. 3) no return to your home country until the end.
Last but not least, the Danish Red Cross came onboard as an “add on” to the project in the “final hour” of project planing.
I have been awarded the honor of traveling as goodwill ambassador where my duty is to write a short story about Red Cross activity throughout all 189 countries where they are represented.
In effect I am writing 189 stories about the same movement which, while challenging, is possible due to the great diversity within the geographical locations as well as cultural backgrounds. It has to me personally been an interesting journey into the 151 year old history of the movement.
The project motto is: “a stranger is a friend you’ve never met before”.
What inspired you to attempt such a huge challenge?
I think I basically always wanted to travel to every country in the world but thought it to be impossible unless you were a millionaire or if you had all the time in the world.
When I realized it could be done on a low budget and in less than 4 years the idea stuck with me. But most of my friends who all have children, a home, a job, a cat, a dog, a piano and a lot of debt looked at me as if I was insane so I almost didn’t do it. Not until 1 friend looked at me and said: “you know, you can get something like that sponsored!”
That was the push I needed and we got serious with the planing. I guess the most important part of achieving anything in life is really making the decision.
How far into the adventure are you and which countries have you seen so far?
I have visited 56 countries out of 203. I started in my home country of Denmark and crossed into Germany. From there I visited 37 European countries mostly by train.
From Norway I boarded a boat to the Faroe Islands and made my way to Iceland, Greenland and Canada.
In total I boarded 7 vessels (fishing boats, container carriers, shrimp trawlers) until I had crossed the North Atlantic. From Canada I was back on trains and busses until Mexico where from it was all busses down to Panama.
I crossed the Darien Gap from Panama to Colombia by boat and continued through another 6 South American countries to Chile where I am now.
How are you travelling if not by airplane?
I am traveling by “scheduled ground transportation” wherever possible. That is trains, busses and boats.
I would love to ride a motorcycle through many of these countries but the aim is to inspire others and not everyone can ride a motorcycle. Anyone can board a bus.
Sometimes I need to board a container carrier or similar in order to make it across the oceans. E.g. for Greenland there is no scheduled transportation for passengers other than airplanes so I need to get creative.
What is the most unique form of transportation you will be using?
Perhaps a canoe or a horse somewhere?
I figure that “local taxis” in some places may mean getting in the back of a pickup truck and stuff like that. So far though, getting onboard a shrimp trawler takes the prize!
Your project budget is $20 per day. Has this been difficult?
The $20/day budget has been tough in some countries. Especially in Europe. But it is not meant as a daily limit but more so as a project average.
Most countries in the world are manageable on a very low budget and lately a country like Bolivia has proven to be very easy on that budget.
How do you think this budget will hold up when you hit western countries like Australia, which are known for being expensive?
Actually I might do well in Australia as it is towards the end of the project and it might be easier to catch a couch surfers attention. Though in general western countries simply demand a higher budget.
Where have you been sleeping for $20 a day?
In cheap dorm rooms, on busses, trains, boats and I have been couch surfing. I have even had a night at a bus station in Honduras as well as I have been sleeping in Central Park in New York.
What have you been eating?
I quickly realized that I needed good food in order to maintain the energy I need for this project. This has been a real challenge for the budget at times, though I’ve been getting away with buying bread and toppings in supermarkets and making my own sandwich in a park.
Or in many countries there is good cheap food to be found on the street. Here in Chile, where most food is expensive, I recently bought a kebab for only $ 1.00 – and it tasted goooood!
Buying pasta or rice and cooking it at a hostel is also cost efficient, and many hostels have a free food shelf with leftovers from earlier visitors.
Getting fruit directly from fruit markets is also cost efficient and finally keeping an eye out for what is locally produced is often a good hint to what is cheap – and culturally adventurous.
Tell us about the ups and downs of your nomadic lifestyle.
The “ups” are easily meeting strangers and turning them into friends, but also being inspired by different ways of doing things.
I have mainly based my opinion on the USA on their foreign policies before. But now I base it on the many states I have seen and the hundreds of people I have met. I did not previously know that Andorra is such a rich country. I had no idea that San Marino had so much to offer.
From this experience I have found almost every country to be far more advanced and modern than I had previously appreciated, and I love “updating” my worldview by personal accounts. Besides, I rarely really remember a bridge, a building or even a mountain. It’s the people I meet that stay within my memory.
With around 200 countries to visit it would take me around 4 years if I only spent 7 days in each country. On the other hand, a month in every country would add up to 16 years and my girlfriend wouldn’t wait for that!
You believe every country deserves a shot at being the best in the world…which is the best you’ve been to so far?
Well, in my opinion every country IS the best country. I normally dodge offering a direct answer by replying: “what do you mean? The best country for food, nature, relaxing, museums, culture, innovation, trekking, biking or what?”
You see, the best country depends on your focus, and I believe every country has so much to offer that it could very well be the best country in the world. I guess it’s a little like asking which is the best color.
With that in mind I state that the best country is always the country I am inside – and it is my obligation to make it so.
Will you continue to travel after having visited every country in the world?
ABSOLUTELY (I hope). There is a fair chance that I may become tired of travel for a while after returning home, but there is still so much I haven’t seen. My own country, Denmark, for instance, is pretty small but I haven’t seen it all.
Even though I have been to every country there will be much more to see and some things, places and people to revisit.
I crossed through 11 states in the USA. But I have still to visit Alaska and Hawaii some day. I went through Ecuador and Chile but still desire to visit the Galápagos and Easter Island. In some ways I like to leave something in a country which I would like to see so that I have an excuse to return.
And don’t forget Antarctica! It doesn’t count as a country so it’s not included in this adventure – but you can bet on that I will go some day!
What are three things you never travel without?
I always bring: 1) a scarf. 2) a pen. 3) my passport.
Why should people travel?
People should travel more in order to expand their minds and become more tolerant. They should travel to become inspired so that we would get new inventions, conversations and dreams.
Ultimately to create a better future. A soldier may ultimately shoot another man on the battlefield…but he may hesitate if he knew his name.