Torbjrn “Thor” Pedersen quit his job, broke up with his girlfriend, and left his family in Denmark on October 10, 2013, to go on an epic journey.
His aim? To go to every country on Earth without taking a plane.
Pedersen gave himself some rules to follow. He would stay in each country for at least 24 hours and wouldn’t go home until he was done.
He would also try to keep his costs low and live on about $20 a day.
The day finally came on May 24. After almost ten years of traveling, Pedersen made it to his 203rd and last country, the Maldives. He then started his long-awaited trip back to Denmark.
Even though it would have been easier to fly, Pedersen wanted the project to come full circle.
Pedersen, who has been traveling as a goodwill ambassador for the Danish Red Cross, tells CNN Travel, “There’s something historic about coming home by ship. People can see it on the horizon and stand and wave as I come down the gangway.” “That seems like a good way to finish the project, too.”
After celebrating in the Maldives, the 44-year-old went back to Malaysia via Sri Lanka to get on the huge MV Milan Maersk, a container ship that is about 1,310 feet long, or about the size of 3.6 soccer fields, for the 33-day trip home.
“I was in my cabin in Malaysia when I looked out the porthole and realized that the view would change slowly every day until it was finally Denmark,” says Pedersen.
“I would get home even if I broke my leg at that point. There are no more snakes, wild dogs, malaria, or visas to get. All I had to do was keep from falling overboard!”
On July 26, Pedersen walked down the gangway at the Port of Aarhus on Denmark’s eastern coast, where about 150 people were waiting to celebrate.
His wife, Le, father, siblings, friends, project partners, and many other fans who have been following his blog, Once Upon a Saga, and social media channels were among the cheering crowds. In 2016, Pedersen proposed to his girlfriend on top of Mt. Kenya, and they got married in 2021.
Pedersen says, “I’ve seen a lot of teary eyes since I got back. People have come up to me and hugged me while they were crying.” “I have also gotten a lot of gifts, like Danish beer, milk, and food, and I got to meet people from Colombia, Australia, and Norway who have been following me on social media. That was amazing.”
Pedersen has been catching up with family at his father’s house while getting a lot of calls, texts, and requests for interviews.
He also enjoys the small things, like the clean, cool air in Denmark, his morning runs with Le, and the ice-cold Danish milk he drinks whenever he can.
“My family is so happy. He says, “There’s a lot of love.” “I’ve been thinking about coming home. It’s something I’ve wanted to happen for a long time. But I’m still trying to figure out what to do now that the trip is over.”
Before he left in 2013, Pedersen worked in shipping and logistics, which helped him a lot when planning the complicated route and making changes on the road.
In fact, he didn’t change his plan very much, except for a few surprises. For example, he forgot about Equatorial Guinea, which is one of the hardest places to get to in the world. Pedersen finally got a visa after four months and a lot of failed attempts. Even though land borders were closed at the time, he was able to cross because he happened to meet a stranger who worked in Equatorial Guinea and offered him a ride.
Later, Pedersen thought he could get a Chinese visa at the border with Mongolia and then go to Pakistan. But because it took a long time to process, he had to go back almost 7,500 miles through several countries to get to Pakistan before his visa ran out.
While this was going on, time began to pass. He thought it would take four years to reach 203 countries, but the world had other plans. The UN recognizes 195 sovereign states, but Pedersen also counted partially recognized states.
Pedersen had to wait months for his visa in places like Syria, Iran, Nauru, and Angola during the time he spent traveling.
He also overcame a severe case of cerebral malaria in Ghana, an intense four-day storm while crossing the Atlantic from Iceland to Canada, land borders that were closed because of war, and having to reschedule many sailings because ships broke down or there was too much paperwork.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the most important reason for the delay.
Early in the year 2020, the brave traveler was suddenly stuck in Hong Kong for two years, with only nine countries left to visit.
“When I think back on Hong Kong, it seems a bit strange. It was the worst and best time of my life at the same time. “I had to deal with the situation. It was so hard to decide if I should give up on this project with only nine countries left to go,” Pedersen says.
“I had to ask myself how much of my life I would give to this. But while I was waiting for the world to open, I made a life for myself in Hong Kong and made many close friends.
Pedersen stayed sane by cooking dinner with friends, hiking the city’s many trails, working for the Red Cross, giving motivational speeches, and working at the Danish Seamen’s Church.
After getting an employment visa and a place to live in Hong Kong, Pedersen married his fiancee Le, who was back in Denmark, through a service based in the US.
Even though it wasn’t how the couple had imagined their wedding day, the decision allowed Le to become a resident and visit Pedersen. At the time, foreigners were not allowed to visit Hong Kong.
“We were together for 100 days, which was great,” he says. It was the longest time they had spent together since Pedersen left Denmark in 2013. “She met my friends and got to know about my life. We love to hike in Hong Kong, and we did the 62-mile-long MacLehose Trail, which is more than half as high as Mount Everest, in one go.
Pedersen was finally able to leave Hong Kong on January 5, 2022, and continue across the Pacific.
Palau was his first stop. Behind the scenes, he says, it took the government of Palau six months to agree to let him come by container ship.
After 15 days at sea, Pedersen spent eight of his 14 days in Palau in a hotel quarantine because there was an outbreak on the island.
The next step was a 16-day trip back to Hong Kong, where he spent another two weeks in a hotel quarantine.
About a month later, he kept going to Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, and Tonga, but it was very hard.
“I had to beg almost every government to help me. For Tonga, we talked with the Ministry of Health, the Navy, and the Military. Because the country was in a state of emergency because of COVID, no one wanted to say yes and go against the prime minister, says Pedersen.
“Finally, late one night, I got an email from the prime minister that simply said, ‘It’s okay, let him in.'”
Pedersen went to Vanuatu after Tonga, where Le met him again so they could get married.
Their wedding planner invited all the guests and staff at the resort. The guests and staff made amazing decorations out of palm leaves and drew big hearts with seashells in the sand.
Pedersen says, “It was just beautiful. The staff was kind and happy, and they made it really special.”
Pedersen left for Tuvalu, the last country in the Pacific, not sure how he would get there.
Tuvalu is one of the smallest and most remote countries in the world. It has only 11,600 people and is made up of nine islands. It can be hard to get boat parts for Tuvalu because the country is so small.
“It’s beautiful. He says, “The surf is great, the sky is gorgeous, and the people were so friendly and helpful.” “But I didn’t think I’d be there for two months,” he said.
“The ships broke down all the time. One of them had a hole that let water in. I tried to get on another ship, but it never left port.”
Pedersen was finally able to get back to Fiji on a tugboat. From there, he took a container ship for 24 days to get to Singapore, where he met Le. They ate at hawker centers, went to the National Museum, hiked the MacRitchie Nature Trail, and ran along the Singapore River together.
After she went back to Denmark, Pedersen crossed the land border into Malaysia, took a ship to Sri Lanka, and then set sail for the Maldives, the last country on her list.
When Pedersen got to the port in Malé, the capital, he saw a group of people waving small Danish flags, along with one of his sponsors, Ross Energy, and friends like Norwegian traveler Gunnar Garfors, who was the first person to visit every country in the world twice. They were there to help him celebrate.
“When I was in the Maldives, things were very busy, and I didn’t have much time to think,” he says. “I was mentally worn out because my feelings have been all over the place.
“I don’t know what will happen when I travel, but I’ve been in operational mode for so long that it feels safe to me. When I get home, I have a different kind of doubt. I’ll be able to do whatever I want, go wherever I want, or stay put.”
Pedersen’s trip took 3,576 days, 37 container ships, 158 trains, 351 buses, 219 taxis, 33 boats, and 43 rickshaws. That’s a lot of different ways to get around.
He went 223,000 miles, which is the same as going nine times around the Earth. This doesn’t include the long trip home.
But, says Pedersen, it’s not about the numbers.
It’s about appreciating how kind people are and having a good attitude about the world.
“When I started this trip, my motto was, ‘A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet,’ and time and time again, I’ve seen that this is true,’ he says. “Most people are all in if you talk to them.”
Pedersen says he has met warm, friendly, and helpful people all over the world. Many of them gave him tea, food, introductions, help with translation, or just told him where to go.
“During my travels, I stayed in the homes of many, many strangers, and I made it through every country in the world without getting hurt, even the ones with wars and virus outbreaks!” he exclaims.
“Either I’m the luckiest person in the world, or the world is a lot better than most people think based on the scary, dramatic news they see on social media and the news.”
The trip is also a sign of how hard Pedersen worked. Several times, he was close to giving up, but he didn’t give up.
“I got a letter today saying that I won first, second, and third place for being stubborn,” says Pedersen with a laugh. “There was always a way out. I just had to work hard sometimes to find it.”
He is so stubborn because he wants to show his fans that they can do anything they set their minds to.
“I had the most crazy plans. And if I can do this, you can do anything you want: lose weight, learn to play an instrument, learn a language, go to school, get a job, etc.
His last trip on the MV Milan Maersk was from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, then through the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, the English Channel, Germany, and then Denmark.
“I still can’t believe that this project is over. People say that you have to do something 30 times if you want to make it a habit. This is something I’ve done for more than 3,500 days. So, this is a big part of who I am now,” Pedersen says.
Pedersen plans to give up his life of constant travel once he has had a chance to rest and get back on his feet.
He’s most excited about spending more time with his wife and starting a family with her.
“There’s a lot to be happy about. She did so much while I was traveling. She got her medical degree, PhD, started working at a pharmaceutical company, got a promotion, and finished two full Ironman triathlons. She’s a superwoman.”
As he starts a new chapter, Pedersen is working with Canadian filmmaker Mike Douglas to finish “The Impossible Journey,” a documentary about the project, and plans to write a book about the journey.
In the future, he wants to use what he has learned to give speeches, which is a skill he has honed over the past 10 years.
“I realized when I left home that I didn’t feel comfortable going on stage. “But now I can walk on stage in front of 300 people and smile,” he says.
“The trip helped me figure out what my strengths are, and one of them is getting along with other people. I hope that I can make a living by giving speeches and making people laugh, learn, and be inspired to never give up.”